2013 - WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings

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WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings

Chandra Muzaffar International Movement for a Just World


No part of this e-book may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or otherwise, including photocopying, recording, Internet or any storage or retrieval system without prior written permission from International Movement for a Just World


To the people of WANA ― victims of ruthless Western hegemonic conquest; of brutal Israeli occupation and aggression; and of their own tyrannical Rulers.



Acknowledgement Preface

vii viii

CHAPTER 1 Overview


EGYPT CHAPTER 2 The Egyptian Revolution: The Triumph of Human Dignity


CHAPTER 3 Morsi and the Egyptian Conundrum


CHAPTER 4 Egypt: Ikhwan at the Crossroads


CHAPTER 5 Egypt: What Now?


CHAPTER 6 A Nation Bleeds


IRAN CHAPTER 7 Iran: The Price of Resistance


CHAPTER 8 Iran Interim Nuclear Agreement: Averting another War


LIBYA CHAPTER 9 Quit Gaddafi Quit!

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CHAPTER 10 Libya: Is a No- Fly Zone the Solution?


CHAPTER 11 Libya: Stop the Killing Now!


CHAPTER 12 The Fall of Muammar Gaddafi


CHAPTER 13 Give Bashar Al- Assad a Chance


CHAPTER 14 The Syria Veto


CHAPTER 15 The Houla Massacre and the Subversion of the Peace Plan


CHAPTER 16 Custodian of the Custodian of the Custodian


CHAPTER 17 Syria and Chemical Weapons: Fabricating an Excuse for Invasion


CHAPTER 18 Malaysia on Syria in the UN


CHAPTER 19 The Syrian Conflict: Qaradawi’s Incitement to Violence


CHAPTER 20 Syria: A 12 Point Case against Military


CHAPTER 21 The Syrian Deal: Dangers and Opportunities



TUNISIA CHAPTER 22 Tunisia at a Crossroads


TURKEY CHAPTER 23 Turkey: A Model?

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REFLECTIONS CHAPTER 24 The Arab Uprising Questions and Answers


CHAPTER 25 What is Happening to the Arab Uprising?


CHAPTER 26 War in WANA: A Threat to Humanity



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT I am deeply grateful for the able assistance rendered by Ms. Fah Yen Yin, JUST’s Programme Coordinator, Ms. Nurul Haida Dzulkifli, my Personal Assistant, and Al-Malik Abdullah, a JUST Executive. Their competence and dedication brought the book to fruition. My discussions over the last two or three years on challenges facing WANA with my friends, Tan Sri Ahmad al-Farra and Nile Bowie, have also impacted upon this book. “Terima kasih” to them and to everyone else whose ideas and perspectives have helped shape my thinking on WANA. Needless to say, the shortcomings in Whither WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings are mine for which I assume full responsibility.

CM Petaling Jaya, Malaysia. December 2013.


PREFACE The acronym in the title of this book requires some explanation. WANA stands for West Asia and North Africa. I prefer this term to ‘Middle East.’ WANA describes a geographical region that embraces almost the whole of the Arab world and other countries in that space such as Iran and Turkey. Because it is geographical, it is ideologically neutral. WANA has been used by organisations and individuals for some time now but it remains the choice of a minority. It was the British India Office that invented the term ‘Middle East’ in the 1850s, at the height of colonialism, to denote Arab countries and their neighbours. For me in Malaysia and most others in Asia or even in other parts of the world, the region the British had in mind was certainly not in the Middle of the East. It was a clear case of how colonial perspectives have shaped maps and names. The fact that the vast majority of people continue to use the term ‘Middle East’ is proof of not just the enduring impact of the colonial discourse in the post-colonial era but also of how our own thought process and outlook have been shaped so deeply by that discourse. In the subtitle of this book, I have also refused to use another term popularised by the mainstream Western media in the midst of all the upheavals of the last three years in WANA. To categorise these upheavals as the ‘Arab Spring’ is to diminish their significance. Arabs have been struggling against different forms of injustice for such a long while. Their struggles are not seasonal. They are part and parcel of an illustrious history. It would be more accurate to depict what has been happening in a number of Arab countries as ‘uprisings.’ Or, to put it differently, these are instances of people rising up against their governments. They are mass protests ― some violent, others peaceful ― that have erupted for similar and dissimilar reasons over a short period of time in different societies within the Arab world. Their outcome is still unclear which is why the book is entitled Whither WANA? While I describe the protests as uprisings right through the book, in my first essay on the ouster of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, I call it a ‘revolution’. My choice of the word was a reflection of the popular view among millions of Egyptians at that time ― in February 2011 ― that they were overthrowing the existing political and social order and this would lead to a fundamental change. viii

It was these two ingredients ― overthrow and change ― that rendered the uprising a revolution. Of course, we know now that some of the power structures associated with Mubarak have remained with some modifications. This is one of the reasons why a military General, Abdul Fatah al-Sisi, could conduct a coup against the elected President, Dr. Mohammed Morsi, on the 3rd of July 2013. This and other issues that have emerged in the course of the last three years within the tumultuous politics of WANA are analysed in this book. The essays are grouped together under country headings which are arranged alphabetically. Within each country heading are individual essays that are chronologically ordered. There is also a section that contains reflections on the uprisings developed in 2011. The countries highlighted in this book are Egypt, Iran, Libya, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey. Iran and Turkey are, of course, not Arab but are part of WANA and, more importantly, are interfacing with the Arab uprisings in one way or another. I also allude to other Arab states where there has been an uprising such as Bahrain and Yemen. The positions adopted by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine on the Arab uprisings are also important. Another actor in the region that is central to my analysis is Israel. Beyond WANA, the United States figures prominently together with other Western states like Britain and France. Russia and China are also playing critical roles from their larger geopolitical perspectives. Finally, the book begins with an overview that offers my humble thoughts on the Arab uprisings on the eve of its third anniversary on the 17th of December 2013. What does the landscape look like now? What lies ahead? Like the uprisings, like WANA itself, my thoughts are very much in flux.

Chandra Muzaffar. December 2013.


WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings


AN OVERVIEW It is almost three years now since a young vegetable seller in Tunisia ignited an uprising in his country and in various other parts of the Arab world when he set himself on fire angered and frustrated by a callous bureaucracy and an uncaring state that treated poor and powerless citizens like him as mere garbage. A lot has happened in the last three years. Four powerful leaders have been ousted ― one of them brutally murdered. In three out of these four episodes the people played a decisive role.

In a sense, the Arab uprisings have empowered the people, the ordinary citizens. It has given them this feeling that they matter, that they are the real rulers. They do not have to be afraid of those who lord over them.

And yet, when we survey the terrain carefully we become less optimistic. We begin to wonder: what have the uprisings achieved? What has really changed?

After three years we can attempt a tentative assessment, bearing in mind that it is too short a time to arrive at any firm conclusion. The uprisings and their effects continue to create ripples, even waves, throughout WANA and beyond. Their full impact will only be known decades from now.

We shall first review the present situation. We shall then try to analyse the situation from different angles. In the final part of our overview we shall see if there are some glimmers of hope for the future.


WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings


In Tunisia where it all started the chasm between the Islamic Ennahda and the secular opposition remains as wide as ever though the two sides have after months of wrangling finally agreed on a Prime Minister who will lead a Government of Independents which in turn will prepare an interim Constitution. The Constitution will pave the way for a General Election. If this caretaker arrangement works out Tunisia may be assured of a semblance of political stability without which it would be much more difficult to address the nation’s critical economic challenges.

The situation in Egypt is much worse. After the ouster of a democratically elected President, the military backed regime is still struggling to establish law and order. Ikhwan-ul-Muslimin (Muslim Brotherhood)

members and supporters

continue to

demand that the ousted Mohamad Morsi be reinstated immediately, without conditions. Their just plea has acquired greater urgency in view of the regime’s on-going campaign to weaken Ikhwan’s popular base and to curb its political influence through various manoeuvres and machinations. The violent tensions that this engenders will keep Egypt on tenterhooks for some time to come impeding recovery from the dire economic straits it is in at the moment.

Yemen is also facing grave instability. After the former President Ali Abdullah Salleh was eased out of office in February 2012 and a new interim President installed in his place there was some hope that things would get better. A Conference of National Reconciliation (CNR) was constituted with the aim of evolving some consensus on the nation-building process. The 565 member CNR has been bogged down by tribal and sectarian divisions which are being exploited by supporters of the former President.

These divisions have been exacerbated by the decision of the 85 delegates from South Yemen to leave the CNR. South Yemen was a separate state until it merged with North Yemen in 1990. Separatism is now gaining ground in the South and there is talk that the union between North and South may not be able to survive the pulls and pressures of 2

WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings

politics and power. The North is more oriented towards the idea of an Islamic State while the South is regarded as more secular and socialist.

Just as Yemen is contending with serious internal divisions, Bahrain is also grappling with an unresolved crisis. Its Shia majority rose up against the ruling Sunni elite in 2011. Though the uprising was crushed with the help of the Saudi military and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) on 14 March 2011, dissent against the Bahraini monarch continues to express itself through various clandestine channels. The unhappiness of the majority community revolves around fundamental issues of social justice and human rights. As long as they are not resolved satisfactorily, Bahrain will remain a powder keg.

Libya is yet another state which is not only unstable but has also become chaotic following the overthrow and murder of its leader Muammar Gaddafi in October 2011. Well-armed militias are locked in battle and exercise control over different parts of the country. Militia warfare is part of a larger pattern of violence which has hampered the Executive from functioning effectively. Indeed, Parliament has become dysfunctional, divided as it is between “Islamists” and “secularists.” Libya has no Constitution.

If there is violence in Libya, the death, destruction and devastation that has become a daily routine in Syria threatens to undermine the integrity and sovereignty of the nation itself. Though the Syrian government’s stockpile of chemical weapons is being destroyed, the fighting between well-armed multiple rebel groups and Bashar Assad’s army continues unabated. It is estimated that more than a hundred thousand people have lost their lives in this conflict, a big portion of which are Bashar’s soldiers. Of all the conflict zones in WANA at this point in time, it is Syria that is the bloodiest and the most tragic.

When we reflect upon the situation prevailing in the six countries discussed above, it is apparent that the hopes and aspirations especially of the young who, in some instances, were the initiators of the uprisings have not been fulfilled. Death and violence, political


WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings

schisms and economic stagnation, religious dichotomies and threats to territorial integrity, seem to characterise the aftermath of the Arab uprisings.

What explains this situation?


Though it is not possible to compartmentalise the reasons into neat categories, we shall for the sake of our analysis divide them into domestic, regional and non- WANA factors.

Among the pertinent domestic factors would be the attitudes of the ruling elites to the popular uprisings. Mubarak in Egypt, Salleh in Yemen, Al-Khalifa in Bahrain and even Gaddafi in Libya failed in the initial stages to grasp the significance of the uprisings against them and foolishly sought to employ force against the protesters. Bashar AlAssad of Syria was also guilty of adopting the same approach. Though the opposition to him was proportionally smaller, his security forces adopted harsh measures to deal with unarmed demonstrating schoolchildren in Daraa at the beginning of the uprising in March 2011. It revealed an authoritarian ruthlessness which not only steeled the protesters further but also undermined the President’s credibility. If resort to violence ― especially the excessive use of force to quell protesters ― has sullied the image of the ruling elites, their opponents’ eager embrace of arms has also eroded the legitimacy of their struggle. With the exception of the protests in Tunisia, Egypt and Bahrain which were largely peaceful, the uprisings in Libya and, to some extent, Yemen quickly turned violent. This violence which in turn breeds inter-factional and intra-factional violence is one of the main reasons why the Arab masses are so disillusioned with the uprisings. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in Syria. The unspeakable violence of some of the rebels, reflected in their cruel barbarity, has convinced a lot of ordinary Syrians that Bashar for all his authoritarianism is preferable to these inhuman “champions of change.”


WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings

There are other advocates of change such as the Ikhwan in Egypt who after coming to power through the ballot-box failed to accord priority to the urgent economic and social needs of the people. Curbing inflation, creating jobs for the young and raising incomes of the poor were subordinated to the quest for what was perceived as a genuine Islamic identity articulated through laws and policies linked to public administration, the economy and culture. The Ikhwan, whatever its rhetoric, also tended to be somewhat exclusive, ensuring that only those who were ideologically aligned to it, were placed in crucial positions. This alienated a segment of the populace. It provided ammunition to Ikhwan’s adversaries, especially the core in the military, to mobilise the people against it, leading to the coup of July 2013. And undoubtedly, a substantial portion of Egyptian society ― not the 25 or 30 million touted by the media ― had turned against the Ikhwan after its short stint in power.

This, then, are two other factors that have damaged the uprisings. The inability of the advocates of change, the dissenters, to live up to the people’s expectations and the wanton desire of those who had been pushed out of power by the people to re-take the reins of authority at the slightest opportunity. The Egyptian military which had enjoyed power for more than six decades, it is obvious, was not happy about the ascendancy of the Ikhwan -― its mortal foe from the early fifties ― through the electoral process. It was only waiting in the wings to get rid of its enemy. One could argue that in Yemen too the defeated are yearning to strike again. The forces loyal to Salleh, as we have seen, continue to manipulate politics with the aim of bringing him or his close allies back to power.

There is yet another important factor in the domestic scenario that has also prevented the uprisings from realising their potential. This is the divide between the so-called secular forces and the so-called Islamic elements in a number of Arab societies. As we have shown, this is the divide that continues to challenge politics in Tunisia. In fact, wellestablished trade unions with sizeable memberships and other civil society groups in Tunisia are committed to a secular way of life which rejects any attempt to impose a certain interpretation of Islamic morality upon society. In Egypt, beyond the military5

WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings

Ikhwan tussle, is the opposition of a whole range of secular activists, including leading articulators of women’s rights, intellectuals, journalists and Nasserites with a strong nationalistic bent, to any notion of an Islamic polity which would privilege interpreters of text and tradition over the citizenry. Yemen we know is confronted with an Islam versus secular dichotomy that coincides with geography. The divide between Islamic elements and secular forces, we have noted, is also one of those fissures in Libyan society that is partly responsible for the chaos that prevails in that country. In Syria, a major battle-cry that has galvanised Syrian and non-Syrian groups against Bashar Al-Assad is that he is secular and Shia. Even during the 30 year period of his father’s leadership, Islamic groups, notably the Syrian Ikhwan, were locked in a long-drawn conflict with the secular Hafiz Al-Assad which sometimes turned horribly bloody. It is important at this juncture to understand what ‘secular’ and ‘Islamic’ mean in the context of Arab society. Secular does not mean the repudiation of Islam in the life of a nation or belittling its significance to the Muslim. Some of the advocates of a secular polity in the Arab world are pious Muslims at the personal level. A number of them would even acknowledge the pivotal role of values and principles derived from the Qur’an in the transformation of society. What they are uneasy about is the idea that a religious elite with a particular interpretation of Islam would exercise overriding authority on an entire spectrum of issues pertaining to societal relations and that this monopolistic view of the religion would determine the tone and tenor of society. Even highly respected and revered Islamic scholars such as the late Sheikh Mahmoud Shaltut of Egypt and the late Said Ramadan Al-Bouti of Syria have adopted this position. Seen from their perspective, groups pushing for a shariah-based, hudud centred Islamic State are actually pursuing a distorted goal of what a polity should be ― a goal which is a travesty of what the Quran represents, what the Prophet Muhammad’s mission signifies and what Islamic civilisation was at its zenith.

The truth of the matter is that many of these advocates of an Islamic State are driven primarily by the desire for power. This is why they have no qualms about subordinating Islamic ethics to their quest for power since the noble Islamic end that they are seeking 6

WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings ― so it seems to observers ― justifies the un-Islamic means that they employ. Of course, secular politicians also have no compunctions about separating means from ends. They too regard power as the be-all and end-all of their struggle, whatever they may proclaim in public. The difference is that those who wear an Islamic label on their forehead often succeed in concealing their real motive more effectively than those who do not.

This brings us to the regional dimension of the Arab uprisings and why they have fallen short of the aspirations of the people of WANA. It would be an understatement to say that the involvement of regional players has been a crucial factor in determining the direction of the uprisings. It is an open secret for instance that Saudi Arabia has been funding, arming and training various groups among the Syrian rebels since 2011.A key figure in this clandestine operation is Bandar Sultan, presently the Director-General of the Saudi Intelligence Agency. Without Saudi support some of the more important ― and more violent ― groups especially those affiliated to Al-Qaeda such as the Jahbat alNusra would not have been able to sustain themselves this long. For the Saudi elite, ousting the Bashar government is at the top of its agenda because of its link to Iran. The Saudi elite feels that it is the Bashar government that serves as a bridgehead for Iran into the Arab world and therefore assists in the expansion of Iranian power in the region. This alleged expansion is reinforced by Bashar’s alliance with Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Since Iran, like Hezbollah, is Shia and Bashar himself is from the Alawite community which is also linked to the Shias, the Wahabi oriented Saudis regard this Shia triumvirate as anathema ― anathema that should be eliminated!

Saudi aversion for the Shia sect is also one of the main reasons why the Saudis sent troops to suppress the legitimate demands of the Shia majority in Bahrain in March 2011. In Egypt, the Saudi government is backing the coup against the Ikhwan’s Morsi partly because of its Wahabi affinity to the Salafi oriented Nour Party that has chosen to work with the military. Besides, the military chief, Abdul Fatah al-Sisi, has close ties with the Saudi elite. Saudi financial aid is one of the props of the military-backed government in Cairo.


WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings Saudi Arabia’s Gulf neighbour, Qatar, has a different stance on Egypt. It remains sympathetic to Morsi and the Ikhwan. Qatar was also actively involved in financing rebels in Libya who were part of the mission to topple Gaddafi. Analysts are of the view that it was Qatar’s way of projecting itself as an important regional player that the world should take notice of. However, it is on Syria that the Qatari leadership has been most engaged. Apart from massive flow of funds and arms to the rebels, Qatar’s Al-Jazeera television in both Arabic and English has served as a propaganda network churning out news and analyses that are clearly biased against the Syrian government. If Qatar has assumed this role, it is also partly because of its fear of Iran’s growing influence in WANA and Syria’s purported role as a conduit. There is also a degree of Qatari-Sunni antipathy towards Shia Iran and the Alawite- Shia leadership in Damascus, exacerbated no doubt by Saudi demonization.

There may be another reason for the Qatari position on Syria seldom highlighted in the mainstream media. Qatar is home to the world’s largest gas field which it shares with South Pars in Iran. In 2009, it proposed to build a gas pipeline from the Persian Gulf to Turkey that would cross Syria to the Mediterranean. The gas would then be shipped to Europe. Bashar turned down the Qatari plan favouring instead a plan that would connect the Iranian side of the gas field to Iraq and from there to Syria, the Mediterranean and on to Europe. This 3,480 mile natural gas pipeline with the capacity to pump 3.9 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day is set to open in 2016. The main refinery is supposed to be built in Syria and Syrian ports would export the gas to Europe out of the eastern Mediterranean. Is it because this plan would undercut Qatar’s position as a gas exporter to Europe that the Qatari elite is so determined to oust Bashar? Is this also one of the reasons why Turkey is against Bashar? Is this why both Qatar and Turkey are looking for a pliable regime in Damascus that will give the green light to their pipeline project since their project cannot materialise without the collaboration of Syria?


WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings While gas and economics may have influenced Turkey’s response to Syria, it is quite conceivable that like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Ankara also is concerned about Iran’s rise in the region. This perception has gained currency in WANA in recent years partly because of developments in Iraq following the invasion and occupation of the country by the US and Britain in 2003. The introduction of electoral politics empowered the Shia majority. Many of the major Shia political actors in Iraq enjoy close ties with the Iranian leaders. It is possible that on certain issues of mutual concern Iranian leaders have been able to exercise some influence over their Iraqi counterparts. It is this that appears to have created a great deal of apprehension not only in Ankara, Riyadh and Doha but also in Washington, London and Paris. They have reckoned that as a strategic move, clipping Iran’s wings would require breaking the link between Tehran and Damascus.

For Turkey, the rise of Iran also connotes certain historical memories. It was the Ottoman Empire of which modern Turkey is the heir, that was locked in a longstanding conflict with the Safavids who had established the main branch of Shia Islam as the official religion of their own Empire in the early sixteenth century.

The Ottomans saw

themselves then ― perhaps that self-perception persists to this day ― as the defenders of Sunni Islam. This historical conflict may be a factor in the contemporary tussle for regional supremacy between Sunni Turkey and Shia Iran. Syria may be the first of many battlegrounds, who knows?

What is clear at this stage is that Turkey has been active in facilitating programmes of the Syrian Opposition. There are training camps for some of the armed rebels on Turkish soil. Turkey has also been a conduit for the flow of funds, information and intelligence to the groups that seek to overthrow the Bashar government.

Syria is not the only country in which Turkey is involved. In Libya, after adopting a constructive approach at the beginning of the Libyan uprising, the Turkish leadership came out strongly against Gaddafi, gave enthusiastic endorsement to NATO bombing and lent moral and material support to the rebels. Perhaps, Turkey was being a loyal and obedient NATO member. In the current Egyptian crisis, the Turkish leadership has stayed 9

WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings

on the side of Morsi and the Ikhwan. It may not just be because Morsi is the democratically elected leader. It may also be because of the empathy that the Turkish Prime Minister has for the Ikhwan ― an empathy which has expressed itself in his interaction with Syrian political actors too.

The impact of the involvement of the three states discussed so far in the Arab uprisings is not as great as that of yet another state. Israel has played a huge ― and largely destructive ― role in the aftermath of the uprisings. When these uprisings first erupted in Tunisia and Egypt, the Israeli leadership was wary. How would the uprisings affect Israel’s security? This is the central, dominant, all-consuming concern of not only the Israeli government but also a significant segment of the Israeli citizenry. It is worth repeating here that for Israel, security is assured only when it is absolutely certain that it commands total hegemony over the region.

It explains why when Mubarak fell and the military lost its pivotal role in Egypt in early 2011, the Israeli leadership was deeply worried. Though Morsi went out of his way to assure the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, that Egypt’s Peace Treaty with Israel would be honoured and even closed one of the tunnels at the Rafah Crossing which the besieged Palestinians living in Gaza use to transport goods, the latter remained uncertain about the former’s intentions. Netanyahu felt that being a democratically elected leader, Morsi would be forced at some point to act against Israel given the Ikhwan’s commitment to justice for the Palestinians and popular support for the Palestinian cause. It is not surprising therefore that the Israeli leadership was quietly jubilant when Morsi was overthrown and a military backed leadership was once again in the saddle of power. Did the Israeli elite or some element within it play a role behind the scenes in bringing down Egypt’s first democratically elected President?

With its other neighbour, Syria, the Israeli leadership has adopted a different position. Right from the outset, it provided overt and covert support to the groups opposed to the Syrian government. This support came in the form of intelligence, supply of military communication equipment and manipulation of media coverage through Zionist media 10

WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings

channels. The Israeli military also conducted airstrikes within Syrian territory on at least four occasions in 2013 ostensibly to prevent the Syrian army from transferring weapons to the Hezbollah in Lebanon.

For the Israeli leadership Syria is an implacable adversary for at least five reasons. One, it has been unflinching in its opposition to Israeli occupation of Palestine and other Arab lands including Syria’s own Golan Heights. Two, since the Golan Heights supplies Israel with one-third of its water needs ― apart from the oil and gas reserves it contains ― Israel would want a government in Damascus that is willing to tango with her. Three, the current Syrian President and his father have also for decades, offered succour and sanctuary to some of the most principled champions of the Palestinian cause ― individuals and groups that Israel regards as terrorists. This has always incensed Israeli leaders. Four, Bashar Al-Assad has built close rapport with the Hezbollah, the one movement in WANA that Israel fears most because of its proven military and strategic prowess. Five, at the same time, the Syrian state is Iran’s closest ally in the Arab world. For Israel, Iran is a threat to its existence because it believes ― without evidence ― that Iran has a clandestine nuclear weapons programme directed at her. For all these reasons, Israel, like Saudi Arabia ― but for different reasons ― wants to destroy the Syria-Hezbollah-Iran triumvirate at all costs. It knows that the overthrow of Bashar could lead to chaos, given the present situation in Syria. But a chaotic situation may work to Israel’s advantage since it would be easier to perpetuate its interests if there is no one in Damascus who is able to exercise effective authority.

So far we have looked at countries in the region who more or less share some common goals vis-à-vis the aftermath of the uprisings. To round up this section of the overview, we should also offer some thoughts on two other regional players who are on the other side, so to speak. Iran, needless to say, is deeply involved in the Syrian crisis. There are good reasons to believe that apart from economic aid, Iran also provides military assistance to its ally. Of course, on the political and diplomatic fronts, Iran has been Syria’s most trusted friend. The Hezbollah is Syria’s other trusted friend which has been 11

WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings involved directly ― according to various sources ― in the actual fighting in certain parts of Syria. It is true that Hezbollah was drawn into battles on the ground only after Sunni religious personalities and the armed Syrian opposition lured thousands of foreign fighters from other countries to join them in what they term as a ‘jihad’ to oust an “infidel” Shia government that is allegedly massacring Sunni Muslims.

There is no need to emphasise that the agendas and interests of various regional actors have had a far-reaching impact upon the Arab uprisings and their aftermath. There are shared goals in some of their agendas. There are also differences. Whatever the similarities and dissimilarities, it appears that their agendas have not, up to this point, helped to advance the aspirations of the hundreds of thousands of ordinary women and men in WANA who rose up against their governments three years ago in the name of justice, freedom and human dignity.

Regional influences and even the domestic forces which have moulded the Arab uprisings and their aftermath do not tell the whole story unless one examines carefully the big picture. And what is the big picture? It is the role of non-WANA actors. More specifically, it is the role of Western powers such as the US, Britain and France. Their role and the reaction to them from other non-WANA actors and how it is shaping the politics of the region is what we shall now reflect upon.

The West has for decades dominated WANA and attempted to control its politics, its economics and even its culture. There are perhaps at least three reasons why the US and its Western allies are so determined to establish their hegemony over WANA today. One, WANA is the world’s major oil and gas exporting region. Control over these two commodities is vital for the exercise of hegemonic power, regionally and globally. Two, WANA is also the world’s most strategically critical region. This is where three continents meet. Some of the world’s most important waterways from the Mediterranean


WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings

to the Suez Canal are here. Control over strategic routes is also a pre-requisite for hegemony. Three, WANA is where Israel is. And protecting and enhancing Israel’s security is fundamental to the foreign policy of the US and, to a great extent, France and Britain. It serves their interests inasmuch as it serves the interests of Israel.

The Arab uprisings and their aftermath reveal how the West is trying to maintain its hegemony. In the case of Egypt, the US in particular tried to manage the popular revolt against Mubarak in early 2011 in such a way that Israel’s interests would be secured. In the end, partly because of the powerful anti-Mubarak sentiment among the masses, it had no choice but to acquiesce with the impending change.

US President, Barack Obama, sought to establish a working relationship with Morsi and the Ikhwan, much to the chagrin of Israel’s Netanyahu. After all, Washington had been interacting with Ikhwan and other Islamic groups for some time. They are perceived by some Washington elites as ‘moderates’ with whom the West can do business. These ‘moderates’ in turn do not challenge the Western capitalist system or its hegemonic military infrastructure. It is only on the question of Israel that they continue to maintain a principled position. However, when Morsi was ousted in a coup in July 2013, and the military regained full control, Obama accepted the new reality. While he has expressed some misgivings about the crackdown on the Ikhwan, Obama knows that the Egyptian military has for many decades helped to sustain US hegemony in the region and, more important, guaranteed Israel’s security as defined by Israel.

In the case of Libya, it was France rather than the US that took the lead in ensuring the triumph of Western hegemony. The two countries together with Britain facilitated the flow of arms and funds to the anti Gaddafi rebels. But as discussed elsewhere in this book, it was NATO’s continuous bombing that led to the fall of Gaddafi. For the hegemonic powers, gaining control over Libya was crucial not only because of its vast oil reserves ; it was also to thwart Gaddafi’s plan for an alternative African Union (AU) 13

WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings

currency and to put an end to his push for a greater role for Chinese capital and technology in North Africa in particular.

If we analyse how Western hegemony was perpetuated in some of the other countries in the region that had witnessed an uprising, we begin to see clearly the subservient role played by the West’s clients and allies. In Bahrain it was Saudi Arabia and some of the other Gulf monarchies that helped the US maintain its grip upon the archipelago by putting down a popular uprising. Bahrain is after all home to the US Fifth Fleet. The fleet and its location is a vital element in the US’s strategy for global hegemony. In Yemen also the Saudis played a role in arranging for a succession that would ensure that the state ― one of the poorest in the world ― would remain a US ally. In Tunisia, after the uprising, both Washington and Ennahda began to cultivate close ties in order to ensure that when it is in power it would protect US and Western interests in the country and not do anything to jeopardise Israel’s position. Ennahda it is true, has toned down its criticism of Israel.

While Western hegemony has been preserved for the time being in four countries that were part of the uprising ― Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and Tunisia ― and it has gained a foothold in a fifth country, namely, Libya, the situation that presents itself in each of them today does not seem hopeful at all. We have shown how in all these countries there is instability and a great deal of uncertainty. In at least one of them, the simmering discontent among the people has erupted a few times threatening peace and order. Not one of them is totally free of political violence. It is a pyrrhic victory for Western hegemony.

As an aside, a starker example of a pyrrhic victory for Western--- specifically US and British --- hegemony would be Iraq. It may have succeeded in killing Saddam Hussein but Iraq today is a total mess. Since the invasion and occupation in 2003, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in an unending cycle of violence. There is an obvious sectarian dimension to the violence now, with Sunnis and Shias killing one another on an almost daily basis. Scores of babies in Fallujah and other Iraqi cities have 14

WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings

been born deformed apparently from the effects of the use of depleted uranium by US troops and other occupying forces. Poverty has become widespread; many young people are without jobs; crime is pervasive; and basic infrastructure has broken down in many parts of the country.

There is another state in WANA where Western hegemony has harnessed all its resources in order to achieve its goal of regime change and yet it has not succeeded. This is Syria. In spite of intelligence and training, funds and arms provided or facilitated by various agencies in the US, Britain and France, in spite of their massive media barrage, in spite of the material and political support from allies in WANA such as Turkey and clients such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the rebels have not been able to defeat Bashar Al-Assad. And yet getting rid of Bashar, as we have seen, is a much coveted trophy for all of them. It is in one way or another linked with all the three goals of Western hegemony in WANA. It is, as we have explained, intertwined with the politics of gas; it is integral to the West’s strategic interests since Syria is littoral to the Eastern Mediterranean and the Russian navy already has military access to the port of Tartus; and most of all, Syria and its alliances are right at the centre of Israel’s radar screen.

Why has Western hegemony not been able to defeat Bashar Al-Assad? There are many reasons. The groups opposed to him are badly divided and there is no unified leadership. As we have discussed, many of the armed rebels among them have resorted to brutal violence which has angered a lot of Syrians. The Syrian army has strength and stamina. Other institutions of state are also better organised than in many other societies in WANA which is why the government has been able to take care of the basic needs of the people in spite of the war and Western economic sanctions. Another equally important factor is Bashar’s standing among his people. At the beginning of the uprising, it was evident that he still had the support of the majority of his people. Though it decreased for a while, his position today, as we have hinted, is stronger than it was a year ago partly because of the atrocities committed by the some of the rebels. Support from Iran and the Hezbollah has also played a part.


WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings There is another important reason that explains Bashar’s ability to withstand Western hegemony bolstered as it is by allies and clients in WANA. It is the veto cast by Russia and China in the UN Security Council (UNSC) on three occasions since October 2011 that has shielded Bashar. After the blunder they committed in abstaining during the UNSC vote on Libya which paved the way for the NATO bombing of that country, they realised that they should not give the green light to the Western powers to pursue their hegemonic agenda vis-à -vis Syria. Besides, seeing what is happening in Libya today, they and many other governments are convinced that military aggression will only aggravate the situation and lead to much human suffering.


The triple veto by Russia and China is a reflection of the emergence of a new pattern in international relations which has great significance for WANA and indeed, for the rest of the world. It demonstrates a degree of assertiveness on the part of the two powers. It signals a willingness to challenge Western hegemony directly.

If the triple veto is seen in relation to two other developments we will begin to appreciate its importance. Russia played a pivotal role in stymieing a US plan to embark upon a missile strike against Syria in September 2013. It persuaded Syria to destroy its chemical weapons arsenal and to ratify the relevant UN Convention on the prohibition of such weapons. An attack upon Syria could have triggered a larger war engulfing WANA and beyond. The Russian leadership won kudos for averting a possible war.

Russia and China also played crucial roles in negotiating an interim nuclear agreement between Iran and six powers (apart from Russia and China, the others are the US, Britain, France and Germany) in November 2013. It was the assurance provided by Russia and China that persuaded Iran to concur with some of the terms of the agreement. As in the case of Syria, the nuclear deal may have also diverted the protagonists, specifically, Israel and the US, on the one hand, and Iran, on the other, from a path that could have led to a war. 16

WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings

Viewed from a certain perspective, both these agreements have thwarted the hegemonic design of the US, its Western allies and Israel to force independent minded states to submit to their power. The agreements are a victory of sorts for those who are opposed to hegemony and seek a more just world. They also reflect the decline of a unipolar order and the growth of multi-polar politics.

One of the main reasons why this new pattern of international relations is unfolding is because of the decline of the US in particular and the West in general. The economic malaise that besets the West is one of the causes of this decline. The economic malaise itself is due to a number of factors including the vast inequalities and injustices associated with contemporary capitalism and the indulgence of the US and its allies in burdensome military adventures such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

The European and American public weighed down by economic woes have become weary of wars in foreign lands. It is partly because of this war weariness that there was considerable opposition among the French, British and American people to a US-led military foray in Syria. In other words, people in the West have no appetite any more for war.

When US and Western elites are no longer willing to flex their military muscles, states that have been dependent upon US military hegemony to exert their own power and influence within and without their own boundaries will have to re-position themselves. What this means is that the decline of US military hegemony will affect Israel’s role in WANA. It will not be able to throw its weight around as in the past. The US decline will also impact upon Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies and governments in WANA who may not be able to pursue their present agendas in politics or even in matters pertaining to religion. If the relative importance of Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other such client states begins to diminish, a new power configuration could emerge in WANA. Within such a configuration there is a greater possibility of nations discovering their own strengths and developing their economies and political systems in accordance with the 17

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will of their people. Justice, freedom and human dignity will have more meaning in such a setting where popular sentiments are no longer manipulated to serve the nefarious agenda of some regional player or some foreign actor. The people will be in a better position to achieve the genuine aspirations of the Arab uprisings of the last three years.

We realise of course that changes in global and regional power structures by themselves do not guarantee transformations within the domestic sphere. Leaders within a specific setting bear a huge responsibility to ensure that the well-being of their people, especially the poor and marginalised, takes precedence over everything else. They must direct the energies and resources of their nation-state towards noble ends with a sincere commitment to integrity. Only then will they be able to overcome challenges such as those related to the Islam-secular dichotomy or the Sunni-Shia division which have sapped the strength of so many WANA states.

In dealing with these dichotomies and divisions, the people of WANA should always remember that they are heirs to illustrious spiritual and moral teachings that cherish our common humanity, that implore us in this transient life to be just and compassionate to each and every person, without distinction or differentiation. Isn’t this what Consciousness of God ― which at one level is so pervasive in WANA ― really means?

13 December 2013.


WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings


THE EGYPTIAN REVOLUTION: THE TRIUMPH OF HUMAN DIGNITY The people of Egypt have won a great victory. They have defeated a dictator. They have ousted Hosni Mubarak.

Mubarak fell at the feet of people power. The Egyptian people showed tremendous courage in their struggle against the dictatorship. They persevered against great odds. Their sacrifice was monumental. According to UN sources, in the course of their 18 day protest against a President who had misruled for most of 30 years, some 300 people died at the hands of hoodlums and thugs serving the Mubarak regime.

While thugs targeted the people, it is remarkable that those who fought for justice, freedom and dignity were largely non-violent. Simply put, it was a peaceful revolution ― a revolution that had as its epicentre, Medan Tahrir, Liberation Square. The revolutionaries, as commentators have observed, were civil and courteous.

At the forefront of this revolution were young people, in their twenties and thirties. It was their idealism which was the fuel of this revolution. They utilised the new media to the hilt to mobilise and galvanise the masses. The Egyptian Revolution was, in a sense, inspired by the Tunisian Revolution of 14 th January 2011. Tunisians ― again many of them young men and women ― showed Egyptians and Arabs throughout West Asia and North Africa (WANA) that when human beings overcome fear, a hope, a distant goal, is suddenly transformed into reality.


WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings Because Egypt is the heart of the Arab world, its Revolution, the Revolution of 11th February, will have a tremendous impact upon ordinary men and women in the region. It will give them strength and confidence. It will empower them. The Egyptian Revolution will become the beacon that inspires the masses to stand up against corrupt, greedy rulers who betray the trust of the people. It will become the banner around which will rally all those who cherish their dignity and independence and refuse to submit to foreign dictation and dominance that has been the curse of WANA. In this regard, the Egyptian Revolution will undoubtedly provide fresh impetus to the noble Palestinian struggle for self-determination. By a strange coincidence, the Egyptian Revolution happened on the same day as Iran’s Islamic Revolution. It was on the 11th of February 1979 that the Islamic revolutionaries in Iran proclaimed victory after the military declared its neutrality and the revolutionaries took over public buildings and the Iranian State Radio and Television. 11th February is celebrated as a national holiday in Iran.

The powers-that-be in Tel Aviv, Washington, London, Paris and other Western capitals would not like to be reminded of this historical coincidence. It is a coincidence that will also send a shiver down the spine of many a monarch and president in the Arab world. More than this coincidence, both Revolutions succeeded in harnessing the energies of millions of people in their respective countries. The Egyptian and Iranian Revolutions ― some would argue — are the two most broad-based revolutions in human history.

At a great historical moment like this (I am writing this article a couple of hours after Vice-President Omar Sulaiman’s announcement over Egyptian Television that Mubarak is stepping down) we should recall the other illustrious revolutions in history ― the French Revolution of 1789; the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, and the Chinese Revolution of 1949. There have also been people’s movements in recent decades that have succeeded in overthrowing dictatorial regimes that had lost credibility with the people. The people power movement in the Philippines in 1986 and the mass movement against the Indonesian President Suharto in 1998 would be two examples from Southeast 20

WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings

Asia while the series of uprisings in Eastern Europe in 1989 would also testify to the power embodied in the people.

Revolutions and popular uprisings, however idealistic and altruistic its leaders and participants may be in the initial stages, do not always deliver on the freedom and justice they promise. There are many revolutions that have betrayed the people. We do not know how the Egyptian Revolution will unfold in the coming days and months.

But for the time being, the people of Egypt, and indeed the people of the world, have every right and reason to celebrate. We have just witnessed the liberation of the soul of a nation. We have just embraced the triumph of human dignity.

12 February 2011.


WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings


MORSI AND THE EGYPTIAN CONUNDRUM The newly elected President of the Republic of Egypt, Dr. Mohamed Morsi, has pledged to establish a democratic, constitutional state based upon the rule of law and the will of the people. The greatest challenge that he faces in realising this goal is the leadership of the nation’s Armed Forces. Even before Morsi’s wafer-thin victory — 52 per cent of the vote as against 48 per cent for his opponent, Ahmed Shafiq — the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) had conducted what analysts have described as a “power grab.” On 14 June 2012, Egypt’s High Constitutional Court (HCC), which like the elite in the Armed Forces, comprises Mubarak loyalists, dissolved the democratically elected Parliament and curbed the powers of the President especially in relation to security, defence and foreign policy. 75 per cent of the parliamentary seats are in the hands of Islamic parties, led by the Ikhwanul Muslimin (the Muslim Brotherhood). The military elite also has the right to object to any article in the yet to be drafted national constitution and exercises authority over the national budget. Why the military is keen to retain control over the nation’s finances, it is not difficult to fathom. The military “controls a multi-billion dollar business empire that trades in products not normally associated with men in uniform: olive oil, fertilizer, televisions, laptops, cigarettes, mineral water, poultry, bread and underwear... Estimates suggest that military-connected enterprises account for 10% to 40% of the Egyptian economy. It is an opaque realm of foreign investments, inside deals and privilege that has grown quietly for decades, employing thousands of workers and operating parallel to the army’s defence industries.”


WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings

To dismantle such a complex structure of economic power fused with political power and military might is not an easy task. Morsi will do well to remember that there is hardly a single instance of a military deeply entrenched in power transferring its authority in a smooth and easy manner to civilian rulers. In Algeria in January 1992, we witnessed the ugly spectacle of a military junta usurping power after the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) had won the first round of elections resulting in a long and bloody civil war which claimed tens of thousands of lives. The military in Myanmar continues to hold the trump card, elections notwithstanding. Pakistan’s civilian rulers are very much aware of the powerful presence of the military partly because of the series of coups it had staged in the course of the last 50 years. This is also true to a great extent of Thailand. In Indonesia and Turkey, the military appears to have withdrawn to the barracks but it remains a strong undercurrent in the politics of the two states.

For Morsi to establish a functioning democratic system, he must not only persevere and be principled but also possess superb negotiating skills and clever strategies. His greatest ally in this tussle with military power will be the citizenry of Egypt. Since almost half of the voting population did not endorse his presidency, Morsi will have to redouble his efforts to reach out to all segments of society. Apart from women and Christians which the media has highlighted, he should also seek the support of other Islamic groups, secular and liberal Egyptians, and socialists. In a nutshell, his approach to politics and policies should be inclusive and all-embracing. By resigning from the Ikhwan, and projecting himself as the President of all Egyptians, Morsi has taken the first step in that direction.

A truly inclusive President will accord priority to the long neglected, huge underclass in Egyptian society. These are the millions — 51% of the population live in poverty — struggling to eke out a living. 25% of Egypt’s youth, according to some estimates, are unemployed. The paucity of decent housing is a chronic problem that has plagued Cairo for decades. It has forced some 1.5 million poor Egyptians to scour for shelter in the cemeteries of the rich outside the capital. The lack of clean water and frequent power


WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings

outages are some of the other colossal burdens that this congested city of 19 million bears.

How will Morsi and his policy-makers and planners address these challenges? If they are going to pursue more liberalisation, deregulation and privatisation — as the Ikhwan’s economic programme Al-Nahda seems to suggest — then they are adopting the wrong approach. Such an approach will not help to transform the lives of the disenfranchised and the downtrodden. Neither does the solution lie with the IMF — from whom the Ikhwan hopes to secure a loan soon — with its austerity programme and subsidy cutbacks.

A reformed, de-bureaucratised, corruption free public sector will have to take the lead. It will have to raise incomes of the lower echelons of society; emphasise public housing for the homeless; invest in small and medium sized enterprises; focus upon human resource development. People’s cooperatives will have to be established which will help to break existing monopolies in the production and distribution of goods and services. Public entities will have to be re-organised to manage water and energy supply and distribution.

Infrastructure development which benefits the poor directly will be given priority. In this and other areas, a socially responsible private sector channelling domestic and foreign capital in accordance with the nation’s goals, will have a key role to play.

Analysts have asked if vested interests within and without Egypt will allow such an egalitarian, justice driven economic policy to take root. It is revealing that both Morsi and Shafiq put forward economic ideas which in essence sought to assure the wealthy in Egypt and international capital that their interests would be safeguarded. It was only the candidate who emerged a close third in the first round of the Presidential Election, Hamdeen Sabahy, who offered a genuine alternative that privileged the economically marginalised. It was obvious why the mainstream Western media downplayed his economic agenda.


WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings

It is not just on the economy that Morsi appears to have adopted a certain stance. On an important foreign policy issue, namely, US military bases in the region and the upgrading of facilities for the US’ 5th Fleet in Bahrain, Morsi and the Ikhwan have been rather quiet.

And what is even more critical, the centres of power in the West will watch him closely on his position on Syria and on Egypt’s relations with Iran.

But more than anything else, it is on the question of Israel that Washington, its European allies, and Israel itself, will judge Morsi. Morsi has promised all of them that he will respect all international treaties that Egypt has entered into — which would of course include the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty. However, they are not sure if Morsi will at some point in the future, succumb to pressure from the masses to review and rescind the Treaty, especially since Egyptian public opinion has never been in favour of the Treaty. Because Morsi presides over a democracy, he cannot — unlike Mubarak the dictator — afford to ignore popular sentiments. Besides, he himself had campaigned in the election as a staunch defender of the Palestinian cause. How will Morsi’s commitment to Palestine manifest itself now that he is President? Will the new Egyptian President lead the campaign for a just peace for the Palestinians — a peace that will ensure the return of Palestinian refugees to their land, as provided for in international law, a peace that recognises East Jerusalem as the capital of a new, viable Palestinian state with its own army, navy and air force? Since a just peace of this sort is anathema to Israeli leaders and most Zionists and Christian Zionists in the US, what will Morsi do? Will he abandon these fundamental demands of the Palestinian struggle? What will be the consequences if he does? Or will he stand up to the Israeli elite and their patrons and protectors in the West? Again, what will be the ramifications?

It is because Israel and Western powers are worried about how a democratically elected President in the Arab world’s most important state may move the pieces on the IsraelPalestine/Arab chessboard that they would like the military, with its close ties to Israel 25

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and the West, to maintain a grip upon Egyptian politics. That is why these so-called champions of democracy have been somewhat reticent about the military’s undemocratic dissolution of Parliament and its shackling of the Presidency. This should not surprise us. After all, haven’t they always placed their own hegemonic interests above democratic principles?

2 July 2012.


WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings


EGYPT: IKHWAN AT THE CROSSROADS Egyptian opposition parties and their supporters should accept the results of the 15 December 2012 Referendum on the new Egyptian Constitution. They have not been able to provide solid evidence of systemic cheating or massive manipulation of the referendum by the Mohamed Morsi government, as they had alleged earlier. Analysts, inside and outside Egypt, have made this observation.

In fact, 64% of those who voted endorsed the new Egyptian Constitution. True, only 32% of the registered voters exercised their right. But that in itself is not an argument against the validity of the poll. In some Western democracies, the voter turn-out is lower and yet no one questions the outcome of their referenda or elections.

Of course, a lot of Egyptians are genuinely concerned about the character of the Constitution which they feel strengthens the position of Al-Azhar jurists over the legislative process. What this means in reality is that the authority of scholars from Egypt’s premier Islamic institution would now span a wide spectrum of activities since Islam is after all a complete way of life. More specifically, critics of the Constitution are worried that the textual interpretation of these jurists could impact adversely upon women and non-Muslim minorities. It might lead to a form of conservatism that is inimical to the essence of Islam as understood and practised by a significant segment of Egyptian society for centuries. It is a fear that is not without basis given Al-Azhar’s orientation and the stances adopted by elements in the leadership of the Ikhwan-ul-Muslimin (the Muslim Brotherhood) which has emerged as the most powerful current in Egyptian politics since the ouster of former President, Hosni Mubarak.

Dr. Mohamad Morsi, from an Ikhwan background, who was elected President in June 2012 with only 52% of the votes cast, should address the fears and concerns of the 27

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opponents of the new Constitution with sincerity and honesty. He should not only dialogue with them but also incorporate some of the more credible personalities from non-Ihkwan backgrounds into the structures of governance. Adopting an inclusive approach and building a national consensus to tackle the monumental challenges facing the Egyptian nation should be Morsi’s principal aim.

Of these challenges the most formidable are those related to the economy. According to some sources, about 40 million Egyptians ― 51% of the total population ― live below the poverty line of 2 US dollars a day. Between 20% to 25% of the work force — mostly young people ― are unemployed. Inflation hovers around 11.7%. There is a huge national deficit. Foreign reserves are depleting rapidly. And the yawning gap between the rich and poor which has been a feature of Egyptian society for the last three decades has widened considerably in the last 10 years.

There is yet another dimension to the economy which makes the challenge even more complicated. The still powerful Egyptian military with its longstanding historical role owns or controls anything between 10% and 40% of the national economy. It has its finger in almost every slice of the economic pie. The vested interests linked to the military have undoubtedly distorted the economy.

How will Morsi, the Ikhwan and the party that it sponsors, the Freedom and Justice Party, correct these distortions and transform the economy?

In its al-Nahda (renaissance)

economic programme, the Ikhwan spells out its commitment to a free market; an industrial policy based upon export substitution; reducing public expenditure; controlling the budget deficit; increasing the minimum wage; introducing a progressive income tax structure; and raising the ceiling for tax exemptions. The economic programme also emphasises building new power plants, water treatment systems, roads and bridges.

Apart from revenue obtained from the export of gas and petroleum and the tourism industry, the Ikhwan speaks vaguely about a better organised zakat system as an important source of income. A vigorous assault upon corruption and wastage, it reckons, 28

WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings will also strengthen the nation’s economic base. The Ikhwan hopes to gain control over the so-called slush funds of the deposed regime to finance development projects for the people. It is an open secret that the Ikhwan is, at the same time, negotiating a 4.8 billion US dollar loan from the IMF. There is, besides, great expectation of substantive aid from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the European Union, and the United States.

Many of the goals of the al-Nahda programme are laudable. Some of its specific objectives linked to wages and taxes are commendable. However, critics are sceptical about the ability of a programme which relies so heavily upon the private sector to overcome absolute poverty or to narrow the widening chasm between the rich and poor ― Egypt’s two most daunting economic challenges. Historically, in the Global South as in the Global North, it is institutions which are part of the public sector that have played a pivotal role in addressing challenges of this sort — challenges which are intimately connected with issues of social justice.

It is also the State that will have to take the lead in limiting and eventually eliminating the military from the economy. Similarly, it is the State that will have to formulate an effective delivery system which would bring the benefits of development to the poorer strata of society. Private capital, domestic or foreign, and the institutions related to it, will not be able to perform these tasks. There is also a degree of uncertainty about some of the anticipated sources of revenue that will power growth and development.

The structure of the Egyptian economy and the direction it will take under the Ikhwan are matters which are being closely watched by the US elite and other Western elites. For them, Egypt should continue to liberalise its financial sector, deregulate its economy and privatise its public assets. Financial capital in particular should be welcomed with open arms. The US wants the Ikhwan based government to be under the tutelage of the IMF. In a nutshell, the Ikhwan should maintain, if not reinforce, Egypt’s subservient position within the US-led global capitalist system.


WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings

How the Morsi led government relates to the global capitalist system will be one of the three things that the US and its allies will take into consideration in their evaluation of the Ikhwan. They will also assess the Ikhwan’s attitude towards the US military presence and power in West Asia and North Africa (WANA). The US has important military bases in a number of countries in the region, including Iraq, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman. Bahrain is the home of the US’s Fifth Fleet. The US expects the Egyptian government to accept unquestioningly US’s military hegemony over WANA. Morsi has acquiesced so far. The third ― and perhaps the US’s most critical ― criterion in judging the Ikhwan in power is how it conducts its relationship to Israel. It goes without saying that both the US and Israel and their European allies expect the Ikhwan government to preserve and protect the 1979 Egypt –Israel Peace Treaty. It is not just a question of maintaining diplomatic ties. Israel and its friends will not agree to any attempt to re-visit any aspect of the Treaty, a Treaty which is extremely unpopular with the Egyptian people. As important as the Treaty to Israel, the US and Europe, is Egypt’s relations with some of its neighbours who are perceived as mortal threats to Israel’s very existence. How will Morsi and the Ikhwan relate to Iran, to the Bashar al-Assad government in Damascus, to the Hezbollah in Lebanon? If Egypt forges close ties with any of them, it is very likely that it will evoke the wrath of Tel Aviv and Washington. Morsi has chosen not to antagonise Israel and the West. Indeed, in the on-going bloody conflict in Syria, he is clearly on the side of the US and its other Western and WANA allies. The three criteria that the US and its allies are employing in assessing the Ikhwan — fidelity to US-led global capitalism; acquiescence with US military hegemony; and subservience to Israeli interests ― are also the yardsticks they are using in evaluating other Ikhwan affiliated Islamic movements that have come to power in the wake of the Arab Uprising in countries such as Tunisia. What this means for the Ikhwan-ul-Muslimin in Egypt is that if it continues to seek the endorsement of the US and its allies there is the danger that its support among its own people will erode over time, especially if as a result of its adherence to US-led capitalism, it fails to deliver justice to the poor and 30

WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings

marginalised. On the other hand, if the Ikhwan accords priority to its own people and others like the Palestinians, over US interests, it will certainly lose US patronage but will gain the affection of the masses. Admittedly, in reality it may not be a stark ‘either or’ choice. The Ikhwan leadership will have to balance competing interests at different points in time. What is important is it should demonstrate that it has the integrity and the courage to move in the direction of enhancing Egypt’s independence and sovereignty even if it encounters several ‘ups’ and ‘downs’ in the process.

If the Ikhwan moves in such a direction, it would have ensured justice and dignity for its people. And indeed, since Egypt is the fulcrum of the Arab world, justice and dignity for Egyptians will have a huge impact upon the entire region.

1 January 2013.


WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings


EGYPT: WHAT NOW? In the wake of the military coup of 3rd July 2013, the question that is on the lips of many people is what is going to happen now in Egypt? How will the situation evolve? What is the future of the 80 million people who live in that ancient land?

It would be hazardous to try to predict the future, given the uncertainties that befuddle the present. There is however one possible scenario that one hopes will not be the fate of Egypt. Egypt should not become another Algeria. A military coup against the Islamic Salvation Front which had won the first round of a democratic election in 1991 in that country led eventually to an orgy of violence that lasted almost 10 years and left 100,000 people dead.

To avoid such a horrendous catastrophe, the military should exercise maximum restraint in dealing with supporters of deposed President Morsi just as the protesters should refrain from resorting to violence in whatever form. The 55 mainly Morsi supporters killed outside the Republican Guard Headquarters in Cairo at dawn on July 8th by military personnel is the sort of incident — if it recurs in the future — that will trigger mass, perhaps uncontrollable violence.

If the situation does not descend into such violence, the current military backed leadership may be able to implement its road map: a referendum on amendments to the present Constitution, followed by a Parliamentary Election in about six months and then a Presidential Election. Apart from ensuring that the outcome of the referendum is in its favour, the military would be keen on gaining control of the legislature and installing its own candidate as President.


WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings

For the military to achieve its post-coup political agenda there is a vital prerequisite. It has to deliver on the economy. If within the next six to nine months, it shows that it is capable of providing jobs, checking the cost of living, ensuring a regular supply of water and energy to various parts of Cairo, and meeting some of the demands for affordable housing, it would gain a degree of credibility and win the confidence of a segment of the citizenry.

But even if there is some economic improvement and a measure of political stability, it is quite conceivable that the fundamental challenges facing the Egyptian people will remain. Since the military will retain real power, any attempt at creating democratic structures of governance would be merely cosmetic. It will continue to protect its almost 40% stake in the Egyptian economy which in itself is an impediment to economic reform. At the same time, the military can also be expected to pursue the type of crony capitalism which characterised the Mubarak regime and which bred massive corruption.

The military will remain as committed as ever to preserving, and perhaps even strengthening, its close ties to both Saudi Arabia and Israel. Indeed, it has been argued by some analysts that it was Morsi’s opposition to a dam project which Saudi Arabia and Israel favoured that was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. The project seeks to divert the waters of the Nile to Israel. A month before his ouster, Morsi had apparently declared that, “We have very serious measures to protect every drop of Nile water.” It is reported that the dam is now scheduled for completion in 2017. As critical as its relationship to these countries are the military’s deep ties with Washington. It is well-known that it receives an annual US aid package of 1.5 billion dollars. The US has merely suspended but not cancelled (which is what it should have done) its shipment of four F-16 fighter planes to the Egyptian military. In fact, by refusing to describe Morsi’s overthrow as a coup, the Obama Administration is sending a clear message to the post-coup leadership — whose pivotal figure, General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, is close to Washington and Riyadh — that it is on the side of the military, its longstanding, most trusted ally in Egypt. 33

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If this is the possible scenario in the event of a military backed leadership perching itself in power after elections next year, how would Morsi’s Ikhwan-ul-Muslimin, the Muslim Brotherhood, address domestic and external challenges on the off chance that it emerges victorious in the polls? The Ikhwan, there’s no need to emphasise, has to adopt a different approach, even display an altogether different mindset, if it is to transform Egyptian society. To start with, it has to be more strategic in dealing with the military. A head-on collision with the latter will not serve the interests of Ikhwan or the nation. Perhaps, the Ikhwan should take a leaf from the book of Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Erdogan, on how he succeeded to emasculate the powerful military over a decade.

Part of the strategy should be a totally inclusive approach to politics and society. Inclusiveness does not merely mean offering important positions to liberal and left leaders which is what Morsi tried to do. It means listening and responding to all sections of society, and not just confining one’s interaction to Ikhwan’s constituency. Absorbing the values and attitudes of diverse elements in society would invariably demand that certain aspects of one’s dogma be set aside. It was partly because Morsi and the Freedom and Justice Party established by Ikhwan was not able to transcend dogma that they alienated segments of the female population and the artistic community.

Perhaps it was also because of its attachment to dogma, that it failed to prioritise the economic woes of the people. Its emphasis was upon securing an IMF loan and obtaining aid from wealthy neighbours such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia. It was not able to focus upon the implementation of its An-Nahda (Renaissance) economic programme, partly because of the political environment. There was also a great deal of inconsistency in Ikhwan’s foreign policy. On the one hand, it offered moral support to Hamas; on the other hand, it closed down an underground tunnel to Gaza presumably at the behest of Israel. Initially, Morsi sought to reach out to Iran. Shortly before his ouster, he ordered the closure of the Syrian Embassy in Cairo in a bid to please the sponsors of the Syrian rebels in the region such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia 34

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and Turkey and their Western patrons. In both its foreign and domestic and policies, the Ikhwan appeared to lack a clear, coherent vision which could be translated into specific policies.

If this is the situation vis-a-vis the military, on the one hand, and the Ikhwan, on the other, what hope is there for the Egyptian people?

22 July 2013.


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A NATION BLEEDS Why is Egypt bleeding? Because its security forces are re-asserting their power and authority and the Ikhwan-al- Muslimin (Muslim Brotherhood) is resisting.

Since the police with the backing of the powerful military began a brutal crackdown on the Ikhwan and its supporters on 14 August 2013, at least 800 people have been killed. This includes a small number of police personnel allegedly executed by the Ikhwan.

The on-going tussle for power between the military and the Ikhwan has a long history behind it. For a brief moment in 1952 they joined hands in the overthrow of King Farouk but soon they parted company and for decades there has been bitter antagonism and animosity between these two actors who have dominated Egyptian politics for so long.

The Ikhwan was in fact banned by Gamal Abdul Nasser, then Deputy Prime Minister, in 1954, following an attempt by members of the movement to assassinate him. Nasser became President in 1956. The Ikhwan remained outlawed under his successors, Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak, who like Nasser, were military officers.

During this period there were frequent crackdowns against Ikhwan members and leaders. Imprisonment, arbitrary detention and torture characterised the lives of these Ikhwan activists. Nonetheless, they managed to sustain their support base and organisational structure. The social services that they provided and their welfare work endeared them to the people especially the poor and disadvantaged who constitute such a huge portion of Egyptian society.

After Mubarak was ousted by a popular uprising in February 2011, Ikhwan was legalised. It entered the political process through a party called the Freedom and Justice Party. It 36

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was this party that won the largest number of seats in the Parliamentary Election held at the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012. In the June 2012 Presidential Election — the first free and fair presidential election in Egypt’s history — it was the candidate from the Freedom and Justice Party, Dr. Mohamed Morsi, who secured 52% of the popular vote. As a democratically elected President, Morsi initiated a referendum on a new national constitution. 64% of those who voted endorsed the Constitution. Morsi’s and the Ikhwan’s proven democratic credentials frightened the military. The military elite saw Ikhwan’s popularity as a direct challenge to its power. This is why it used Egypt’s High Constitutional Court made up of judges inclined towards the military to order the dissolution of the democratically elected parliament on 14 June 2012. The judiciary was also manipulated to curb the powers of the President in matters pertaining to security, defence, foreign policy and the national budget. A number of policy decisions that Morsi made also angered the military top brass.

The military with its strong grip over the economy also sought to undermine efforts by the Morsi government to address various economic issues facing the people. It explains to some extent why the long queues of people waiting to purchase certain essentials that marked Morsi’s tenure disappeared shortly after he was ousted! Of course, Morsi himself failed to formulate effective solutions to critical problems such as unemployment and inflation. His administration was by and large inept. Because some of Ikhwan’s most prominent leaders such as its spiritual guide, Mohammed Badie, and Khairat el-Shater were the ones who actually wielded influence in Morsi’s administration, some of its policies veered towards exclusiveness alienating a significant segment of the non-Ikhwan populace.

All this provided ammunition to the military and other groups when they began to mobilise the masses against Morsi for the 3rd July coup. But Morsi’s shortcomings do not in any way justify the coup against a democratically elected leadership. If Morsi had to be removed, there was only one avenue available to the people: through a free and fair election. That is a fundamental principle in a democracy. Street demonstrations, however 37

WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings massive, do not legitimise coups. Besides, we now know that the “15 to 20 millions” who were supposed to have taken to the streets — as the veteran journalist Robert Fisk has pointed out — is a gross exaggeration which defies logic.

That US and some European leaders can use such outrageous claims to rationalise their reluctance to condemn a blatant military coup against a democratically elected leader is testimony to their hypocrisy as defenders of democracy. What explains their reluctance?

It stems largely from their fear that Ikhwan, given its policy position on Israel, will not be as accommodative as the Egyptian military elite has been since the eighties on issues pertaining to their intimate ally’s “security concerns.” It is not surprising therefore that a number of US Senators and members of the Congress have emphasised over and over again that their most trustworthy partner in Egypt remains the military. They have also reminded President Obama that in the wake of the Egyptian turmoil, Israel must remain the US’s primary commitment. The Israeli regime itself had made it explicitly clear the moment Ikhwan re-surfaced as a political force to reckon with in the post-Mubarak era that it was suspicious of the movement.

Seen within this context, one should not attach any significance to criticisms from Washington, London and other Western capitals about the military’s “excessive force” and its killing of civilians. They are meant to mollify human rights groups at home and to project their international image as opponents of merciless killings. The litmus test is whether the US government will demand that Morsi be restored to his legitimate position as President of Egypt.

What this means is that it is unlikely that there will be strong pressure from the US upon the 3rd July coup makers to relinquish their power. At the most, the principal architect of the coup, General Abdul- Fattah al-Sisi, will exercise some restraint in his operations against Ikhwan. The fighting and the killing will go on. Ikhwan will not give up. If anything, the Ikhwan leadership and its rank-and-file may become even more determined


WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings to achieve justice for Morsi if the military decides to ban the Ikhwan — a proposal which may well exacerbate the situation.

If that happens, and the conflict between the military and Ikhwan continues, bloodshed and mayhem may plague Egypt for many years to come. The nation will sink into a morass. Such a prospect will be a disaster for the people. On the other hand, if in the midst of the conflict, Egypt makes some economic progress and resolves at least a portion of its economic woes, the situation may eventually stabilise.

However, the long-term consequences of suppressing Ikhwan will continue to challenge the nation and Muslims everywhere. Islamic groups and even states will conclude that democracy does not offer any hope. If their aspirations cannot be achieved through the democratic process, it would be better for them to resort to other means, including violent methods to realise their goals.

This is why it is so important for a democratic experiment in a major Arab-Muslim state like Egypt to succeed. For now, that experiment has suffered a colossal setback.

19 August 2013.


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European Union foreign ministers have agreed to a full-fledged embargo on all imports of Iranian crude oil. Towards this end, various measures will be adopted gradually from 23rd January to 1st July 2012. In December 2011, the US Congress (with a 100 to 0 vote in the Senate) presented a mandatory sanctions package to President Obama which starting June 2012 will prohibit any third-country banks and companies from dealing with Iran’s Central Bank. Both the EU and US moves, it is alleged, are aimed at pressurizing Iran to stop its so-called ‘nuclear weapons’ programme through the emasculation of its oil exports which account for more than 80% of its national revenue.

Nuclear Weapons Programme

The first question we should ask is: Does Iran have a nuclear weapons programme? The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) — its mischievous attempt to raise doubts about Iran’s nuclear energy programme notwithstanding — admits in its November 2011 Report that there is no evidence of a nuclear weapons programme. Incidentally, every nuclear installation in Iran has been inspected hundreds of times by the IAEA making them the most thoroughly inspected nuclear facilities on earth! Even the US’s own classified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) 2011 — which the well-known investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh, had exposed in May 2011 — states quite clearly that Iran is not producing nuclear weapons and had in fact halted such a programme way back in 2003. NIE 2011 in a sense reiterates what is contained in NIE 2007.


WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings

Of course, Iran continues to enrich uranium up to the 20% level required for the production of medical isotopes. This is far below the 85% plus necessary to manufacture a nuclear bomb. Every major leader in Iran has emphasised over and over again that they have no intention of making a bomb. They regard it — rightly — as haram (or prohibited in Islam). Because its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes — medical research and electricity — the Iranian government agreed to a nuclear fuel swap deal initiated by Brazil and Turkey in May 2010 which would have seen Iran shipping low-enriched uranium to Turkey in return for fuel for a research reactor. The Western powers and Israel rejected the deal. Their rejection underscores the stark hypocrisy that surrounds the entire issue of Iran’s nuclear programme. If it is nuclear weapons that they are concerned about why didn’t they accept a deal that would have, to a large extent, curbed any clandestine move by Iran to produce such weapons? Or, are certain Western powers and Israel against Iran producing nuclear energy even for peaceful purposes — a right that Iran possesses as a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)?

It is important to raise these questions for two other reasons. One, the countries that are most vocal in demanding that Iran terminate its uranium enrichment programme are all nuclear weapon states. The US has an arsenal of more than 5000 nuclear warheads while Israel, an undeclared nuclear state — the only nuclear weapon state in West Asia and North Africa (WANA) — has perhaps between 200 and 400 warheads. Two, countries such as the US, Britain, France and even Israel had no qualms about assisting Iran to launch its nuclear programme in the fifties when it was under the Shah, Reza Pahlavi. US President, Dwight Eisenhower, saw it as an “atoms for peace” enterprise. One does not have to second guess why they were all so enthusiastic about the Shah’s nuclear energy programme — because the dictator was their gendarme in that corner of WANA, protecting their strategic, political and oil interests with all his brutal might.


WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings Why did the West and Israel change their attitude towards Iran’s nuclear programme? Was it because an Islamic Revolution had occurred in Iran in 1979? Was Islam the decisive factor? Islam per se was not the major reason for the change in attitude. After all, the West counts as its allies a number of countries that view themselves as ‘Islamic States’ and subscribe to a somewhat narrow, exclusive idea of Islam and Muslim identity. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and most of the Gulf Sheikhdoms would be outstanding examples. Colluding and collaborating with these states and other Islamic movements has never been a problem for the centres of power in the West.


The real reason why the Islamic Republic of Iran and its nuclear programme became anathema for the West and Israel was because of Iran’s defence of its independence and integrity in the face of US and Western hegemony. The Islamic Republic under the guidance of its charismatic leader Ayatollah Khomeini was not prepared to submit to US dominance or acquiesce with Israeli arrogance. From the outset — from 1979 itself — Iran was determined to manage its own destiny which is why it nationalised oil and strengthened its self-reliance. In an earlier period — in 1953 to be exact — another Iranian leader, this time a highly principled secular democrat, Mohammad Mosaddegh, had also sought to assert Iranian independence and sovereignty by nationalising oil. This incurred the wrath of the British and American elites whose companies dominated the local oil industry. With the help of their intelligence services, they managed to oust Mosaddegh from his Prime Ministership and restore full authority to the Shah.

Others in WANA, at different times and in different circumstances, have also paid the price for resisting dominance. Gamal Nasser in Egypt, Houri Boumediene in Algeria, Hafiz Assad in Syria, Yasser Arafat in Palestine (and other Palestinian freedom fighters), Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, had all at some point or other in their lives refused to yield to hegemonic power. Today, there are leaders like Hassan 42

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Nasrallah in Lebanon, Khalil Meshal in Palestine, and Bashar Assad in Syria who continue to resist Israeli power and US hegemony and are therefore targeted by Tel Aviv and Washington.

It is appropriate to observe at this juncture that resistance to US hegemony has had a longer and perhaps more tragic history in parts of Latin America. From Simon Bolivar and Jose Marti to Salvador Allende, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales and Rafael Correa, these and other illustrious leaders have unflinchingly opposed attempts by the US elite to subjugate the people of Latin America and subordinate the continent to the whims and fancies of its northern neighbour. Indeed, today there is a new determination in Latin America to strengthen the independence of individual states and of the region as a whole through cooperation and collective action that is both innovative and dynamic. There is no doubt at all that it is Iran’s refusal to be subservient to the US, Israel and their allies, its readiness to resist, that has incensed the powers-that-be. It explains why they are going all out to emasculate the Iranian economy, manufacture mass disaffection with the government and, at the right moment, engineer a regime change. The excuse they are using for this manipulation is of course Iran’s unproven nuclear weapons programme. In the scenario that is unfolding before our eyes, there are shades of the build-up that led to the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein 2003.

Targeting Iran While Iran’s desire to remain independent has been a prominent feature of the nation’s personality since the Revolution 33 years ago, there must be situations and circumstances that are more current and contemporary which have given rise to this obsession in Tel Aviv and in certain Western capitals with the targeting and taming of Iran. What are these situations and circumstances? There are many. We shall highlight some of them.


WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings

1) In the wake of the Arab uprising, the Israeli elite has become extremely apprehensive about the state’s security and its future. It is afraid that popular movements sweeping through WANA would eventually challenge the legitimacy of the Israeli regime. Though Israel’s protector, the US, has sought assurances from some of the Islamic parties that have come to power that they will not question the Israeli presence, the Israeli elite regards the increasing influence of states and movements in WANA that are firmly opposed to Israeli suppression of Palestinian rights — the most powerful of which is of course Iran — as a huge threat to Israel’s very existence. This is why it wants its protector, buttressed by its European allies, to castrate Iran immediately.

2) This fear has increased dramatically in recent months with the economic decline of its protector and the economic crisis embroiling various European states. Israel knows that the US’s decline is part of a general decline which in a sense is irreversible and would therefore want its protector to act decisively against Israel’s foes like Iran now when the US still has the military muscle rather than wait until it is too late. For the US elite itself, the most serious implication of its decline is its loss of control over WANA, the world’s major oil exporting region which is, at the same time, of tremendous geostrategic significance. When hegemonic powers are losing their dominance, do they not become more bellicose in attempting to perpetuate their power and privilege? Should we be surprised when they turn against other actors on the ascendancy who are perceived as the cause of their decline?

3) For both the US and Israeli elites and European leaders allied to them, it is Iran which is the lynchpin of the challenge to their hegemony over WANA. Iran maintains a tried and tested link to the Syrian leadership and to the Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hamas is also to a certain degree part of this link which in broad terms constitutes the resistance to US-Israel hegemony. As the fulcrum of this resistance, Iran has displayed remarkable tenacity — a tenacity which is now expressing itself in its ability to take on US drones and US spies and to openly 44

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challenge US military power. Similarly, the Syrian crisis, orchestrated to a large extent by external forces, has revealed the resilience of the Bashar Assad government. Likewise, in defending Lebanon against the Israeli assault in 2006, the Hezbollah showed that it possesses both strategic depth and immense courage which in the end thwarted the Israeli agenda. Both Israel and the US are determined to not only break the link of resistance but also to crush each of the component elements of the link.

4) What has strengthened their determination to act against Iran in particular is the situation in Iraq. The Israeli and US elites had hoped that the conquest of Iraq would help to create a new environment in WANA which would reinforce their grip over oil and strengthen their geostrategic position in the region through a subservient leadership in Baghdad eager to do their bidding. Given Iraq’s importance, the Baghdad leadership, they reckoned, would succeed in shaping an atmosphere in the region conducive to Israel even if it were at the cost of Palestinian self-determination. However, things have not worked according to plan. While US and British companies have managed to secure lucrative oil deals, Israeli and US elites have failed to gain political control over Iraq. A nation that is politically unstable, socially chaotic and deeply divided along sectarian lines, there is endless jockeying for power among contending groups. In the midst of this maelstrom, most of the groups within the majority Shia community seem to have gravitated towards Shia Iran. Shia affinity has undoubtedly smoothened the forging of political ties across the Iraq-Iran border. Recent political developments in Iraq indicate that the influence that emanates from these ties is considerable. It is this that annoys and angers the Israeli, US and British elites. Their political defeat in Iraq which is a major setback for them in WANA and beyond is one of the primary reasons why they are now training their guns on Iran. 5) Iran’s influence over Iraq has also riled some regional actors. The monarchical elite in Saudi Arabia, with its Wahabi orientation, often manifests an almost visceral hatred towards the Shia sect. Some Saudi leaders regard it as their duty to 45

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defend the Sunni majority against the rising Shia tide. They are not alone in perceiving growing Shia influence and power — in Iraq, in Syria through the Alawite elite, in Lebanon via Hezbollah, and in Bahrain — as a mortal threat to the Sunnis. The Qatari leadership and even some Turkish politicians and intellectuals have begun to ring the alarm bells. The latter, it is said, are backing some hard-line Sunnis in Iraq. These anti-Shia sentiments which are spreading quite rapidly in WANA have heightened the antagonism towards Iran. They have strengthened the hand of the US and Israel and their European allies as they prepare to move against the Iranian Republic. 6) For the US curbing Iran’s influence goes beyond WANA. Iran has become close to Russia in the last couple of years. The relationship is strategic and economic especially since they have overlapping interests in Central Asia and the Caspian region. Russia itself is re-asserting its power in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, West Asia and South Asia, much to the chagrin of the US. That is why it is uneasy about a Russian-Iranian nexus developing in the future. 7) Of even greater significance to the US’s hegemonic agenda is the relationship between Iran and China. Largely economic in nature, China imports 9% of its oil and 15% of its gas from Iran. China has massive investments in the oil and gas industry in Iran, and is helping to upgrade its infrastructure in general. Since access to energy is critical for China’s development, the US which is determined to contain China, is keen on exercising control over China’s sources of energy supply. What this means is that curtailing Iran’s oil and gas exports may in fact be part of a larger agenda whose principal goal is the containment of China, the nation that the US and the West view as the most formidable challenge ever to their centuries old dominance. 8) Iran’s expanding ties with various Latin American countries also irks the US. Countries such as Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Bolivia and Brazil, among others have become good friends of Iran in recent years. Most of these 46

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states are opposed to US dominance over Latin America. A couple of them have become very critical of Israeli occupation of Palestine. Since Venezuela and Ecuador are also major oil exporters, the US is worried that the ties that Iran, also an important oil exporter, is forging with them could enhance their collective clout in the global economy to the detriment of the US. This is yet another reason why the US sees Iran as a challenge to its hegemonic power. 9) It is not just because of Iran’s ties with oil exporting states in Latin America or its export of oil to China that oil is also a factor that explains the targeting of Iran. As one of the top five oil exporters in the world, Iran is an attractive destination for a lot of oil companies especially from the US — a country which has been excluded from Iran’s petroleum sector for more than three decades. According to petroleum experts there are oil and gas fields that have yet to be explored fully. There is also money to be made from infrastructure investments. US and other Western oil firms are hungering to go in — just as they moved into Iraq after the invasion in 2003.

10) A final factor that is responsible for this fixation with Iran is perhaps the position of the US dollar. The dollar, needless to say, is one of the most crucial pillars of US global hegemony. This is the reason why any attempt to redefine its role as the world’s principal reserve currency elicits an immediate response from US financial and political circles. In the last few years Iran has been steadily distancing itself from the US dollar in its trade transactions. At the end of December 2011, it signed an agreement with China that states that the Iranian rial and the Chinese yuan would be used in bilateral trade. In early January 2012, Iran made a similar arrangement with Russia, the rial and the rouble replacing the US dollar. Iran and India are holding discussions on moving out of dollar settlements. Trading in gold is an option they are considering. These moves by Iran have assumed great significance because others, including US allies, are abandoning the dollar in some of their bilateral trade arrangements. Japan and China, for instance, have announced that they will trade in yen and yuan. Because Iran is 47

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perceived as one of those nations pushing hard for the abandonment of the dollar, the US has her in its sights. It has been suggested that one of the reasons why the US decided to invade Iraq in 2003 was because Saddam Hussein had switched from the dollar to the euro for the sale of his country’s oil.

Suffering; Mistakes

The ten points elaborated here prove that the US and its allies have zero tolerance for any challenge, however minor, to US hegemonic power or to the position of Israel. Those who resist their power and position will pay the price. In the last 30 odd years, Iran has paid the price of resistance in hundreds of ways. Less than a year after the Islamic Revolution, a war was imposed upon Iran ― a war led by the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, on behalf of all the Gulf Sheikhdoms, a number of other Arab states, the US, Britain, certain other Western governments, and even the Soviet Union. Though Iran’s adversaries had different motives, their common objective was to crush the Revolution which they saw as a challenge to their interests. A million lives were lost on both sides of the divide in the eight year war which emasculated the Iranian economy and sapped the nation’s energy. In June 1981, a vicious bomb explosion wiped out some top political leaders, a huge number of parliamentarians, and leading figures in the Judiciary. This, and other subsequent terrorist attacks, it is alleged, were master-minded by a militant group operating from Iraq called the Mujahideen-e-Khalq. In recent years the Islamic Republic’s nuclear programme has been subjected to a cyber- attack and four of its scientists have been assassinated. And for decades, Iran has been under US economic sanctions which have had a negative impact upon its development programme.

Indeed, very few countries have been subjected to the pain and suffering that Iran has gone through in the last 33 years. The perseverance and fortitude of the Iranian people, as we have alluded to, is awe-inspiring. And yet, an objective analysis of Iran’s response to hegemony would suggest that Iranian leaders and activists have also made serious mistakes. From the perspective of international law and diplomacy, it was clearly wrong of Iranian students to seize the US Embassy in Tehran on 4 November 1979 and hold its 48

WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings occupants hostage for 444 days. Storming the British Embassy in the nation’s capital on 29 November 2011 was also a foolish act for which Iran’s Minister of Foreign Affairs has apologised. Likewise, allegations of foul-play in the June 2009 Presidential Election could have been better handled. The Iranian authorities should have countered those allegations by demonstrating their commitment to total electoral transparency and accountability. The language that the current Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, sometimes employs on matters of grave international significance is intemperate and injudicious. However difficult the situation maybe, there is no need to deliberately provoke or irritate one’s enemies. As a case in point, though Ahmadinejad’s oft-quoted remarks about Israel were distorted and twisted by the Western media and politicians, the Iranian President could have adopted a more mature yet principled stance vis-à-vis the Jewish state.

Hegemonic Agenda Ahmadinejad’s predecessor, Muhammad Khatami, proved that it was possible to defend Iran’s independence and dignity without being unduly confrontational. He sought to meet the challenge of hegemony by insisting upon dialogue among civilisations and the politics of inclusiveness. Khatami was prepared to talk to the US leadership. But instead of welcoming the offer of dialogue, US President, George Bush Junior, chose to castigate Iran as part of an “axis of evil.”

The demonization of Iran proves yet again that regardless of whether the target adopts a confrontational or conciliatory approach, the hegemon will continue to pursue its agenda. It is an agenda that has a power and potency of its own. In the context of WANA, Israel, it is so apparent, is the driving force behind US hegemonic power.

Making people everywhere aware of this and what its consequences are is one of the most urgent tasks at hand. This task is perhaps a little less difficult today compared to the past for two reasons. One, as we have stated a number of times before, US helmed hegemonic power is declining. People are becoming much more critical of US’s global 49

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role now. Two, the citizens of WANA in particular are acutely conscious of what hegemonic intervention can lead to after witnessing the chaos and catastrophe that have befallen Iraq and Afghanistan. They are also beginning to sense — after the initial euphoria — that Libya may also be heading towards calamity. Foreign intervention they know is not the solution. It is the problem.

Immediate Measures

While mass consciousness building about the danger of hegemony as the ultimate repudiation of human dignity will take time, we could propose some immediate measures that should be taken to avert military strikes against Iran and to prevent a war in WANA. The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) grouping could through the UN Security Council suggest a new nuclear deal which would allow Iran limited uranium enrichment under strict supervision within a larger treaty signed by all the states in WANA and other leading powers that pledges to create a nuclear weapon free zone in the region within a certain time-frame. The manufacture, storage, sale and distribution of other weapons of mass destruction should also be prohibited. As the formulation of such a treaty begins in earnest, all sanctions against Iran should also be lifted. There are other challenges notably the Israeli occupation of Arab lands, the establishment of an independent, sovereign Palestinian state and the status of Israel, which should also be resolved at the same time.

Is there still time to persuade the powers-that-be to consider proposals like this? Or is it already too late in the day? Is the hegemon — or is Israel — about to strike?

27 January 2012.


WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings

CHAPTER 8: IRAN’S INTERIM NUCLEAR AGREEMENT: AVERTING ANOTHER WAR The dominant Western media have been telling the world that it is because of the sanctions imposed upon Iran that it has agreed to curb its nuclear activities for six months in exchange for partial sanctions relief. It is true that inhuman, unjust sanctions especially on Iran’s oil trade and its banking arrangements have hurt its people which is why they had pinned so much hope on the newly elected President, Hassan Rouhani, to bring about changes that would ameliorate their situation. But that is not the only reason for the willingness of the present leadership to limit its uranium enrichment to a maximum of 5% or dilute its stock of 20% enriched uranium or cease the construction of the Arak reactor.

In 2003, Iran, under President Muhammad Khatami, with Rouhani as his chief nuclear negotiator, had voluntarily suspended its enrichment programme for two years and allowed intrusive inspections by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in order to allay US and European fears about its nuclear programme. The then US President, George W. Bush, ignored this gesture and ratcheted up sanctions. He was acting in accordance with the diabolical agenda of the neo-conservatives (neo-cons) who in turn were in collusion with Zionist lobbies in the US and the Israeli elite in Tel Aviv. In defiance of the US, Khatami’s successor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, escalated uranium enrichment and increased the installation of centrifuges from 164 in 2003 to 19,000 in 2013. His defiance, compounded by his belligerence, lent credence in Western circles to the erroneous view that Iran was on the verge of acquiring a bomb.

The Khatami-Rouhani approach towards the nuclear question, in contrast to Ahmadinejad’s, helps to explain why there was a breakthrough in the negotiations that culminated in an interim nuclear agreement between Iran, on the one hand, and the five 51

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UN Security Council members (Britain, China, France, Russia and the US) and Germany, (5 plus 1), on the other, in Geneva on the 24th of November 2013. Rational, realistic and reform-oriented and yet conscious of the importance of adhering to ethical principles, Iranian leaders of this ilk reflect the sentiments of their people. After a hiatus of eight years, this type of leadership has re-emerged in Iran and is determined to prove to its most sceptical critics that its nuclear programme is truly peaceful and transparent.

Given this commitment, the Rouhani government should now embark upon a massive campaign to eliminate the whole of West Asia and North Africa (WANA) of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The people of WANA will give enthusiastic support to such a cause. It should be the first phase of a worldwide campaign to get rid of WMD everywhere.

In mobilising the people of WANA, Iran as an Islamic Republic has an advantage. As its leaders have repeatedly reminded their people, nuclear weapons are haram (prohibited) in Islam. They are haram because they invariably kill the innocent, bring death to unborn generations, and devastate the natural environment.

The one state in WANA that possesses a nuclear arsenal with perhaps 400 nuclear warheads can be expected to oppose this noble struggle to ban nuclear and other WMD. Its opposition will reveal what Israel really means by its concern for its “security.” Israel has always equated security with hegemony. It is because of this equation that Israel is obsessed with the perpetuation of a WANA where no other state or movement has even an ounce of strength to mount the tiniest challenge to its military and technological supremacy. Hence its preoccupation with ensuring that it remains the sole nuclear weapons state in WANA ad infinitum. This is why it wants to destroy Iran’s entire nuclear programme, however peaceful it maybe.

For Israel, the targeting of Iran goes beyond its nuclear programme. In the last five years or so, Israeli elites have often exploited the Shia-Sunni divide as a way of creating hatred and animosity between Shia Iran and its Sunni neighbours. Of course, there are other 52

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states in WANA that are also actively involved in fuelling this sectarian antagonism which often leads to violence and massacres. But it is not Israel’s indirect involvement in the Sunni-Shia conflict or its venom towards Iran which has had a negative impact on the State, especially in Europe, and to a much lesser extent, in the US. It is Israel’s cruel and often oppressive treatment of the Palestinians which has eroded its standing in countries such as Italy, France, Germany and Britain. The extreme, aggressive positions adopted by leaders like Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu over the last fifteen years have revealed to many in the West the ugly side of Israel. The new media in particular have played an important role in exposing Israel’s stark injustices against the Palestinian people. Pro- Palestinian movements in different parts of the world — the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) network is a good example — have also become more organised and focussed in raising awareness about the plight of the Palestinians.

These are some of the reasons why the Israeli elite or pro- Israel Zionist lobbies in countries such as Britain and France no longer command as much influence as they once did. In fact, in the US itself — still the bastion of Israeli and Zionist power — the Zionist lobbies appear to be less united and more divided in exercising their influence over the political process. They were split for instance on the question of Barack Obama’s reelection in 2012 and, indeed, the segment opposed to his return to the White House lost the battle.

The decline of Israeli and Zionist influence in Europe and, to a limited degree, the US is also linked to the growing disenchantment in the West with war and violence associated with war. Israel is seen especially among anti-war activists in Europe as a state that is constantly pushing for war. This was obvious in the case of Iraq in 2003. It has become even more obvious in the case of Iran. More and more people now know that it is Israel — more than any other state — that wants the US to take military action against Iran. But people in most places today have no appetite for war. What this means is that they have very little sympathy for Israel’s posturing. 53

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Because their citizens have turned against war, leaders in the democratic West have no choice but to follow suit. This is true of Britain as it is of France and Germany. In the US, it was partly because of the popular mood that Obama pulled back from a military strike against Syria. And in Iran, Obama is fully aware that the alternative to a negotiated settlement of the nuclear crisis is war — a war which the American people will not support. Besides, Obama himself — it is becoming more apparent in his second term — does not want to be remembered as the President who got his people embroiled in wars. He would rather be honoured in history as the leader who extricated his nation from wars or desisted from going to war.

This may well be the real significance of the interim agreement between Iran and the 5 plus 1. It may have averted yet another war, another unimaginable catastrophe.

27 November 2013.


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What will it take to coerce Muammar Gaddafi to relinquish power? As I pen these thoughts on the 28th of February 2011, media channels are reporting that Gaddafi has lost control over large swathes of his country of 6.4 million people. The popular uprising against his 41 year-old rule has spread rapidly from Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city, to the outskirts of the capital, Tripoli, Gaddafi’s last bastion. Rather than surrender to the people’s will, the erratic despot has chosen to cling on to the last vestige of power abetted by elements in the armed forces, his special security units, mercenaries imported from various countries, and of course, his family members. In this regard, it is significant that a large number of senior military personnel, civilian administrators, cabinet ministers and diplomats have already defected to the side of the protesters. It is partly because of the defection of military personnel that many protesters are now armed to the teeth. Consequently, there have been bloody battles between pro and anti Gaddafi groups in various parts of Libya. The United Nations estimates that at least 2000 people have died in what is, to all intents and purposes, a civil war.

The UN Security Council has unanimously agreed to impose travel and asset sanctions on Gaddafi and his close aides. It has also adopted an arms embargo and referred the ruling elite to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for investigation and prosecution for the killing of civilians. These are moves targeted at Gaddafi and his coterie, as they should be, and will not hurt the general populace.


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If these measures do not work, past and present heads of state and government who are known to be on friendly terms with Gaddafi should try to persuade him to stop killing his people and to step down. The President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Erdogan, Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, and the former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, are some possibilities. Gaddafi may have to be assured that if he heeds the people’s wishes immediately, they may still remember him for some of his outstanding accomplishments in the first two decades of his rule ― accomplishments such as the closure of the huge American airbase in Libya in 1970; his nationalisation of oil; the pivotal role he played in the reorganisation of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) which enabled it to emerge as a powerful cartel challenging Western dominance over the oil industry; his massive man-made river project to irrigate desert land; his free health and education programmes; his housing schemes for the low-income segment of society; and his various infrastructure projects. But right from the outset ― the rhetoric about decentralisation of authority and the establishment of grassroots’ revolutionary committees and congresses notwithstanding ― Gaddafi adopted a highly personalised, autocratic approach to power. He was synonymous with the State. Organised state structures with their own authority just could not emerge under his autocratic rule. This is why I suppose he once boasted that Libya was the first society in history where the state had withered away! One of the consequences of this was the chaos that prevailed at various levels of society, a bit of which I experienced when I was in Tripoli in April 1980 for lectures that did not take place.

Personalised, autocratic rule gave rise to mammoth corruption and nepotism. Given Libya’s huge oil wealth, one is not surprised ― in the absence of any notion of accountability and transparency ― why this twin evil flourished. By the late nineties, Gaddafi’s family was so deeply entrenched in the vortex of power that the approval of one of his sons or daughter had become mandatory for all major business deals, at the 56

WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings domestic and international levels. The family’s business interests may be one of the reasons why Gaddafi is hell-bent on remaining in power.

This brings us back to the question I posed at the beginning. If Gaddafi refuses to leave in spite of UN Security Council resolutions and advice from his friends, what other option is available? Some American political leaders like John McCain, Joseph Lieberman and Paul Wolfowitz have suggested direct NATO military intervention. This would be foolish as it is dangerous. Military action on the part of the US and Europe will revive painful memories of Western colonialism and neo-colonial designs against Libya. It will only strengthen Gaddafi’s hand and undermine the legitimacy of the anti-Gaddafi struggle. NATO military intervention which will lead inevitably to occupation will have a catastrophic impact upon the Arab uprising as a whole that is still unfolding in various parts of the region.

Besides, the people in the region will see through the stark hypocrisy of such intervention. If protecting lives is their concern, why is it that no Western power lifted a finger to save the Palestinians of Gaza when the Israeli army was slaughtering a defenceless population in January 2009? If the US and Britain are so traumatised by the killing of civilians, why did they invade Iraq in 2003, an invasion which subsequently led to the massacre of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis?

It is obvious that it is not Libyan lives that the likes of McCain, Lieberman and Wolfowitz want to save. If military action is being contemplated, it is mainly because the centres of power in the West are fixated upon Libya’s oil. Next to Saudi Arabia, Libya is the major supplier of oil to Europe. The current turmoil in Libya has already pushed up the price of the commodity to 108 US dollars a barrel. Market analysts fear that if the flow of oil from Libya stops, oil prices may hit 200 dollars a barrel. This will have severe repercussions for the industrialised economies of the West and economies everywhere.

It has also been argued that compared to other important oil-exporting countries, only about 60% of Libya’s oil wealth has been exploited so far. This enhances its 57

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attractiveness for those who seek to control global oil in order to perpetuate their global hegemony. This is yet another compelling reason ― the protection of the sovereignty of his own nation ― why Gaddafi should quit immediately. It would be ironic if because of his stubbornness he unwittingly opens the door to some nefarious neo-colonial intruder. The Libyan and Arab people, and indeed all those who cherish their freedom and independence, will not forgive Gaddafi.

28 February 2011.


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LIBYA: IS A NO-FLY ZONE THE SOLUTION? If the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) discusses the imposition of a No-Fly Zone (NFZ) over Libya in the next few days it should give serious attention to the situation on the ground and the evolving military and political dynamics in the country.

When Libyans in Benghazi rose up against the Gaddafi government on 15 February 2011, it echoed popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. Given the despotism, nepotism and elite corruption of the Gaddafi government, many of us felt that Muammar Gaddafi should quit immediately. Instead of quitting he used excessive force to suppress the mass protest. It angered international public opinion.

In this regard, it should be conceded that unlike the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and other Arab states, the protesters in Libya resorted to arms almost from the very outset. Their rapid take-over of a number of towns in the initial phase of the conflict was due in some measure to this. The ensuing violence has injected a new and unhealthy element into what has been otherwise a peaceful uprising of the Arab masses in North Africa and West Asia.

It now appears that Gaddafi has regained the initiative. His forces have recaptured important towns and large swathes of the country. Well-trained and better equipped soldiers and air-power, which his adversaries are without, have helped his military offensive. But if he has made significant advances, it is also because he still has the support of a segment of the populace and of some of the principal tribes. This is why he and his henchmen are now projecting the state’s military action as a legitimate attempt to put down an armed rebellion which any government in its place would do. And the Gaddafi government is in law the legitimate government of Libya.


WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings

What this means is that the situation that faces the UNSC has become exceedingly complex. If it tries to establish a NFZ now ― given Gaddafi’s present control over Libya and its people ― it would be seen as “unlawful intervention in the internal affairs of a sovereign state, prohibited by Article 2(7) of the UN Charter”, to quote Professor Richard Falk, the distinguished expert on International Law. Gaddafi will retaliate especially since the force mandated by the UNSC to establish a NFZ (if it happens) will first have to cripple Gaddafi’s air defences. This could prolong the conflict. More lives will be lost, including civilian lives.

There is also no guarantee that a NFZ will succeed to dislodge Gaddafi from his perch. If, after a couple of weeks of NFZ, he is still in power and able to maintain his grip upon his people, the UNSC force may be compelled to send in ground troops. There will then be a full-scale war. More bloody battles will occur. A segment of the Libyan population, a lot of other Arabs and concerned groups in the Global South and even the Global North will view the UNSC force as a camouflage for Western invasion and occupation of Libya. Given what has happened in the Arab world in recent years ― specifically the occupation of Iraq since 2003 ― it will be perceived as yet another crafty Western ploy to gain control over an extremely rich, sparsely populated oil-exporting state.

Even as it is, some commentators are contemptuous of claims made by leaders in certain Western and Arab capitals that the real purpose of the NFZ is to save lives. Why, they ask, were their governments not concerned about saving lives in Gaza when it was being pounded by Israeli jets and missiles in January 2009? Or Shabra and Shatilla in Lebanon in 1982? Or the Ivory Coast today? Or the Congo and the Sudan yesterday?

Rather than be accused of selective justice and biased manoeuvres, Western and other governments in the UNSC should explore, with greater sincerity and seriousness, political remedies to the conflict in Libya. One such remedy already adopted by the UNSC on 26 February 2011 is resolution 1970(2011) which inter alia imposes travel and asset sanctions against Gaddafi, his family and his aides, and an arms embargo upon the Libyan government. Though it will take a bit of time for its full impact to be felt, these 60

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are potentially effective measures. The UNSC should also endorse efforts by African and Latin American leaders close to Gaddafi to meet with him and other Libyan leaders including representatives of the rebellion. They should try their very best to persuade the long-serving Libyan dictator to step down on the basis of a time-table and within the framework of a solution that ensures the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Libya.

Such a resolution to the conflict is a lot better than escalating it through a No-Fly Zone, the outcome of which is fraught with uncertainties.

14 March 2011.


WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings

CHAPTER 11: LIBYA : STOP THE KILLING NOW! The peace-loving citizens of the world should regard it as their sacred duty to appeal to the governments of France, Britain, the United States of America and others who are involved in the aerial bombardment of Libya; the Muammar Gaddafi government; and the rebels fighting the Gaddafi government, to cease all military operations immediately. Some governments have already called for a total ceasefire, among them China, India, Iran, Russia and Turkey.

There are at least two compelling reasons why military operations should stop at once. One, in spite of denials from the US, British and other Western military commands, some alternative media are reporting mounting civilian casualties. The ‘No Fly Zone’ that these states are attempting to impose upon Libya is supposed to save lives but what is happening in reality is something else. Two, even if Western air power destroys not only Libya’s aerial defense but also Gaddafi’s entire military machine, there is no guarantee that he and his coterie would be ousted from power, considering that he still enjoys some support among his people. On the ground, he is stronger militarily than his opponents who are split into contending factions and are hopelessly disorganized. This could lead to a protracted civil war with dire consequences for the country and the region as a whole.

The cessation of military conflict would be one aspect of a much larger negotiated political settlement between Gaddafi and the rebels that must include his own departure and the exit of his family and cronies from the citadel of power in the shortest possible time. An interim government, a proper constitution and provision for a free and fair election would all be part of the deal.

Who can help mediate such a solution? The Turkish leadership has the credibility and the ability to play a pivotal role. The Chinese, Indian, German, Russian and Brazilian governments can also help to bring the Gaddafi government and the rebels to the negotiating table. 62

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Given the likelihood of a stalemate on the military front, it is not inconceivable that Gaddafi and the rebels will agree to talk, especially if there is sufficient international pressure. However, can the Western allies also be persuaded to end their military assault immediately?

The chances are remote. Since their real objective is to establish control over Libya and its oil and gas through a pliable regime, they will continue their attack until there is some certainty that such a regime will emerge. In fact, they have already begun escalating their operations. According to a media report, the French aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle joined the assault on the 22nd of March while Belgian and Spanish war planes have begun air patrols over Libya, strengthening the American, British, French and Dutch squadrons. If the ‘No Fly Zone’ does not achieve the allies’ goal, one should not rule out the injection of ground troops into the battlefield, though there is some hesitation among the allies about such a course of action at this moment.

Their dogged determination to pursue their objective convinces observers that the Libyan adventure parallels in some respects the US helmed war on behalf of Kuwait in 1991 and the Iraq war of 2003. In all three instances the desire to gain control over oil emerges as the common factor. In the case of Kuwait, Saddam Hussein’s foolish invasion of a weak neighbour, and, in the case of Iraq, his non-existent weapons of mass destruction helped the US and its allies to justify their nefarious agenda. Gaddafi’s despotic rule and his brutal suppression of his adversaries serve a similar purpose in the case of Libya. Exploiting the fatal flaws of a morally depraved leader to legitimize their own insatiable greed is a tactic often employed by hegemonic powers.

That it is their self-interest that dominates their political machinations in West Asia and North Africa becomes even more obvious in the stance that the US and its allies have adopted towards the crisis in Bahrain and Yemen. Though the Bahraini royal family has brutally suppressed the mass uprising of its largely Shia population with the help of soldiers and tanks from neighbouring Saudi Arabia, US, British and French leaders have acquiesced with their move largely because the king, Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, is their 63

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loyal ally who hosts the US Fifth Fleet. Similarly, when another ally, the President of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Salleh, who has been in power for 32 years, mobilised his security forces and his militia to massacre 52 peaceful protesters on 18th March 2011, all that President Obama could do was to make some innocuous noises about the inappropriateness of violent responses to people’s demands.

The champions of democracy in the West, it appears, have no qualms about endorsing the suppression of peaceful democratic movements for change as long as it serves their hegemonic economic and political interests. If some popular movement succeeds in toppling an oppressive dictator who was allied to the West ― as it happened in Egypt and Tunisia ― then either Washington or London or Paris will try to direct the flow of change in the post- uprising phase aided and abetted by those institutions and individuals in the country in question with whom it enjoys close ties. In this regard, elements in the top brass of the armed forces in Egypt and Tunisia, it is alleged, are working hand in glove with certain centres of power in the West to ensure that their mutual interests prevail at the end of the day. Managing and manipulating the people’s desire for genuine change in this manner, or endorsing the suppression of popular movements, or exploiting a rebellion in order to seize a nation’s resources, only serve to undermine the Arab uprising of 2011. The Arab masses, and indeed people everywhere, should not allow this to happen. This is why we should all oppose the meddling of Western hegemonic powers in the momentous developments unfolding in North Africa and West Asia.

Urging Western powers to stop the military assault upon Libya while appealing to Gaddafi and the rebels to observe an immediate ceasefire, is a plea from the heart aimed at protecting the lives of people, and ensuring their independence and their dignity. 25 March 2011


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THE FALL OF MUAMMAR GADDAFI At the time of writing, Muammar Gaddafi has yet to be captured or killed by the rebels. Whatever his fate, one thing is absolutely certain: the Gaddafi era is over.

What brought about the downfall of this often eccentric, sometimes ruthless, leader who ruled over Libya for almost 42 years?

Causes Gaddafi was one of the main causes of Gaddafi’s downfall. As noted in an earlier piece entitled ‘Quit Gaddafi Quit,’ Gaddafi was an autocratic ruler who in the last two decades allowed wanton abuse of power, corruption and nepotism to discredit and destroy his leadership. There was hardly any latitude for freedom of expression in his highly personalised style of governance. Dissenters were imprisoned, tortured or killed.

These were some of the reasons why a sizeable segment of the citizenry turned against Gaddafi and his family. Some of the tribes and clans, respected grassroots religious figures, professionals and even members of his Cabinet and elements within the State’s security apparatus started to desert him from the early days of the uprising. A lot of young people in particular were determined to oust him.

Add to this the concerted opposition of ruling elites within the region. Gaddafi had antagonised a number of them at Arab League and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) meetings. It explains why the Arab League eagerly endorsed the idea of a “No Fly Zone” over Libya which effectively crippled Gaddafi’s air force. Qatar was directly involved in military operations, apart from helping to export oil controlled by the rebels


WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings

and providing them with financial assistance. Like Qatar, the United Arab Emirates also helped to finance and train the rebel soldiers. More than the opposition of Arab rulers, it was NATO’s massive military involvement which brought down Gaddafi. NATO’s bombing campaign — 20,000 sorties, with more than 7,500 strikes against ground targets — pulverised Gaddafi’s military infrastructure. And, contrary to official denials, Western military personnel, in unmarked combat clothing, not only provided training to the rebels but also accompanied them in their operations. In other words, there were Western boots on the ground in disguise. In the final assault upon Tripoli, it is alleged that NATO backed officers played a pivotal role in the planning and execution. Without NATO, some analysts have rightly observed, the rebels would not have succeeded in defeating the Gaddafi forces.

The media was also a significant factor. Arabic television channels gave full backing to the rebels. Al-Jazeera was an outstanding example of a television network that went out of its way to campaign for the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime. Arabic newspapers also got into the act. Needless to say, the mainstream Western media made no attempt to conceal its bias. In this regard, it is worth noting that the impact of social media was much less in the case of Libya compared to the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. Having looked at some of the causes for the fall of Gaddafi, let us now probe these causes further to understand their real significance and deeper implications.

Deeper Implications One, Gaddafi’s regime was the epitome of the “despotic dynasty” that has come to characterize so many of the Arab states in the last five or six decades. In a despotic dynasty the ruler, often unelected, would have been in power for a long period of time, and seeks to preserve and perpetuate his power through family and relatives, in collusion with the military, and by resorting to harsh, oppressive and autocratic measures. Tunisia, Egypt and Libya were despotic dynasties of varying shades and degrees. There are other despotic dynasties — some monarchical, some republican — that are still standing in the 66

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Arab world. The Arab uprising has shown that the masses will not accept this form of governance any more. This is perhaps the single most significant achievement of the uprising.

The rejection of despotic dynasties has expectedly strengthened calls for honest, upright men and women in power who are accountable and answerable to the people through fair and free elections, on the one hand, and for the creation of mechanisms that will enhance popular participation in the democratic process, on the other. Equally important, there is outright anger in much of the Arab world against the lifestyles of the powerful: their ostentatious opulence and their hideous extravagance. It is related to a far more significant demand for the reduction of economic disparities and the equitable distribution of wealth and opportunities.

Two, while there was a movement for change, it would be wrong to describe it as “peaceful” or “non-violent.” That the anti-Gaddafi protest resorted to arms within a few days of its eruption in Benghazi is an indisputable fact. This raises a fundamental question about people’s struggles for political change. The struggle for change has to remain peaceful and non-violent however difficult the circumstances may be. Only if it is peaceful, will it be able to minimise the danger of bloody feuds and violent factional wars after its victory.

The defenders of the violence that marred the anti-Gaddafi movement argue that faced with Gaddafi’s brutal security apparatus, the movement had no choice but to fight. But other movements for change — against the Shah of Iran in 1979; Marcos in the Philippines in 1986; East European dictatorships in 1989; and Indonesia’s Suharto in 1998 — which also had to confront armies that were sometimes far more formidable than Gaddafi’s, refrained by and large from using weapons. What explains their non-violent approach?

Because these movements were genuinely popular mass movements with millions and millions of people on their side — like the movements in Iran and the Philippines — the 67

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armies that confronted them did not dare to embark upon some wild shooting spree. In a sense, the Tunisian and Egyptian armies also held back their fire-power because they knew that almost the entire nation was behind the peaceful protesters. But in Libya, the protest movement did not command total overwhelming support from the populace for at least the first four months. It was propped up to some extent by external forces from within and without the region. Besides, as we have seen, there were already armed groups some linked to Al-Qaeda among the protesters in the initial phase itself who were totally committed to violence. It is in its resort to violence that the Libyan rebel movement is different from the Egyptian and Tunisian uprisings.

Three, though a number of Arab rulers loath Gaddafi, their aversion to him was not the only reason why they chose to support his ouster. Since government leaders in Paris, London, Rome and Washington wanted Gaddafi out, Arab leaders were only too happy to help fulfil their agenda. Colluding with the centres of power in the West is an Arab elite trait in vogue for a long while which expressed itself in both the Kuwait War of 1991 and the Iraq War of 2003. If collusion that often leads to betrayal of the interests of the Arab people is rife, it is because many Arab rulers are dependent upon the military and political power of the West to keep themselves on their thrones. Four, this brings to the fore NATO’s blatant intervention in Libya which raises fundamental questions about its role in global politics. This is the second time that NATO is involved in a military adventure outside its geographical zone. Is this going to become a pattern in the future — whereby NATO obtains UN Security Council mandate to employ its massive air-power to conquer some resource rich or strategically critical state in the Global South? Will the continent of Africa in particular be the target since the scramble for control over its abundant natural resources among the big powers has already begun in earnest? Are we witnessing — in the wake of the abysmal failure of the US, Britain and its allies to establish control over Iraq and Afghanistan — a modified approach to Western hegemony?


WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings Instead of direct invasion and occupation (a’la Afghanistan and Iraq), will Western states henceforth use air-power via NATO to emasculate a ‘recalcitrant’ state’s defence, train and arm rebels, and embark upon covert operations in order to overthrow its leadership?

At the same time, one can expect these hegemonic forces to pile up pressure against the targeted regime through the UN’s Human Rights Council, the International Criminal Court (ICC), Western human rights NGOs and the media. Of course, they will keep telling the world that they are doing all this to prevent human rights violations and protect civilians. Indeed, the UN’s “Responsibility to Protect” is going to be evoked more and more in the future to justify the hegemons’ intervention and aerial bombardment. It is worth recalling that in the old colonial days, it was “feuding princes”, “chaos and anarchy” or simply “the need to bring civilisation to backward people” that was the justification for conquest and subjugation.

The ulterior motives behind intervention will of course be concealed from the public. But the man- in- the -street knows that in the case of Libya it is its vast oil reserves that are the real reason for the West’s intervention. Why should oil be the reason, one may want to ask at this juncture, when Gaddafi had opened doors to major Western oil companies in recent years? True, he had provided access but what the companies wanted is control over Libyan oil. Gaddafi would not allow this. He had after all nationalised oil in the early years of his rule. Besides, Gaddafi, as we observe in another chapter in this book, has been trying to galvanise African states into a sort of United States of Africa that will resist Western attempts to exploit Africa’s resources. He was also opposed to the US idea of an African military command, Africom, which seeks to reinforce the US grip upon the continent.

It was because Gaddafi was, all said and done, an obstacle to larger Western economic and military designs in Libya and Africa that he had to be eliminated. In fact, right from the outset, regime change was the goal of the Western powers and their local proxies. They have achieved their goal. But it is regime change courtesy NATO bombs — not a change of government through mass peaceful ‘people power’. 69

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Five, if we probed further the role of the biased Arabic and Western media in the Libyan conflict we would discover that they had transgressed basic media ethics. CNN, BBC and Al-Jazeera among other television stations portrayed Libya as a country that had lagged behind in economic and social development. None of these channels highlighted, or elaborated on, the fact that Libya recorded the highest human development index score for Africa in 2010, according to the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Human Development Report 2010. Even more disappointing, not a single prominent media outlet gave any attention to the details of the African Union (AU) mediation plan which sought to end hostilities immediately and lay the foundation for a negotiated settlement between the Gaddafi regime and the rebels. Neither did any mainstream television or radio or newspaper accord any emphasis to the involvement of militant groups in the uprising in Benghazi or investigate how and from where they received their weapons or what the sources of their funding were. The media also deliberately downplayed the pivotal role of NATO, especially its clandestine ground operations, in ensuring the defeat of the Gaddafi regime.

What Next?

Now that Gaddafi has been defeated, what can we expect in Libya? Resistance from Gaddafi supporters may continue for some time for at least two reasons. He had distributed arms to a broad cross-section of the population a couple of months ago. Tribal attachments are still strong and there are tribes — in Sirte for instance — which remain loyal to Gaddafi. What this means is that there is a possibility of a prolonged civil war in Libya.

The situation is exacerbated by a National Transition Council (NTC) that comprises disparate groups ranging from longstanding human rights activists to individuals who have just left the Gaddafi leadership, to Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwanul Muslimin) functionaries, to hardened religious militants. Once the enemy is no longer a threat, will these groups be able to hold together? Or will severe in-fighting hamper and hinder the NTC’s work to such an extent that it will be rendered ineffective? If it is not able to 70

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function, how will it address the humanitarian crisis caused by a shortage of food and fuel and other basic necessities of life that looms large in Tripoli and other parts of the country? To put it another way, is Libya heading towards an Iraq-type situation — political chaos and social turmoil? If it is, the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi would have been a pyrrhic victory.

1 September 2011.

POSTSCRIPT At the end of the article above, we had wondered whether post-Gaddafi Libya would be engulfed in “political chaos” and “social turmoil.” Our worst fears have come true. Libya today is a mess. Two years after the barbaric slaughter of Gaddafi on the 20th of October 2011, the country has no Constitution; its elected Parliament is paralysed, split between so-called “Islamists” and “secularists”; and the Executive is so ineffective that it is not able to uphold basic law and order.

Well-armed militias are fighting each other to control turf and territory in pursuit of wealth and power. Tribal and ethnic animosities are feeding into inter-militia rivalries. The thirst for revenge is often the underlying motive for much of the bloodshed.

Ordinary Libyans are also the victims of militia warfare. Hundreds have lost their lives.

One militia kidnapped the Prime Minister, Ali Zaidan, for several hours in October 2013 while another militia set him free.


WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings When the people organised a mass protest against the militias on the 15th of November, 43 of them were massacred by the militias. Needless to say, the prevailing chaos is hurting the economy. On the 11th of November a militia group forced the shutdown of oil-wells in a certain part of the country. In the middle of November, Libya was producing only 450,000 barrels of oil a day compared to 1.6 million barrels a day in July 2013.

Since Libya is one of the principal suppliers of oil to Europe, European countries are deeply concerned about the situation. Some of them and the US are beginning to provide training for Libyan government security personnel to enable them to take on the militias and to ensure stability in the country. If this plan does not work — given the superior strength of the militias — will the effete pro-West government in Libya invite Western powers such as France to intervene militarily, in other words, a second Western intervention in the course of two years?

Will a shameless advocate of war like Bernard Henri Levy, the French academic who persuaded the then French President, Nicholas Sarkozy, to embark upon the aerial bombardment of Libya in 2011, now champion yet another intervention in order to “save the people of Libya” — to save them from the huge mess that he (Levy) and others had created in the first instance in their drive for hegemony over Libya?

21 November 2013.


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GIVE BASHAR AL-ASSAD A CHANCE President Bashar al-Assad should be given the chance to implement the reforms that he has promised.

In his address at Damascus University on June 20 2011, he drew the attention of the world to the ‘National Dialogue’ he had initiated which will focus on the comprehensive reform of state and social institutions. The Dialogue, with representation from all sectors of society, aims to change existing laws on elections, political parties, local administration, and the media in order to create a society that embodies the freedom and dignity of the people. It seeks to amend and perhaps even replace the present Constitution of Syria. A democratically elected People’s Assembly may be inaugurated in August 2011. The Dialogue also envisages enhancing the fight against corruption through an Anti-Corruption Commission. While concerned mainly about political reforms, Bashar’s speech failed to recognise that fundamental economic changes would be necessary to reduce widening disparities between the rich and poor and to curb huge increases in the cost of essential goods and services. It is of course true that the massive influx of 1.5 million Iraqi refugees since 2003 added to the 0.5 million Palestinian refugees from an earlier period have also severely strained the Syrian economy. Nonetheless, Bashar’s commitment to reforms through a National Dialogue gives hope.


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One, he has openly acknowledged the legitimacy and sincerity of the demands of authentic protesters for meaningful change, and identified with their demands.

Two, unlike some other Arab rulers, he has laid out a whole process through which reforms would be introduced, complete with time frames. In fact, Bashar began this process even before the National Dialogue through small and big meetings with thousands of people from all over Syria.

Three, he has already set into motion some important changes. The emergency laws have been rescinded and the state security court abolished. More than 6,000 Kurds who hitherto had no citizenship rights have been accepted into the Syrian fold.

Four, the President has shown that he is prepared to reconcile even with the men and women who were part of the armed insurrection against the State by extending an amnesty to all those who turn themselves in with their weapons. This also creates the right climate for reform within a cohesive social order.

Five, it is only too apparent that in spite of months of peaceful and violent protest against him, Bashar remains immensely popular with the vast majority of his people. After his June 20 address, millions and millions of people poured into the streets in a mammoth show of support and solidarity with Bashar. With such support, he would be in a stronger position to carry forward his reform mission.

And this is precisely what Bashar will have to do. He should be bold and brave enough to overcome the opposition to his reforms. Some observers have argued that he has been somewhat hesitant to bring about far-reaching changes because he does not want to antagonise the old guard and deeply entrenched vested interests.

Indeed, he should have the courage to call for a presidential election, to invite his opponents to stand against him in a free and fair contest. It will cut the ground from under the feet of all those who are out to subvert him. 74

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Bashar has incurred the wrath of a number of actors within and without the region mainly because of his principled position on Israel which continues to occupy Syria’s Golan Heights. Syria also shelters Hamas leaders and has been steadfast in its commitment towards the Palestinian cause. Bashar and Syria have maintained close ties with the Hezbollah in Lebanon and with Iran. For Israel, the US government and some Arab rulers, this is not acceptable ― which is why they are allegedly funding and arming some of the Syrian protesters.

The Western dominated global media ignore foreign meddling in Syria. They refuse to admit that Bashar is faced with an armed insurrection which has witnessed killing, arson and sabotage. Like any other head of government he has no choice but to use force to quell the insurrection. At the same time, none of the major television channels highlighted the massive show of support for Bashar after his June 20 address. Instead, some of the media have been fabricating news like the lie about a non-existent Syrian internet blogger by the name of “Amina Arraf” being arrested and kidnapped. Even some video clips shown by Aljazeera and CNN do not match their news content, as pointed out by the Italian newspaper, La Rinascita.

The media, it is obvious, are determined to ensure that those who resist US-Zionist helmed hegemony are defeated.

22 June 2011.


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THE SYRIA VETO China and Russia did the right thing in casting their veto against the draft resolution on Syria sponsored by a number of Western states in the UN Security Council.

The resolution was the thin end of the wedge which would have eventually led to military intervention by NATO aimed at regime change in Syria. It would have been a repeat of sorts of the recent Libyan episode. At this juncture, we should remind ourselves that in the last 10 years Western military intervention has brought down regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The China-Russia veto was in that sense a rejection of regime change with the connivance and collusion of foreign elements. It reaffirmed the right of people everywhere to determine their own destiny, without outside interference.

Why are the centres of power in the West so determined to get rid of Bashar Assad in Damascus? The Bashar government has given a great deal of support to the Palestinian cause. Syria has been a sanctuary for Hamas leaders. The government has forged a strong bond with Hizbollah, the leading political and military actor in Lebanon which has successfully defended the sovereignty of the nation against Israeli invasion and assault on more than one occasion. Most of all, Bashar is a staunch ally of Iran and it is Iran that is the only real challenge to both Israeli and US power in West Asia. All these reasons explain why Israel and the US, backed by Europe, are seeking to eliminate a vital intraregional link which stands in the way of their hegemonic agenda.

For Israel and the US, ousting Bashar has become even more imperative for two additional reasons. The Arab uprising which is empowering the masses is giving the jitters to the Israeli elite who fear that it may no longer be able to perpetuate Israeli 76

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interests through unpopular treaties with feudal monarchs and autocratic presidents. At the same time, the US is also losing its grip over the region partly because of its ignominious withdrawal from Iraq and its imminent defeat in Afghanistan, compounded by its own economic decline. Both countries are therefore going all out to create an environment in West Asia which would protect and enhance Israel’s position before the political landscape changes drastically to their disadvantage.

It is because regime change in Damascus on behalf of Israel is the real motive that the West’s Security Council resolution was so one-sided. It focussed on the violence committed by the Bashar regime but made no mention of the violence perpetrated by some of his adversaries. That Bashar is faced with a well organised armed insurgency in certain cities is an irrefutable fact. It is an insurgency that is supported by funds and arms supplied by groups and individuals in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Turkey. The insurgency has the explicit endorsement of the centres of power in the West. It is a measure of the strength of the insurgency that more than a third of the people killed in the Syrian uprising since March 2011 are security personnel.

It is against this backdrop that one should view the tragic murder of the 21 year-old son of the Grand Mufti of Syria. The murder was intended as a message to the father, Sheikh Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun. The protesters, especially some of the Islamic insurgents, were incensed by his efforts to end the violence and to promote dialogue. The Grand Mufti, a passionate advocate of inter-community dialogue and harmony, has been traversing the land urging his people to seek peaceful change and not to allow Syria to be a victim of the conspiracy being hatched by various forces. According to reports, this had provoked some religious personalities in Saudi Arabia to issue a fatwa (a legal opinion) calling for the assassination of Dr.Badreddin.

While bigoted, extremist elements inclined towards violence are part of the movement to overthrow Bashar, it is undeniably true that there are also thousands of peaceful protesters who genuinely desire democratic reforms. Their demands for a participatory


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political system that respects non-violent dissent and allows for peaceful change should be heeded by the Bashar government.

President Bashar Assad has promised to implement the changes that the people want. He has initiated a National Dialogue for this purpose. He has also announced a slew of new laws covering citizenship, the media, political parties, elections and the legislature which hopefully will give birth to a just, democratic Syria. A fact-finding mission from Russia and a delegation comprising representatives from some of the other countries on the Security Council have studied the situation in Syria and have concluded that some changes have been implemented.

Much more needs to be done. The armed insurgency may impede the pace of reform but Bashar should press ahead regardless. His security forces should also exercise maximum restraint when confronted by peaceful protesters.

Russia and China and four other Security Council members who abstained from supporting or opposing the resolution, namely, Lebanon, India, Brazil and South Africa, now have some leverage over Bashar and should use it to persuade him to expedite reforms and to cease shooting peaceful protesters immediately.

Taking a cue from the Syria resolution, the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) in particular should become more assertive and organised in global politics. They will not only be able to check Western hegemony but also set the stage for a more equitable and balanced international order.

6 October 2011.


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THE HOULA MASSACRE AND THE SUBVERSION OF THE PEACE PLAN Anyone with even an iota of conscience would condemn the Houla massacre of 25-26 May 2012. That 49 of the 108 killed were children is what makes that massacre unbearably brutal and barbaric.

The government of Syria has accused armed terrorists of committing the massacre. It has provided a detailed account of what had happened. Eye witness testimonies have been presented over state media.

The armed opposition and its supporters within West Asia and in certain Western capitals have put the blame upon the Syrian government. They allege that a clandestine militia linked to the government ― the shabbiha ― had done most of the butchering.

There is no credible, independent entity that can help reveal the entire truth about the Houla massacre. The United Nations Human Rights Council which has passed a resolution condemning the massacre hastily targeted the Syrian government as the culprit without waiting for reports from the UN-Arab League Observer Mission in Syria. This is one of the reasons why China, Cuba and Russia voted against the resolution. The Council has since the outbreak of the conflict in Syria 14 months ago adopted an antagonistic attitude towards the government. In all its submissions to the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly, it has ignored or downplayed the views of the Syrian government.

While we hope the truth about Houla would be known soon, our most urgent challenge is to ensure that violence in Syria is brought to an end immediately. This is also the main aim of the Kofi Annan Peace Plan. All the principal perpetrators of violence ― the 79

WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings government, the armed opposition, and what has been described as the “third force” comprising groups such as Al-Qaeda and the Salafists ― must play their part.

The Bashar Assad government and its armed forces should exercise maximum restraint however severe the provocation from its armed opponents. There have been a number of occasions when the State had used excessive force. Syria’s close ally, Iran, Russia and China should also be firm in warning Bashar of the danger of going beyond the limit in trying to maintain law and order. If it is true Iran is channelling military assistance to the Bashar government, it should cease to do so. By the same logic, Russia should suspend its arms sales to Damascus.

At the same time, the armed opposition should lay down its arms. A genuine movement for freedom and democracy will not resort to violence in order to achieve its goal ― especially when the government has undertaken some serious reforms including the inauguration of a new Constitution which upholds accountability, legitimises dissent and allows for political pluralism and multi-party competition. The Constitution approved by the majority of the people through a referendum held in February 2012 also sets a two term limit on the presidency, establishes an independent judiciary, an autonomous commission to combat corruption and recognises media freedom. A parliamentary election was conducted in early May under the new Constitution. Western governments such as France, Britain and the United States who often parade the world stage as icons of democracy should encourage both the armed and unarmed opposition with whom they have intimate links to enter into a dialogue with the Bashar government on the implementation of the Constitution. This is fundamental for the success of the political process that the Annan Peace Plan envisages.

Instead of responding positively to some of the democratic changes introduced by the government, the US has been coordinating the supply of weapons to the opposition paid for by states such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia. An article in the Washington Post (16 May 2012) reveals this, and admits that as a result of large shipments of arms, the opposition “overran a government base” and “killed 23 Syrian soldiers” on 14 May. It is significant 80

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that this intensification of weapons supply to the opposition had occurred after the ceasefire under the Peace Plan had come into effect on 12 April. In fact, there has been a series of horrifying acts of violence since the ceasefire ― devastating bomb attacks in Aleppo and Damascus some associated with Al-Qaeda and Salafist elements ― aimed at creating chaos and anarchy. They offer incontrovertible proof that certain governments in the West and in West Asia do not want the Peace Plan to succeed.

Why are they hell-bent on wrecking the Peace Plan? They fear that if the Plan works, it would undermine their agenda which is regime change in Damascus. It is because these and certain other governments are set on regime change that the earlier Arab League Observer Mission to Syria which exposed the lies fabricated by the opposition about socalled government initiated violence was also sabotaged. For the proponents of regime change, the government has to be tarred and tarnished with whatever violence that occurs as a way of destroying its legitimacy and convincing both domestic and international public opinion that it should be ousted.

If there is so much obsession with regime change it is because it serves the interests of different actors in different ways. For Paris, London and Washington, the Bashar government is that critical conduit that connects Iran to the Hezbollah in their common opposition to Western dominance of the world’s most important geo-economic and geostrategic region. This triumvirate of resistance to Western hegemony has to be broken for yet reason: to enhance the so-called security of its surrogate in West Asia, namely, Israel. Israel in turn is implacably hostile to Bashar Assad mainly because he continues to oppose Israel’s 45 year-old occupation of Syria’s Golan Heights which incidentally supplies one-third of Israel’s water needs. Israel has also been trying to exploit Golan’s oil and gas reserves. The Saudi and Qatari elite, both Sunni, view Bashar as a Shia ( Allawites being a branch of the Shia sect) leader allied to Shia Iran and since the Saudi elite in particular abhors Shia identity and Iran’s growing power, there is no love lost between them. Besides, both Saudi Arabia and Qatar are intimately linked to the US and its other allies. Turkey is yet another Washington ally and NATO member, attempting to spread its influence in the region which now realises that an anti-hegemony neighbour 81

WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings like Bashar’s Syria linked to a formidable regional player like Iran can be a major obstacle to its ambition.

What these regime change proponents who are all part of the Western hegemonic agenda are not prepared to acknowledge is that any attempt to oust Bashar Assad through external interference and military intervention will have horrendous consequences for almost every state in West Asia and beyond. Syria itself will plunge into a long and bloody civil war for Bashar retains the support of the majority of his people especially in the populous cities of Damascus and Aleppo. It is significant that unlike the coterie around Gaddafi not a single major figure in government or the ruling party or the military or the diplomatic corps has deserted him in spite of a concerted 14 month push to dislodge him from power. Lebanon, a country with a deep umbilical cord to Syria ― always a tinderbox of inter-sectarian strife ― is already witnessing deadly clashes between pro and anti- Bashar supporters. If Lebanon is in turmoil, it will almost certainly have repercussions for Israel especially since the latter is perceived as one of the root causes of the conflict in Syria. Jordan is another neighbour with extensive people-topeople relations with Syria that will not be able to insulate itself from a chaotic Syria.

Then there are a number of states in the Arab world in which the Shia are either the majority or the minority and a conflict which assumes a sectarian character is bound to impact upon them. In the former category are countries such as Iraq and Bahrain while in the latter category would be Saudi Arabia and Kuwait among others. Iran and Turkey as regional actors who are already involved directly or indirectly in the Syrian crisis will also feel the effects of a worsening situation. So would Russia and China and Western powers such as France, Britain and the US.

This is why Kofi Annan has a monumental challenge before him. It is not enough to ask Bashar Assad to do more to curb violence. Appealing to armed groups to abide by the ceasefire of April 12 is only part of the solution. Annan should have the courage to demand that the Western powers and various regional players cease to aid and abet groups that resort to violence in Syria. He should tell them in no uncertain terms that 82

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external political actors have no right to seek a regime change in Damascus. That is the prerogative of the people of Syria ― a prerogative that they should exercise through peaceful means.

4 June 2012.


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CUSTODIAN OF THE CUSTODIAN OF THE CUSTODIAN Muslims and Muslim governments are angry with Bashar al-Assad. They hold him responsible for the massacre of thousands of people, many of them innocent civilians, in Syria. They want him to go. It is true that Bashar’s army has killed a lot of people. It has used excessive force — as we have pointed out in a number of articles before this. Anyone with a conscience would condemn the mindless violence that has bloodied Syria in the last 17 months. But Bashar’s violence is only one side of the story. The armed rebels opposed to him have also massacred thousands. How else can one explain the fact that almost one-third of the 17,000 people killed so far in the conflict are from the army and related security agencies?

The rebels are not only well equipped with a range of weapons and communication apparatus but are also supported by logistical routes developed by the CIA and intelligence provided by Mossad. Their weapons are delivered through “a shadowy network of intermediaries, including the Muslim Brotherhood,” and “are paid for by Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.” Since April 2012, hundreds, perhaps even a few thousand, militants, some linked to Al-Qaeda and its affiliates, from Iraq, Libya, Tunisia and Jordan have crossed over into Syria to fight the Bashar government in what they perceive as a “jihad.” It is reported that out of 200 rebels captured in Aleppo recently, 70 were foreign fighters.

The mainstream media in most Muslim majority states have not highlighted these aspects of the Syrian conflict. Neither have they subjected to scrutiny the authenticity of the news they carry on the conflict and the sources of the news items. As a case in point, the Houla 84

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massacre of 25 May 2012 was widely publicised all over the world as an example of the brutal, barbaric character of the Bashar government. Scores of children were allegedly butchered by his militia. A picture of a large number of dead children “wrapped in white shrouds with a child jumping over one of them” was offered as proof of the heinous crime. The picture was actually from the war in Iraq in 2003. The photographer himself, Marco Di Lauro of Getty Images, came out in the open to expose the fabrication. In fact, the Houla massacre itself was “committed by anti-Assad Sunni militants, and the bulk of the victims were members of the Alawi and Shia minorities, which have been largely supportive of the Assad”, according to the leading German daily, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ).

Houla is not the only case. A Christian nun, Mother Agnes-Mariam de la Croix of the St. James Monastery has published on the monastery’s website, an account of armed rebels gathering Christian and Alawi hostages in a building in the Khalidiya neighbourhood in Homs, and blowing it up with dynamite. The rebels then put the blame for the crime upon the Syrian army. There is also the story of Zainab al-Hosni, allegedly abducted by government forces and burnt to death. A few weeks later, Zainab appeared on Syrian television to nail the lie about her. The most widely quoted source for the alleged atrocities committed by the Syrian government is of course the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) which is a one man operation run by a Rami Abdul Rahman from Coventry, England. His statistics have been challenged on a number of occasions by Syrian analysts who have shown why his reporting is unreliable.

It is disappointing that most Muslim governments and NGOs are oblivious to all this and focus only upon Bashar’s wrongdoings. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) at its emergency summit held in Mecca on 14 August 2012 reflected this biased approach to the Syrian conflict by condemning only the government while exonerating the armed rebels. A few states such as Algeria, Kazakhstan and Pakistan called for a balanced statement from the summit that would also apportion blame upon the armed opposition but their plea was ignored. Worse, Syria which was suspended from the OIC at the summit was not even invited to the meeting and given a chance to defend itself. It was 85

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denied the most elementary principle of natural justice. It is a right that is fundamental to Islamic jurisprudence.

Why has the Muslim world as a whole, especially its elites and its intelligentsia, adopted such a blatantly biased and starkly unjust position on Syria? Is it because many are ignorant of what is really happening in that country, given the orientation of the mainstream media? Or is it because Muslims revere the Saudi monarch so much — he is after all the custodian of the two holy mosques — that they are convinced that in seeking the elimination of Bashar al-Assad he is doing what is morally right? Or is it because many Muslim elites are beholden to Saudi wealth — and Qatari largesse — that they are prepared to acquiesce in their wishes? Or is it also because of certain sectarian sentiments that Muslims appear to be incensed with the Bashar government?

It is these sentiments that I shall now explore. For many months now a segment of Sunni ulama (religious elites) in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and certain other states have been attacking Bashar as an Alawite leader who is oppressing the Sunni majority. Since Alawites are a branch of Shia Islam, the target has been Shia teachings and the Shia sect. Given the standing of these ulama, their vitriolic utterances have succeeded in inflaming the passions of some Sunni youth who view Bashar and his circle as infidels who should be fought and defeated at all costs. Even the spiritual guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, has now joined the bandwagon and accuses Shias of theological deviance and malpractices.

It is important to observe in this regard that in the context of Syria there is no rigid ShiaSunni dichotomy. The Sunnis given their numerical strength dominate the army, the public services and the private sector. Some of the most critical positions in Syrian society are held by Sunnis. The Grand Mufti of Syria for instance is a Sunni of the Shafie doctrinal school. Indeed, sectarian, or for that matter, religious affiliation has very little weight in society. In many ways, Syria is a society that has sought to de-emphasise religious and sectarian loyalties and nurture a notion of common citizenship. Since the beginning of the conflict, it is the Western media that have been preoccupied with the so86

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called Sunni-Shia divide and appear to be deliberately stoking sectarian sentiments. The Arab media has followed suit.

The way in which Sunni-Shia sentiments are now being manipulated convinces me that geopolitics rather than sectarian loyalties is the motivating force. If sectarian loyalties are really that important, how does one explain the close ties that the Sunni Saudi elite enjoyed with the Shia Shah of Iran, Reza Pahlavi, in the sixties and much of the seventies? Was it because the Shah was the gendarme of the US and the West in the Persian Gulf and an ally of Israel? Was this the reason why the Saudis could get along so well with the Iranian elite? Isn’t it revealing that it was only when the Shah was ousted in a popular revolution in 1979 and the new Islamic leaders of Iran rejected American hegemony over the region and challenged the legitimacy of the Israeli entity, that Saudi relations with Iran took a turn for the worse?

Saudi animosity towards the new independent minded Iran was so great that it bankrolled the Iraqi instigated war against Iran from 1980 to 1988. The primary goal of that war was to strangulate Iran’s Islamic Revolution at its birth. The war brought together a number of pro-US Arab states with the notable exception of Syria. Needless to say the US and other Western powers aided and abetted this anti-Iran coalition. It was during this time that anti-Shia propaganda was exported from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan and other parts of South and Southeast Asia. Groups within the Shia community also began to respond to these attacks by churning out their own anti-Sunni literature.

In spite of the relentless opposition to it, Iran, much to the chagrin of its adversaries in the region and in the West, has continued to grow from strength to strength, especially in the diplomatic and military spheres. One of its major achievements is the solid link it has forged with Syria, on the one hand, and the Hezbollah in Lebanon, on the other. It is the most significant resistance link that has emerged — resistance to Israel and US hegemony — in West Asia and North Africa (WANA) in recent decades.


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Israel, the US and other Western powers such as Britain and France, and actors in WANA like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, are worried. The Iran helmed resistance has increased their apprehension in light of five other related developments. One, Iran’s nuclear capability. Though Iranian leaders have declared on a number of occasions that they regard the manufacture and use of a nuclear bomb as haram (prohibited), there is no doubt that the country’s nuclear capability has been enhanced considerably in recent years.

Two, the inability of Israel to defeat Hezbollah and gain control over Lebanon which it regards as its frontline defence. This was proven again in 2006 and today Hezbollah is in a more decisive position in Lebanese politics than it was six years ago.

Three, the Anglo-American invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003 and the introduction of electoral democracy which has led to the rise of Shia political power. Shia political elites in Iraq are by and large inclined towards Iran, which the US sees as a huge setback for its hegemonic ambitions in the region.

Four, the Arab uprisings, especially those that are mass based, like in Tunisia and Egypt, have raised questions about the shape of democratic politics in the region in the coming years. Will it give rise to the emergence of Islamic movements that challenge the legitimacy of Israel, US hegemony and the role of feudal monarchies in WANA? Or, would it be possible to co-opt the new Islamic actors into the status quo?

Five, how will all these changes unfold in a situation where US hegemony is declining? How will Israel and the other states in WANA that are dependent upon US power for the perpetuation of their interests fare when the US is no longer able to protect them as it did in the past?

For Israel in particular all these developments in WANA portend a less secure neighbourhood. Total control and predictability are crucial elements in Israel’s notion of 88

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security. It is because of its obsession with security that guarantees control over its neighbourhood that it is determined to break the link between Iran, Syria and the Hezbollah. It reckons that if Bashar is ousted that link would be broken.

This was obvious in the conversation between Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Russian President, Vladimir Putin, as reported by the respected Jewish journalist, Israel Shamir. Netanyahu made it clear that Israel preferred “the Somalisation of Syria, its break-up and the elimination of its army.” Bashar’s successor — after his ouster — he stressed “must break with Iran.” Netanyahu gave the impression that Israel was in a position to “influence the rebels.” Since this is Israel’s agenda for Syria, all the moves and manoeuvres of states like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to eliminate Bashar would be very much in line with what Israel wants. Any wonder then that both Israeli leaders and its media welcomed the suspension of Syria from the OIC. In this regard, Israel would have been thrilled to read a pronouncement by Al-Qaradawi in May 2012, widely reported in the WANA media that “If the Prophet Muhammad was alive today, he would lend his support to NATO.”

More than endorsement from within the region, what Israel has always been confident about is the patronage and protection of the US and most of Europe. On Syria, and in the ultimate analysis, on Iran, the Israeli political and military elites know that the centres of power in the West share its diabolical agenda. Indeed, it is Israel that determines the US’s position on critical issues pertaining to WANA. It is the tail that wags the dog. Israel’s relationship with a major Arab state like Saudi Arabia, (with whom it has no formal diplomatic ties) on the one hand, and the US, on the other, tells us a great deal about who is in charge of who. The Kenyan- American scholar, Professor Ali Mazrui, once described the Saudi-US nexus this way: the problem with the custodian of the Holy Mosques is that there is a custodian of the custodian.


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If I may add, since it is Israel that decides US foreign policy in WANA, it may not be inaccurate to say that there is a custodian of the custodian of the custodian.

21 August 2012.


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SYRIA AND CHEMICAL WEAPONS: FABRICATING AN EXCUSE FOR INVASION In the last two days the media in every nook and cranny of the planet has been abuzz with “news” about the Syrian military loading “precursor chemicals for the deadly sarin nerve gas into aerial bombs” and “awaiting final orders from President Bashar al-Assad” before using these “chemical weapons.” NBC and CNN in the US, among thousands of media channels all over the world, have been spreading this “information” attributed mainly to US officials.

Neither US officials nor the media has offered an iota of evidence to support their reckless allegations. Are there eye-witness accounts of the Syrian military making these preparations? Is there documentary proof? Has any military analyst of repute from even those countries allied to the US come out in the open to endorse these baseless statements?

How can we believe outrageous claims of this sort when we know for a fact that the US elite has on a number of occasions in the past concocted stories about “evil measures” adopted by its adversary which have turned out to be monstrous lies? Have we forgotten what happened in the run-up to the Iraq War in 2003 when the mainstream media — the same media that is busy with Syria’s sarin gas today — was repeating ad nauseam bogus tales of Saddam Hussein’s Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)? How many of us still remember that diabolical deceit about babies being pulled out of incubators and thrown onto the floor of a Kuwaiti hospital by Iraqi soldiers in the wake of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990? How about the other incident of a high US official showing the late King Fahd of Saudi Arabia fictitious satellite pictures of Iraqi troops amassed at the Saudi border in order to convince him to allow the US to establish an air-base on Saudi soil? And what about the wholesale fabrication of a so-called Viet Cong attack upon US 91

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aircraft over the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964 which was used as the justification for the carpet-bombing of Vietnam that led eventually to the annihilation of 3 million people?

There is every reason to believe that the US and its allies are once again creating a scenario that will serve as the rationale for yet another military intervention in West Asia. Simply put, they are manufacturing an excuse for the invasion of Syria in order to oust the Bashar government and replace it with a pliant regime that will serve the interests of the US, Britain, France, Israel, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.

If we have any integrity or dignity in us as human beings and as citizens of the world we should not allow ourselves to be duped by yet another nefarious lie.

7 December 2012.


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MALAYSIA ON SYRIA IN THE UN It is disappointing that Malaysia chose to support the UN General Assembly resolution on Syria on 15 May 2013. Even if we did not want to vote against it — which is what 12 governments did, including Russia, China, Iran and Cuba — we could have at least abstained, together with countries such as Indonesia, India, South Africa, Brazil and 55 other sovereign states.

There is no need to reiterate that the resolution sponsored by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the US and France, among others, was terribly biased and one-sided. While it condemned the Syrian government for its “increased use of heavy weapons”, its use of “chemical weapons” and its “widespread and systematic gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms,” the resolution had hardly anything to say about the brutal violence of the militants fighting Bashar al-Assad or their human rights abuses. The UN resolution also revealed its bias by recognising the Syrian National Coalition “as the effective interlocutor needed for a political transition.” That the SNC is just one of many groups in a highly fragmented opposition and commands very little support within Syria itself is conveniently glossed over. Imposing the SNC upon the Syrian people in this manner is a clumsy attempt to effect a regime change of sorts.

More than the contents of the resolution, Malaysia should have taken cognisance of certain critical developments in Syria and the region in the last few months which should have persuaded us to adopt a different stand. After all, a number of other UN member states appear to have been influenced by these developments as reflected in the voting pattern on the resolution.


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One, the horrendous violence perpetrated by the militants which has reached unspeakable proportions. It is not just the massacres they have committed in residential suburbs, markets, schools, universities and media centres that have shocked the world. The cruelty and barbarity of their violence has been an even greater shock. The video that has gone viral depicting a militant eating the liver of a murdered Syrian army soldier is a case in point. Even on the question of chemical weapons, it is the militants, according to UN investigator, Carla Del Ponte, who had resorted to sarin nerve gas attacks.

Two, it is now acknowledged even by the UN-Arab League mediator, Lakhdar Brahimi, that there are thousands of Muslim foreign fighters in Syria. According to some sources, they come from as many as 30 countries. Their involvement lends credence to the view that radical militants are being sponsored and supported by foreign governments and external agencies determined to oust the Bashar government by force.

Three, in the last few months it has become clear that a powerful hidden hand in the Syrian upheaval is now openly aggressing against the Syrian state. This is Israel which has conducted two bombing raids inside Syria. The direct involvement of the US, France and Britain

in undermining the Syrian government through political and logistical

support for the militants is also more obvious now than it was a year ago. Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey provide more massive material assistance to the armed and unarmed opposition to Bashar than ever before.

Four, it is because the mortal threat to Syrian sovereignty from foreign fighters and foreign aggressors and manipulators is so stark that President Bashar’s support among his people has also increased significantly. Add to this the legitimate fear that the majority of Syrians harbour about bigoted, often violent interpretations of Islam which many of the militants from abroad subscribe to and one can understand why the people are now rallying around their President. This is a factor that anyone voting on the UN resolution should have also taken into account.


WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings The Syrian people’s support for Bashar does not mean that the UN member states should ignore his excessive use of force in the course of defending his state from the threats it is facing. Neither should one downplay the tortures committed by his secret police against protesters and dissidents. Nonetheless, they should be evaluated in the context of the larger scenario that impacts upon Syria and the entire region.

It is because a number of UN member states were cognisant of the larger scenario that they chose NOT to support the lopsided resolution of 15th May 2013. It is significant that compared to August 2012 when 133 states voted for a similar resolution, this time the figure had dropped to 107. The number of abstentions had also increased substantially to 59, up from 31 nine months ago.

Malaysia should have made it 60.

26 May 2013.


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THE SYRIAN CONFLICT: QARADAWI’S INCITEMENT TO VIOLENCE Any human being who abhors violence and bloodshed would be shocked by remarks made by a leading religious personality, Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi, on the 1st of June 2013. At a rally in Doha, he urged Sunni Muslims in the region to go to Syria and fight the Bashar al-Assad government and its supporters, the Hezbollah and Iran. He regarded it as a “jihad.” He claimed that Iran and the Hezbollah want to exterminate, to “devour” the Sunnis. Between Sunnis and Shias, he insisted, there was no common ground. Qaradawi’s remarks came in the midst of the ongoing critical battle between Syrian government forces and rebels for control of the key border town of Qasair. The Lebanese based Hezbollah is helping government forces. A large number of foreign militants are fighting on the side of the rebels.

Inciting Sunnis to fight Shias will only escalate a bloody conflict that has already claimed tens of thousands of lives. Religious leaders in particular should lend their moral weight to efforts to achieve a political solution. They should be imploring all sides to cease fighting immediately.

Besides, Qaradawi should know that the conflict in Syria is not a simple Sunni-Shia clash. It is rooted in the larger politics of hegemony, Israel and the tussle for power among regional actors. It began as a peaceful protest against Assad’s authoritarian rule in March 2011. Assad reacted with harsh reprisals. Within a couple of weeks, groups and individuals from some neighbouring countries started to supply arms to a segment of the protesters perhaps at the behest of the centres of power in the West and Israel who have always sought to eliminate the Assad government which in the context of its close ties with both Hezbollah and Iran is seen as a challenge to their control and dominance of the 96

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region. Indeed, Iran, Hezbollah and the Assad government constitute the only organised, sustained resistance to the US-British-French and Israeli attempt to perpetuate their hegemonic hold over West Asia and North Africa (WANA). It was Hezbollah, it will be recalled, that drove Israel out of Lebanon from 2000 onwards, and in 2006, thwarted its diabolical design to gain control over Lebanon. It is this party, Hezbollah (the party of God) that Qaradawi in his Doha speech described as “the party of shaitan (satan).”

Because these forces of resistance happen to be Shia, close allies of the Western powers in WANA who happen to be Sunni, such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, are trying very hard to project the resistance as a Shia attempt to dominate the region. As a result, the more significant issues of Western hegemony, resistance within WANA and the role of Israel which continues to occupy the Golan Heights in Syria, are all submerged in a cleverly contrived Sunni-Shia narrative. Of course, Sunni-Shia differences have existed for a long while and have on occasions coloured politics in the region in the past. But it was only after the Iranian Revolution of 1979 which represented a major challenge to Western hegemony and Israeli interests that these differences have been accentuated and manipulated mainly by US ally, Saudi Arabia, to divide Sunnis from Shias. It is against this backdrop that we should view Qaradawi’s remarks. There was a time when he had a positive attitude towards Sunni-Shia rapprochement. But when some Western states began to re-assert their power in WANA in the midst of the Arab uprisings, Qaradawi appeared to legitimise their role. He was among the earliest public figures to endorse NATO’s air strikes over Libya. In the middle of last year he even opined that if the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) came back today, he would support NATO. This earned him the derisive moniker ‘NATO Mufti’ among some Arab commentators. It is Qaradawi’s legitimisation of Western hegemony by invoking religious authority that makes his role so perfidious. What is worse, he has been appealing to sectarian religious sentiments which pit Muslim against Muslim, which have led to murders and massacres on a massive scale, in order to perpetuate the interests of both regional actors and global 97

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powers. It is a glaring example of the crude abuse of religion by someone who dons the garb of religion.

3 June 2013.


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SYRIA : A 12 POINT CASE AGAINST MILITARY INTERVENTION The House of Representatives and the Senate of the United States of America should reject any form of US military intervention in Syria.

Rejection would be a clear statement against war. It would be a lucid message on behalf of peace.

There are at least 12 reasons why the US Congress, and the people of the world, should adopt such a stand.

One, if the two houses represent the voice of the American people, it is significant that 50% of the people are against military intervention in Syria according to a NBC poll conducted on the 28-29 of August 2013. Only 42% support military action. It is also important to bear in mind that the people in countries regarded as the US’s ‘comrades-inarms’ are also opposed to military force. In France it is 64% of the citizenry. In Britain, the House of Commons, reflecting popular sentiment, has voted against military intervention in Syria. Two, since the United Nations’ investigation team has just begun its analysis of the alleged chemical attack near Damascus on 21 August, the US Congress should insist that President Obama wait until its findings are made public, before any multilateral — not unilateral — decision under the aegis of the UN is taken on Syria. Though the UN report will not tell us directly who was responsible for the attack, there may be enough circumstantial evidence in it to indicate the likely culprit. Obama’s disdainful attitude towards the UN’s investigation is an affront to the world’s most important international institution. Former US president George Bush junior was also guilty of such disdain 99

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when he ignored the UN Security Council (UNSC) in his arrogant march to war in Iraq in 2003.

Three, an attack on Syria would also be a violation of international law since Syria has not attacked the US. Like Bush, Obama has decided to bypass the UNSC. In fact, on a number of occasions in the last three decades, the US has, without going through the UNSC, invaded other sovereign states.

Four, the US Congress should in all fairness accord due consideration to the facts and arguments advanced by those who insist that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could not have been responsible for the chemical weapons attack. Why would he want to use such a weapon in the presence of the UN investigation team that he himself had invited to ascertain the truth about earlier chemical gas attacks? More importantly, what does Bashar gain from a chemical attack when he has already scored a series of victories on the battle-ground in recent months?

Five, in contrast to Bashar, the armed opposition in Syria appears to have compelling motives for launching a chemical weapons assault. It would serve to draw the US and its allies into a direct military involvement in Syria especially since Obama had declared repeatedly that the use of chemical weapons by Bashar would be the red line that would provoke a US response. There have been other occasions in the course of the 30 month conflict when the armed rebels have manipulated incidents and events to elicit some reaction or other from Western powers or the UN. Often, incidents linked to heinous mass killings committed by the rebels are blamed upon the Bashar government via a biased global media. The 21 August chemical gas incident has all the markings of a meticulously planned and executed false flag operation.

Six, indeed the US is guilty of fabricating various false flag operations since it emerged as a colonial power at the end of the nineteenth century. From the battleship Maine incident in Havana in 1898 to the Gulf of Tonkin episode in 1964 to the Kuwait incubator event in 1990 to the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) myth in Iraq in 2003, US 100

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intelligence and security outfits have become adept at creating situations and circumstances which are then manipulated to undermine ‘the enemy.’

Seven, the hypocrisy of US political and security elites is not confined to false flag operations. Even when it comes to the use of chemical weapons, it is obvious that what the elites preach often contradicts their actual behaviour. Today, US leaders condemn the use of chemical weapons as morally reprehensible. We ask, who used agent orange in Vietnam which led to the death of thousands? Who supplied through oblique channels mustard gas to Saddam Hussein in his aggression against Iran — gas which he employed in Halabjah in March 1988 killing 5000 defenceless people? And what about the depleted uranium widely used in Iraq in the wake of the Anglo-American invasion of that land in 2003? To this day, hundreds of babies continue to be born deformed as a result of the impact of DU. US leaders have no moral authority to pontificate about the obscenity of chemical weapons.

Eight, that the moral fig-leaf is a cover for motives which are related to power and politics is borne out by yet another dimension of the chemical weapons issue. If Obama has chosen to be bellicose on the issue, it is partly because his Administration sees it as an assertion of power against Russia in light of a number of recent developments in which the latter has stood up to the US. Through the Syrian conflict, the US elite aims to show President Vladimir Putin that the US is still the world’s sole military superpower and not to be trifled with.

Nine, the conflict raises yet another question of morality and power. The US and its Western allies, like its regional partners such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Israel, are funding, arming, providing intelligence and offering logistical assistance to groups totally committed to violence and terror as a method of achieving their goal of ousting the Bashar government. The Jahbat al-Nusra, linked to Al-Qaeda — arguably the strongest of the armed groups ― is a case in point. On the hand, the US and the others proclaim that they are all opposed to violence and terrorism and yet on the other hand they unscrupulously use terror outfits in pursuit of their power. 101

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Ten, the Syrian conflict has also reinforced longstanding sectarian and tribal divisions in West Asia and North Africa (WANA). Actors within and without WANA are exploiting the Sunni-Shia dichotomy in particular as a way of playing the majority sect in Islam against the minority with the aim of weakening Muslim solidarity. Sectarian violence is now rearing its ugly head not just in Syria but also ― and for a much longer while ― in Lebanon, Bahrain and Iraq.

Eleven, needless to say, sectarian clashes in WANA benefit Israel which views turmoil and upheaval in its neighbourhood as a boon to its goal of remaining the dominant force in the region. For the Israeli elite, the ability of their nation to perpetuate its dominance is sine qua non for the security of the state which is their primary obsession. It is significant that Israel and Zionism have been able to ensure that US and Western policy as a whole in WANA is dovetailed to meet the core interests of the Israeli state. Taking military action against Syria with the objective of overthrowing Bashar is what Israel wants because Bashar is an important link in the axis of resistance to Israeli dominance which includes Iran and Hezbollah. Israel has conducted three air strikes within Syria in the last six months and its commandos have been training segments of the armed opposition. It is believed that the so-called ‘independent’ intelligence on the 21 August chemical weapons incident that is being hawked around by the US and Britain is actually from Israel. In this regard, it is worth reiterating that Israel is the hidden hand in much of the politics of other states in WANA such as Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Sudan. Twelve, by taking military action against WANA states ― partly at the urging of Israel ― the US has brought nothing but misery and suffering to the people. The classic example is of course Iraq. 10 years after its conquest by the US and Britain, Iraq is a totally devastated nation, wrecked by perpetual sectarian violence, first ignited by the invasion itself in 2003. Outside WANA there is the other tragic case of Afghanistan which 12 years after the US-NATO occupation is still mired in the agony of chaos. Why should Syria be any different? Some advocates of military intervention in Syria are of the opinion that since the military action that Obama is planning is limited in scope and duration, Syria will not end up like Iraq or Afghanistan. There is no guarantee. Once it 102

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commences, the military operation could assume a life of its own. The response from the Syrian military command, and the reaction of Iran and Russia could be decisive. Besides, there are individuals and groups in Obama’s trench who are determined to oust Bashar, to achieve regime change. That could lead to a prolonged campaign.

Instead of travelling further down the military route, the US House of Representatives and the Senate should urge Obama to lend his weight to the proposed US-Russia meeting on Syria to be attended by all the other regional and international actors connected to the Syrian conflict. Securing an immediate ceasefire would be the meeting’s principal goal. The US and its allies should cease providing military, monetary and all other forms of assistance to the armed opposition on the ground. As the opposition’s benefactors turn off the tap, so should Bashar’s Russian and Iranian backers. The ceasefire should be supervised by the UN and would set the stage for the establishment of an interim national unity government comprising representatives from Bashar’s Baath Party, the legitimate Syrian opposition and independent individuals. The unity government will draft a new constitution which will provide for a parliamentary election to be followed immediately by a presidential election. Both elections, and the referendum on the constitution, should be conducted and monitored by the UN.

These are ideas which have been on the table before but they have not materialised. Both Bashar and his opponents and their respective supporters should prove, through deeds, that this time they will make a determined effort to achieve results. They should realise that the alternative to a peaceful resolution of the.

2 September 2013.


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CHAPTER 21: THE SYRIA DEAL: DANGERS AND OPPORTUNITIES Commentators tell us that there is a palpable sense of relief in Damascus and in other parts of Syria in the wake of the Russia-US deal over Syria’s chemical weapons. The citizens of Damascus ― the world’s oldest, continuously inhabited city ― know that they will not be bombed for the time being. The deal in brief will lead to the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons by mid-2014 to be supervised by the UN. Syria will become a party to the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons which outlaws their production and use. If the deal is breached, the violation would be brought to the notice of the UN Security Council for action.

The Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, and the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, hope that the deal will culminate in a conference that will bring together all the main actors in the Syrian conflict. An amicable solution will be sought guided to a large extent by the principles adopted at an earlier Geneva meeting.

For now, let us find out why a deal was struck, the dangers facing its implementation and the larger opportunities it presents.


For each of the actors involved in the conflict, the deal offers something. For the Bashar government, apart from staving off a powerful US led bombardment of Syria’s chemical weapons and military assets, the deal has in a sense temporarily preserved his position. For Iran, even a limited military strike against Bashar could unleash forces that would weaken his grip upon power and lead to the ouster of Iran’s closest ally in the Arab world. Equally important, eliminating chemical weapons is very much in consonance 104

WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings with Iran’s policy since it was a victim of chemical gas attacks 25 years ago. For Russia, the deal also helps to protect a longstanding ally with whom it has forged enduring military and security ties for decades.

How has the deal benefitted the Obama Administration? It saved Obama from ignominy since the majority of Americans are opposed to military action against Syria. His request for authorisation to strike Syria, according to analysts, would have been defeated in the House of Representatives. The Senate also appears to be divided on the issue.

If there is opposition to military action among legislators and the people, it is mainly because of the mess the US and its allies have created in Iraq and the grave uncertainty that prevails in Afghanistan. Simply put, they do not want another military adventure. Add to this, the gloom generated by an economy that is still in dire straits. After all, it is partly because of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that US debts have shot through the roof, making it the world’s biggest debtor nation.

It is not just the American people who are reluctant to embark upon a military adventure. Parliament in Britain ― the US’s closest ally in Europe ― has voted against military action reflecting popular sentiment. The vast majority of French people are also opposed to war. So are the people in almost every other European state.

Prominent personalities have also spoken out against war. The most notable among them is Pope Francis, the Head of the Catholic Church, who has held a mass prayer meeting to urge world leaders to refrain from military action. His clarion call has had some impact upon US legislators and the general public. The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, who is almost always supportive of Washington, has on this occasion cautioned against the use of force.

It is also possible that given the monumental weaknesses in the range of opposition groups pitted against Bashar Al-Assad, the Obama Administration may have come to the conclusion that the military option could precipitate consequences that would eventually 105

WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings undermine US ― and Israeli ― interests. Not only are the armed rebels hopelessly fractured; the most potent among them is intimately linked to Al-Qaeda. The Jahbat AlNusra through its brutal, often barbaric acts of violence has instilled fear among the Syrian population and generated a great deal of uneasiness among the opposition’s foreign backers in Washington, London and Paris. This is why all said and done the deal between the US and Russia on Syria’s chemical weapons may be a way out for the US and certain Western governments.


The implementation of the deal is however fraught with dangers. It is quite conceivable that the opposition which rejects the deal will try to sabotage it. Some factions among the armed rebels could employ chemical gases against the populace and then put the blame upon the Bashar government. It is believed that having failed to draw the US into a bombing spree against Bashar through the 21 August episode these rebels are now preparing another false flag operation ― this time against Israel ― in order to change the balance on the battle-ground in their favour. In this regard, it should be emphasised that there is increasing empirical evidence to show that 21 August was contrived and manipulated to suit the rebels’ diabolical agenda.

Elements within the Israeli establishment may be willing to collude with the rebels on this. For while Prime Minister Netanyahu has cautiously welcomed the move to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons, he and others are still as determined as ever to break the Bashar- Hezbollah-Iran bond which they view as the greatest obstacle to Israel’s regional dominance. There are well-placed individuals in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, among other states in West Asia, who for different reasons are also disappointed that that there has been no US-led military action to bring down Bashar.

Pressure from these and other individuals and groups, especially if it is expressed through some dastardly incident, directed at Washington and other Western capitals could torpedo 106

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the Syria deal. There are after all influential lobbies in the US, linked to Zionist and Christian Zionist interests who may also want to push for the military option.

Peace activists in the West and elsewhere should be ever vigilant to their machinations.


If attempts to subvert the deal fail, and the deal holds, it may open up opportunities for peace that go far beyond the deal itself. One, it may be possible to strengthen the people’s movement against war. If a war is averted over Syria, it would mean that the people of the world had played a major role in stopping a war. Seen in context, if in 2003, millions of people managed to de-legitimise the Iraq War ― it took place without UN authorisation ― then in 2013, “we the people” succeeded in preventing a war.

Two, the Syria deal also provides us with the opportunity to give meaning and substance to international law and international institutions. All nations without exception should act within the ambit of the law and through bodies like the UN. “Exceptionalism” has no legitimacy and should be rejected totally.

Three, chemical weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction (WMD) should be eliminated completely from West Asia and North Africa (WANA) and the rest of the world. No nation in WANA should be exempted from observing this prohibition. Israel which has huge stocks of WMD, including nuclear weapons, should take the lead. Peace activists should make this ― the elimination of WMD from every nook and cranny of the earth ― their topmost agenda.

If all this begins to happen, the Syria deal may well emerge as a turning-point in history.

16 September 2013 107

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TUNISIA AT A CROSSROADS Tunisia appears to be at a crossroads. The mainly secular opposition is demanding that the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) be dissolved immediately. Even a leader of one of the partners of the ruling coalition who is also the speaker of the NCA has announced suspension of the NCA’s activities until a dialogue commences between the government and the opposition. Earlier, 70 members of the NCA had withdrawn from the body in protest against the government’s handling of the political situation. A Minister has also resigned. Huge anti-government demonstrations are held frequently. Some violence has crept into these demonstrations. This has been further complicated by the slaying of Tunisian soldiers by militants at the nation’s border with Algeria. The mainstay of the ruling coalition ― the Islamic oriented Ennahda ― has rejected the idea of dissolving the NCA or even suspending its activities. Its leader, Rashid Gannouchi, argues that it is the NCA, elected by the people on the 23rd of October 2011,that endows legitimacy upon the NCA’s main goal which is to draw up a new Constitution for the nation. The Ennahda won 89 seats in that election. It formed a coalition with two secular parties, the Congress of the Republic Party (29 seats) and the Ettakatol Party for Labour and Liberties (20 seats).

It should be noted at this point that Ennahda also commands massive support at all levels of society. Its demonstrations draw huge crowds. Its leadership core remains cohesive in the midst of the deteriorating crisis.


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Nonetheless, in order to appease the increasingly strident opposition, Ennahda is prepared to consider forming a national unity government which will seek to broaden the political base of the present coalition. The Prime Minister has even proposed that a General Election be held on the 17th of December 2013, the third anniversary of the immolation of that young vegetable seller in Sidi Bouzid, which sparked off the uprising in Tunisia that later spread to Egypt and other countries in West Asia and North Africa (WANA). Up to this point, the opposition, supported by a number of trade unions and civil society groups, has turned down the proposal and continues to insist upon the dissolution of the NCA and the resignation of the Ennahda-led government. It is still unclear how the present stalemate will be resolved.

What triggered off the current crisis? The immediate cause is of course the assassination of Mohammed Brahmi, a leading opposition politician who was a vocal critic of the government, on the 25th of July 2013. On the 6th of February 2013, the leader of Brahmi’s party, the secular Popular Front Party, Chokri Belaid, was also assassinated in similar circumstances. Sections of the opposition have accused the Ennahda of being the hidden hand behind both the killings. Others are of the view that even if Ennahda is not directly responsible, it has failed to ensure the safety and security of public figures especially from the secular opposition.

While the assassinations may explain the outpouring of anger against the government, there are deeper reasons that have to be probed to understand the Tunisian crisis.

One, unemployment remains a formidable challenge for the Ennahda helmed government. The national unemployment figure is around 17% but for youths it is above 30%. No wonder a 27 year-old cigarette vendor set himself on fire in the capital, Tunis, in March 2013, screaming, “This is Tunisia. This is unemployment!�

Inflation is also high at 6.5%. Food prices in particular have shot up partly because of escalating global food prices. Besides, there has been no concerted endeavour to increase local food production. 109

WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings Tunisia’s export trade is also shrinking. 40% of its exports go to France. Given the problems faced by the French economy at this point, Tunisian exports are facing a tough time.

Though some foreign investments are returning slowly, and a bit of tourism is picking up, the political uncertainties confronting the nation are hampering efforts to expedite its economic recovery.

There is a general feeling that in trying to address economic challenges Ennahda lacks a coordinated focus. Two, more than that, critics argue that overcoming economic challenges is not Ennahda’s priority. Its preoccupation appears to be with the consolidation and expansion of its power. Ennahda functionaries and supporters have been assigned strategic public roles. This desire to monopolise power is also evident in the party’s attitude towards the media. Though the media in Tunisia is much freer today compared to the era of the Ben Ali dictatorship, there have been “death threats against journalists, writers and media workers critical of the ruling Ennahda Party and its handling of recent events.” These death threats have increased since the assassination of Chokri Belaid. It is alleged that “his very funeral was the site of a number of violent assaults on journalists and other members of civil society paying tribute to the politician, while several Tunisian journalists received death threats for their coverage of Belaid’s burial.” Islamic leaders from various parts of the country have also been attacking journalists for “insulting Islam” or “hindering the work of the Ennahda Party.”

Ennahda has also in a sense impacted upon the position of women in Tunisia. Tunisia, it must be borne in mind, has, since Habib Bourguiba, its first President after Independence, advanced women’s rights as no other country has in the Arab world. Women are not only allowed to divorce their husbands on equal terms but polygamy is also banned. Ennahda has not been able to curb or curtail any of their rights in marriage even though there are 110

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voices at the margins of Ennahda seeking to re-define the role and status of women in the yet to be formulated Constitution according to their interpretation of Islam. Nonetheless, the social atmosphere engendered by Ennahda and other Islamic forces is beginning to increase the pressure upon women to conform to what is perceived as an Islamic identity expressed through attire, inter-gender interaction, and a re-appraisal of their own position in the home and in society.

These then are the two underlying causes of the Tunisian crisis: the economy and the role of Ennahda. Though Ennahda’s inability to accord priority to the economy and concentrate its energies upon unemployment and related challenges is a problem in itself, it should be obvious by now that as long as the critical question of how Ennahda and other Islamic forces establish a modus vivendi with the secular parties is not resolved, it will not be possible to overcome Tunisia’s economic malaise. Both sides will have to compromise and work out an arrangement which is mutually acceptable.

The Islamic parties, specifically Ennahda, will have to demonstrate to the nation that they are genuine about sharing power with other political actors; that they are prepared to be inclusive and accommodative; that they are not wedded to dogma to the point of ignoring prevailing realities.

The secular parties for their part should realise that Islam as Ad-Deen (a way of life) cannot be divorced from politics and governance. It shapes all aspects of life. It was only through suppression and repression that Islam was kept out of politics in all those decades of authoritarian rule before 2011.

But how would Islam manifest itself in politics and governance? Ennahda has stated quite clearly that it will not impose Sharia upon Tunisian society. Can secular parties persuade Ennahda to emphasise the universal values and principles of the religion as they apply to politics and governance? For instance, can they insist upon honesty in politics as a 111

WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings supreme value that takes precedence over a politician’s superficial Islamic credentials such as his degree in Islamic studies? Or, can secular parties prove through deeds that they do not separate means from ends and are therefore more Islamic in the real sense than an Islamic party that pursues power whatever the costs and consequences?

What we are suggesting is that if both Ennahda and the secular parties embody the essence of Islam in their actual conduct ― which is the kernel of our common humanity ― it is quite conceivable that they will be able to join heads and hearts and hands as they strive together for the well-being of their people.

12 August 2013.

POSTSCRIPT Since the above article was written, attempts to end the stalemate have intensified. Acting as a mediator between Ennahda and the secular opposition, the powerful trade union movement in Tunisia has worked out a road map of sorts. It requires the Ennahda-led Government to step down and to allow for the creation of a Government of Independents. Ennahda and the opposition began talks on this on 25 October 2013. So far they have not been able to come to an agreement on a Prime Minister to lead the Government of Independents. It is the Government of Independents that will try to formulate an interim Constitution and prepare for a General Election.

Once a Constitution is in place, Tunisian observers hope, there would be a semblance of political stability which in turn would permit security forces to deal more effectively with the challenge of escalating militancy. Political stability would also encourage economic development and provide the Government with the space to fight inflation and to reduce the budget deficit. But as the continuing wrangling over the Prime Ministership shows, political stability remains as elusive as ever. 112

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5 November 2013.

It was announced yesterday, 13 December 2013, that the Ennahda and the Opposition have finally agreed on a candidate for the position of Prime Minister in the caretaker Government of Independents. No other details are available at this point.

14 December 2013.


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TURKEY: A MODEL? Even before the Arab uprisings of 2011, quite a few people inside and outside the Muslim world saw Turkey under the leadership of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) as a model for Arab and Muslim states. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan himself is convinced that Turkey has a lot to offer others by way of its economic success, its system of governance and its approach to Islam in the public sphere. That was more or less his message to the Arab masses in the course of his much publicised, almost triumphant tour of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya in September 2011.

Is Turkey a model for others? We shall try to probe this question through my reflections on seven dimensions of Turkish governance — its practice of democracy; the relationship between the state and the military; its economic development; the integrity of its national leadership; unity among its different communities; its approach towards Islam as a social force; and its foreign policy.

Practice of Democracy

Turkey is a functioning democracy. The AKP has won three successive parliamentary victories — in 2002, 2007 and 2011 — through elections that were free and fair. The rule of law, a cornerstone of democratic governance, is an established feature of Turkish society. There is an appreciable degree of accountability on the part of the state and dissenting views are expressed regularly through the media and other channels of public articulation.


WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings Nonetheless, there are critics who argue that the AKP leadership’s acceptance of legitimate dissent and peaceful protest falls short of the expectations of citizens living in a democracy. They point to the somewhat heavy-handed response of the authorities to the Gezi Park protest in June 2013. A protest initially by a few dozen activists against the government’s plan to put up a building in Taksim Square — a lovely public park in Istanbul — elicited a disproportionately harsh reaction from the police who started using tear-gas and water-cannons against the protestors which is why tens of thousands of people joined the activists within a couple of days. Demonstrations quickly spread to other parts of the country. Police violence which allegedly resulted in the deaths of two or three demonstrators exacerbated the situation. Erdogan’s intemperate denunciations of the demonstrations and his perceived arrogance also further eroded the government’s credibility.

If the way in which a government handles legitimate public protest is a measure of its democratic maturity, then the AKP has some way to go before it can serve as an inspiration for other states in West Asia and North Africa (WANA).

Relationship between the State and the Military

In the process of strengthening democracy in Turkish society, the AKP has had to contend with a formidable foe — the Turkish military. Since the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923, and for many decades after that, the military commanded tremendous respect among the people. It saw itself, and was viewed by the people, as the custodian of the Republic and the defender of its Kemalist ideology. It explains to some extent why it was able to conduct coups against the government of the day on a number of occasions with impunity.

However, the ascendancy of the AKP from 2002 has brought about a significant shift in the relationship between the state and the military. It can be argued without fear of contradiction that for the first time in Turkish history the elected civilian government is more powerful than the armed forces. The proof of this lies in the ability of the 115

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government to put on trial hundreds of officials from the military, the bureaucracy and from political parties for their alleged involvement in plots and plans to assassinate AKP leaders and destabilise the country. This series of court cases, known as the Ergenekon trials, began in 2008 and are still on-going. They have the support of the people. The government also exposed the Babyoz coup in 2010 which led to the arrest of a number of top military personnel. In this regard, two surviving leaders of the 1980 military coup, Generals Kenan Evren and Taksin Sarikaya, are on trial for the overthrow of the then civilian government and for their crackdown on political and civil rights in the eighties.

These open trials offer incontrovertible evidence of the decline of the military as an actor in Turkish politics. There are a few reasons that explain this power shift. One, the AKP’s massive electoral triumphs over a decade — solid proof of its popularity and legitimacy — would be a major factor. The military has no choice but to respect the authority of a ruling party whose power is rooted in the people. Two, by concentrating upon the nation’s economic and social development which has witnessed significant improvements in people’s livelihoods — it will be discussed in greater detail later — the AKP has endeared itself to the masses. Three, the AKP leadership is also perceived by a lot of ordinary Turks as a relatively clean and honest government. It is the sort of perception that any General or Colonel contemplating a coup will have to take into account! Four, the government’s pursuit of accession to the European Union (EU) has also, in a sense, forced the military to acknowledge the power and authority of the elected, civilian government. Ensuring that the military is confined to the barracks is after all one of the foremost tenets of democratic rule that the EU insists upon among its present and potential member states.

The ability of the AKP to change the power equation in Turkey is undoubtedly one of its greatest achievements. To remove the military from the political arena and to establish civilian rule without chaos and bloodshed is a rare phenomenon. Other states in WANA many of which were, or, are still, under military backed autocracies have something to learn from the Turkish experience. Of course, there is no question of anyone replicating the AKP approach. Every situation is unique and requires its own solution. Be that as it 116

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may, the AKP has over 11 years shown us how one can in a generally peaceful manner transform a military-centric state into a civilian-oriented society.

Economic Development As observed, the AKP has attempted to provide for the people’s basic needs by introducing new measures to reduce poverty; by increasing the allocation for low-cost housing in the cities; by expanding opportunities for primary and secondary education; and by strengthening health-care programmes for the disadvantaged. At the macro-level, the per capita income of the nation rose from 3,492 US dollars in 2002 to 10,079 dollars in 2010. Turkey also managed to pay off the last instalment of its debt to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in May 2013.

On the debit side, the gap between the rich and poor has widened. In 2009, the richest 20% of the population had a household income that was 8.5 times higher than that of the bottom 20%. This was worse than in 2007 when it was 8.1 times. Turkey’s external debt is still high, about 40% of its national income. And, in spite of government efforts, unemployment stands at 11.5%. There are also vast regional disparities.

These are some of the underlying economic reasons why the Gezi Protest gathered so much momentum in such a short while. Some analysts would argue that Turkey’s economic woes are due largely to its enthusiastic embrace of neo-liberal capitalism. While the poor have also benefitted from the rapid economic growth of the last decade it is the upper stratum of society that has gained most mainly from the strong push for privatisation and deregulation since the AKP came to power.

It will be recalled that for Egypt, Tunisia and perhaps some other countries in WANA it was the implementation of neo-liberal capitalist policies especially in agriculture and commerce that exacerbated their economic crisis leading eventually to the upheavals that have characterised the Arab uprisings of the last three years. So obviously AKP’s Turkey


WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings — some economic achievements notwithstanding ― does not hold the key for the liberation of WANA from its economic crisis.


On the other hand, the AKP leadership appears to have set a good example in terms of honesty and integrity in the management of public funds. It has also succeeded in cleaning up petty corruption. Because it is seen to be combating corruption, Turkey moved up the Berlin-based Transparency International’s (TI) ranks in 2012. It now occupies the 54th spot, up 7 places.

Given that corruption is endemic in so many countries in WANA, it is commendable that the present Turkish leadership has shown some determination to fight the scourge. It has given hope to millions of people in the region for whom bribing a public official is a routine affair.


Like so many other countries, Turkey is also confronted by the challenge of maintaining peace and harmony among the different communities that inhabit the land. For 30 long years, the Turkish government has had to contend with an armed insurgency from a segment of its Kurdish populace, the nation’s largest minority accounting for 18% of the total citizenry. Now the organisation that helmed that uprising, the Kurdistan Workers Party (KWP) has called for a ceasefire. Its leader, Abdullah Ocalan proclaimed on the 21st of March 2013 that the KWP will lay down its arms and begin a dialogue with the Erdogan government. Erdogan himself had made some peace overtures to Ocalan before this. More than perhaps any other Turkish leader in the past he has indicated that he is prepared to accommodate the Kurdish demand for greater political autonomy and cultural rights. However, any optimism this may give rise to about the eventual resolution of the Turkish-Kurdish conflict will have to be tempered by a realistic assessment of the Kurdish question in Iraq, Syria and Iran all of which will have repercussions for Turkey. 118

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Another minority that also harbours some grievances is the Alevi community numbering about 10 million in a population of 74 million. Regarded as part of the Shia sect, its religious practices are a combination of Anatolian folk Shiism and Sufi elements. Its relationship with the majority Sunnis has had its ups and downs over the centuries. Though ethnographically different from the Alawites of Syria, the Alevis do share some theological affinities with them. This may explain why in response to the political turmoil in Syria since 2011, the Alevis of Turkey have been supportive of Bashar Al-Assad in Damascus who is from the Alawite community, and critical of the AKP government’s active involvement in the crisis on the side of the armed rebels fighting Bashar.

Friction and tension between communities and between communities and the state suggest that inter-ethnic harmony even in a preponderantly Muslim majority society like Turkey remains an ideal. Many WANA states are far more heterogeneous than Turkey and are grappling with even more complex challenges. They have no reason to turn to the AKP government for tips on how to manage their societies.

Approach to Islam

As a political party that has its roots in an Islamic ethos developed by earlier Islamic movements, the AKP is caught in a dilemma. On the one hand, it has to prove its Islamic credentials to its domestic constituents and to its foreign ideological allies. On the other hand, officially, it has to espouse secularism which is the state ideology in order not to antagonise its’ still influential domestic adversaries or raise suspicions among its Western patrons.

The AKP, for its part, has made it explicitly clear that it has no intention of implementing the Sharia or hudud which constitutes the crux and core of the agenda of self-styled Islamic parties and movements. Neither does it seek to establish an Islamic State formally guided by the Quran and the Sunnah.


WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings In fact, the AKP has often taken the position that its emphasis upon ‘Justice’ and ‘Development’ renders it Islamic. What it has done — and continues to do — from ensuring that the people are educated and healthy to protecting their freedom and dignity, are at the heart of Islam. Having leaders who are honest and accountable is what the religion cherishes, AKP intellectuals and activists, often remind the people.

Apart from re-interpreting Islam from the perspective of its fundamental values and principles, AKP leaders who adopt this approach are also responding to their domestic adversaries who are totally committed to secularism and will not tolerate any attempt to infuse politics or the economy with Islamic precepts and rules. At the same time, the AKP top brass knows that the EU whose membership Turkey is seeking is averse to any hint of ‘political Islam’ and will not hesitate to use it as an excuse to keep Turkey out of their club.

Nonetheless, from time to time, the AKP leadership comes up with changes that suggest to its supporters and allies that the party remains committed to Islamic morality. It has legalised the use of the hijab (headscarf for women) in institutions of higher learning, the public services and parliament. The AKP government has also introduced some restrictions on the sale of alcohol since the middle of 2013 (restrictions which exist even in some European countries). It also intends to do away with mixed gender university hostels. A few years ago it talked about criminalising adultery but dropped the idea in the face of opposition from inside and outside the country. While the AKP dilemma — being secular and Islamic at the same time — has expressed itself in different ways in most Muslim majority countries for decades, the Turkish situation is in a sense unique. In no other Muslim society, has secularism as an ideology and outlook acquired the level of legitimacy that it enjoys in Turkey. This is largely because secularism was the conscious ideological imprimatur of the state founded by Kemal Ataturk. Since this ideology has shaped Turkish politics and society for a long time, it has understandably conditioned the AKP’s approach to Islam in the public sphere. Needless to say, it is an approach that has limited relevance to other Muslim societies. In 120

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the wake of the Arab uprisings, Muslim societies such as Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, among others, will have to decide what sort of role Islam will play in politics, law, economics, culture, gender relations and inter-religious ties. They will have to choose their own paths to the future determined to a great extent by the realities prevailing in their respective settings.

Foreign Policy Finally, can Turkey’s neighbours draw lessons from the style and substance of its foreign policy since the AKP came to power in 2002? In the early years, the party leadership sought to cultivate harmonious relations with all the Arab states and Iran. In particular, the AKP government showed a great deal of enthusiasm for the Palestinian cause. It even distributed land titles to Palestinians from the Ottoman period when Istanbul exercised suzerainty over Palestine and other Arab territories. Expectedly, Turkey’s growing bond with the Palestinians made the Israeli leadership wary of the AKP. After all, Turkey was the first Muslim majority state to recognise Israel in 1949 and the two had developed close military and strategic ties over at least five decades. This relationship suffered a huge setback in 2008-9 when Israel launched a massive attack upon Gaza. Israel’s naked aggression evoked strong moral condemnation from the AKP. A few weeks after Israel’s brutal pulverisation of the largely defenceless Palestinians in Gaza, Erdogan clashed with the Israeli President, Shimon Perez, at the World Economic Forum in Davos. He openly slammed the Israeli government as ‘killers’.

Relations between Israel and Turkey deteriorated further over the Mavi Marmara Incident on the 31st of May 2010. Turks and citizens from other countries set sail for Gaza on a flotilla with the Mavi Marmara at the helm aimed at breaking the siege imposed by Israel and handing over much needed aid to the suffering Palestinians from different citizen groups. The Israeli navy was determined to stop the flotilla from reaching the shores of


WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings

Gaza. Its commandos opened fire and boarded the Marmara. In the ensuing clash, eight Turks and one Turkish American were killed.

In retaliation, Turkey withdrew its Ambassador to Tel Aviv and later expelled the Israeli Ambassador in Ankara. Ankara also cancelled joint military exercises with Israel. Turkey’s resoluteness won it warm accolades from not only WANA but also people in different parts of the world. Its standing soared to the skies. Seeing that the freeze in Israeli-Turkish ties was hurting the US’s position in the region, US president, Barack Obama, sought to normalise relations between the two. He brokered a phone call between Netanyahu and Erdogan on the 22nd of March 2013 during which the former apologised to the Turkish people for the Marmara Incident.

However, relations hit a new low in October 2013 when it was revealed that Turkey had blown the lid on Israeli special agents in Iran.

If Turkey appears to adhere to certain principles in its relations with Israel, its stand vis-avis countries such as Libya and Syria, as the Arab uprisings with all their ramifications unfold, has raised eyebrows. In the case of Libya, the AKP leadership tried at the outset to broker a settlement which would allow Muammar Gaddafi a dignified exit. But when it became obvious that NATO was planning aerial strikes to support armed rebels seeking to oust Gaddafi, Turkey changed its stance. Together with fellow NATO members, it gave the cold shoulder to the African Union’s peace plan for Libya which sought to arrange a smooth power transition that might have minimised the anarchy that bedevils Libya today. For the AKP government allegiance to NATO’s nefarious agenda in Libya was more important than the quest for peace. In the case of the Syrian conflict, the AKP’s role is even more blatant. Of course, AKP leaders claim that at the beginning of the peaceful protest against the Bashar Al- Assad government in March 2011, they tried to persuade him to introduce democratic reforms but to no avail. However, sources close to Bashar maintain that the AKP was essentially 122

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pushing for him to share power with the Ikhwan-ul Muslimin (Muslim Brotherhood) in Syria — a solution which was totally unacceptable to Bashar given the decades old animosity between the two marred by violence and bloodshed emanating from both parties. Besides, within a couple of weeks of the initial protest, armed elements had infiltrated the ranks of the protesters and very soon they were receiving both weapons and money channelled through groups in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.

Turkey has in the course of the last two years or so emerged not only as a conduit for arms and funds for the rebels fighting the Bashar government but also as a training camp for them and as a centre for the coordination of some of their military operations. Turkey also hosts political activities conducted by various opposition groups. Why has the AKP government chosen to play this role instead working sincerely towards a peaceful resolution of a horrendous conflict that has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of people? Before exploring the real reasons, one should dismiss the argument that it is the AKP’s love for democracy that explains its support for the armed and unarmed rebels. Most of those receiving its backing have no democratic credentials. In fact, some genuine democratic dissenters who were part of the initial peaceful protest have actually now chosen to dialogue with the Bashar government. The Turkish government’s action has to be understood from various other perspectives including Turkey’s close relationship with the US and other Western powers underlined by its membership of NATO. For the West, Bashar has to be overthrown because he is an integral part of the resistance to Western hegemony in WANA. He is a vital link between Iran and the Hezbollah, the triumvirate that Israel detests and fears. Israel after all continues to occupy a strategic part of Syria, the Golan Heights, which supplies one-third of Israel’s water needs. Is it any wonder then that in the course of the last 31 months of turmoil in Syria, Israel has launched at least four military strikes in that country? It is because Bashar is an implacable foe as far as Israel is concerned that the US, Britain and France — Western powers who have always viewed themselves as patrons and protectors of Israel — are so determined to topple him. Turkey at the end of the day can be expected to play its part in fulfilling their agenda. 123

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Indeed, there are other reasons that go beyond the West and NATO why the Turkish leadership has chosen to target Bashar. It is one way of clipping Iran’s wings. And for the AKP which from time to time in the last few years has revealed its desire for regional supremacy Iran is a powerful rival that should be put in its place. Destroying Bashar, one of Iran’s staunchest allies in the Arab world, could expedite this goal. In this regard, some analysts even argue that AKP leaders like Erdogan are sometimes nostalgic about their nation’s Ottoman past and could be seeking to revive its lost glory. Underlying this nostalgia may be a perception of self – of Turkey — as the historical Ottoman defender of Sunni Islam against Shia power centuries ago, a role which in the midst of today’s Sunni-Shia conflicts in various parts of the Muslim world may resonate with the ambition dream of some Turkish politicians.

For the AKP leadership what it is doing in Syria may also be linked to its roots as an Islamic party which like so many other Islamic movements in WANA shares some affinity with the Ikhwanul Muslimin. It is the Ikhwan that has been the most persistent and persevering political adversary of Bashar and his father, the late Hafiz Assad. The Ikhwan connection may also explain why the AKP has adopted such an antagonistic posture towards the government in Damascus. The AKP’s policy on Syria — and on Libya — shows that its relationship to NATO and the centres of power in the West continues to figure prominently in its strategies and objectives. Its willingness to demonstrate some independence vis-à-vis Israel does not alter this reality. For other states in WANA and in other parts of the Muslim world and the Global South, a nation whose foreign policy is still tied to the West cannot possibly be an inspiration to them. On the contrary, they would view such a policy as inimical to their dignity and their sovereignty. What further limits Turkey’s role in the region is its Ottoman past and its present link to an Islamic movement that is a controversial contender for power in the wake of the Arab uprisings.


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Turkey presents a mixed bag in relation to WANA. Its ability to curb the role of the military in politics and to establish civilian rule on a viable basis is an accomplishment that is worth emulating. The honesty and integrity of the AKP leadership also serves as an outstanding example for a region where elite corruption is so rife. On the other hand, Turkey faces serious economic challenges, the most crucial of which are income and social disparities. Its democracy is a work in progress while the quest for social cohesion and unity continues. In this regard, how the AKP defines a role for Islam within the secular framework of the nation would be critical. It will have some bearing upon how Turkey relates to its neighbours, to the centres of power in the West and to the world. For a nation which is a major player in a region that continues to confront the reality of Western hegemony, Turkey will have to embark upon some deep soul searching on the question of its own dignity and sovereignty in an era when the imperial power that it has depended upon for so long is declining rapidly.

20 November 2013.


WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings


THE ARAB UPRISING QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS Using a Question and Answer format, we probe some critical issues in this preliminary reflection on the Arab Uprising. . 1) Is it right to describe what is happening in a handful of Arab states as an “Arab Uprising” since most of the Arab states are not affected by the demonstrations and protests?

Apart from Tunisia and Egypt, protests have occurred in Algeria, Jordan and Yemen. It may spread to other Arab countries. The five put together, it is true, would be less than a quarter of the Arab states we have. But the impact of the mass protests is felt in most of the other Arab states. Some government leaders are feeling very nervous. Besides, Egypt is in the eye of the storm at the moment and Egypt, given its history, its politics, and its population, is, in some ways, the centre of the Arab world. 2) Is this a genuine people’s uprising? Some well-known Russian and German analysts are of the view that it has been engineered by the US since the US wants to replace some of their ageing allies in the Arab world to prevent chaos from breaking out when they pass on. That some of the US’s allies ― like Hosni Mubarak of Egypt ― are in their eighties is a fact. It is also true that US officials have been discussing “orderly transitions” in the Arab world for some time now. But it is hard to believe that any one in Washington or London or Tel Aviv would want to engineer mass protests as a way of achieving those transitions. 126

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Leaders in these capitals and their intelligence networks and think tanks know that it is not easy to control and direct mass uprisings towards outcomes that one has in mind. This is especially true of West Asia and North Africa (WANA) where negative feelings among the people towards the US and Israeli elites are so pervasive. Would any American, or Israeli or British leader in his right senses want to take that sort of risk in a region where the defining political issue of the moment is the injustice perpetrated against the Palestinians? Besides, they are very much aware that in a number of countries in WANA the strongest ― and the most popular ― political movement at the grassroots level invariably has an Islamic orientation and is opposed to occupation (of Palestine and other Arab lands) and oppression. My own feeling is that the US leadership and its allies did not expect this uprising but now that it is happening, they are trying very hard to determine its outcome. They are hell-bent on ensuring that their interests in the region triumph, whatever the costs and consequences.

3) Will the protesters, the millions of dissidents in Egypt who yearn for genuine change accept this?

Some will, but there is a big segment of Egyptian society that resents US and Western attempts to decide and determine its future. These Egyptians know why the US is in the Arab world and in West Asia. It is oil; it is the strategic significance of the entire region: the Mediterranean, the Suez, the Straits of Hormuz; and it is Israel. They know that hundreds of thousands of men, women and children have been sacrificed at the altar of US interests. They know how many precious lives ― the lives of little children ― were snuffed out because of the Anglo-US led sanctions against Iraq that went on for 13 years, and culminated in the invasion and occupation of that blighted land resulting in more death and destruction.

The Egyptians and other Arabs remember all this. This is why there is so much anger against leaders like Mubarak and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the deposed President of Tunisia, who are viewed rightly as men who facilitated US hegemony of the Arab world


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in recent years. They are regarded as lackeys serving an imperial agenda. In Cairo and Tunis there were banners denouncing them as agents of the US.

Mubarak and Ben Ali have also been part and parcel of the blatant hypocrisy that characterises US relations with dictatorial regimes everywhere. US leaders have often claimed that they are committed to strengthening freedom and democracy in the Arab world. The former US Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, even proclaimed in Cairo in 2005 that, “We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people.” She launched a foundation called the Foundation for the Future for this purpose. Its chairman until June 2008 was a close US ally, the Malaysian politician, Anwar Ibrahim.

In reality, the US, as everyone knows, gave its full support to Mubarak and Ben Ali and other such dictators who imprisoned, tortured and killed political dissidents with impressive democratic credentials. It is only when these dictators were on the verge of collapse that US officials began to support the democratic aspirations of their people. What makes their hypocrisy worse is their suppression of genuine attempts by people in the region to practise democratic principles. When the Islamic party, Hamas, won a free and fair election in Occupied Palestine in January 2006, it was subjected to a boycott and isolated by the US and the European Union. It is because of such hypocrisy that those who are struggling for change in Egypt and elsewhere have very little faith in the US leadership. 4) In your reply just now you mentioned ‘Israel’. Surely ‘Israel’ is an even more compelling factor in the people’s rage against their leaders.

If US hegemony evokes negative vibes, it is partly because that hegemony has been used to protect and reinforce Israel’s position in the region. Israel — more than the US ― is perceived by many Arabs as a bane upon their countries. Leaders and governments who collude with the Israeli regime are often viewed as traitors to the Palestinian cause.


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For hosting former Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon in Tunis some years ago, Ben Ali was denounced by many Islamic and secular groups in the Arab world. Mubarak, whose country has diplomatic ties with Israel, was condemned by all and sundry for closing the Rafah crossing at the Egypt – Gaza border during the Israeli assault on Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009. It aggravated the already precarious position of the besieged people of Gaza. When Israel attacked Lebanon in July 2006, Mubarak adopted an antagonistic attitude towards the target, namely, the Hezbollah, the most effective movement in the Arab world resisting Israeli aggression.

Israel and those who hobnob with her, incense a lot of Arabs and Muslims not simply because of the manner in which Israel was created in 1948 which was a terrible travesty of justice. Everything Israel has done since then ― the conquest of even more Palestinian and Arab territories, the killing of thousands of Palestinians and other Arabs, the expulsion and eviction of Palestinian families, the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the harassment at countless checkpoints which a Palestinian has to endure on a daily basis, and the apartheid wall that barricades Palestinians ― have all contributed to the collective humiliation of the Arab and the Muslim. Israel’s arrogance and haughtiness have seared their psyche as nothing else has in the last 63 years. Israel is a perpetual affront to their human dignity. And the protests in Tunisia, in Egypt, in Jordan, in Algeria and in Yemen are about dignity.

5) Surely, the Arab Uprising is not just about how Israeli arrogance and US hegemony have trampled upon the dignity of the people. Hasn’t the economic situation also contributed to mass anger? Undoubtedly. It has been estimated that about 140 million Arabs ― 40% of the total population ― live below the poverty line. But absolute poverty alone has seldom given rise to mass uprisings in history. It is widening income and wealth disparities, exacerbated by increasing food prices and high unemployment, that have begun to hurt a lot of people. While the policies and priorities set by the national elite are partly responsible for this economic malaise, the global economic environment has also been a 129

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major factor. Global food prices, for instance, shot up dramatically towards the end of 2010 due to a variety of reasons ranging from natural disasters and climate change to the conversion of food crops to bio-fuel and rampant speculation in commodities. Both Tunisia and Egypt import food today, when the latter was in fact self-sufficient in food in the sixties. Egypt’s present dependence upon food imports reflects a major structural flaw in a number of Arab economies and indeed other economies in both the Global South and the Global North. Starting from the eighties, they began to implement “neo-liberal” capitalist policies which inter-alia required the rolling back of the state that in Egypt’s case meant the dismantling of government managed cooperatives in agriculture, the deregulation of the distribution of agricultural produce and the elimination of farm subsidies and food subsidies. Besides, neo-liberal capitalism also led to the opening up of the domestic market to food imports that were more competitive which in turn affected local food production. Consequently, food production declined significantly and Egypt became a net food importer.

Even high unemployment is, to some extent, a result of the dominance of finance capital,― rather than capital for manufacturing activities or the service sector ― typical of neo-liberal capitalism. With hedge funds, investment banks and currency speculators ruling the roost, there has been greater concentration of capital in fewer and fewer hands. It is not surprising therefore that income and wealth disparities have become starker in today’s Egypt, compared to the Egypt of the sixties and early seventies.

It is important to keep this in mind as protesters rage against some of the symptoms of the disease such as high food prices, massive unemployment and widening disparities.

6) What is the relationship between these economic issues and elite corruption and nepotism which apparently was also one of the causes of the Arab uprising?


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When people are suffering as a result of soaring prices of essentials and lack of jobs, allegations about elite corruption and nepotism — especially if they are substantiated ― rouse the public ire as few other issues do. It is indisputably true that there is a great deal of corruption at all levels in a number of Arab states. It is often linked to relatives and cronies. In Tunisia, allegations about Ben Ali’s venality had been circulating for a long while. Invariably, they involved his wife, Leila Trabelsi, whose opulence and extravagance sustained through corrupt means became fodder for the hundreds of thousands of dissidents yearning for change. Their two families had a stake in all major enterprises from banks and airlines to wholesale and retail businesses. Their avarice incited mass hatred.

Much of the anger towards Mubarak and his alleged corruption, revolve around his son Gamal. The father’s nepotism had resulted in the accumulation of so much family wealth that it came to symbolise all the excesses of his 30 year rule in Egypt. What made it worse was Mubarak’s coarse attempt to anoint his son as his successor.

In Yemen too, Ali Abdullah Saleh who has been President since 1978 and was allegedly planning to hand over the reins of power to his son, Ahmed, was forced through popular protest to announce that he had no such intention and that he would relinquish his position when his term expires in 2013. The people are continuing to demand that he leaves office earlier. 7) Isn’t this ― leaders staying in office for decades on end and then handing over power to their offspring ― one of the main reasons why the Arab street has exploded in anger?

Dynastic politics is repugnant under any circumstances. It becomes even more odious when the man on the throne has been in power for ages and is distinguished by an utter lack of competence and rectitude. 131

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WANA where almost all the Arab states are located is perhaps the only region in the world today where unelected incumbents, or incumbents who were elected in farcical elections, have been clinging on to power for decades, and are trying to hand over the reins of authority to their sons. WANA is also the region where elected parliaments, multi-party electoral competition, institutionalised accountability, legalised political dissent, independent judiciaries, and other such norms and principles of democratic governance are rare.

It is because democratic governance has yet to become the accepted practice in WANA, that young people especially those who have had some exposure to values such as freedom of expression and democratic accountability have turned against dictatorial governments. They abhor the repressive laws, the torture techniques and the brutal suppression of legitimate dissent associated with these regimes. A segment of the older generation that had always resented the political suppression by the elites, have decided to join hands with the young. The result is the explosion of anger that we are witnessing in many of the cities of the region.

8) While this anger must have built up over a period of time, there must have been some trigger…………….

In the case of Tunisia, it was the self-immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi, a young vegetable seller who was struggling to make ends meet in the midst of soaring food prices and was constantly harassed by the municipal authorities, that triggered an outpouring of angry emotions. 10 days after his funeral, on the 14th of January 2011, Ben Ali who had been in power for 23 years, fled from his country, responding in a sense to the clarion call for his ouster from all strata of society. This gave hope to people in Jordan, Algeria and Egypt who were also hungering for meaningful change. When hundreds of thousands of Egyptians came out in the open asking Hosni Mubarak to resign from his presidency, the people of Yemen were encouraged to pressurise their leader to quit.


WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings It is obvious that the Tunisian struggle against tyranny had a cascading effect. Bouazizi’s suicide was emulated in Egypt. Four Egyptians set themselves on fire. But the person who coaxed and challenged the people to congregate in the thousands in Tahrir (Liberation) Square on 25 January to urge Mubarak to step down was a young girl by the name of Asma Mahfouz, one of the founders of the April 6 Youth Movement that has played a big part in organising the mass protests since that day. It was Asma Mahfouz’s courage ― and her passionate plea to others to show courage ― that convinced a lot of people that they should overcome their fear and stand up for justice. Her voice, like the deaths of her four compatriots, was the trigger that Egypt was waiting for. 9) Isn’t it significant that Bouazizi’s suicide, like Mahfouz’s plea, was disseminated to thousands through the new media?

The Arab Uprising of 2011 will be remembered in history as a revolution that was shaped by the new media and new communication technologies. It is not just websites, blogs and facebooks. Video cameras and mobile phones have been equally important in transmitting images and messages that have helped to mobilise and galvanise the masses in their protests.

The link between the new media and television has also been a critical factor in sustaining the momentum of the struggle for change especially in Egypt. In this regard, the Doha based television network, Al- Jazeera, has played a significant role. Even in the Tunisian Uprising, it took the side of the people yearning for change. However, after Tunisia and Egypt, in the case of Libya and Syria, Al- Jazeera has been less than honourable while appearing to champion the people’s cause, it has, in fact, become a tool for Qatari’s regional and foreign policy goals. Most of the time, these goals reflect the larger objectives of Israel, the US and their Western Allies.

10) Is the constant refrain about the role of the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan-ulMuslimin) in the Uprising and the so-called danger of the Uprising becoming like 133

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the Islamic Revolution of Iran that one hears over CNN in particular part of that agenda?

The Ikhwan is one of a variety of movements and organisations that is part of the protest in Egypt. It did not initiate the protest. Of course as a grassroots movement it is reputed to be the most disciplined and the best organised. It has been around for more than 80 years, though officially it is still banned. Though it is only one of the actors at the moment ― some Western commentators argue ― the Ikhwan could well assume leadership once a new government is formed in Egypt, as it happened in Iran. After all, the Islamic element in the Iranian Revolution of 1979 was also one of the Revolution’s many components and yet within a couple of years, the religious elite was entrenched in power and had side-lined the other actors.

Those who make this comparison overlook two important differences. The Iranian Revolution, it is true, was diverse but Ayatollah Khomeini, given his religious credentials and his selfless sacrifice, was widely acknowledged as its overall leader. In his almost 20 year struggle against the Shah of Iran, both within the country and in exile, Khomeini articulated a vision of struggle and change that was essentially religious. There were a number of other illustrious clerics, like Ayatollah Taleghani and Ayatollah Mutahhari who were also at the helm of the Iranian Revolution. There is no one from the Ikhwan who plays a role in the Egyptian Uprising that comes anywhere close to the commanding stature of Khomeini or the other Ayatollahs in the Iranian Revolution. It was partly because of Khomeini’s stature that he was able to shape post-revolutionary Iran in a specific religious mould. The war that Saddam Hussein of Iraq, with the support of a number of Arab monarchies and the connivance of the US, Britain and other Western nations, imposed upon Iran from 1980 to 1988, helped Khomeini to consolidate his religious grip upon his people. There is nothing to suggest that such extraordinary circumstances that allowed a particular leadership with a particular religious orientation to reinforce its position would present themselves again in the case of Egypt. 134

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Besides, the Ikhwan which at various points in history was known for its rigid, sometimes dogmatic conservatism has also undergone some significant changes. Mainstream groups within the movement have become more tolerant of theological differences, more accommodative of the role of women and non-Muslim minorities, and less exclusive in their notion of state and law. It is significant that in the wake of the massacre of Christians in Alexandria a few weeks ago, the Ikhwan played a major role in projecting Muslim-Christian solidarity. Ironically, the political ban on Ikhwan has strengthened its commitment to humanitarian and welfare principles in Islam, and appears to have diluted its earlier obsession with the primacy of power. Nonetheless, there are still some elements within the Ikhwan who remain attached to a superficial, literalist interpretation of Islamic rules and injunctions.

In any case, why are political elites and media commentators in the US, Britain and other Western countries so concerned about the Ikhwan and its ideology in Egypt when they have no qualms about cooperating and collaborating with an Islamic state that adopts an atavistic approach to law and marginalises women and non-Muslim minorities? Is it because Saudi Arabia is not only an unquestioningly loyal ally but is also totally subservient to US and Western hegemony? In other words, it is not the ‘Islamic state’ or ‘Islamic law’ that is the problem. If the West is assured of acquiescence with its power and dominance, it would be quite happy to accept the Ikhwan. The US and other Western elites are not sure if the Ikhwan will reject their hegemony ― as the Islamic Iranian leadership has done ― and insist upon the independence and sovereignty of Egypt and the Arab people as a whole. Will the Ikhwan leaders follow the example of Hamas in Palestine and Hizbollah in Lebanon and pursue a principled position on the liberation of Palestinian and other Arab lands, and oppose Israel’s nefarious designs in the region? Will the Ikhwan ― as required by the Qur’an ― privilege justice and the dignity of the oppressed and the victims of aggression over and above the interests of the US, British and Israeli elites?

Because these are worrying

questions for those who seek to perpetuate their hegemony and their power, the Ikhwan and where it stands has become an issue. 135

WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings 11) Instead of focusing upon the Ikhwan, shouldn’t US and Israeli elites reflect on how they can play a constructive role in an Arab world that is asserting its dignity and its honour?

This is precisely what they should be doing. If the people succeed in bringing about fundamental change in Tunisia, Egypt and other countries in WANA, US and Israeli elites cannot continue with their present policy of controlling, manipulating and dominating the region through elites who represent their interests more than the wellbeing of the Arab masses. They should adjust to the new realities on the ground. In more concrete terms, this means justice for the Palestinians ― justice that they have been denied for the last 63 years. Palestinian refugees should be allowed to return to Israel and to a new Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza that will have East Jerusalem as its capital. Palestinian and other Arab prisoners in Israeli jails should be released. The Golan Heights should be returned in its entirety to Syria and the Sheba Farms should be restored to Lebanon. Israel should eliminate its nuclear weapons and WANA should be declared a nuclear weapons free zone. If the US is sincere about respecting and fulfilling the aspirations of the people of the region, it should coax, cajole and coerce Israel to take these measures.

As Israel moves towards peace based upon justice in a new WANA, all the states in the region should also accord formal recognition to Israel.

While the resolution of the Israel-Arab conflict will be the litmus test of whether or not the US is sincere in its attitude towards the Arab people, it will also have to show through deeds that it no longer seeks to perpetuate its political or economic hegemony anywhere in WANA. It should not try to maintain its political control over the region by ensuring that its proxies and agents are elected through the ballot-box. The US should also cease to use the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and other such institutions and arrangements to push through neo-liberal capitalist policies and programmes that are clearly inimical to the people’s interest. Instead of trying to shape the destiny of the Arab 136

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world for its own hegemonic purpose, the US elite should learn to respect the autonomy and integrity of the people of WANA. It should allow them to harness their own religious and cultural strengths in order to construct their own future, guided by their own vision.

12) Finally, do you see a finale to this Arab Uprising?

Even in Tunisia where the people managed to force the dictator into exile, the situation is still in flux. The interim government has promised a free and fair election and has introduced some democratic reforms. But the apparatus of power and control of the old regime is still in place. Not all banned political movements have been legalised and allowed to function freely. There is still quite a bit of uncertainty.

In Jordan, King Abdullah has dismissed his Cabinet in response to popular discontent but his move is seen by many as cosmetic. Algeria has made some superficial changes to some of its draconian laws while the long-serving President of Yemen, as we have seen, has failed to quell protests, in spite of his promise to go in a couple of years. However, it is the situation in Egypt that is most unpredictable. It is now the 14th day of the mass protest that began on the 25th of January. The number of protesters at Tahrir Square ― the symbol of the struggle to get rid of Mubarak ― had reached a million at one point but has now begun to dwindle. After Mubarak’s announcement a few days ago that he will be stepping down in September 2011, some of the protesters have begun to feel that they had achieved their goal and there was no reason to continue with their agitation.

Talks have now begun between the Mubarak regime represented by the newly appointed Vice-President, Omar Suleiman, and a wide spectrum of political parties and civic groups representing the protest movement, including the banned Ikhwan. According to news reports the first meeting discussed amendments to the Egyptian Constitution, various democratic reforms, plans to combat corruption and prosecute individuals in authority who had abused their power. What is important in these talks, it seems to me, is for the 137

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dissidents to persuade the regime to create effective institutional mechanisms immediately that will ensure a fair and free election for the presidency in September 2011 ― the election that Mubarak has promised not to contest. This demands not just an independent election commission but also full freedom for all aspirants to compete for the highest office in the land.

Preparing for this crucial election should be one of the priorities of the movement for change. The different, sometimes divergent, components of the movement should become more united and more cohesive. They should choose a candidate for the presidency who not only embodies the noblest aspirations of their struggle for justice and freedom but is also honest and upright. It is not just democracy that the person should fight for; freeing Egyptians from an economic ideology that widens the gap between the ‘have-a-lot’ and the ‘have-a-little’ should also be his/her paramount goal. Needless to say, a just resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict premised upon the right of selfdetermination of the Palestinian people should be at the top of the candidate’s agenda.

It is doubtful if the ruling regime in Cairo and the American, Israeli and British interests aligned to it will allow such a candidate to succeed. They will go all out in the next few weeks and months to ‘manage change’ in such a manner that it will not address the fundamental challenges facing the people. Managing change for them means making some superficial, cosmetic changes here and there which they hope will be enough to satisfy the people. Their primary objective, there is no need to emphasise, would be to preserve and enhance their vested interests, central to which are Israel and oil.

It would be a shame if they achieved their goal. The hundreds who sacrificed their lives in the Arab Uprising would have died in vain. The dreams of thousands of young women and men who had the courage to defy the dictator would remain unfulfilled. How can we allow the rich and the powerful to crush the hopes of the poor and the powerless through diabolical deceit? Why should might defeat right?

7 February 2011. 138

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WHAT IS HAPPENING TO THE ARAB UPRISING? The Arab Uprising is no longer what it was. Its complexion is changing.

One of the outstanding features of the first phase of the Uprising was its peaceful, nonviolent character. The ouster of both the Tunisian dictator, Ben Ali, on 15 January 2011 and the Egyptian autocrat, Hosni Mubarak, on 11 February 2011 was largely peaceful. But the protesters in Libya resorted to arms within a day or two of their uprising in Benghazi on 15 February. It is well known that one of the leading groups in what has evolved into a full-scale rebellion is a well-armed militia, the National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL). The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) is another militant outfit, some of whose founders were veterans from the struggle against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, that is playing a critical role in the rebellion. It is reportedly linked to Al-Qaeda. In Syria too, right from the outset, militant organisations had infiltrated peaceful demonstrations and fired upon civilians and security forces alike, killing more than 80 senior military personnel. Some elements in the protest movement in Yemen which at the beginning was peaceful have also begun to resort to violence.


The other trend which has tarnished the Arab Uprising is the interference of regional actors in the revolts and rebellions that are occurring in individual states. The most blatant was of course the entry of troops from Saudi Arabia at the head of a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) military force into Bahrain on 14 March 2011 to put down a popular uprising supported by the majority Shiite population against the Sunni Bahraini monarch, Shiekh Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa. The brutal suppression of a peaceful movement for basic human rights and democracy ― 52 civilians were massacred ― has been a severe setback for the Uprising as a whole. But Saudi officials insist that it is 139

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Shiite Iran that is instigating the protest in Bahrain. Turning to another kingdom in the region, Qatar has been giving military and financial assistance to the rebels in Libya. It is alleged that Syrian protesters are being armed and funded by Bandar Sultan of Saudi Arabia and Saad Hariri in Lebanon.

The motives behind interference and manipulation by individuals, groups and states are not difficult to discern. The Saudi-GCC move into Bahrain was to preserve the status quo in Bahrain for fear that democratisation of the Sheikhdom would undermine the Saudi Ruler’s absolute power in his own kingdom especially since there is a restive Shiite minority in his eastern province. Qatar’s role in the Libyan rebellion has nothing to do with democracy since Qatar is an absolute monarchy with the Emir exercising total suzerainty over the Emirate’s oil. By supporting the rebels, Qatar is actually acting at the behest of Western powers that are determined to affect a regime change in Libya. Qatar is after all a close US military ally whose air-base is used by the US for its operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Qatar also has commercial ties with Israel. It is partly because they are pursuing the agenda of Western powers and Israel vis-à-vis Syria that Sultan and Hariri are actively engaged in fomenting unrest in that country. For Hariri in particular it is also a question of hitting back at Syrian President, Bashar Assad, for allegedly manoeuvring him out of office in Beirut.

Western Powers

If manipulations and manoeuvres by regional players have impacted adversely upon the Arab Uprising it is largely because they are intertwined ― as we have seen ― with the interests of certain Western powers. This is the third negative trend that should concern us.

It is alleged, for instance, that the NFSL is funded by the CIA and French

Intelligence. France, Britain, the US and other Western countries such as Italy, Spain, Portugal and Canada have gone beyond imposing a ‘No Fly Zone’ upon Libya to attempting to eliminate Gadaffi physically. His youngest son, Saif al-Arab, and three grandchildren, killed in a NATO air-strike on 30 April, have become the tragic victims of this diabolical assassination plan. In Syria, evidence has surfaced to show that the US has 140

WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings been financing opposition groups, “including a satellite TV channel beaming anti-regime programmes into the country.” The London- based Barada TV channel which began broadcasting in April 2009 is linked to a London-based network of exiles, the Movement for Justice and Development, which has received as much as US 6 million dollars from the US State Department since 2006. In Yemen, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco and Algeria, where there is ― or there was ― unrest in some form or other, Western powers are involved, directly or obliquely, in ensuring that the eventual outcome would be in their favour. As a case in point, in Yemen, the US, it is alleged, is trying very hard to persuade the President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, an ally, to step down and hand over power to a leadership inclined towards the US. The GCC, a grouping that is closely aligned to the US and the West, is helping the US in this scheme. Even in Tunisia and Egypt, the US, working through individuals and groups in various institutions and segments of society, is determined to ensure that its interests and the interests of Israel will be preserved and perpetuated in the emerging democratic scenarios in the two countries.


What are those interests that the US elite and other Western elites are determined to protect at all costs? They are not homogeneous though they revolve around some recurring themes. In the case of Libya, for Europe, more than the US, the desire to control the country’s huge oil and gas reserves is a factor. For the US, which has denied vehemently that it harbours any strategic designs vis-a-vis Libya, the latter’s critical role in facilitating China’s access to its own oil and gas and the energy resources of other African states is an important consideration. Since access to energy would be sine qua con for China’s ascendancy as a global power, the US which fears this new reality is going all out to control the flow of oil and gas in China’s direction. According to Paul Craig Roberts, a former senior US government official, “China has extensive energy investments and construction investments in Libya. They are looking to Africa as a future energy source.” Besides, Gadaffi has, in recent months, intensified his mobilisation of African states to form a sort of United States of Africa which will resist Western 141

WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings exploitation of the continent’s vast natural resources. This would run counter to the Pentagon’s idea of an African Command (Africom) launched in 2007. With Syria, US and other Western elites are unhappy that the Bashar Assad government remains a “resistance state” opposed to the unjust Israeli occupation of Arab lands. Because it has close ties to the Hezbollah in Lebanon which is now in the driver’s seat in Beirut, and is also an ally of the Iranian government ― both of which are in the crosshairs of Washington and Tel Aviv ― Syria has become a threat to the US and Israeli drive for hegemony over the region. Israel and the West would prefer a government in Damascus that would be more accommodative of their dominance. The US’s primary concern in Yemen is to ensure that the strategic port of Eden is under the watchful eye of a reliable ally while it would like to see Bahrain remain in the grip of the Khalifa family mainly because the island is the home of the US fifth fleet. Saudi Arabia is of critical importance to the US and Israel not only because of its mammoth oil reserves but also because it is a huge importer of US weapons. This is why the US is determined to keep the King on his throne. Some of the same considerations ― albeit on a lower scale ― apply to Qatar and Kuwait. Egypt and Jordan are crucial because both have signed peace treaties with Israel.

Oil, Israel, China, geostrategic interests, and weapons are the five reasons why the US and its western allies are hell-bent on shaping the Arab Uprising to fulfil their agenda. This is why there is so much meddling and interference on their part. It explains their military intervention in Libya. Some analysts would argue that the West is staging a “counter –revolution” to the Arab Uprising, with the connivance and collusion of their Arab allies and clients.


How should we respond this challenge? More and more governments and civil society organisations should speak up and make it lucidly clear to the US and its NATO allies, the Gaddafi government and all the opposition groups that there is no military solution in Libya. A ceasefire should be declared at once. It should be observed by everyone under the supervision of international observers. The African Union and Turkish peace plans 142

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which have many similarities should be revived with some modifications, and merged. Apart from opening a humanitarian corridor in the country through which aid will be transported to all those in dire need, the emphasis should be upon building institutions for a viable, sustainable democracy. At the same time, the merged peace plan should contain provisions for the departure of Gaddafi and his family. Given the terrible atrocities the dictator has committed against his own people and others over decades ― atrocities which now outweigh the good that he has done ― there is no other option. One hopes that after the exit of the Gaddafi family and its cronies, a free and fair election in Libya will produce a leadership that is not only honest and accountable but also one that will defend and protect the nation’s sovereignty and independence. It should not be subservient to Western powers or other powers for that matter.

In the case of Syria too, the citizens of the world have a role to play. They should demand, in unequivocal language, that the US, Britain, France, Israel, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia stop immediately their machinations and manipulations. It is the people of Syria who will determine the destiny of their nation. The Bashar Assad government for its part should hasten the meaningful reforms it has promised the people in recent weeks. Many of these reforms have not been translated into action. Other laws that are in the offing related to local administration elections, the formation of political parties, and the freedom of the media, should be expedited. Indeed, Bashar should go beyond these reforms and announce publicly that there will be a democratic Presidential Election before the end of this year and he is prepared to defend his presidency in an open contest. At the same time, he should realise that while he has the right as Syria’s legitimate President to act firmly against murderous militias, his security forces should exercise maximum restraint when faced with peaceful, unarmed protesters. The killing of such protesters is totally unacceptable to the human conscience. It is this that provides fodder to Western governments that are so eager to intervene in Syria in pursuit of their own nefarious agenda. These humble suggestions on how we can respond to the challenge posed by a “counterrevolution” engineered by certain Western powers and their Arab allies, especially in the 143

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context of Libya and Syria, are being made in the hope that the Arab Uprising can still be saved. If the Arab Uprising can be returned to its pristine ideals, it will emerge once again, as a genuine struggle by a people determined to re-affirm their dignity and their humanity.

3 May 2011.


WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings


WAR IN WANA: A THREAT TO HUMANITY Any conflict in West Asia and North Africa (WANA) is a threat to world peace. For WANA is of tremendous strategic, economic, political and religious significance to the whole of humanity. This is why it is the responsibility of the entire human family to ensure that war does not break out in that region.

Why is WANA of such great importance? One, it is the only region in the world where three continents — Asia, Africa and Europe — meet. WANA is home to some of the world’s most critical sea routes and most strategic waterways, including the Mediterranean, the Suez, the Persian Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz. Two, WANA is the world’s major oil exporting region. And oil is the life-blood of contemporary civilisation. The majority of OPEC (the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries) members are in WANA.

Three, most of the wars that have shaken the world since World War II have occurred in WANA. The Israel-Arab conflicts, Israeli aggression against the Palestinians, Israel’s invasions of Lebanon, the Suez War, the Iraq- Iran War, the Kuwait War, the AngloAmerican invasion and occupation of Iraq, and the NATO-led assault upon Libya would be the outstanding examples. Needless to say, millions of lives have been lost in these wars.

Four, at the epicentre of many of these wars, it is so obvious, is Israel— a state created by a Western dominated United Nations in 1948, in violation of the UN’s own Charter. The manner in which Israel has perpetuated its presence and its power through 145

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occupation of Palestinian and Arab lands, and the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people, has been a huge source of instability and perpetual conflict in WANA. The current escalation of tensions over Syria and Iran, engineered to a considerable degree by the US and certain other Western states, aided and abetted by their regional allies and proxies, is also directly linked to Israel’s geopolitical agenda.

Five, there have been other conflicts in the region from Suez in 1956 to Libya in 2011, in which Western imperial powers have sought to impose their will upon WANA through massive military operations. The conquest of Iraq in 2003, motivated by oil and Israel, was the most blatant and brazen of these. Imperial hubris aside, the tussle among states within WANA aspiring for regional supremacy sometimes in cahoots with Western powers, has also been a cause of conflict. The Iraq-Iran War from 1980 to 1988 would be a classic case in point. The Islamic Revolution in Iran of 1979 was perceived by a number of other states in WANA as a challenge to their power and led to an unprecedented galvanisation of both absolute monarchies and autocratic republics under the leadership of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein aimed at thwarting the nascent revolution. There are shades of that episode in the unfolding mobilisation of various Arab states and Turkey against Iran and Syria today. Saudi Arabia is once again playing a crucial role just as tiny but fabulously rich Qatar is flexing its muscles. Turkey, vying for dominance, is clearly targeting Iran.

Six, intertwined in these conflicts are religious dichotomies which have occasionally intensified the antagonism between the political actors. The Sunni-Shia dichotomy is one such fault-line which has been exploited by various forces in a number of countries in WANA from Lebanon and Iraq to Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. In the targeting of the Syrian leadership and Iran, this issue is also being manipulated. In fact, the whole spectrum of theological-cum-ideological positions in Islam, ranging from ultraconservative Wahabi thinking to universal, inclusive approaches associated with progressive elements in the religion have come to the fore through various conflicts in the region. Today, through the electoral process, political parties that have evolved from the pan-Arab Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan-ul- Muslimin) have emerged as front-runners in 146

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Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt, setting the stage perhaps for a re-definition of the role of Islam in public life and its relationship with the centres of power in the West which may have repercussions for politics in WANA.

Seven, WANA conflicts have also impacted upon the ethnic and religious minorities in the region. The position of the Kurdish minority remains vexatious especially in Turkey and to a lesser extent, in Iraq, Syria and Iran. It colours inter-state politics. Equally important is the situation facing the Christian minority in the region. It is a dwindling minority. In Palestine, Israeli occupation is the main cause. In Iraq, it is alleged that about 400,000 ― almost half the entire Christian population ― have left the country since the Anglo-American invasion partly because of the pressures arising from the resulting chaos, and partly because of the aggressive proselytization of some Christian evangelists which has rendered the ancient Christian community in Iraq vulnerable to the bigoted hostility of Muslim extremists. In Egypt, Christians are also being subjected to physical attacks allegedly by an extremist fringe within the Muslim majority.

It is only too apparent that WANA is a region fraught with great dangers. Each and every one of these dangers can fuel horrendous upheavals capable of enflaming the entire region. Hence, the significance of the JUST signature campaign to persuade people everywhere to oppose foreign military intervention in Syria or military strikes against Iran. Please visit the JUST website www.just-international.org to support the campaign.

15 December 2011.

POSTSCRIPT The JUST campaign referred to above was launched in December 2011 and lasted seven months. It elicited a lukewarm response from the online community. Nonetheless, the worldwide opposition to military strikes against Syria which was one of the main reasons why President Barack Obama refrained from proceeding with his September 2013 plan


WHITHER WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings

to attack the country proved that the JUST stance was in consonance with the conscience of humanity.

6 December 2013.


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