"We have the chance to show that America values the dignity of the street vendor in Tunisia more than the raw power of the dictator ... America must use all our influence to encourage reform in the region ... we need to speak honestly about the principles that we believe in, with friend and foe alike."
Which prominent American spoke these words? It was neither Senator John McCain, enthusiast of democracy promotion, nor former President George W. Bush, architect of the Freedom Agenda. It was our realist, pragmatic President Barack Obama, in a major speech on May 19, 2011, during the heady early months of the Arab Spring. The president argued that concentrating mainly on longstanding U.S. security interests was no longer enough. Obama declared that encouraging transitions to democracy was now a "top U.S. priority that must be translated into concrete actions and supported by all of the diplomatic, economic, and strategic tools at our disposal." He announced a three-pronged strategy for the transitioning countries: standing up firmly for democratic values, helping troubled economies, and expanding engagement beyond Arab regimes to newly-emboldened citizens.
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"You are not going to war against the youth, but against the religion of Allah." The statement, which appeared Sunday night on the Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AST) Facebook page, was attributed to Abu Iyadh al-Tunisi, AST's emir and the founder of the al Qaeda-linked Tunisian Islamic Combatant Group (TICG). Coming after Tunisian authorities suppressed AST preaching events in multiple cities, the text is part of an escalating war of words and deeds between AST, Tunisian security forces, and the Islamist Ennahda-led government over the past several months, compounded by the September 14, 2012 assault on the U.S. Embassy in Tunis. Al-Tunisi's statement also threatened, in subtle but unmistakable tones, a jihad against Tunisian authorities.
The risk of open conflict may have become even more likely Wednesday after Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi announced that AST's annual conference in the city of Kairouan, scheduled for Sunday, would not be allowed to take place, though an AST spokesman vowed Thursday that the event would go forward. But the immediate spark came when Tunisian security forces began striking homemade landmines in the rugged region around Jebel Chaambi near the country's western border with Algeria.
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Iraq's April 20 provincial elections were like two elections in one country. They included all provinces outside the Kurdistan region except Kirkuk, due to a long-standing dispute over election law, and the predominately Sunni provinces of Anbar and Ninawa, where the cabinet postponed elections under the pretext of security following a series of candidate assassinations. Elections are now set for July 4 in those two provinces.
The "Shiite election" covered the southern nine provinces plus Baghdad and parts of Diyala and Salah al-Din. In this election Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law Coalition (SLC) won a reduced plurality, large enough to keep alive any hopes Maliki might have of a third term following next year's parliamentary elections, but too weak to provide him a clear mandate. Secular Shiite parties faired poorly, and most of the vote shifted to Islamists, likely in reaction against the excesses of recent Sunni protests.
While observers of the Iraq War anniversary argue over the scale of the mistake -- a colossal folly rooted in imperial ambition and hubris, or simply an error based on faulty intelligence and misplaced fear -- the devil is in the details. These numbers, assembled by some of the 29 contributors to the Costs of War Project based at Brown University, help put the past 10 years in perspective.
0: Al Qaeda had no presence in Iraq before the 2003 U.S. invasion. But a new organization, known as Al Qaeda in Iraq, has since formed and has attacked U.S. and Iraqi forces, and wages regular attacks on Iraqi civilians. Additionally, by 2013, AQI had spread offshoots and technical know-how to Syria, Jordan, and Libya. If Iraq became a "front" in the war on terrorism, as Jessica Stern, former member of the National Security Council and current fellow at the Hoover Institution, and her co-author Megan McBride, say "it is a front that the United States created."
2 plus 2: Conflicts exacerbated by the Iraq War. Iran and North Korea were apparently not intimidated by the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, nor deterred from pursuing weapons of mass destruction. Conversely, the war in Afghanistan was arguably prolonged by the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and has escalated into Pakistan, with a corresponding increase in military spending and loss of life.
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This March is a critical month in Yemen's political transition since 2011, when millions of peaceful street protesters ended 33 years of rule by former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. In the coming week, the country's transitional leader, President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, is scheduled to inaugurate the National Dialogue Conference (NDC). Beginning on March 18, the NDC is expected to hold a series of meetings with more than 500 representatives, who will attempt to find solutions to several pressing problems for Yemen. What hangs in the balance is nothing less than Yemeni national unity. The conference was supposed to start last year after Hadi was elevated to the post of president by public referendum in February 2012. For the sake of a successful national dialogue, it was recognized the NDC had to take place under a large tent encompassing all the major political parties and social factions. Building this tent has proven difficult. The process was postponed more than once because some parties refused to accept a predetermined number of seats, while others refused to participate under any circumstances.
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Justice comes slowly to Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, and sometimes not at all. In August 2012, local security officials announced that they were searching for 120 militants wanted on charges of attacking police stations and killing 16 Egyptian soldiers at a military post near the border with Israel. Six months later, they're still looking. Police are few and far between, and those who do patrol the streets are increasingly the victims of the same crimes they are trying to prevent. Police cars are hijacked in broad daylight while officers are gunned down by masked assailants in a climate of brazen banditry and lawlessness that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu famously described as "a kind of Wild West."
The 23,500 square mile Sinai desert has long been a sanctuary for militant Islamist groups and smugglers operating along Egypt's porous border with the embargoed Gaza Strip. But despite their strategic significance, the two governorates of North and South Sinai are among Egypt's poorest and most politically marginal, accorded a mere four seats each in the 508-member People's Assembly. Decades of neglect and economic discrimination by the central government have fueled resentment among the Bedouin tribes that account for around 70 percent of the Sinai's 500,000 residents. It is estimated that only 10 percent of the Bedouins are formally employed, and one out of every four does not possess a government ID card. Their many grievances -- including legal obstacles to land ownership, lack of basic public services, job discrimination, and systematic exclusion from military and police academies -- have reinforced a climate of mutual distrust between the central government and the Sinai.
Despite the estimated 40,000 civilian deaths in the Syrian conflict, the United States has shown little appetite for a Libya-style intervention, this time without United Nations Security Council approval. The Obama administration has been candid, however, about what might change its mind. In August, President Barack Obama first asserted that Syria's use, or movement, of chemical or biological weapons (CBW) would be a "red line" that would result in "enormous consequences." The British and French quickly followed suit. Just this week, the significance of these red lines was reiterated in view of intelligence reports that the Assad regime is weaponizing Sarin nerve gas.
The Obama administration has been silent about its rationales for these red lines. But reasons matter. As with any use of force in international relations, the legitimacy of an intervention in Syria would hinge on the strength of its moral and legal justifications. Are the Obama administration's red lines primarily designed to protect civilians? Or, are they intended to warn President Bashar al-Assad not to let CBW fall into the hands of terrorists? As it stands, the motivations for the red lines are unclear. Ironically, however, the Obama administration risks resurrecting the much-maligned Bush Doctrine of preemptive self-defense.
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Nearly a year after former President Ali Abdullah Saleh signed a transition agreement, Yemen risks significant localized violence and territorial fragmentation. While politicians and the international community in the capital prepare for national dialogue, Zaydi rebels, known as the Houthis, and Salafi fighters associated with the Islamist party, Islah, are positioning for further skirmishes in the North. Already, clashes during the last months have killed dozens of people and inflammatory rhetoric by both sides is a harbinger of violence to come. In the South, separatist sentiment remains high and there is no agreement on how to effectively include the southern movement, a loose and divided coalition calling for immediate southern independence or at a minimum greater autonomy, into the dialogue process. Attacks by al Qaeda and its local affiliate, Ansar al-Sharia, are on the rise, with assassinations of over 60 military-security personnel in 2012 alone. The minister of defense has escaped assassination on at least six different occasions.
During his recent visit to the United States, President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi of Yemen expressed his concerns that if the National Dialogue -- a forum supposedly representing the major political players in Yemen -- fails, Yemen could slide into a civil war that will be worse than those in Somalia or Afghanistan. Part of this rhetoric was strategic, intended to nudge the so-called "Friends of Yemen" to commit to much needed (although potentially pernicious) aid. Nevertheless, Hadi is only slightly exaggerating the dangers Yemen could face, and recent developments -- such as the delay of the National Dialogue -- make his predictions more worrisome.
Hadi, who ran unopposed in February, was elected after a prolonged stalemate since January 2011. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)-engineered compromise that ensured the transfer of power from then President Ali Abdullah Saleh to Hadi helped avert the civil war that Yemen was dangerously skirting at that time. Many groups in Yemen, however, view the GCC deal as a failure and an imposition that ensured that formal and informal power remain in the hands of old elites. As the International Crisis Group (ICG) reports, Yemeni elites have kept their hold on power as they continue to play musical chairs with government positions. Meanwhile, the Houthi rebels in the North, the Hiraaki separatists in the South, as well as various youth groups who were the backbone of the early days of the revolution, are left out of the deal.
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When a presidential campaign is in full swing, we probably should not be surprised that the challenger's team throws everything and the kitchen sink at the incumbent. Still, it seems strange that Republicans want to remind voters that President Barack Obama extricated the United States from a difficult and unpopular war in Iraq. But that is just what Peter Feaver did in the Foreign Policy blog Shadow Government on October 12. He said that the president had opened up a "civil-military problem" for himself, because "significant portions of the military believe the administration abandoned them on Iraq." He went on to accuse the administration, and Vice President Joe Biden specifically, of blowing the chance to negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Iraq, either through incompetence or a lack of serious commitment, that would have permitted the United States to keep tens of thousands of troops in Iraq. Those are some pretty stiff charges. (Full disclosure: Feaver and I went to graduate school together. He is a great guy, but just plain wrong here.)
We can set aside, for this discussion, the big question about whether keeping that many U.S. troops in Iraq would have been a good thing. It is pretty clear what the American people think the answer is. The interesting thing about Feaver's thumbnail account of the supposed failure of the administration on this issue is the utter absence of Iraqis from the story. When the United States fails to achieve a goal, it must be either because we really were not committed to it, or we messed up. The other guys just are not that important. It really is all about us.
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In a recent video entitled "Days with the Imam" in which he recalls Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri declares that the founder of al Qaeda had been a "member of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Arabian Peninsula" before he was evicted in the 1980s. He was expelled because of his insistence on fighting alongside the mujahidin in Afghanistan while the Brotherhood allowed him to bring aid to Pakistan but didn't want him to go any further. Zawahiri's claims seem to have caused some embarrassment among the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), judging from how quick MB spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan was to refute them.
One reason for the embarrassment may be that, with a Muslim Brotherhood president recently elected in Egypt, the organization is eager to reassure the West of its moderate Islamist orientation and is therefore afraid of anything associating it with al Qaeda or jihadism. Yet Zawahiri's declarations shouldn't be seen as too problematic in this respect, since they portray the MB as an organization unwilling to let its members take part in physical jihad, even against the Soviets in Afghanistan at a time when the issue was far less controversial than it would later become. A more likely reason for the Brotherhood's distress, however, is that Zawahiri reveals what among Saudi Islamist insiders is an open secret but remains little known outside those circles: that there exists a Saudi Arabian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The attack on Benghazi's U.S. consulate propelled a new jihadist organization into the political spotlight: Ansar al Sharia. As a number of groups sharing the same name have emerged across the Middle East and North Africa, pundits now scrabble for details of this little known yet seemingly ascendant force of global jihadism. This week, an interview with Hassen Brik, a spokesperson for Ansar al Sharia Tunisia, offered some clues as to the motivations and personalities behind the organization's development in Tunisia.
As we enter the family home in Tunis, it becomes clear that the lives of Tunisia's vilified jihadists cannot be reduced to the images of pious fanaticism on which the western media relies. We are greeted by his sister; unveiled, she is casually dressed in khaki cut-offs and a vest top. She says she feels under no pressure from Hassen to dress conservatively. His brothers, too, have followed very different life trajectories. Karim, in fact, goes by the stage name "Minissi" and has gained a large domestic following for his self-produced rap music. In contrast, their eldest brother is a military man, having served as an army sniper during the Ben Ali era.
While John Brennan's, President Obama's chief counterterrorism advisor, recent speech on U.S. policy in Yemen still echoed in the halls of the Council of Foreign Relations, the rebel Houthi movement was busy planning an anti-American demonstration galvanizing hundreds of supporters across the country. Although the Houthis are by no means representative of the Yemeni public, they are tapping into a widespread sentiment in order to garner sympathy and support. Originally emerging as a geographically-contained, rebellious movement seeking autonomy and independence from Sanaa's central government and former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, they are now positioning themselves as a revolutionary force that seeks to advocate for the downtrodden and overturn injustice.
In 2008 -- 18 years after New York City threw him a ticker tape parade for helping to end apartheid -- it took an act of Congress to ensure that Nelson Mandela did not need a special waiver to enter the United States, finally removing his terrorist designation. In November 2011, Hezbollah leader Imad Mughniyah was removed from the "Individuals and Entities Designated by the State Department Under E.O. 13224" terrorist list. He had been dead for three and a half years. The "German Taliban," Eric Breininger, was dead for more than a week when he was added to the list. Although these may seem like bureaucratic oversights, they are indicative of wider problems in terrorist listing systems. While attempting to punish terrorist groups and restrict their activities, these systems have reduced the space for diplomacy, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). These disparate examples also highlight the continuing lack of agreement on who is a "terrorist."
Yemen's recently installed President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi surprised many observers by moving swiftly to establish control over the battered nation's military. His efforts, backed by an unusually assertive United Nations mediation effort, offer a rare glimpse of hope for a nation battered by more than a year of instability and political conflict.
Few believed that the new government would be able to dislodge the entrenched power of the family of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. But Hadi has already moved to sideline two prominent members of that family faction. Mohammed Saleh al-Ahmar, Saleh's half brother and commander of the air force, was "promoted" into a position of impotence. Tarik Saleh, Saleh's nephew and commander of a powerful brigade encircling Sanaa, was offered a new posting in the remote eastern desert province of Hadramaut.
Yemen's army chief of staff, Major General Ahmed Ali al-Ashwal, arrived in Washington, DC earlier this week to review the current state of military cooperation between Sanaa and Washington. Much rests on whether Yemen's new president, Abed Rabbo Mansour al-Hadi, can effectively reform the country's military and security forces and bring them under unified, professional leadership. White House counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan recently voiced support for al-Ashwal as "an impressive and professional military officer" and praised Hadi's understanding of what it would take to "turn the Yemeni military into a professional and first-rate military organization."
But neither Hadi nor al-Ashwal has a free hand in their task of restructuring the military and security services. Hadi commutes from home to meetings at the palace across a city divided into zones of multiple military control and studded with checkpoints. So far, he has tried and failed to persuade Yemen's rival factions to withdraw their armed forces and militiamen from Sanaa. Stability for now depends on maintaining the balance of power between the Republican Guard under the command of Saleh's son, Ahmed Ali, and the First Armoured Division under the command of Saleh's kinsman, General Ali Mohsin. Both factions are counting on support from powerful external stakeholders.
With daily massacres in Homs and prosecution of U.S. non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Cairo, the simmering conflict in Sanaa has faded into the background. Yet on February 21 attention will turn again to Yemen on the occasion of its presidential election. The election might seem hollow, as there is only one candidate in the race, however, it is still a pivotal step in Yemen's political transition -- and the United States should use this moment to press for a real shift away from the former regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The national vote could be more aptly named a referendum, as the current Vice President Abed Rabbo Hadi Mansour, who assumed temporary authority via a deal advanced by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), will be anointed Yemen's next leader barring any catastrophic outbreaks of violence.
While on the surface the election might seem like window-dressing at best, the psychological impact for Yemen of moving into the next phase is powerful. At a minimum, the election turns the page on decades of disappointment, despair, and disillusionment. And definitively removing Saleh from power could pave the way for opening new space for real political competition and accountable governance. He is a man who has ruled Yemen for 33 years, in his own words, "by dancing on the heads of snakes," through masterful skill in manipulating tribal alliances, political allegiances, and patronage networks. After prior pledges to leave power were reversed -- and months of hand-wringing when Saleh agreed to sign the deal and then three times reneged -- just having this official exit stamp is a relief.
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Yemen seems trapped in an endless political stalemate. More than a year after massive protests erupted challenging the 33 year old regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen seems no closer to achieving a meaningful political transition. The deadlock has persisted despite the outrage over regime violence against civilians, splits at the top of the military, a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the violence and calling for a transfer of power, a Nobel Peace Prize for leading Yemeni protest figure Tawakkol Karman, and the near assassination of Saleh himself. In the absence of a political solution, the humanitarian situation has dramatically worsened and regional conflicts across the country have intensified. Is there any hope for Yemen?
On Wednesday, January 25, from 12:30-2:00 pm, I will be hosting a POMEPS panel discussion at the Elliott School of International Affairs on Yemen's political stalemate, featuring three political scientists with deep experience in Yemen and very different specializations: Stacey Yadav, Sheila Carapico, and Laurent Bonnefoy. When I chose the title "Yemen's Stalemate" for the panel a few months ago, several people commented that this seemed gloomy. I would have loved to have been proven wrong, but here we are. I hope many of you can attend; a video of the event will be posted later. The post which follows is the introductory essay to POMEPS Briefing #8: Yemen's Stalemate, which can be downloaded here.
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Abd al-Hakim Belhaj, the commander of Tripoli's Military Council who spearheaded the attack on Muammar al-Qaddafi's compound at Bab al-Aziziya, is raising red flags in the West. Belhaj, whom I met and interviewed in March 2010 in Tripoli along with Saif al-Islam al-Qaddafi, is better known in the jihadi world as "Abu Abdullah al-Sadiq." He is the former commander of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), a jihad organization with historical links to al Qaeda, the Taliban, and the Egyptian al-Jihad organization. Does his prominent role mean that jihadists are set to exploit the fall of Qaddafi's regime?
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In a recent New York Times op-ed, renowned al Qaeda expert Gregory Johnsen argued that Anwar al-Awlaki is a peripheral figure in al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and that U.S. security services should worry less about Awlaki and more about AQAP's top leaders, such as Nasir al-Wihayshi and Sa'idal-Shihri. Johnsen is right about the first part of his argument, but wrong about the second.
Awlaki is indeed not a top leader in AQAP's domestic operations, but he is arguably the single most important individual behind the group's efforts to carry out operations in the West. The threat he poses is not constructed. He has repeatedly declared his support for mass-casualty attacks on U.S. civilians and is, by all accounts, playing an active role in the planning of international terrorist attacks. His removal will not destroy AQAP, but it will reduce the group's ability to strike in the West.
Nearly nine years after the attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States still has 100,000 troops fighting and dying in Afghanistan, and another 50,000 holding down the fort in Iraq. One hundred seventy-six inmates remain at the U.S. prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. A number of disturbing near-misses -- the attempted Christmas Day bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253, the Times Square fizzle, and various other plots -- have put the threat of terrorism back in the news. In a Gallup poll conducted in late August, 47 percent of Americans surveyed said that terrorism would be "extremely important" to their vote for Congress this year, with another 28 percent rating the issue "very important."
Yet there's also a sense that terrorism has faded as a political issue as the economy and general dissatisfaction with Washington have crowded out all other concerns. The intense debates on the op-ed pages and in the blogosphere of the war on terror's go-go years have quieted. The military tribunals in Guantánamo have evoked little public interest. Anti-Islam fervor may be rising, but terrorism just doesn't seem to elicit the passions it once did. Indeed, it would be hard to imagine outgoing Newsweek columnist Fareed Zakaria, always a reliable barometer of conventional wisdom, writing this sentence in, say, 2008 -- "Nine years after 9/11, can anyone doubt that Al Qaeda is simply not that deadly a threat?" -- and barely making a splash.
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In his Iraq speech tonight, President Obama has an opportunity to explain to Americans how the United States and Iraq got to the point where the combat mission had to end by a date certain and explain how his administration can apply these lessons to the ongoing struggle in Afghanistan.
Conventional wisdom among America's foreign policy establishment is that setting deadlines for troop withdrawals from war zones are detrimental for U.S. national security. But this foreign policy establishment is just as wrong about why America is leaving Iraq by a date certain as they were about why we had to go to war in Iraq in the first place.
The narrative constructed by those who advocated that the U.S. increase, or surge, of more troops into Iraq in 2007 goes something like this: President Bush's troop increase demonstrated that our commitment was open-ended and allowed the military to implement a real counterinsurgency strategy that paved the way to "victory." But a closer examination of the facts demonstrates that the opposite is true -- in Iraq, violence declined because more Iraqis perceived that U.S. troops were leaving and took appropriate action.
The Republic of Yemen is often spoken of in the press and in policy circles as a society on the verge of collapse (last year it was "another Somalia"), based largely on two claims, the first being the supposed weakness of its state, the other the supposed lawlessness of its tribal population that makes up the majority ethnic group (about seventy-five percent are settled agriculturalists in the mountains and another five per cent, nomadic Bedouin in the eastern desert). And supposedly being on the verge of collapse, Yemen is seen as vulnerable to take-over by terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda that threaten America's and the region's security. Let us consider how tribe and state, law and conflict operate in Yemen that few analysts seem to grasp when they make these pronouncements.
History may provide some perspective. There has been a state or dawlah in Yemen for thousands of years, whether the Sabaean state that built Marib Dam and was the reputed homeland of the Queen of Sheba, or the Islamic state created shortly after the advent of Islam which lasted for a thousand years, or the republican state that came into being in 1962 and has lasted until the present day, despite two bitter civil wars. To be sure, the state has waxed and waned in power and contracted or expanded in territory during this history, and it has faced formidable outside opponents, beginning with the Romans and most recently with al-Qaeda, but it has never fully collapsed or disappeared from the scene. It is unlikely to do so in the present in spite of arguments that the current regime is at a tipping point and about to fall apart because of an unprecedented number of seemingly intractable problems facing it (an ever weakening economy, unsustainable water consumption, projected diminished oil reserves, conflicts between the state and certain regional populations, rampant corruption, and let us not forget al-Qaeda).
To those who would say to me, "How do you know it is not at a tipping point?" I can only respond with, "How do you know that it is?" and remind ourselves of the longue durée of Yemeni history.
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, the energetic octogenarian who is in his fifth year as head of the oil-rich kingdom, will visit Washington on June 29. Abdullah has overcome divisions within the royal family and proceeded to restore stability to the kingdom, which just a few years ago was under siege by local radicals and wracked with fears about the possible regionalization of the Iraq war. For all his considerable political acumen, however, Abdullah has turned to an old playbook to consolidate the House of Saud's authority -- leaving important questions about what comes next for the kingdom unanswered.
Amid political uncertainty, Abdullah has taken measured steps to transform his country. Abdullah's Saudi Arabia is a remarkably different place than that of his immediate predecessor. With his blessing, the Saudi press, while hardly free, is occasionally vibrant and sometimes even critically introspective. Some of the kingdom's most sacred institutions and practices, including the reactionary religious establishment and the draconian restrictions imposed on women, have come under fire in the media by a growing number of Saudi journalists, intellectuals, and activists. Saudi citizens have been taking their cues directly from the king, who has worked to rein in the clergy, which has enjoyed tremendous power since the kingdom took a conservative turn in the late 1970s.
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What will be the image that frames the news reporting of June 29's White House meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia? Surely not another bow toward the desert monarch, as caught on video at the London G-20 meeting in April 2009. Or what hypercritics saw as a further deferential bob in Riyadh last June, when the president leaned forward so the shorter king could confer on him the King Abdul Aziz Order of Merit, a chunky necklace that Obama took off within seconds.
Of course, what the White House staff most wants to avoid is any image as awkward as the shot of President George W. Bush and then Crown Prince Abdullah walking arm in arm at the start of a meeting at Bush's Crawford, Texas, ranch in April 2002. The shot was memorialized by Michael Moore in Fahrenheit 9/11 and, with Moore himself superimposed in place of Abdullah, became the poster for the movie, plastered on thousands of theater walls across the United States.
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Since a Yemen-based militant group's claim of responsibility for the failed Christmas Day plot to blow up an airliner over Detroit U.S. policy makers have been paying more attention to Yemen. In early March, Yemen launched airstrikes on suspected al Qaeda hideouts, and in mid-March, Yemeni security forces arrested a U.S. man in San'a on suspicion of belonging to al Qaeda. Figuring out what to do about it has been more difficult. Should the U.S. primarily help Yemen's security forces to defeat the militant group, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, by capturing or killing its members? Or is it also necessary to reduce the lawlessness and impunity in Yemen on which the militant group thrives?
Saudi authorities announced Wednesday the arrest of 113 terrorism suspects, accusing them of plotting to attack key oil and security targets in the Kingdom. News accounts have tied the arrests to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen. The arrests need to be put into broader perspective, however. They are part of an ongoing, broadly successful counter-terrorism campaign, rather than a dramatic new development. The alleged Yemeni connections, while troubling, raise as many questions as they answer.
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