A Palestinian official recently asserted that the "current Israeli negotiating position is the worst in more than 20 years." U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the failure of talks could produce a "third intifada." Still more revealing, in late October Israel announced the final approval of 1,500 settlement units in occupied East Jerusalem and an additional 2,500 units elsewhere in occupied Palestinian territory. This settlement expansion plan was followed by the Housing Ministry's announcement of a staggering 20,000 new settlement units, which could prove to be the coup de grâce for the "peace process."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, despite pushing the Housing Ministry to "reconsider" the 20,000 new settlements, has not demonstrated a serious effort to rein in pro-settlement policies during the current peace talks. Recently and throughout his political career, Netanyahu has worked consistently and assiduously to prevent the emergence of a Palestinian state. By his own admission, Netanyahu helped subvert the Oslo process of the 1990s, and has continued to undermine a two-state solution by expanding settlements and appeasing the Israeli right-wing.
It is therefore incumbent upon the U.S. administration -- as an "honest broker" -- to state publicly that the current negotiations are at an impasse because of Israeli intransigence and ongoing settlement activity.
Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) have ruled that Libya has demonstrated a genuine will and ability to prosecute Abdullah al-Senussi. Libya, they ruled, is free to prosecute the mysterious former Libyan intelligence chief and the mastermind behind a laundry list of Muammar al-Qaddafi-era atrocities. The path is now clear for Libya to prosecute Senussi -- and to do so with the blessing of the ICC and the international community. But is the path cleared for Libyans to achieve justice?
Headlines and statements that proclaim "Qaddafi spy chief to be tried in Libya" miss the point. Senussi was always going to be tried in Libya; what the ICC said or ruled was irrelevant. The Libyan public had made it clear: they wanted Senussi tried in Libya, by Libyans. Libyan politicians made it even clearer, reportedly paying $200 million to Mauritania for Senussi's surrender in September 2012.
Still, the ruling by ICC judges that Libya can proceed in its prosecution and trial of Senussi is significant. It bestows a badge of credibility on Libya's fledgling efforts at state building. Whether it should have done so will be a matter of much debate.
MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images
Egypt's politics since the 2011 revolution has consistently combined bare-knuckled combat with abstruse legal maneuvering, as if WWE wrestlers were attempting to operate parts of their contest within the framework of a Japanese tea ceremony. There are four major differences. First, wrestling matches and tea ceremonies last minutes and hours, but Egypt's legal-political battles began decades ago and show no hint of dénouement. Second, the Egyptian struggles are completely unscripted and unpredictable. Third, they matter. Fourth, their participants are focused not only on the moment but also steeped historical antecedents of today's struggles -- it is impossible, for instance, to hear a discussion of the judiciary that does not refer to an infamous judicial purge in 1969.
In order to assist befuddled observers of Egyptian politics, we have assembled this brief guide explaining the current state of play.
GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images
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.
If Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi is ever in the market for a presidential theme song, he should consider, "U Can't Touch This." American rapper M.C. Hammer's infectiously arrogant refrain aptly sums up a stunning power play by the Egyptian president on November 22 -- a unilateral constitutional declaration that immunizes his decisions from judicial oversight and preempts legal challenges to an Islamist-dominated constitutional process. In short, the declaration makes Morsi's decisions legally untouchable. If this were Zimbabwe, we would call it dictatorship. But in Egypt, it's just business as usual in a dysfunctional democratic transition.
Morsi, who was elected Egypt's president in June on a platform pledging to purge remnants of the former regime from state institutions, is now taking cues straight from the playbook of his authoritarian predecessor, Hosni Mubarak. The president has attempted to justify the declaration as a necessary intervention to alleviate political gridlock, with the aim of achieving "revolutionary demands and rooting out remnants of the old regime." A senior advisor in the president's Freedom and Justice Party (the Muslim Brotherhood's political wing), Gehad El-Haddad, took to his Twitter feed to defend the decision in less tactful terms. "Someone needs to get real," El-Haddad tweeted dismissively to critics who suggested that the president had less radical alternatives at his disposal.
AHMED MAHMOUD/AFP/Getty Images
Oman's Basic Law (Implemented November 6, 1996)
Article 18: Personal freedom is guaranteed according to the Law, and it is unlawful to arrest, search, detain, or imprison any person or have his place of residence or freedom of movement or residence restricted except in accordance with the provisions of the Law.
Article 29: The freedom of opinion and expression thereof through speech, writing or other forms of expression is guaranteed within the limits of the Law.
Article 32: The citizens have the right to assemble within the limits of the Law.
It started with a road trip.
On May 31, two Omani human rights activists, Ismail al-Muqbali and Habeeba al-Hina'i, and a prominent local lawyer, Yaqoub al-Kharousi, drive to Fahud, a major oil facility about 217 miles southwest of Muscat.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of oil workers had taken part in strikes across the country demanding better working conditions and pay over the previous few days, and they were keen to see for themselves how the strikers were being treated by the police.
Long in the making, the embers of a dormant showdown between President Mohamed Morsi and the Egyptian judiciary have started glowing hotter in the past few weeks. Observers smelled traces of smoke when Prosecutor General Abdel Meguid Mahmoud failed to convict 24 prime suspects in the Battle of the Camel, the February 2011 attack on anti-government protesters in Cairo. More recently, members of the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC), the court responsible for the Supreme Council of the Armed Force's (SCAF) legal cover to dissolve the Islamist-dominated parliament, held a press conference rejecting all articles of the draft constitution concerning the powers of the court. Lastly, the administrative court set to rule on the validity of the second constituent assembly, elected by the disbanded parliament, postponed the case yet again before issuing a verdict, which is planned for next week. These events could be taken at face value -- insufficient evidence, an ambiguous constitutional framework, and more time needed to deliberate, respectively -- but the political implications behind each step suggest an institution issuing subtle warnings to restore its clout on the Egyptian stage or suffer the chaotic mess of a renewed constitutional process.
Libya's embattled transitional government is not only struggling to appoint a cabinet, disarm its powerful militias, and deal with the aftermath of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. It is also locked in a tense battle with the International Criminal Court (ICC) over where to try Muammar al-Qaddafi's son Saif al-Islam and the former regime's mysterious intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi. Since the fall of Qaddafi's regime and the assertion of a newly sovereign Libya, the ICC's intervention has degenerated into a controversial and, at times, acrimonious battle between Libya's new rulers and the Court over where the highly prized indictees should be tried. Over the past year, Libya's transitional government has sought to demonstrate its effective sovereignty to its citizens and the world by proving itself able and willing to prosecute senior members of the Qaddafi regime. At the same time, the ICC has striven to establish itself as an effective institution that can have positive effects on post-conflict accountability. However, the fight over where to try Saif and Senussi may ultimately serve to undermine the aims of both the ICC and Libya -- not to mention the pursuit of post-Qaddafi justice.
MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images
In March 2011, I paid a visit to Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC), located on the banks of the Nile in the Cairo suburb of Maadi. Two things immediately struck me. First, there was a tank parked outside of a structure that hardly seemed to be a military site. Second, the court was a beehive of activity. Since at the time Egypt had no constitution, I could not figure out why the employees were so busy.
Now it is clear that I was too quick to dismiss what I saw both inside and outside the building. The SCC's actions today, occurring in the context that they do, reshape Egypt's transition process -- so much so that some Egyptians will likely wonder if they are in any "transition process" at all. That concern is justified. The "process" part was already dead. Now the "transition" part is dying.
Using a bright blue pen, the young man behind the cash register in the kebab shop on the outskirts of Tripoli began to methodically scratch out the face of Muammar al-Qaddafi from his stack of one-dinar notes. About halfway through the pile, he greeted a bill that had already been defaced with a happy nod and smile of satisfaction. After exhausting the one-dinar notes he turned to the 20s, and began surgically excising a miniature Brother Leader from a summit group photo.
Prior to February 17, 2011 everything in Qaddafi's Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya was physically painted a shade of light green to symbolize the political system of stateless government laid out in the Brother Leader's Green Book. (The term jamahiriya was coined by Qaddafi and is usually loosely translated as "state of the masses" or "peopledom.") Today, the country is awash in the red, green and black tricolor scheme of the pre-Qaddafi era Libyan flag, which has been adopted by the revolutionaries as their standard. In Tripoli, where several neighborhoods had loyalist rather than revolutionary reputations, these coats of fresh paint and the common practice of doctoring car license plates to cover the word jamahiriya might raise an eyebrow. But what of the kebab seller's currency handiwork, which appeared to be a private act of conviction?
From the outside, the picture in Libya looks unremittingly bleak. A near daily chronicle of rampaging militias, conflict and chaos headlines coverage by the wire services. But perhaps a casualty of the closure of foreign bureaus and the lesser interest that exists when no U.S. boots are on the ground, some perspective is lacking from the often barebones news reports.
Eight months after the brutal death of Qaddafi marked the end of the civil conflict that followed Libya's popular uprising, support for the regime change appears to have if anything grown. Even if some of this backing falls into the "everyone loves a winner" category, a full 97 percent of Libyans surveyed by Oxford Research International in January thought the revolution was absolutely or somewhat right.
But is the mere fact of the revolution being broadly popular enough to make it right? Is it a sufficient platform to produce a secure and brighter future for Libya?
In spite of this deep and abiding popularity of its popular uprising, Libya finds itself in the midst of a national quarrel over its revolutionary narrative and new founding myth.
On April 17, 2012, M. Cherif Bassiouni, international Arab legal expert and Chairman of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry joined Middle East Channel editor Marc Lynch for a short conversation at George Washington University's Institute for Middle East Studies. Among the topics covered: Bahrain's response to the BICI recommendations, former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh's immunity deal, a war crimes tribunal for Syria...and why Muammar al-Qaddafi's sex addiction will make it difficult to convict Saif al-Islam.
The United Nations should establish an investigation commission to collect evidence about war crimes in Syria to prepare the ground for any future investigation, leading Arab international law expert Cherif Bassiouni told Foreign Policy during a wide-ranging interview yesterday following his talk at George Washington University's Institute for Middle East Studies [videos of both the interview and the talk will be posted shortly]. He warned that Yemen's Ali Abdullah Saleh should not count on his immunity deal holding up, discounted the ability of Libya's courts to try Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, and blasted Egypt's post-revolutionary trials as focusing on flimsy, marginal cases which avoided dealing with systemic, institutionalized corruption.
Also, he explained that Moammar Qaddafi was a sex addict whose heavy use of Viagra badly affected his decision-making -- which could complicate the ICC's efforts to convict Saif al-Islam (FP's web editors wanted that to be the lead, for some reason).
When the European parliament issued a critical report on Egypt's human rights record in 2008, the Mubarak regime responded with nationalistic fury. The Muslim Brotherhood, on the other hand, sided with Europe. "Respect of human rights is now a concern for all peoples," its parliamentary spokesman, Hussein Ibrahim, declared at the time.
That Islamist movements, or at least the more mainstream ones, should take an interest in human rights is not especially surprising. They have, after all, experienced repression at first hand and had years to reflect upon it. There are some obvious limits, though. While acknowledging universal rights up to a point, they still hanker after cultural relativism. Ibrahim for his part added an important rider, that "each country has its own particulars" -- and made very clear that in Egypt's case the Brotherhood excludes gay rights.
Earlier this month, for the fourth time in nearly as many months, thousands of young Egyptians took to the streets to vent their anger at the country's interim rulers, the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF). The protesters and large numbers of their compatriots were outraged by the deaths of at least 74 soccer fans killed in a melee between rival fans at a stadium in the Mediterranean coastal city of Port Said on February 1, accusing the SCAF of failing to provide adequate security, and in some instances of deliberately instigating the violence through hired thugs.
Deadly clashes between angry protesters and regime forces have become virtually monthly occurrences in Egypt. For Egypt's revolutionary youth and large segments of the population, the names of Maspero, Mohammed Mahmoud Street, the Cabinet, and now Port Said are not just locations of regime "massacres" but battle cries in an ongoing revolution. State-sanctioned violence and brutality are of course not new in Egypt, and in fact were a major driving force behind last year's uprising that brought down former president Hosni Mubarak. But that is precisely the problem: The dictator may be gone, but his methods and mindset remain intact.
On January 25, 2011 on the Middle East
Channel, Ashraf Khalil marveled from the streets of Cairo about "sheer size of the turnout, which was larger
than anything I've seen in 13 years of covering Egyptian protests." From
Washington, I pushed back against skeptics who doubted that Tunisia's
revolution would spread to Egypt, as I noted that, "the images and
stories of protests today have been impressive, both in numbers and in energy
and enthusiasm. The Egyptians are self-consciously emulating the Tunisian
protests, seeking to capitalize on the new mood within the Arab world."
Over the following 18 days, the Middle East Channel published a remarkable range of analysis and commentary about the unfolding Egyptian revolution. It featured not only outstanding reporting from the ground but also incisive analysis from the Middle East Studies academic community -- who stepped up in a big way to help inform public debate at a critical time. Nathan Brown, Shadi Hamid, Sherif Mansour, Emad Shahin and Daniel Brumberg assessed Washington's response. Vickie Langhor called on the Obama administration to side with Egyptian democracy, as did Tarek Masoud, Ellen Lust and Amaney Jamal. Geneive Abdo pushed back against those who saw echoes of Tehran 1979. Helena Cobban talked to the Muslim Brotherhood, Ellis Goldberg checked in with the business community, while MEC co-editor Daniel Levy surveyed the implications for Israeli-Egyptian relations.
Nathan Brown laid out the Egyptian constitution's rulebook for change, while Tamir Moustafa asked whether Egypt needed a new constitution to have a revolution. Michael Hanna laid out the reasons to doubt Mubarak's intentions. Sheila Carapico shrewdly observed how al-Jazeera's relentless focus on Tahrir framed understandings of the revolution. In one of Foreign Policy's most widely read, and arguably prescient, early contributions, Robert Springborg warned that the military's role in the transition meant that by February 2 the chance for democracy in Egypt had already been lost. Ambassador David Mack warned observers to curb their enthusiasm. I offered a stream of commentary from Washington. And all of this is only a small part of what appeared on Foreign Policy over those critical weeks.
This week, the Middle East Channel is proud to offer a wide range of commentary looking at an Egypt one year after the outbreak of the revolution. Among the highlights, including a few from last month for perspective:
More is coming over the course of the day, and I'll update the post as those pieces go live.
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
The killing of a 14-year-old boy by police on the island of Sitra on Aug. 31 has reignited simmering tensions in Bahrain. Ali Jawad Ahmad died while attending an Eid al-Fitr demonstration, one of numerous flashpoints in the daily confrontations between anti-government protesters and the security services. His death triggered widespread protests that rapidly spread to most Shiite villages on the Bahraini archipelago. Some 10,000 people attended his funeral and repeated calls for the overthrow of the ruling Al-Khalifa family.
Groups of demonstrators also returned to central Manama where they attempted to reclaim the site of Pearl Roundabout -- now a traffic junction after it was bulldozed by the regime in March. Riot police beat them back with tear gas, but the symbolism of the attempted return to the heart of the pro-democracy movement that threatened to topple the Al-Khalifa in March was clear.
Armed security officers wearing balaclavas led Nasser Abul, blindfolded and shackled, into a courtroom in downtown Kuwait City on July 19. Accused of crimes against the state, he answered the judge's questions from a wood-and-metal cage in the courtroom. His mother, watching the proceedings, hoped her 26-year-old eldest son would finally be released after nearly two months in detention. The judiciary has refused to grant her wish.
Abul found himself in jail because of a few tweets. Twitter was wildly popular in Kuwait even before protests began in Tunis and Cairo, and its use in Kuwait surged as the Arab Spring provided daily inspiration for news updates and commentary. Between January and March, people in Kuwait wrote over 3.69 million tweets -- more than any other country in the Middle East, according to a June report by the Dubai School of Government.
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.
Iran is the largest nation-state supporter of armed resistance to Israel's occupation, a country whose current leadership justifies seemingly provocative actions in the Middle East as countermeasures to Israeli-American expansionism. As popular revolutions designed at securing freedom and throwing off the domination of authoritarian rulers, many of which are U.S. clients, Iran has expressed an official foreign policy that purports to stand with a self-determined Middle East, directed by the will of its people.
So why is the largest national patron of the Palestinian struggle and self-proclaimed ally of Arab world liberation jailing American solidarity activists who shine a light on the systematic Israeli abuse of Palestinians?
More than 12 people were killed by security forces in a single day. Activists and journalists were harassed and arrested. A curfew was put in place and neither satellite television stations nor trucks carrying water and food were allowed near the protestors. One would think this occurred in Cairo or in Sana'a, but would be mistaken. This is Iraq.
After the U.S. overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003, many approving pundits in the West portrayed Iraq as a country that had been freed and which was now a "fledgling" democracy. Eight years later, that proposition is being put to a real test. Protests against permeating political corruption and unbearable living conditions began on February 3 and reached their highest point so far on February 25, a "Day of Anger."
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.
When Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in Tunisia on Dec. 17 after a municipal worker confiscated his wares, it appeared to be simply another sad story in a region plagued by corruption, brutal state security services, and lack of accountability. But against all odds, his act of desperation has spurred a wave of reform that has engulfed the entire region, toppling the autocratic regimes in Tunisia and Egypt and threatening to engulf other countries across the Middle East.
But the uprising has not followed the same course in every country. In Jordan, protests have forced the government to abandon liberal reforms in favor of an unsustainable economic status quo. In Algeria, they have highlighted the public's disaffection with the political process. In other countries, the reverberations from the popular upheaval are still unclear. In the West Bank, for example, opinions remain divided about whether the events represent an opportunity for the Palestinian Authority, or its death knell.
MOHAMMAD HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images
Political demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt have sparked a century old discussion: Is Turkey a model for the Middle East? Two contemporary examples of the "Turkey-as-a-model" debate show how this issue can play out: Turkey was presented as a moderate Islamic, democratic model for the Middle East as part of George W. Bush's "freedom agenda," and more recently as part of Barack Obama's democracy promotion efforts in the Middle East. It is ironic that in 2010 the debate revolved around concepts such as a "shift of axis," "torn country," and "drifting away," but now Turkey has transformed from a "lost" ally to a "model" country.
Interestingly enough, Islamist actors such as Rachid Ghannouchi of Tunisia and the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt declared their intention to emulate the Turkish experience in order to differentiate themselves from the examples of Iran and Taliban. How is it that Turkey is presented as a model country by political actors as varied as high-level U.S. officials and Islamist groups? To make sense of this irony, one needs to consider the questions: whose model and which Turkey?
In fact, there are three main political groups with competing narratives on what the Turkish model means.
CAIRO — Twelve days ago, Wael Ghonim posted a chilling message on his Twitter account. "Pray for #Egypt," he wrote. "Very worried as it seems that government is planning a war crime tomorrow against people. We are all ready to die."
And then he disappeared.
One day later, a huge, angry crowd -- choking on tear gas and braving fire hoses, rubber bullets, and live ammunition -- overwhelmed thousands of black-helmeted riot police and surged into Cairo's central Tahrir Square, setting the stage for a standoff between protesters and President Hosni Mubarak that is well into its second week.
Time was when a dictator like Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, watching his hold on power crumbling in the face of an uprising, had plenty of retirement options. Odds were he could find a quiet life in one of Europe's posher watering holes: Mougins in the hills above Cannes, on the shores of Lake Geneva, or maybe a smart Belgravia townhouse. He generally had plenty of cash parked outside the country and often would take a last dip in the treasury on the way out the door. To be sure, he had to keep his wits about him to avoid anarchists and assassins, and he had to avoid too much obvious meddling in his homeland's politics lest his jeopardize his host's grant of asylum. But he could usually look forward to a peaceful and comfortable run for his waning days.
So why is Mubarak trying to squeeze a few more months out of his three-decade career in office and avowing his intentions to stay in Egypt rather than packing for the Riviera? It may be because exile isn't what it used to be; over the last 30 years, things have gotten increasingly difficult for dictators in flight. Successor regimes launch criminal probes; major efforts are mounted to identify assets that may have been stripped or looted by the autocrat, or more commonly, members of his immediate family. I witnessed this process myself, twice being asked by newly installed governments in Central Eurasia to advise them on asset recovery measures focusing on the deposed former leader and his family.
OSAMA IBRAHIM/AFP/Getty Images
The seemingly never-ending story of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which was established by the U.N. Security Council to prosecute the killers of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, reached a landmark this week when the court's prosecutor submitted his indictment to pretrial judge Daniel Fransen. Diplomats from Washington to Tehran expect the indictment, which will remain sealed for a few more months, to implicate members of the radical Shiite militia Hezbollah in the crime. Hezbollah has denounced the tribunal as an American-Zionist plot, collapsed the Lebanese unity government, and even, in recent days, staged mock "coup drills" in the streets of Beirut.
Behind Hezbollah's power play against the tribunal lies something more than brute force: Lebanon's Christians and Sunnis, once largely united in support of the tribunal, have parted ways. This split began a few years ago at the elite level with the defection of Gen. Michel Aoun, the leader of the largest Christian party, to the pro-Syrian camp. But, as recent polling data in Lebanon makes clear, the divisions have now reached the popular level.
RAMZI HAIDAR/AFP/Getty Images
Lebanon's dysfunctional political system has once again been set back to square one. Months of speculation, rumors, and unconfirmed press reports about a negotiated settlement to the latest crisis came to an abrupt end Jan. 12, when Hezbollah and its allies resigned from Prime Minister Saad Hariri's government, precipitating its collapse. This step sets the stage for a confrontation over the makeup of the next government. And in this showdown, all sides stand to come out losers.
Political divisions over the U.N. Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), which is charged with prosecuting those responsible for the 2005 assassination of Saad's father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, are the cause of the crisis. A number of explosive leaks to the media have signaled that the tribunal plans to indict members of Hezbollah for the crime. Hezbollah and its allies, in a bid to contain the domestic fallout from this revelation, have demanded that Hariri cut Lebanon's funding for the tribunal and disavow any indictment issued by the court. Because Hariri refused to give in to their demands, Hezbollah and its allies have now upped the ante by toppling his government.
JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images
At around 11 p.m. Tuesday, U.S. East Coast time, unconfirmed reports of a coup in Tunisia spread across Twitter like wildfire, fueled by a rumor mill that has gone into overdrive since riots broke out this month outside the Tunisian capital.
"Phone confirmation that the army has surrounded the ministry of interior," tweeted Wessim Amara, a user based in Tunisia. Another, Fouad Marei, followed: "Tweeps unanimously confirm: #coup against #BenAli regime. Mainstream media continues to talk of clashes, no confirmation of #SidiBouZid coup."
LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images
Since our tenure at the US Embassy in Morocco (1998 - 2001) and subsequently as advisors to the Moroccan government, we have shared one point in common with Anna Theofilopoulou and Jacob Mundy in their October 27 article on the Middle East Channel, "US Middle East talks -- a model for Western Sahara?" If there is going to be a solution to the three-decades-old problem in the Western Sahara, the US government will have to commit the full weight of its diplomacy and good relations with the various parties to bring this issue to an equitable conclusion. However, our own view on how best to resolve this problem, beyond agreeing on the need for US leadership, differs broadly from Ms. Theofilopoulou and Mr. Mundy.
Contrary to the process advocated by the authors, the framework for such a solution was established during our tenure at the US Embassy in Rabat, when the Clinton Administration, with strong support from then Secretary Albright, initiated a fundamental shift in its policy. This new direction abandoned the futile, decade-long United Nations effort to reach an agreed voter list for a referendum on the future of the territory. Down this road there could be only winners and losers and a guaranteed recipe for continued regional tensions between Morocco and Algeria. Winners and losers would serve neither the US and allied interest in regional stability nor prospects for the kind of Maghreb-wide cooperation and integration now so clearly lacking and necessary in the face of increasing terrorist threats spreading in the Sahel.
GAZA--Israeli soldiers shot a mentally ill Palestinian man in the leg when he ventured near the Erez crossing, in the northern Gaza Strip on Tuesday. Last Wednesday, a 65-year-old man was shot in the neck in the same area. A week earlier the soldiers shot a 17-year-old, who entered the 300 to 500 meter "buffer zone" in northern Gaza to collect construction scrap which he hoped to sell for a few dollars. Human rights groups say there is a direct link between these daily shootings and the international community's failure to hold Israel accountable for past violations, especially during its 2008-2009 offensive on Gaza, which left more than 1,300 Palestinians dead, most of them noncombatants. 13 Israelis also died. "The attacks [are] still going on, and the Israelis are taking the same stance as during Cast Lead. They're failing to distinguish between civilian and military targets," said Mahmoud Abu Rahma, of the Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza.
Last month, under US and Israeli pressure, the Palestinian Authority (PA), once again delayed the process of accountability. This came at a September 29 vote at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, in which the PA backed a resolution to give Israel and Hamas officials in Gaza six more months to investigate crimes documented in Richard Goldstone's UN Fact Finding Mission report. According to Palestinian and international human rights groups, the Palestinian Authority has decided that the Goldstone report must remain in Geneva, away from the relatively more powerful UN bodies in New York. This is a position identical to that of the US State Department, which wants to keep pressure off Israel during the newly re-launched political negotiations.
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