It is commonplace for historians to compare revolutions to earthquakes, but the metaphor remains powerful. The Egyptian revolution is much like an earthquake: its epicenter may be Cairo, but its shockwaves have reached all the way to Washington. Since the first crowds began to appear in Tahrir Square, the Egyptian trembler has so shaken the U.S. that small but perceptible cracks have begun to appear in the foundations of America's Middle East policies -- and in the comity of opinion that has guided U.S. views of the region for 60 years. The changes were first evidenced last week, when policymakers, pundits and government officials made the rounds of the Sunday morning television news shows.
When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appeared on CNN, interviewer Candy Crowley was blunt: which side is the U.S. on -- "Mubarak or the people in the streets?" she asked. Clinton laughed slightly, then rejected the question: "Well, there's another choice, it's the Egyptian people," she said. "We are on the side, as we have been for more than 30 years, of a democratic Egypt that provides both political and economic rights of its people, that respects the universal human rights of all Egyptians." Of course, Crowley knew (as we all knew) that if Clinton had been asked the same question just the week before, her answer would have been entirely different: that our friendship with Egypt is based on its peace treaty with Israel, its opposition to Iran and its hostility to political Islam.
Given the high degree of euphoria and romanticism in the coverage by both Western and Arab media of recent popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, it would be useful for everyone to take a few deep breaths and remind ourselves that revolutions often look very attractive in the beginning. Then they usually go through some really bad periods; the French reign of terror and the decade of political turmoil that followed, the crushing oppression of Soviet communism in Russia, and the unfinished misery of Iranians.
I would like to be optimistic, and there are some positive signs in Tunisia and Egypt. Both countries have strong traditions of national pride, histories of constitutionalism, cultural riches, and a middle class of educated men and women. So far, the armed forces in both countries have shown a degree of professionalism and discipline that have earned the respect of both popular forces and key civilian government institutions. Both have had respectable economic growth rates at a time of global economic distress. Regrettably, however, there are also major factors working against a happy outcome in the next several years.
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"Enough we say, the decision belongs to the people of the brotherly Egyptian and Tunisian nations... Turkey shares the grief of these nations as well as their hopes." So-declared a self-confident Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday in his prime-time speech on recent events in the Middle East that received broad coverage regionally. While commentators point to the protests and revolutions in the Arab world as being the most recent example of the crumbling vestiges of the Cold War, the more significant long-term global trend is strangely familiar to the Turks. Protests in Tunisia have already overthrown the rule of a 23 year-old regime and inspired a similar uprising in the form of Egypt's ongoing protest movement. Lebanon's continuing instability and threats of Tunisian-inspired revolutions in Yemen and even Jordan further add to the significance of the moment we are witnessing in the Arab world.
The unprecedented levels and inter-linkages of the protests against the traditional authoritarian regimes represented most starkly by President Mubarak, has brought the Middle East back to a period more reminiscent of the breakup of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of Arab nationalism than anything seen in recent memory.
Beyond the immediate dilemmas - how and how hard to push Mubarak to stand down, what to say in public versus in private, and how best to pressure the US-backed Egyptian security forces - the transition period that lies ahead for Egypt will hold its own complicating factors for Washington policymakers.
First, it needs to be remembered that this is not primarily about the US (nor should it be), this is about Egyptians empowering themselves. Nevertheless, the US and other international actors will have a role to play and will have to chart a new policy course for relations with Egypt, and this will in no small measure set a trend for the region as a whole.
One minor luxury that the administration should have is that there are not significant or obviously apparent domestic political pressures being brought to bear on this issue. Both parties, Democrat and Republican, have made nice with dictators in the Arab world while paying limited lip service to democracy. There is no victory lap, freedom coupon to clip as was the case in the former Soviet bloc, there is no Arab democracy political lobby, even if the Arab American community will be largely thrilled by what is happening in the region. The one exception to this is the role that some traditional pro-Israel groups may play in urging a go-slow conservatism to a US embrace of change in the Middle East.
If the regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak falls, the tipping point will have been mid-afternoon of January 28. For several hours after the conclusion of Friday noon prayers, the police and Central Security Forces successfully kept demonstrators away from the center of Cairo. About 2:00 pm, 20,000 protestors broke through the blockades and took over the Qasr al-Nil Bridge connecting Giza and Zamalek to Tahrir Square, the hub of the downtown district. Two hours later the headquarters of the ruling National Democratic Party, which President Mubarak leads, was on fire.
Earlier in the afternoon, crowds stormed regional NDP headquarters in the Suez Canal city of Isma‘iliyya and the Delta provincial capital of Mansura. The provincial NDP headquarters in Fayyum was torched a few hours later. Hundreds of thousands of protesters throughout the country defied the 6:00 PM curfew proclaimed by the regime and remained in the streets throughout the night. In Alexandria, Egypt's second city, demonstrators drove the police and Central Security Force out of town. By the time President Mubarak addressed the nation that evening and announced he had requested the resignation of the entire cabinet, the army had begun to assume security responsibility for Egypt's major cities.
The targets of angry crowds are rarely accidental. In this case, assaulting the offices of the ruling party, and other official buildings in Alexandria, Suez, and Tanta underscored one of the main chants of the demonstrators: "The people want an end to the regime." Not "reform" and the resignation of the cabinet, which is a technocratic and administrative body with limited powers, but a regime change and a transition to democracy which would only begin with the resignation of President Mubarak.
As Egyptians took to the streets en masse this week, President Hosni Mubarak faced the largest challenge to his three decade rule. Foreign Policy asked five top experts to assess the Obama administration's handling of these growing signs of unrest, and to offer their advice on how the United States should act going forward.
Shadi Hamid: How Obama Got Egypt Wrong
Sherif Mansour: It's Freedom, Stupid
Daniel Brumberg: Mubarak Is Prepared to Fight
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As Tunisian President-for-Life Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali fled into ignominious exile two weeks ago, democrats around the world found hope in the notion that Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution would spread to Iran. The images of demonstrations from Sidi Bouzid to Tunis reminded Americans of the massive 2009 protests that gave rise to Iran's opposition Green Movement, and as pro-democracy movements inspired by Tunisia emerged in Egypt and Yemen, many observers saw a chance for Iran to be next. But looking closer, it's clear that Iranians -- from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on down to the Green Movement opposition -- view the Tunisia situation as vastly different from their own, and not one that's likely to spill over into a renewed push for democratic reform in their own country.
Despite the examples of Ben Ali and Egypt's beleaguered President Hosni Mubarak, Iran's leaders are far from running scared. In fact, Tehran is taking a distinctly more triumphalist understanding of the roots and effects of the Tunisian protests than American commentators would expect from another authoritarian Middle Eastern government -- particularly from one facing its own challenges from opposition forces.
A classical Arab idiom maintains that a flood begins with a mere droplet. For freedom-aspiring citizens across the Middle East, Tunisia was akin to the first shower of rain. Two weeks ago, no one could have predicted the overthrow of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali's repressive regime in Tunisia. Today, the chatter of citizens and officials across the Middle East is when, not if, the "Tunisia scenario" will completely unfold in Egypt, the Arab world's most populous country. Egyptians have struggled for many decades with an authoritarian regime whose rule is marred by repression, corruption, and political and economic stagnation.
The social contract that former President Gamal Abdel Nasser had with Egyptians -- to liberate Arab lands from colonial powers, subsidize food staples and guarantee employment to all university graduates -- has been unraveling for more than three decades. Egypt unscrupulously maintains a peace treaty with Israel, despite that country's relentless occupation of Palestinian, Syrian, and Lebanese territories. The government has also pursued a policy of economic liberalization without regard to its impact on the Egyptian people. Despite its success in achieving moderate rates of economic growth, this strategy has left millions of families impoverished and unemployed.
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This week's release of the Palestine Papers by Al Jazeera television might well be a classic example of "burying the lede." While the revelations sparked revulsion among Palestinians about how much their leadership conceded in talks with Israel, for an American reporter the real story of the leaks is not in the West Bank, but in America; the focus of the story is not Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat; it's Barack Obama -- and U.S. special envoy George Mitchell.
A series of core documents of the Palestine Papers (dated September and October 2009) shows just how far the Obama administration has been willing to go to satisfy Israel -- to the point of abandoning prior pledges, international agreements, and American principles. At issue is the U.S.-negotiated "Roadmap for Peace," agreed to by the Quartet (the U.S., European Union, Russia, and the U.N.) in mid-2003. Among other things, Phase One of the "roadmap" envisioned a simple swap: In exchange for an end to violence, the Israelis would freeze all settlement building.
As the Palestinian leadership struggles to contain the damage caused by Al Jazeera's release of leaked documents detailing years of their negotiations with Israel, there is one lesson that risks being buried in all of the current hype. The Palestine Papers, and much of the response to them, demonstrate the increasingly narrow line the Palestinian leadership must walk between satisfying its U.S. and Western benefactors, as well as Israel, and maintaining credibility in the eyes of its own people.
As someone who was involved in Palestinian-Israeli negotiations for many years, including in the development of many of the documents now in question, I have been particularly struck by the extent and tone of the outrage surrounding the leaked documents. For those Palestinians and other Arabs who actively oppose a two-state solution, I can understand and appreciate their outrage over some of the "unprecedented concessions" contained in these documents.
On the other hand, for those who understand the basic requirements of a two state-solution-an outcome most Palestinians and other Arabs still say they favor, even as they remain highly doubtful of the other side's intentions and the ability of their own leaders to achieve it-there hardly seems cause for surprise, at least as relates to the concessions on permanent status issues - if not on other matters.
Did the Wikileaked State Department cables that described Tunisia's deposed leader Zine el-Abedin Ben Ali as the head of a corrupt police state play any role in encouraging the democratic uprising against him -- and thus spark the wave of protests now spreading across Egypt?
I asked our experts at Human Rights Watch to canvass their sources in the country, and the consensus was that while Tunisians didn't need American diplomats to tell them how bad their government was, the cables did have an impact. The candid appraisal of Ben Ali by U.S. diplomats showed Tunisians that the rottenness of the regime was obvious not just to them but to the whole world -- and that it was a source of shame for Tunisia on an international stage. The cables also contradicted the prevailing view among Tunisians that Washington would back Ben Ali to the bloody end, giving them added impetus to take to the streets. They further delegitimized the Tunisian leader and boosted the morale of his opponents at a pivotal moment in the drama that unfolded over the last few weeks.
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On Jan. 16, Amb. Robert Ford stepped off a plane in Damascus -- and right into a diplomatic crisis in Lebanon. The news that Hezbollah and its allies, which are supported by Syria and Iran, have secured the votes to elect a friendly Lebanese prime minister will no doubt be on the top of Ford's agenda as Washington struggles to rein in Hezbollah's growing influence.
Ford's arrival marks the first time a U.S. ambassador has set foot in Syria since Washington withdrew its last envoy in February 2005 following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Relations between the two countries, while never friendly, have been dismal ever since.
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Even as Tunisians struggle to create a new political order, the popular overthrow of Tunisia's dictator, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, is reshaping politics across the Middle East. That's the bad news. Arab regimes have often been criticized as sclerotic and archaic; they are neither. Over the past two decades, they have confronted and overcome a wide range of challenges that have caused authoritarian governments to collapse in many other world regions. Arab regimes have demonstrated their resilience in the past, and they continue to do so in the wake of the Tunisian uprising. If the United States and its allies wish to exploit the Tunisian example to widen processes of democratic change in the Arab world, they will need to adapt as well. Tunisia holds lessons both for Arab autocrats and for Western promoters of democracy. Which lessons turn out to be decisive will depend, if only in part, on whether democracy promoters demonstrate the same flexibility and responsiveness shown by Arab regimes.
The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks prompted a radical rethinking inside the administration of President George W. Bush about the purposes of American foreign policy -- above all in the Middle East. "Realism died on 9/11," as an administration official said to me several years later. Changing the insides of states had become a matter of national security no less urgent than affecting their external behavior. Bush, previously a hardheaded realist, became an ardent proponent of democracy promotion.
But the problem -- or at least the biggest problem -- was that while the terrorist attacks had changed the United States, they hadn't changed the place where the United States hoped to act. Terrorism had made democratic reform more urgent without making it a whit more likely. Autocratic leaders in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere regarded the president's new preoccupation as a mere irritant.
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In bringing about the fall of Lebanon's government, Hezbollah has deployed its "nuclear option." The move underscores Hezbollah's ruthlessness and determination in its campaign to force Prime Minister Saad Hariri to reject the results of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) -- which is expected to issue its long-delayed indictments soon and identify Hezbollah as complicit in the assassination of Saad's father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, in February 2005. The government's collapse followed the breakdown of attempts by Syria and Saudi Arabia to broker a deal between Hariri's forces and Hezbollah's that would permit the prime minister to avoid the politically untenable and personally repugnant option of denouncing the tribunal's indictments and thus lend his support to his father's killers. Syrian sources, predictably, blame the collapse of negotiations on Hariri's refusal to accept what they characterize as joint Saudi-Syrian demands for concessions. What this latest twist tells us about Syrian intentions and the limits of Saudi influence over both Syria and Saad Hariri may be no less telling.
Hezbollah is playing a high stakes game, confident that its military dominance gives it a decisive upper hand should politics move from parliament into the streets. The tea leaves are still settling and will no doubt be further stirred up in coming days. Yet whether Hezbollah's withdrawal from the Hariri government will have the effects it desires is far from clear.
On Jan. 4, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood in front of the Knesset to read a letter that he had sent to the president of the United States, calling for the release of Jonathan Pollard. The Israeli leader admitted that Pollard, a former U.S. naval intelligence analyst serving a life sentence for espionage, "was acting as an agent of the Israeli government." He nevertheless contended that Pollard's 25 years in prison represented a sufficient punishment for his crimes and pointed to the support of a number of former U.S. officials and congressmen for clemency.
Netanyahu's request did not come as a surprise to me. On Dec. 20, 2010, after speaking to the Knesset, I met with the prime minister and urged him to go public with his request. Unless he did so, I argued, the issue would not gain the traction it needed. I also pointed out to him that he needed to publicly apologize and pledge to never again recruit Americans to spy against their country, which would allow supporters of Pollard's release to respond effectively to the argument that the Pollard case was business as usual for Israel.
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The center of gravity in the Middle East has shifted dramatically in the past few decades from the Arab heartland comprising Egypt and the Fertile Crescent to what was once considered the non-Arab periphery -- Turkey and Iran. The exciting era of Arab nationalism in the 1950s and 1960s, especially Nasser's nationalization of the Suez Canal and the all too brief union of Egypt with Syria, had made the Arab heartland the symbol par excellence of the reassertion of the Third World's dignity and its aspirations for autonomy from the great powers. Since the 1970s, that air of excitement and hope has given way to the moribund nature of Arab politics and the perpetuation of autocratic and kleptocratic rule, which have contributed in large measure to the diminution in the regional role of major Arab states such as Egypt. Regimes that were once considered "liberalizing autocracies", such as Egypt with its controlled elections and Jordan with an increasingly vocal parliamentary opposition, have now reverted to an unalloyed autocratic model.
Call me a foreign-policy geezer, a traditionalist from back in the day. But when it comes to conducting the affairs of the country abroad, particularly toward the seemingly endless, seemingly intractable Arab-Israeli peace process, one historically proven bureaucratic model trumps all others: the willful president empowering the strong secretary of state who, in turn, runs everything.
We don't have that structure now. And although what ails the United States in the Middle East certainly won't be fixed by rearranging the ship of state's deck chairs, it wouldn't hurt, might avoid needless failures, and may even set the stage for some success.
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The Obama administration will face a moment of truth in deciding how to vote on a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements under international law now being drafted on behalf of the Palestinians for presentation early this year. But the administration's thwarted efforts to freeze settlements, the huge obstacle settlements pose to a two-state peace, Israel's aggressive expansion of settlements, and the need to restore U.S. credibility as a peace maker are all powerful reasons for supporting this initiative.
Nevertheless, the State Department has said it prefers that settlements be resolved through negotiations as "the only viable path" for ending the conflict. This position is also being pressed by Israel and domestic groups that support Israeli policies unconditionally, and by the House of Representatives which has already called for an American veto of U.N. resolutions not approved by Israel. The Obama administration has not yet said how it would vote on such a resolution. It still has time to decide that the U.S. should vote yes, for compelling reasons.
For the first time since the Oslo peace process started 18 years ago, Palestinian leaders are openly refusing to negotiate with the government of Israel, and U.S. President Barack Obama's administration is doing very little about it. As Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, explained the policy on Dec. 9, "We will not agree to negotiate as long as settlement building continues." The Arab League is backing Abbas in this refusal, says League chief Amr Moussa, because "the direction of talks has become ineffective and it has decided against the resumption of negotiations."
But Abbas himself negotiated with seven previous Israeli prime ministers without such preconditions. For 17 years -- from the Madrid conference of October 1991 through Abbas's negotiations with then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, which ended in 2008 -- negotiations moved forward while Jerusalem construction continued. Madrid, Oslo I, Oslo II, the Hebron Protocol, the Wye River Memorandum, Camp David, Taba, the disengagement from Gaza, and Olmert's offer to Abbas -- all these events over the course of two decades were made possible by a continuing agreement to disagree about Israeli construction of Jewish homes in Jewish neighborhoods outside the pre-1967 line in East Jerusalem. But now, peace talks cannot even begin. Why the change?
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If the peace process gods have a sense of humor (and history), sometime around next summer -- the 11th anniversary of Bill Clinton's failed Camp David summit -- another Democratic president's peace initiative will be tested.
Right now, the arc of President Barack Obama's peace process efforts (and the other Clinton's, too) is leading inexorably to American "bridging" proposals -- ideas on the core issues meant to literally bridge the gaps between Israeli and Palestinian positions -- if not a U.S. plan to reach a framework accord on all the big issues, which would constitute an extraordinary breakthrough. Currently, neither Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are able to bridge the gaps on Jerusalem, borders, security, and the fate of Palestinian refugees. But with the Obama administration's inability to resist engaging, the president might end up in another make or break summit.
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As Lebanon braces for a U.N. tribunal to announce indictments in the 2005 assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri, one key suspect is beyond the scope of any court of law.
Imad Mughniyeh, Hezbollah's chief of operations until his own assassination in Damascus in 2008, likely played a role in the massive car bombing that claimed the lives of the former Lebanese prime minister and 22 others in Beirut. Experts on Lebanon and Hezbollah say it is difficult to envision a crime of such scale and consequence without Mughniyeh's involvement.
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In March 2010, then-CENTCOM chief Gen. David Petraeus set off a storm of protest among neoconservatives when, in his statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee, he named "insufficient progress toward a comprehensive Middle East peace" as an obstacle to U.S. goals in the region.
"The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests in the AOR [area of responsibility]," read the statement. "Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world." At the same time, Petraeus concluded, "Al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hizballah and Hamas."
While this represented only one of a number of "cross cutting challenges to security and stability" detailed in his statement, Petraeus' analysis was too much for the Anti-Defamation League's Abe Foxman, who quickly issued a scolding: "Gen. Petraeus has simply erred in linking the challenges faced by the U.S. and coalition forces in the region to a solution of the Israeli-Arab conflict," said Foxman. "This linkage is dangerous and counterproductive."
That such a carefully calibrated statement of the obvious should draw condemnation from the ADL -- as if the very suggestion that Israel's conflicts could create difficulties for its American patron were itself a form of defamation -- indicates how uncomfortable the notion of "linkage" makes many Israel hawks.
Later this evening, the House is set to vote on a resolution "condemning unilateral declarations of a Palestinian state." Introduced by Rep. Howard Berman, the outgoing chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the suspension bill urges Palestinian leaders to "ease all efforts at circumventing the negotiation process, including efforts to gain recognition of a Palestinian state from other nations, within the United Nations, and in other international forums prior to achievement of a final agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, and calls upon foreign governments not to extend such recognition." In other words, despite the fact that the Netanyahu government recently rejected what Thomas Friedman characterized as a $3.5 billion "bribe," the blame, yet again, is put squarely on the Palestinians.
The riled-up congressional response is predictable but in way, it also contradicts the traditional hardline argument in favor of continued occupation. One might naively expect foreign policy hawks to be overjoyed at the news that Palestinian leaders are thinking about declaring a state along June 4, 1967 borders. The hawks have long insisted that the Palestinians' raison d'être is to eradicate Israel. For instance, Jonathan Schanzer, research director at the neoconservative Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, writes in his book Hamas vs. Fatah: The Struggle for Palestine, "Palestinian nationalism has been based more on destruction (of a Jewish state) than creation (of its own state)."
But today we have Palestinians contemplating independence in territory limited to just 22% of historic Palestine. In other words, the very fact that the Palestinians are willing to settle for 22% of the land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean demonstrates that the issue they care about is having their own state and ending the occupation, not supplanting Israel. If Palestinians take their case to the United Nations, then it's proof that their nationalism isn't rooted in destruction. It's a move that you'd expect hawks - especially those who understand that the occupation jeopardizes Israel's character and security - to endorse.
A 'peace process' that, from its inception, took Israel's self-definition of its own security needs as the sole determinate of the walls within which any solution for Palestinians was to be conducted, has reached exhaustion. Based on such a reductive premise, its arrival at this deathly nadir, with no more than a prospect of disjointed alleviated occupation, possessing the most hollow trappings of statehood as its final security-led outcome, should evoke no surprise.
The non-solution to which such a premise would take us would defuse nothing: indeed, it might well prove to be the spark that could exacerbate or explode simmering regional animosities -- even if these animosities were not ostensibly linked directly to the Palestinian issue.
Any thought that such a hollowed-out solution -- alleviated occupation, posing as statehood -- will defuse anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world is likely to prove to be resoundingly misplaced. On this, the critics from the political Right are correct: a flawed Israeli-Palestinian agreement, per se, will not drain-off anti-western regional sentiment; it will exacerbate it. It will feed it. But the corollary the Right pushes in its place, that defeating Iran somehow precisely is that elusive magic bullet the West so ardently desires (the key to soothing regional tensions and defusing hostility towards the West) represents an even greater pathology and disassociation from reality. It is one that is no less illusory for having the apparent endorsement of America's Arab clients, whose talk is no more than a reflection back into the looking-glass of American diplomacy, as it stares at its own face.
The Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. hosted a fundraiser at his residence for a neoconservative D.C. think-tank, which solicited donations of $5,000 for invitations to the event. But the think-tank, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), didn't bother to tell the Pakistani embassy that the event was a fundraiser or that it was sandwiched in the middle of a two-and-a-half day conference on "Countering the Iranian Threat" put on by the group.
"We didn't know at all that they have done this fundraising," Imran Gardezi, a spokesperson for the Pakistani embassy, told the Middle East Channel. "And neither did they share with us that they would be doing this conference. Very frankly, we didn't know about this conference."
Though the dinner appeared in the paper and online conference programs, FDD president Cliff May insisted that the two were unrelated: "The dinner was separate from the conference but it coincided with the conference. Why? Because many friends of FDD were in town for the conference," he wrote in an e-mail to the Middle East Channel. May conceded that his staff may have failed to notify the Pakistani embassy that the group was in the middle of hosting the conference.
The 'weakness' of Europe -- and also that of the US -- in the Middle East is not essentially one of waning power and influence. Although the scent of decline always has had a powerful affect in this region, the root of this western debilitation consists of a more profound ailment: that its solution, its generic cure for a range of ills in the Muslim world, is seen to provide no conceivable cure to these regional and Islamic stresses and maladies, which it is supposed to alleviate.
The nature of the two-state solution -- but not the idea of a Palestinian state per se -- that the US and Europe prosecutes as the solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, even were it to be pursued to a successful conclusion, is likely to resolve nothing: the West Bank would stay much as it is currently -- as would Gaza. And the external refugees would molder on, in some form of unfunded, unresolved international limbo.
In June 2005, at the height of the Bush administration's "Freedom Agenda," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice put her foot down. In a ringing speech at the American University in Cairo, Rice called on Egypt's regime, as well as its counterparts in Saudi Arabia and Syria, to "make a strategic choice" and embrace democracy. "For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region, here in the Middle East, and we achieved neither," Rice said.
Just five months earlier, Egypt had arrested Ayman Nour, the country's most promising liberal politician, for allegedly forging signatures on his party's application papers. Nour's real crime, it seems, was presenting a credible alternative to Gamal Mubarak, the president's dashing young son, who is widely assumed to be in line for the throne when his 82-year-old father finally retires or kicks the bucket.
Nour was eventually convicted and sentenced to five years in prison, and largely forgotten. The parliamentary elections held later that year -- far from being free and fair, as Rice had demanded -- were marred by violence and widespread fraud. Now, as Egyptians gird themselves for yet another stolen election later this month, the incredible tale of Nour's Ghad party serves as a potent reminder of the creative lengths President Hosni Mubarak's regime will go to sideline its political opponents.
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RAMALLAH and WASHINGTON--When asked at a recent press conference what his strategy in the Middle East will be if the current round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks founder, President Obama stated that the United States will remain engaged.Though this is encouraging to everyone who lived through the unconscionable violence that filled the vacuum following the collapse of the Oslo Peace Process and the disengagement of the Bush administration, it is nonetheless insufficient if the goal is to produce a two-state solution.
While a firmly non-violent Palestinian leadership and an aversion among the majority of the people toward renewed fighting indicate that a repeat of the second intifada is unlikely, a collapse of the two-state paradigm is not. Beyond the surface-level discrediting of the moderate Palestinian leadership which will ensue if negotiations fail, granting Hamas yet another "I told you so" moment, the dynamics within moderate Palestinian political circles may themselves take a significant turn away from an ideology that, at least in theory, backs a two-state solution.
In theory, but it doesn't work like one. Yes, it has had three, free national elections and a constitutional referendum and there are elements of democracy. I started covering Iraq in 1998, living there from the start of the war until late 2009, and it certainly feels freer than before. Saddam Hussein held his last election, a plebiscite in 2002, and claimed 100 percent of the vote (and maybe it was true -- who would risk voting against him?). Under the old regime, even when I could slip away from government minders, people were usually too scared of informants among their family and friends to speak openly. You weren't even allowed to keep your mouth shut. Failure to join the chanting crowds at pro-government rallies -- watched closely by neighborhood-level Baathists -- could cost you your job, admission to university, or worse. Now there's lots of open talk, government criticism, and widespread Internet access.
But Iraq is not democratic in a reliable or deep sense, where people can expect equal rights, legal protections, or access to their leaders. Free speech is still a dangerous pursuit. At least seven reporters or their staff have been killed this year in what appear to be direct attacks on news agencies, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Most others are afraid to get too specific in their criticisms of the leadership. Regulations are tightening, and the track record of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has just maneuvered himself into another term in office, is getting darker. The government has started requiring that news agencies register their staff and equipment. Media regulations ban quotations from anonymous sources. Human Rights Watch recently documented government efforts to ban public demonstrations and encourage security forces to violently disperse attempts at peaceful protest.
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