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?
MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images
Jordan unveiled a package of constitutional amendments last Sunday which offered the most drastic overhaul of the 1952 constitution ever proposed. King Abdullah promised these revisions on June 12 in a surprising televised speech. The new push came in response to five months of increasingly strident protests and criticism, and seemed designed to emulate the constitutional reform gambit of Morocco's King Mohammed VI.
Many Jordanians were stunned by the explicit promise in June of a future system that would draw governing cabinets from the elected parliament rather than appointment by palace fiat. The idea of constitutional monarchy, which entails divesting absolute royal power to the legislature alongside other sweeping institutional changes, captivated the political salons, business magazines, and civic debates of Amman through July. Many intellectuals compared the excitement in the air to 1989, when King Hussein began to end decades of authoritarian closure through unprecedented political reforms.
The revisions unveiled on Sunday made some serious changes, but fell far short of that promise of elected governments. Unlike in Morocco, there will be no popular referendum. The reforms do not curb the king's core powers or move toward a constitutional monarchy in which he would reign but not rule. The election and parties law, unchecked security services, and rife corruption go untouched. Economic development outside Amman remains laggard. Will such a limited reform gambit be enough to blunt popular pressure on the embattled king?
04 Mar 2011 KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP/Getty Images
The trial of deposed President Hosni Mubarak alongside his two sons, his ministers, and their business associates, resumed Monday after launching on August 2. Many Egyptians expressed satisfaction at seeing the dictator on trial by the country's own judicial system, and hope that his conviction would stand as an emblem for a new Egypt. But others had reservations about his treatment. Those mixed feelings reveal how even the prosecution of Egypt's head of state can only represent a first step in a longer-term and more comprehensive process toward transitional justice. The drive for retribution and punishment must not eclipse the need for truth telling, accounting, and transparency.
Egypt is not the first country to struggle with the question of how to bring leaders of a deposed regime to justice. Transitional justice is generally associated with holding accountable perpetrators of massive violations of human rights. But in recent years, activists and scholars have shifted attention to the ways in which transitional justice can facilitate the transition from autocratic to democratic government. For Mubarak's trial to play this role, Egyptians need to rethink what they want from transitional justice. While punishing the old regime for its crimes is necessary and important, the prosecution of deposed officials will ultimately prove an empty victory if the process does not help consolidate a new and meaningful democratic order that ends impunity, reconstructs state-citizen relations, and institutionalizes accountability and rule of law.
If you were watching Iraq's government-sponsored satellite channel Al-Iraqiyah Sports yesterday between 9 p.m. and 12 a.m. Baghdad time you would not have known that the whole country had just endured its bloodiest day in over a year. Earlier in the day, spectacular attacks killed and injured over 300 people. But as soon as Ramadan's daily fast was broken, over 50,000 spectators packed into Baghdad's most prominent stadium, Al-Sha'ab, to watch the Baghdad-based Al-Zawraa club (dubbed the White Seagulls because of their white jerseys) take on the Arbil-based Arbil Club (known as the yellow Citadel given the colors of their jerseys and the presence of the historical citadel in downtown Arbil) in the championship game of a long soccer season.
The most obvious conclusion one might come to at the end of the evening is that Iraqis are resilient and attacks are not going to deter them from carrying on with their daily lives. That is apparent in the actions of the soccer federation that did not cancel the game despite the attraction it could provide to insurgents as a target and the fans who were, ironically, bothered by the heavy security presence at the stadium. However, in a more subtle manner, it was evident how the game mirrored the country's political and social situation -- divided, hotly contested, and with deeply unclear significance.
AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images
TEL AVIV — On any other day, Rothschild Boulevard is known for its hip restaurants, beautifully renovated Bauhaus buildings, and the headquarters of Israel's largest banks. Today, walking down the tent-filled boulevard, one could mistakenly feel as if he or she has landed in the heart of a Middle Eastern Woodstock festival. Couples smoke waterpipes as jazz musicians compete with folk bands for their attention, jugglers play next to political art installations, and people walk by ad-hoc kitchens that offer free food to all. Yet passers by are called to join discussion groups addressing the erosion of the Israeli welfare state, and inside the larger tents talks are given about cartels and corporate accountability. In this Israeli Hyde Park, a new discourse has been ignited. Rather than focusing on security and peace, the conversation centers on social justice, with Israelis articulating their aspiration for a state that cares and provides for all its citizens.
"We want the future they promised us, a future in which we could own a home, give our children adequate education and have a functioning health system," says Efrat Melter, a 34-year-old law student who runs a Facebook gender equality group. "We don't want to talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict anymore. When doing that we are only throwing sand in our eyes, while the government and the rich are stealing our money and the country's infrastructure." All of a sudden, middle-class Israelis are refusing to play according to their prescribed roles. At least for now, for the duration of this protest, the core issues around which they mobilize are not only the right/left and anti/pro-occupation fault lines that have divided Israeli society for the past decades. Instead, they are now fiercely rallying for economic justice. The enemies are no longer the Palestinians but are instead the "tycoons," Israel's wealthy elite, which is blamed for corrupting politicians into allowing them to form unofficial cartels that keep salaries low and the cost of living high.
Tunisia's saving grace since Ben Ali left in January has been the inclusiveness and consensual nature of its transition process. In recent months, however, polarization between the Islamist el-Nahda Party and secular forces has become the primary topic of debate among political elites. I certainly saw deep differences in a trip to Tunisia at the end of July. Rashid al-Ghannushi, the leader of the largest Islamist movement, talks almost bitterly and in deeply populist terms of the desires of the country's elite (by which he means leftists, liberals, and secularists) to cling to power; leftists and liberals see the Islamists as preparing a grab for power.
This is especially troubling less than three months before scheduled elections for a constituent assembly tasked with writing a new constitution. If there is one rule about political transitions, it is that it goes more smoothly when all significant political forces get a seat at a table where basic decisions are openly and consensually made. That is what Tunisia has tried to do. But with polarization growing and with nerves fraying, will an inclusive and consensual process work when the country tries to write a new constitution after polarizing elections?
In fact, the focus on polarization is blinding Tunisians to the extent to which this is already happening. Tunisians are suspicious of each other's intentions for a collection of good and bad reasons. But they may find the task of crafting a constitution a bit less contentious than they fear.
FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images
After serving nearly six years as the special advisor to the United States Security Coordinator (USSC) for Israel and the Palestinian Territories, I came home convinced of one thing, cognizant of another. The first was that a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was not only in the vital security interests of Israel and the future state of Palestine, but also the United States. The second, initially noted two years ago by a former IDF Chief of Staff, was that, "The USSC, the IDF and the Palestinian Security Services were buying time, time for the politicians.... [A]nd they're wasting it." As we approach the United Nations General Assembly session in September, the first conviction remains immutable, while sadly, the reality of the general's observation appears not to have changed in the slightest.
T. E. Lawrence wrote in the aftermath of the First World War, "...[W]hen we achieved, and the new world dawned, the old men came out again and took our victory to re-make in the likeness of the former world they knew... We stammered that we had worked for a new heaven and a new earth, and they thanked us kindly, and made their peace."
"All Americans think I'm a terrorist," 34-year-old Salafi political organizer Mohammed Tolba exhales with his trademark belly laugh. He grips his gearshift and accelerates to 115 miles per hour down a winding overpass in Cairo. "But I only terrorize the highways." Since the fall of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, Tolba has constantly been on the go. "The media says we all wear galabeyas (long Islamic dress), put our women in niqabs (a face veil), and will cut off people's hands," Tolba says, dramatically feigning a yawn. "We're the new boogey-man, but people need to know we're normal -- that we drink lattes and laugh."
To this end, the silver-tongued IT consultant shuttles regularly from the modish offices of popular television personality Bassem Youssef (he's starring in a segment on the "Egyptian Jon Stewart's" highly anticipated new show) to the considerably less shiny quarters of Cairo's foremost Salafist centers. He's been conducting leadership and media-training workshops for Salafis. "These guys don't know how to talk to the public," says Tolba, rubbing his eyes in exhaustion. "Once they open their mouths and face a camera, man, they ruin everything."
The same might be said for their debut on Egypt's main stage last Friday, as hundreds of thousands of Salafis joined other Islamist groups in Cairo's Tahrir Square. Droves of people from governorates across Egypt got off buses near Tahrir Square, chanting "Islamic, Islamic, we don't want secular." One Salafi, Hisham al-Ashry, beamed with pride as he walked back from the square to his tailor shop downtown. "Today is a turning point, we finally showed our strength." Meanwhile, "the liberals and the leftists are freaking out. God protect the nation and revolution," noted popular blogger Zeinobia.
Who are the faces and voices of an oft-deemed bearded and veiled monolith that packed the square? And what exactly do they want?
Al-Shaab Yureed Tatbiq Shari'a Allah! The people want to implement God's Sharia! That chant rang through my ears as I struggled through a jam-packed Tahrir Square on Friday, as hundreds of thousands of Islamists packed the symbolic home of Egypt's revolution to demand that their presence be known. Two days later, the ill-advised occupation of Tahrir Square by mostly secular and leftist political trends which began on July 8 largely ended, as most groups decided to pull out and then security forces cleared the remains. Feelings are running raw in Egypt as the revolution approaches yet another turning point. The galvanizing events of the weekend mark a new stage in one of the most urgent battles in post-Mubarak Egypt: who owns the revolution, and who may speak in its name?
Qatar has been a notable exception to the wave of popular political mobilization that has struck Arab countries since January 2011. This is particularly so given the prominent role of its state-owned television station Al Jazeera in supporting many -- though not all -- of the uprisings. Why has Qatar been seemingly immune to the protest wave? Its wealth matters, of course, but other wealthy countries like Libya and Bahrain have experienced turmoil. Some new insights into this question can be found in the Qatar World Values Survey (QWVS), an important survey of Qatari public opinion administered in December 2010 on the eve of the Arab revolts.
For decades, democracy promotion efforts have tended to focus on strengthening civil society and stimulating civic engagement as methods of encouraging the emergence of a democratic political culture. This is nowhere more present than in the Arab world. Between 1991 and 2001, some $150 million -- more than half of all U.S. funding for democracy-promotion in the Middle East -- went toward this goal. Yet the QWVS revealed that, in fact, civic participation in Qatar is actually associated not only with reduced support for democracy itself, but also with a disproportionate lack of the values and behaviors thought to be essential to it, including confidence in government institutions and social tolerance. In Qatar, the QWVS showed that civic participation cannot lead individuals toward a greater appreciation for democracy, for it is precisely those who least value democracy that tend to be most actively engaged.
KARIM JAAFAR/AFP/Getty Images
Nobody has ever confused Niccolo Machiavelli with an Islamic revolutionary -- but he certainly knew a thing or two about revolutions. The Florentine political philosopher watched his native city overthrow, restore, and then overthrow again the powerful Medici family. And it was in this hotbed of backstabbing clans, religious favoritism, and political power plays that Machiavelli sharpened his teeth. Ah, how he would have enjoyed the Tehran of today.
Half a millennia later, the author of The Prince and intellectual father of realpolitik has found one of his most impressive students in Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei -- another leader well-acquainted with the exercise of acquiring, and keeping, political power. Indeed, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose rise (and now his seeming fall from grace) was orchestrated by Khamenei, is the third Iranian head of state (preceded by Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammed Khatami) whom Khamenei has outmaneuvered.
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images
CAIRO — Since June 12, half of the 18,000 workers who operate and service the Suez Canal have been on strike. They are employed in maritime services by seven subsidiary companies of the Suez Canal Authority in Suez, Isma‘iliyya, and Port Said. In contrast, those employed directly by the canal authority have always received higher wages and better benefits. Long before January 25, 2011 subsidiary company workers raised the demand for parity, effectively a 40 percent wage increase.
Management of the subsidiary companies accepted this demand in April, an expression of the new possibilities of the post-January 25 era. But the interim government has maintained that wages and working conditions of public service workers are established by parliamentary legislation, and therefore, no changes can be made while the parliament is dissolved. The strike expresses workers' rejection of this logic.
Egyptian workers have achieved increased strength and self-confidence in the course of the revolutionary movement. This is expressed by the capacity to sustain a five-week-long strike in an industrial sector linked to the economically and strategically critical Suez Canal and by insisting that economic demands be met despite the absence of the legal framework established by the old regime. Labor unions continue to rebuff myriad accusations in the press and by some of the "revolutionary youth" that workers' economic demands are narrow "special interests" rather than "national interests." In this respect, workers share the achievement of all Egyptians who heeded the revolutionary call, "Lift your head high. You are an Egyptian" -- the recovery of their human dignity.
Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, Bahrain's single largest political movement, yesterday announced its withdrawal from a much-heralded "national dialogue" after only two weeks. The immediate trigger for the decision was an anti-Shia insult used by a pro-government Sunni MP at the discussions. But underlying this are deeper concerns that the dialogue process is unrepresentative and unlikely to bring meaningful reforms. The withdrawal of Wefaq marks a dangerous deterioration in an already fragile effort to move past the abortive uprising and sweeping repression that marked the first half of 2011.
The National Dialogue was already flawed, but the withdrawal of the largest opposition group after only two weeks is a further setback. The recent announcement of an independent commission to investigate the recent events and deliver a report in October is one of the few remaining sources of hope. There are few indications that the government is prepared to countenance the political reforms the opposition are seeking, such as empowering the elected parliament or ending gerrymandering. Indeed, a worrying narrative conveyed by some officials portrays much of Bahrain's Shia population as disloyal and undeserving of democracy.
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.
CAIRO — Under a baking hot Egyptian afternoon sun, old women in full face veils mingle with teenage boys in designer jeans. Coptic Christians stand next to conservative Muslims, chanting together that they want freedom. Factory workers from the Nile Delta sit in tents, reading pamphlets passed out by web-savvy activists. The whole country is watching. On a Friday 147 days after Hosni Mubarak resigned from Egypt's presidency, tens of thousands of Egyptians are again taking to downtown Cairo's Tahrir Square to pressure their government to listen to their demands for change. Many are saying they will not leave the square until their demands are met. Meanwhile, other cities around Egypt are seeing similar protests.
If the scene is reminiscent of last winter's dramatic three-week uprising -- scorching heat aside -- it is not by coincidence. July 8's protest is an extension of the revolution, which many Egyptians believe has not yet been brought to fruition. The feeling has been reinforced in recent weeks by the perception that justice is not being served for dozens of corrupt officials who ran the country and then ordered the killing of protesters during the uprising. "Revolution First," reads a common protest sign in Tahrir.
KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images
Bashar al-Assad never saw it coming. In a Jan. 31 interview with the Wall Street Journal, the Syrian autocrat boasted that his regime was immune from the revolutionary wave spreading across the Middle East because it "very closely linked to the beliefs of the people."
Over the past month and a half, Syrians have made a liar out of their president. Small protests broke out in Damascus on March 15 and have slowly spread to towns and cities throughout the country. And as the movement has gained strength, Assad's crackdown has increased in brutality. The Syrian regime has killed at least 450 people since the uprising began, according to human rights groups, and this week sent tanks into the mutinous southern town of Daraa to quell the protests.
BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images
Europe and America have shared a settled conviction over the last decades: It is that Israel, out of its own necessity, must seek to conserve a Jewish majority within Israel. And that with time, and a growing Palestinian population, Israel will at some point have to acquiesce to a Palestinian state in order to maintain that Jewish majority: that is, only by giving Palestinians their own state and thereby shedding a part of the Palestinians it controls, can Israel's Jewish majority be preserved.
This simple proposition has given us the security-first doctrine: Meeting Israel's self-definition of its own security needs -- it is presumed -- stands as the unique and sufficient principle, allowing Israel to transition with confidence to the two-state solution.
But Israel has not done this -- despite many opportunities over the last 19 years -- and does not seem any more disposed to "give" a Palestinian state now. Seldom is it asked why, if the logic is indeed so compelling, have two states not emerged?
With heavy rain expected in London on Friday, the royal wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton could be a meteorological disaster. Rain or shine, it could also be a political catastrophe for the Arab royal families attending as guests. The affair will feature a total of eight Arab royals. By comparison, when the groom's father, Prince Charles, married his long-time "close friend," Camilla, in 2005, there were only four Arab royal guests. When Charles married Diana in 1991, there were just two.
With an estimated 2 billion people watching on television across the world, and another 400 million on the Internet, the royal wedding also promises to be a bold statement of defiance against the Arab Spring -- and clear proof of how much the Arab royals are out of touch.
Chris Jackson/Getty Images
Saudi Arabia has thus far been spared the agitations for change that toppled Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak and that are now pressuring Bahraini and Yemeni leaders. King Abdullah's popularity among the majority of Saudis accounts for much of the lack of impetus for political overhaul in the kingdom. Abdullah, however, is 87 and unhealthy. When he dies, what will happen to the country?
Instead of speculating about who might succeed Abdullah and how Saudi Arabia will change as a result, it's more constructive to analyze how Saudi Arabia has conducted itself amidst regional unrest and understand what this says about senior Saudi leadership.
In the shadow of the extraordinary events under way in the Middle East, Djibouti's presidential vote was always going to struggle for attention. Indeed, the plight of this tiny country, sandwiched between Somalia and Yemen, remains almost completely ignored. But as the primary seaport to 85 million landlocked Ethiopians, the center of anti-piracy efforts in the Horn of Africa, and a reliable Western ally in the war on terror, Djibouti is a strategically vital country in an unstable neighborhood.
And with Nigeria's potentially tumultuous national vote coming this week, the relative quiet of the Djiboutian electoral process, which culminated with a ballot on April 8, might be considered a pleasant surprise compared with the electoral chaos of Africa's largest democracy. Djibouti boasts fewer than a million inhabitants -- voters in one district of the Nigerian city of Lagos outnumber its entire electoral roll.
SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images
Two months ago, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad famously told the Wall Street Journal that he had nothing to fear from the wave of popular protests convulsing the Arab world because his government reflects "the beliefs of the people." While his boast was surely disingenuous, his confidence appeared quite genuine. Notwithstanding the recent spate of mass demonstrations and violent government reprisals in Syria that have left more than 100 people dead, Assad's ability to weather this storm should not be underestimated.
If grievances alone could bring down governments, Assad would be in a world of trouble. Most Syrians suffer from the same economic hardships that have fueled popular uprisings in other Arab countries (high unemployment, rising cost of living, rampant corruption, and so on) while their political and civil liberties have been violated in greater measure. Adding insult to injury for Syria's large Sunni Muslim majority, the ruling elite is dominated by Alawites, an Islamic sect comprising roughly 12 percent of the population.
ANWAR AMRO/AFP/Getty Images
As U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Cairo's Tahrir Square during her first visit to post-revolutionary Egypt last month, I watched the news unfold from several miles away in the damp, sparse offices of the Muslim Brotherhood's parliamentary leaders.
"Why doesn't she meet with us?" asked one Brotherhood member.
"We know why," said another.
And then they both fell silent.
CAIRO, Egypt — The need to establish stability during a period of great uncertainty was a central issue in Egypt's constitutional amendment referendum held on March 19. Advocates of a "yes" vote championed an immediate path to political, economic, and social stability through amendments to the most offensive provisions of the constitution, which would be followed by parliamentary and presidential elections in the coming months. Only then would a new constitution be considered. While 77.2% of Egyptians approved the referendum, the vote will not bring clarity and assurance to the country. Even though a new sense of confidence has come from the process of the referendum, the implementation of its provisions threatens to spur a new kind of instability and uncertainty.
The referendum asked voters to approve or reject several amendments intended to quickly fix aspects of the constitution dealing mainly with the emergency law and presidential elections. The vote also paved the way for the drafting of a new constitution. None of the amendments were particularly controversial in substance, but an opposition movement quickly developed to denounce the amendments as a mere "patching" of an unacceptable constitution that had become null and void as a result of the revolution. Opponents of the referendum also expressed concern that starting with parliamentary elections would benefit existing power structures-the remnants of the National Democratic Party (NDP) and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular-to the exclusion of new and fledgling parties. Thus, the parliament that would oversee the new constitution would fail to be truly representative, they argued.
When the famed author Paul Bowles first caught a glimpse of Morocco, he quickly became convinced it was a "magic place."
The Moroccan government long ago embraced this fantasy, selling itself as a bastion of calm in a troubled region, the Arab world's model of reform. And American policymakers bought it. In sentiments repeated regularly by her successors, Madeleine Albright called the North African kingdom a "leader in democratic reform" -- boasting that "other countries are moving in the right direction, but Morocco is showing the way."
If Morocco's political system was our model all this time, then perhaps our standards were too low. Having the least-worst record of democratization in the region should never have been enough. Every time the U.S. government lavished praise on Morocco, we sent a message to all Arab citizens: This was the most they should ever hope for.
Let's face it: Hosni Mubarak was a strategic asset to the United States. He ensured access to the Suez Canal, upheld the Egypt-Israel peace treaty, and kept the Islamists down. He also presided over a foul regime that abused its citizens and violated every principle that Americans hold dear. The fact that the United States supported this now-discredited government for three decades is not lost on Egyptians. And it shouldn't be lost on Washington, either, as it attempts to forge a new relationship with Cairo.
Washington has a long wish list for the new Egypt. Despite its baggage-laden history with the country, the United States wants Egypt to be democratic, economically successful, and a reliable ally. It wants Cairo to regain its luster as a regional leader so that it may bring its considerable diplomatic weight to bear as an interlocutor on Arab-Israeli affairs and a counterweight to Iran's regional ambitions. The United States also wants Egypt to serve as a model for political reform, inspiring countries throughout the Arab world toward a more just political order. This ambitious vision is unlikely to be fully realized, but if Egyptians achieve only a portion of their revolutionary aspirations, the Middle East will be a better place.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
If parliamentary elections were to be held in Egypt before summer, many argue that only the National Democratic Party (NDP) and the Muslim Brotherhood would be able to secure a significant number of seats. The two are viewed as the only political groupings currently organized at the national level and able to confront the challenge of an imminent election. But after weeks of popular attacks directed against NDP symbols, and several of its highest representatives facing charges in court, what really remains of the former ruling party - of its organization and its capacity to mobilize?
The NDP, target of popular anger
As soon as Egyptian protesters began taking to the streets on January 25, it became clear that the National Democratic Party (NDP) - like its Tunisian counterpart, the Democratic Constitutional Rally - would soon become one of the main targets of popular anger.
Over the past decade, the NDP had come to symbolize everything that crystallized opposition to the rule of President Mubarak: the firm grip over the political arena, illustrated by a continuous and almost complete domination of Parliament; the elaboration and implementation of neoliberal reforms and their negative impact on the social conditions of most citizens, especially the middle class; the corruption of a new business elite that has used its growing political influence for its own profit and enrichment; the grooming of Hosni Mubarak's younger son Gamal as heir.
CAIRO — When 19-year-old Nahal protested in Tahrir Square several weeks ago, she wasn't there to fight for her rights as a woman, but to fight for her rights as an Egyptian. "There are no differences between men and women here," she said. "We are all one hand."
Thousands of women echoed Nahal's sentiments as they raised brazen signs, led lively chants, and stood next to men in what some have deemed an unprecedented display of equality between the sexes in modern Egyptian history.
Daniel Ayalon is Israel's deputy minister of foreign affairs.
The recent unrest in parts of the Arab world has not only exposed the appalling lack of development in these countries, but also a number of fundamental deficiencies in the international system. The United Nations, which began its life with a plurality of democratic nations, now allows for an automatic majority of nondemocratic nations. The international system dictates that Arab and Islamic nations, and their knee-jerk defenders, have a majority in almost all of its bodies. This is amply demonstrated by the disproportionate amount of time spent condemning Israel.
If there were ever an example of the inmates running the asylum, it is the U.N. Human Rights Council. This body has whitewashed the human rights record of some of the world's most repressive regimes, while also providing them with a forum to ruminate on and condemn the actions of a free and open nation, Israel.
STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images
BAGHDAD — The only way to get to Baghdad's Tahrir Square -- yes, it has one too -- on Feb. 25 was to walk. It was a treat to stride down roads usually solid with traffic, but the silent city also felt ominous. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had warned that the long-planned "Day of Rage" protests would be infiltrated by al Qaeda and remnants of Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime, and imposed a ban on all vehicles within city limits to reduce the risk of car bombs. Religious leaders warned people to stay away, while security officials made doom-laden predictions of violence. Most people were too scared to venture outside.
The hush throughout Baghdad made the clamor in Tahrir Square seem all the louder. Thousands of demonstrators had walked for miles to gather there, not even bothering to go to Friday prayers first. They were mostly men -- some university graduates, others day laborers, but all with the same grievances. We have no electricity and no water, scant job opportunities, and our politicians are liars and thieves, they said. They flung themselves against the blast walls blocking the entrance to the Green Zone, a symbol of the distant and unaccountable elite that they were raging against.
Photo by Getty Images
The overthrow of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali's dictatorship in Tunisia and fall of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt led almost immediately to calls for both men to be brought to justice. One of the first acts of the new Tunisian government was to issue an arrest warrant for Ben Ali, his wife Leila Trabelsi, and a number of members of their immediate family. It then asked Interpol to pressure Saudi Arabia to stop giving them sanctuary and turn them over to the Tunisian authorities. Mubarak has not suffered a similar fate -- not so far, anyway -- but already the Egyptian authorities have arrested three ex-ministers, as well as steel magnate Ahmed Ezz, on corruption charges. It is unlikely that this will be enough to satisfy those who took to the streets in Cairo and Alexandria to demand that the tyrant give up power.
Their determination should come as no surprise. The deep roots of the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt may be economic, but the calls in the street were for democracy and human rights. It may have taken awhile for the notion of international justice to arrive in the Arab world, but that it did was inevitable -- it is the signature achievement of the human rights movement over the past 30 years.
The Middle East Channel offers unique analysis and insights on this diverse and vital region of more than 400 million.