Ottoman Soft Power • Realizing a Nation’s Potential • Europa Europa
Issue 1551 5 April 2010
Iraq’s Grave Crisis
The Bitter Fruits of the US Invasion By Fawaz Gerges
Issue 1551 - 5 April 2010
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Issue 1551 - 5 April 2010
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Dear Readers, pril is an exciting month for the Majalla magazine. It is the first time we bring to you our international print edition. The international edition comprises a selection of articles we publish throughout the month in our weekly digital edition but also includes supplementary articles written exclusively for print. As you read through our international edition you will find that the articles are organized by theme. From sections like The Art of War, The Wealth of Nations and The Human Condition, the international edition seeks to present you, our readers, a concise critical analysis on the various factors that shape the Middle East and the world today. In this edition we feature Fawaz Gerges’ piece on the Iraq elections. In Iraq’s Grave Crisis: The Bitter Fruits of the US invasion Gerges, Professor of Middle Eastern Politics and International Relations at the London School of Economics, argues that the successful creation of a cross-sectarian coalition is indispensable for guaranteeing the success of Iraq’s democracy. In addition, our international issue also brings to you an evaluation of development policy in Egypt with Noam Schimmel’s opinion piece entitled Everything But A Game: Responding to Child Poverty in Egypt. New to the magazine is also the Country Brief, a snapshot of one featured country with the aim of contextualizing current affairs in the country’s rich history. This month, our country of choice is Pakistan. The range of articles covered in our international edition is extensive in scope and in depth. We hope that you find it lives up to our goal of remaining the Leading Arab Magazine by contributing to greater debates in the media. As always we invite you to read these articles and much more on our website at Majalla.com/en.
Sincerely, Adel Al Toraiﬁ Editor-in-Chief
This month’s contributors: Caryle Murphy is an independent journalist based in Saudi Arabia. A long-time reporter for the Washington Post, Murphy was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting (1991) and the George Polk Award for Foreign Reporting (1990) for her coverage of Iraqioccupied Kuwait and subsequent 1990-91 Gulf War. She is the author of Passion for Islam, which explores Islam’s contemporary revival and the roots of religious extremism in the Middle East. Published by Scribner, the book examines Islam’s resurgence through the prism of Egypt, where Murphy lived for five years. Fawaz Gerges is a professor of Middle Eastern Politics and International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He earned a doctorate from Oxford University, and taught at Oxford, Harvard, and Columbia, and was a research scholar at Princeton and chairholder at Sarah Lawrence College, New York. Gerges is the author of Journey of the Jihadist: Inside Muslim Militancy (Harcourt Press, 2007), The Far Enemy: Why Jihad Went Global (Cambridge University Press, 2005) and is currently writing a book tentatively titled The Making of the Arab World: From Nasser to Nasrallah. Gerges has written articles and editorials in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, among many others. Hugh Pope is currently based in Istanbul with the International Crisis Group. Previously he was a staff correspondent for The Wall Street Journal covering the broader Middle East for a decade. He has lectured widely on the Turkic world, including at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. Pope is the author of Sons of the Conquerors, one of The Economist’s Best Books of the Year, Turkey Unveiled, a New York Times Notable Book and, most recently, of Dining with Al-Qaeda: Three Decades Exploring the Many Worlds of the Middle East. Jon B. Alterman is director and senior fellow of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC. He served as a member of the Policy Planning Staff at the US Department of State and as a special assistant to the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs. He is a member of the Chief of Naval Operations Executive Panel and served as an expert adviser to the Iraq Study Group (also known as the Baker-Hamilton Commission). In addition to his policy work, he teaches Middle Eastern studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and the George Washington University. From 1993 to 1997, Alterman was an award-winning teacher at Harvard University, where he received his Ph.D. in history.
CONTENTS April 2010 Quotes of the Month The Art of War
There are significant parallels between Ahmadinejad and Kubrik’s most memorable character, Dr. Strangelove. Dr. Strangelove was an extremely trigger-happy, suspiciously double-talking character that so many in 1960s America feared—the same kind of characterization, in fact, that many in the Western media have now branded upon Ahmadinejad. But is there really a madman lurking far beneath the placid surface of Iran’s President? Has Ahmadinejad finally and inexorably stopped worrying, and learned to love the bomb?
And why it should be a mission for Pakistan
Issue 1551 - 5 April 2010
Turkey’s importance in the Middle East is growing, both at the economic level—its economy is already more than half the size of the whole of the Middle East and North African region—but also politically. With EU membership still in sight, Turkey is using the same ideas that brought stability to post-Second World War Europe in an effort to calm the bitter divisions of the Middle East.
The Wealth of Nations
Turkey’s accession to the EU Although Turkey’s attempts at accession to the European Union have been replete with hurdles, Turkey has in effect benefited greatly from complying with these requirements. In Turkey’s attempts to gain accession to the EU, it has vastly improved its political and economic institutions. Further requirements for accession, particularly the aquis communautaire, stand to offer Turkey’s institutions the same if not more benefits than other reforms.
No Quick Fixes Jon Alterman
A Good Neighborly Idea
The Union of the Mediterranean Andrés Cala
Why the US should seek a regional solution for Yemen
The Bitter Fruits of the US Invasion The world is watching as the final votes are counted in Iraq’s latest election. The polls have closed, but the hard part is still to come. AlMalaki and Allawi, the two principal contestants now need to form a coalition government for the smooth transition of leadership. Balloting so far has been marked by acute sectarian polarisation in Shiite-Sunni allegiance. The formation of a cross-sectarian coalition government will ultimately dictate the success of Iraqi democracy. Failure to negotiate may result in a relapse into sectarian violence and even military takeover.
Getting to Grips with the Quetta Shura
Ottoman Soft Power
Iraq’s Grave Crisis Fawaz Gerges
Meles Zenawi Prime Minister of Ethiopia
Two Sides of the Same Coin
Dr. Ahmadinejad: How I stopped worrying and learned to love the bomb Amar Toor
The Future Remains Unwritten
Does the Doha Round still have a future? Roderick Abbott
Investing in Foreign Land
A food-security calculus or sound commercial logic? Valentin Zahrnt
Time to Invest?
A Thousand Words Candid Conversations
Greek Papers and Contingent Convertible’s Investment Edward Bowles
Dr Anne Marie Slaughter, Director of Policy Planning at the United States Department of State Stephen Glain
Dr Anne Marie Slaughter, the current Director of Policy Planning at the US State Department, talked to The Majalla about the Obama’s Administration unfinished business in the Middle East, the growing U.S. tensions with China, and the challenges to statecraft in an election year.
The News Behind the Graph
The Future of Democracy in the Middle East
Daniel Brumberg, acting Director of the United States Institute of Peace’s Muslim World Initiative.
The Human Condition
Realizing a Nation’s Potential
The reform and expansion of the Saudi education system is a crucial endeavour to address the Kingdom’s social, demographic and economic longterm challenges. It is no easy task, and to achieve it a three fold recipe is required—strong leadership, patience, and persistence.
Protecting Marianne Or why the ban is about French identity and not the rights of women Paula Mejia
Everything But A Game
Responding to Child Poverty in Egypt Noam Schimmel
The Islamic Republic of Pakistan
Behind Iraq’s Sectarianism
The Edge of Darkness
An Inside Job 07
OF THE MONTH
"It would be civil war, absolutely no doubt," said Falah al-Naqib, a member of the Iraqiya political bloc who won a seat regarding the Accountability and Justice Commission’s decision to contest the electoral victories of candidates they claim were liked to Saddam Hussein’s Baath party. “I am deeply saddened and outraged…” said President Obama about the news of the murders of three people associated with the US Consulate in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, where at least 18,000 people have been killed since 2006 in gang and drug related violence. “The Afghans have suffered for decades, decades of war, but we are here to help Afghans forge a hard-won peace... and we want to build a lasting partnership founded upon mutual interest and mutual respect,” said President Obama during his surprise visit to Afghanistan. "We know they're lying low, but it's a matter of honour for law enforcement bodies to scrape them from the bottom of the sewers and into the daylight," said Prime Minister Putin of the Moscow metro bombings. "Iran is interfering quite heavily and this is worrying" was Mr. Allawi’s response to Iran’s decision of interfering in the elections by inviting all the parties to Tehran for talks except for Allawi’s Iraqiya bloc. “That is our challenge in New York -- not to rebuild but to 'build back better,' to create a new Haiti," said Secretary Ban Ki Moon on the UN’s plans to aid Haiti after the devastating earthquake that hit the country in January.
Issue 1551 - 5 April 2010
“We cannot resume indirect negotiations as long as Israel maintains its settlement policy and the status quo," said Abbas concerning the prospect of proximity talks with Israel. “I believe China has missed an opportunity to demonstrate to the world at large transparency that would be consistent with its emerging global role," said Prime Minister Rudd of Australia over the Rio Tinto case.
How I Stopped Worrying
And Learned To Love The Bomb
There are significant parallels between Ahmadinejad and Kubrik’s most memorable character, Dr. Strangelove. Dr. Strangelove was an extremely trigger-happy, suspiciously doubletalking character that so many in 1960s America feared—the same kind of characterization, in fact, that many in the Western media have now branded upon Ahmadinejad. But is there really a madman lurking far beneath the placid surface of Iran’s President? Has Ahmadinejad finally and inexorably stopped worrying, and learned to love the bomb?
S llustration © Amjad Rasmi
By Amar Toor
tanley Kubrick’s classic 1964 film Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb places some of the most morbid Cold War-era nuclear fears and attitudes under a searing satirical lens of stygian-black comedy. Released at the zenith of Cold War frigidity and paranoia, Strangelove tells the story of a rogue US general who, having apparently lost his mind, suddenly pulls the trigger on a fleet of nuclear warheads aimed at Communist Russia, threatening global extinction. The nuclear hysteria upon which Kubrick based his satirical film has certainly died out, but many of the core nuclear fears at which Kubrick takes such deft jabs are still very much at the center of international discourse. Nowhere are they more pertinent than in Iran, where the Islamic Republic has, justifiably or not, stepped into the Soviet Union’s gargantuan shoes as the newest nuclear threat to mankind. 09
The Art of War
Strangelove in Iran More than 40 years later, both the film and its message, are as resonant in today’s cavernous media amphitheatre as they were at the height of Cold War tensions. As global attention centers ever more intensely on Iran and its apparent push toward nuclear armament, the principle personages, as in any film or narrative structure, have gradually come into more refined relief. And, as the line dividing media consumers from producers blurs to nearly indiscernible levels of turbidity, we all become atomized Truffauts, Kubricks, or, as the case may be, David Lynches. We read and construct media the same way any director, screenwriter, or novelist structures a narrative— namely, around easily identifiable characters and personalities.
Strangelove. In what may be the most economically brilliant performance in cinematic history, Peter Sellers brings to life a character so profoundly enigmatic, so anomalously German, and so inarguably deviant that one can’t help but be lulled into the hypnotic spider web that Sellers casts across the screen. Granted, Strangelove is no head of state—no nation, no matter how desperate, would be that suicidal. And Sellers’ portrayal is unquestionably more demonstrative and exaggerated than anything we’ve seen from Ahmadinejad in the public sphere. But circumstantial differences aside, there remain several significant parallels. Even though he’s technically working under the American regime, Strangelove is plainly cast as an extreme caricature of the same trigger-happy, suspiciously double-talking character that so many in 1960s America feared—the same kind of characterization, in fact, that many in the Western media have now branded upon Ahmadinejad. But is there really a madman lurking far beneath the placid surface of Iran’s President? Has Ahmadinejad finally and inexorably stopped worrying, and learned to love the bomb?
Issue 1551 - 5 April 2010
On occasion, Ahmadinejad has displayed curiously contradictory behavior, and has given us brief, puzzling glimpses into a more complex individual
Heads of state become leitmotif shorthand for countries, populations, and policies. Barack Obama is as synonymous with the US as Paul McCartney once was with The Beatles, as Charlton Heston was with Ben-Hur, as Rush Limbaugh will forever be with Oxycontin. We impose cinematic and literary archetypes on to political storyboards because character-driven tales are, quite simply, more exciting to read. The Iranian political landscape may be complex and multifarious, but it’s not immune to our own storytelling devices. Although the country’s political architecture is actually anchored by a triumvirate of theocratic, presidential and militaristic constituent regimes, the “face” of Iran, the singular personage that’s emerged as its representative actor, its foremost team captain, is, without question, President Ahmadinejad. But what kind of character is he? Where does he fit in the current political drama that we as media consumers have constructed for ourselves? What role does he fulfill? Does he have the onscreen charisma and James Dean-like swagger to actually carry our nuclear film? Or is he more of a niche character, deigned to play a small, predictable role but do it to absolute perfection, à la Jerry Orbach?
Is he, perhaps, the Dr. Strangelove of the 21st century? Though he makes only a handful of appearances onscreen, Kubrick’s most memorable character, by far, is the film’s namesake—the deranged (and ambiguously Nazi) scientist known only as 10
Dr. Ahmadinejad Everything about Ahmadinejad—the man and the fable—speaks to relative normalcy; relative, obviously, because compared to other leaders of either perceived or real nuclear threats, he comes across as, well…tame. North Korean President Kim Jong-Il is, by most accounts, certifiably insane. Both his promethean ego and his diminutive embonpoint suggest dictatorial tendencies and inferiority complexes of the Napoleonic variety. The man known domestically as “Dear Leader” has manicured such an absurd myth about his messianic origins that the official North Korean records describe his momentous birth on Mount Paektu as a near biblical event peppered with “flashes of light and thunder,” upon which “the iceberg in the pond of Mount Paektu emitted a mysterious sound as it broke, and bright double rainbows rose up.” When Kim Jong-Il boasts of his nuclear warhead collection, there’s indeed a measured and understandable ripple effect of concern that radiates throughout the international community. But no one’s really that surprised. After all, Dear Leader simultaneously claims, in all seriousness, to have drilled 11 holes-in-one the first time he ever picked up a golf club. There don’t seem to be any traces of similarly inflated egomaniacal nucleotides in Ahmadinejad’s DNA. There doesn’t even appear to be much of the
The Art of War
Peter Sellers as Dr Strangelove
showmanship that has become the global calling cards of both Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and Libya’s Muammar al-Qadaffi. Ahmadinejad’s stage presence, by comparison, is borderline soporific. While his plaintive eyebrows and densely compact eyes render him low hanging fruit for political cartoonists, Ahmedinejad’s actual behavior, at first glance, seems downright vanilla. This is a man, after all, who ascended to high political office on the wings of plebeianism. His entire campaign was built upon the premise that he was just “one of the guys,” a man with the same blue-collar origins of the working class Iranians to whom he so openly pandered during his 2005 presidential election. He further strengthened his populist credo and symbolically reinforced his commitment to the conservative working class by famously removing the opulent furniture in the presidential palace and replacing it with more acceptably modest pieces. His wife still packs him lunch every day. Calling his suits “modest” is like calling Rembrandt “talented.” Cut out of a martinet’s cloth, the staunchly conservative Ahmadinejad represented an orthogonal right turn from the socially moderate regimes that preceded him. On occasion, however, Ahmadinejad has displayed curiously contradictory behavior, and has given us brief, puzzling glimpses into a more complex individual. The same man who ushered in a new era of social conservatism is also the man who, last summer, so tirelessly stood by his initial choice for First Vice President, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei. The move upset not only the Supreme Leader, who immediately ordered his resignation, but also irked many in his conservative base who weren’t so keen on a high elected official who’d previously been videotaped
enjoying a wholly inappropriate dance performance put on by Turkish women. Ahmadinejad, the “man of the people,” also happens to be the same man who infamously claimed that a halo-like light hovered over his head during a 2005 speech at the UN. He maintains, furthermore, that every world leader present for the speech did not blink for the entire 27-minute duration. These are hardly words you’d expect from a supposedly austere, religious conservative, or, for that matter, from a man of science with a PhD in engineering—both of which Ahmadinejad claims to be. Despite these wrinkles, though, he continues, in speech and in public, to hold to his self-perpetuated image of normalcy. More importantly, when compared to many of the same men with whom he’s often mentioned in the same breath, he still comes across as the only relatively coherent member of the group. For all his quirks, he’s still nowhere near as volatile (or senile?) as Kim Jong-Il. And you definitely won’t see him dressed like the veritable Austin Powers extra that Qadaffi has become. So why is the international community so incensed over someone so relatively normal? Could it be because of this normalcy? Is the West warier of Ahmadinejad’s more calculated game of double talk and duality than they are of North Korea’s impulsive dear leader? It’s a reasonable explanation; a cagey, mysterious adversary, after all, is always worthy of attention, in any forum. And a cagey, mysterious adversary with nuclear capabilities is worthy of extra attention. But does it necessarily make him another Strangelove? Do nuclear capabilities have the transformative power to turn an otherwise sibylline world leader into a spastic, charlatan of an antagonist? The answer, of course, depends on the fiction we 11
The Art of War construct around Ahmadinejad’s nuclear ambitions, the editing and splicing we use to piece together the story, and the creative license with which we allow ourselves to do so. However unique each iteration may be, each auteur remains restricted to the same material, the same constituent bits of reality with which to assemble the Ahmadinejad mosaic. And only in examining each individual piece of radioactive mini-narrative can we even hope to remove the veil, and unearth the true Strangelove or Regular Joe buried underneath below.
Issue 1551 - 5 April 2010
How He Learned to Stop Worrying… and Love the Bomb? At some point over the course of his presidency, Ahmadinejad, like the blundering characters in Strangelove, simply stopped worrying. While he hasn’t done anything as drastic as pulling the trigger on a nuclear warhead, his nuclear rhetoric has certainly become more emboldened and, at times, brazenly confrontational. Ahmadinejad is certainly not responsible for planting the seeds of uranium enrichment in Iran, but during his time as president, they’ve blossomed like never before. After a group of exiles revealed that Iran had resumed uranium enrichment activities that had laid dormant ever since the 1979 Revolution, thenPresident Mohammed Khatami confirmed in 2003 that the country had been secretly working since 1985 to develop a nuclear fuel cycle, thus setting in motion the international cat and mouse game of inspections and sanctions that’s still in full swing today. While Iran was embarrassingly forced to import gasoline in 2007 due to insufficient infrastructure to refine its abundant supply of oil, Ahmadinejad pushed full steam ahead with his nuclear program, while disclosing the details of the endeavor on a piecemeal basis to the rest of the world. After deciding to hold a guided and highly publicized tour of the new Natanz uranium enrichment facility in April of 2008, even in the face of mounting sanctions handed down from the UN Security Council, Ahmadinejad appeared to be more contumacious than ever. Just last month, at a ceremony celebrating the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, Ahmadinejad not only proudly declared Iran a “nuclear state,” but had some carefully articulated words for concerned Western powers, as well. As some demonstrators in attendance shouted chants of “Death to the dictator!”, the President, from atop a flower-adorned platform, asked the West to “please pay attention and understand that the people of Iran are brave enough that if it wants to build a bomb it will clearly announce it and build it and not be afraid of you.” He went on to assert, “When we say we won’t build it that means we won’t.” Iran has claimed, on numerous occasions, that 12
they’ve cooperated with all of the UN inspections requirements and documentation. Inspectors, on the other hand, say they haven’t had any news from Iran since mid-2008. According to a recently publicized February 14th report from the IAEA, Iran has now decided to move its entire stockpile of enriched nuclear fuel to an above-ground location—just a few months after claiming that they had no choice but to build an underground nuclear facility near Qum, because of the ever present threat of attack. The anomalous move struck many as bizarre, and led to speculations that the Islamic Republic might be baiting Israel into striking the facility, as a means of unifying its suddenly divided electorate. Others, meanwhile, have hypothesized that the move was intended as yet another bold confrontation with the West, in an attempt to gain leverage in future diplomatic negotiations. As he’s done all along, whenever the currency of clarity and forthrightness are at an all-time high, Ahmadinejad continues to sit idly by, and let the speculation foment.
Dr. Strangelove? Or Dr. Strange? So, is Ahmadinejad today’s Strangelove? Not exactly. Does he aspire, in some way, to step into Sellers’ role of mad nuclear scientist? Not quite. But is he as enigmatic and curiously placed as Kubrick’s zany creation? Absolutely. Then again, though, so is all of Iran.
Ahmadinejad may raise eyebrows. He’s unquestionably controversial, and eternally enigmatic. At the end of the day, though, he’s no Dr. Strangelove
In many ways, Ahmadinejad and his life stand as a microcosm of the current state of Iran. His persona, like Iran’s nuclear and foreign policies, is one shrouded in a miasma of mystery. His statements are often schizophrenic and contradictory, reflective of a state caught in the vortex between the pull of religious conservatism and the ongoing push toward Western ideals of modernity. Like Strangelove on screen, Ahmedinejad occupies a strange and peculiarly precarious space in the international political fiction we’ve engineered around Iran. We’re never sure how much sway Strangelove has over the US administration, and we’ll never know the extent of Ahmadinejad’s influence in Iran, either. He’s neither an absolute authority, nor a Wizard of Oz, relegated to rote, behind-the-curtain duties.
The Art of War And, as with Strangelove, he’s a nearly impossible character to decode. Much as the true extent of Iran’s nuclear progress remains encased in an obscure box of arcanum, so too does the “true” character of Ahmadinejad remain blurred. As with every major politician, it’s become virtually impossible to separate the three-dimensional human from the twodimensional image. Even if we tried to derive a “pure” idea of Ahmadinejad’s actual intentions, we would have to disentangle the complex web of power relations that govern the Iranian presidency, the Supreme Leader, and the Supreme National Security Council. Even the most advanced econometric evidence would be hard pressed to isolate a pure “Ahmadinejad factor” in the three-headed consensus-based process that dictates Iran’s foreign policy. As in any film, though, we, as viewers, must sacrifice some basic level of objectivity. The only clay with which we can mold a character is the raw material before us—what we see on-screen, or read across headlines. While we can certainly deduce much from Ahmadinejad’s actions, circumstantial context remains paramount. The rhetoric may be fiery, and his speeches may be hawkish, but it’s critical to place Ahmadinejad’s recent actions within the recently transformed mise-en-scene against which he’s placed.
Ahmadinejad as Wallflower Last July, for the first time in decades, Iranian discontent coagulated and manifested itself as palpable action. Now, barely seven months removed from this rupture, Ahmadinejad’s back is pressed squarely against the wall. The Iranian regime last summer perhaps heard the ominous drone of what Roger Cohen described as “the death knell of an ossified post-revolutionary order.” In response, the Iranian leadership has turned to the haven of uranium enrichment. In ramping up the program, and, more importantly, ramping up his promotion of the program, Ahmadinejad and his brass have made their intentions blatantly clear. A “nuclear state,” in their eyes, is a world player. By their ratiocination, a state that “goes nuclear” against the wishes of nearly every other government is even more fiercely autonomous. Iran, like a gambler watching his chips dwindle, has now put everything on the table, and has begun chanting an interminable chorus of “Hit me!”—even as the Obamas, Sarkozys and Merkels perched around the blackjack table shake their heads. Whether or not Iran actually plans on using enriched uranium for militaristic purposes remains unknown—perhaps even to Iran’s own leadership. By Ahmadinejad’s quasi-Buddhist philosophy, the journey seems to outweigh the destination. It seems that, for him, simply attaining, or even attempting to attain nuclear capacities might be enough of a
roborant to restore a state that’s recently shown signs of frangibility. The worry, however, is that simply building capacity won’t be enough, and that only international confrontation, induced either passively or actively, will placate an administration intent upon regaining control over its country.
Defusing the Doctor? We probably shouldn’t spend too much time constructing doomsday endings for our Iranian film script just yet. If anything, we should take solace in the fact that we’re not dealing with a Strangelove, but simply with a man and a country that, at the moment, are at a uniquely transitory inflection point in their respective evolutionary arcs—a prolonged mid-life crisis, if you will. Does this mean we should treat the threat of a nuclear Iran as nonchalantly as Kubrick does? No. We should, however, always keep ourselves firmly grounded in the truth serum of context, and realize that Ahmadinejad and Iran, while certainly playing up the role of defiant adolescent to the West’s solicitous parent, are not de facto dangers. Nor should we expect to see a transparent Ahmadinejad anytime soon. Opaque intentions shielded behind a poker-faced President only raise Iran’s bargaining value at the card table of international diplomacy. Much like Peter Sellers, Iran’s president is perfectly capable of playing numerous archetypes, and of sliding seamlessly between his blue-collar “man of the people” and his authoritarian “man of The Man” roles. At the end of Strangelove, the wheelchair bound doctor suddenly finds the will to walk, and famously exclaims, “Mein Fuhrer! I can walk!” just as the warheads zero in on Russia. Don’t expect a similar 180 from the Iranian President. Ahmadinejad may raise eyebrows. He’s unquestionably controversial, and eternally enigmatic. At the end of the day, though, he’s no Dr. Strangelove. He’s just another strange doctor, caught in a strange period of upheaval. When we eventually debunk the myth of “Ahmadinejad as Madman,” we’ll all be able to stop worrying, and, perhaps, begin reconsidering the “bomb” at the epicenter of our Iranian screenplay.
Amar Toor is a Paris-based freelance writer and consultant at the OECD. The views expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not reflect the policy or views of the OECD. This article was first published in The Majalla 6 February 2010 A version of this article was also published by CNN
The Art of War
Getting to Grips
with the Quetta Shura
Issue 1551 - 5 April 2010
And why it should be a mission for Pakistan
Though it was never a secret that the Afghan Taliban leadership uses Quetta as its base, from where it makes its strategic planning, only recently has the US placed it on the top of its agenda. Yet, an American intervention in Quetta can become costly, for both the US and Pakistan. The US should let Pakistan deal with Mullah Omar and his peers.
aking a quick look at a map of Pakistan one can easily grasp that the Balochistan province, one of the four that constitute Pakistan, is almost half of the country’s territory. In spite of its size, this scarcely populated province doesn’t usually make headlines in the West. This is somewhat intriguing given that its capital Quetta is well-known in the West for being the home of the Afghan Taliban leadership, the Quetta Shura, for almost 9 years now. This fact 14
By Manuel Almeida was never a big secret in the region and beyond, which raises the question of why the fight against the Taliban insurgency was not extended to Balochistan. The region of Balochistan is comprised by parts of territory of Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Sentiments of separatism have long been present, both in the Iranian and Pakistani parts of Balochistan. Indeed, revolt against the central authority of Islamabad has been in place since Pakistan’s independence in 1947. Today, there are several separatist/nationalist groups that fight against the Pakistani government. The Balochs’ sources of resentment towards the successive
The Art of War governments in Islamabad are complex. On the one hand, some tribal leaders do not want any government interference, even if this interference comes in the form of development projects. On the other hand, many Baloch nationalists criticize the neglect—political and financial—of Islamabad. One of the most sensitive issues is the distribution of wealth from Balochistan’s gas fields that hardly reaches the local population. During the military government of President Musharraf, the repression over Baloch nationalists was severe. There was some promise of a breakthrough under the current civilian government of Zardari, which was able to reach an agreement for a cease-fire. This cease-fire didn’t last long enough to make room for constructive talks. Ahmed Rashid, famous author and former guerrilla member in Balochistan wrote in The New York Review of Books that “Much has been made of Pakistan as a potential failed state on the verge of breakup, yet if there is even a remote chance of that happening it will not be because of the Taliban, but because of an underlying crisis that has been largely ignored by the West—the separatist movement in Balochistan.” Together with his warnings regarding the neglect of the situation in Balochistan, Rashid has traditionally been a strong voice in criticizing the Pakistani government for not tackling the militant Taliban threat also in Balochistan. Several non-mutually exclusive explanations can be advanced for the passivity of Pakistan’s authorities regarding the presence of Afghan Taliban in Balochistan. First, there is the old but still present idea among Pakistan military leadership that the Taliban can be used as an asset against India, and to exert some influence in the future of Afghanistan. Another possibility is the fear that, by tackling the Taliban in Quetta, an unlikely explosive alliance between nationalist Baloch groups and the Pashtun militants could form. The Afghan Taliban leadership does not take actions within Pakistan’s territory or against the Pakistani government, and thus the government in Islamabad does not see them as a threat. For Islamabad, the threat lies with the aggressive Taliban groups in FATA, which also have the company of al-Qaeda. The Pakistani government only acknowledged officially the existence of the Quetta Shura in 2009. Defense Minister Ahmad Mukhtar said in December last year to Dawn News that Pakistan’s security forces have engaged the Quetta Shura “and damaged it to such an extent that it no longer poses any threat.” The real effects of this supposed intervention are still to be seen. The US leadership has long recognized that Quetta is the base from where Mullah Omar and his commanders plan and make most of the decisions regarding the Taliban’s strategy in Afghanistan. This was well evident in General McChrystal’s report last year. However, and until this moment,
the US involvement in Balochistan has been limited to using bases in the region for logistical purposes regarding its operations in Afghanistan. After 9 years of war in Afghanistan during which Quetta was the Taliban leadership’s safe haven, the US seems to be shifting its attention to Balochistan’s capital. As The Washington Post recently reported, in the words of US Ambassador to Pakistan Anne W. Patterson, “In the past, we focused on al-Qaeda because they were a threat to us. The Quetta Shura mattered less to us because we had no troops in the region. Now our troops are there on the other side of the border, and the Quetta Shura is high on Washington’s list.” Another evidence of this new focus on Quetta is the debate among US officials about whether or not to extend the drone attacks from the FATA to Balochistan.
After 9 years of war in Afghanistan during which Quetta was the Taliban leadership’s safe haven, the US seems to be shifting its attention to Balochistan’s capital It is obviously in the interest of the US to address the presence of the Taliban leadership in Quetta, and this goal appears only too late. Yet, Balochistan is Pakistan’s sovereign territory—although Pakistan has some problems in exerting its sovereignty there. A direct US intervention would only do more harm than good, be it either with troops or with drone attacks. This is true regarding the potentially damaging effects for the already weakened US image in Pakistan, as it is true for the Pakistani government itself, which could face a deeper revolt in Balochistan as a reaction to an American intervention. The US should let Pakistan deal with this issue, while exerting some pressure through the right diplomatic channels so as to ensure that Pakistan actually chases Mullah Omar and his peers. Finally, and in case Pakistan does that, the US should make a clear promise to Pakistan that, although it will one day depart from Afghanistan, it will not abandon the region as it did in the past.
This article was first published in the Majalla 19 February 2010
Issue 1551 - 5 April 2010
urkey’s negotiations to join the European Union may have faltered of late, but, in a littlenoticed turnaround, it is now using the same ideas that brought stability to post-Second World War Europe in an effort to calm the bitter divisions of the Middle East. Syria, Jordan, Libya and Lebanon have recently joined Iran and other regional countries enjoying visafree business and tourism with Turkey. Ankara is also doing all it can to champion the integration of regional infrastructure, has successfully boosted trade with its neighbours, and is now even bringing governments together for joint meetings of senior Cabinet ministers. This conversion to the basic EU idea of progress through interdependence is still in its infancy, partly because Middle Eastern regimes can fear that regional integration is a political threat. Turkey long shared this tendency too, until the end of the Cold War allowed its sense of security and commercial opportunity to rise. The centre-right AK Party government, in power since 2002, has developed even further the country’s growing ties with Russia, Africa and particularly Muslim neighbours in the Middle East. During the same period, Turkey’s relationship with the European Union has also sped ahead. Despite many obstacles—including Europe’s Turkeyskeptics, the slow pace of Turkish domestic reform,
Turkey’s importance in the Middle East is growing, both at the economic level—its economy is already more than half the size of the whole of the Middle East and North African region—but also politically. With EU membership still at sight, Turkey is using the same ideas that brought stability to post-Second World War Europe in an effort to calm the bitter divisions of the Middle East. By Hugh Pope and the stand-off over Cyprus—Turkey remains in a full negotiating process that could plausibly lead to membership of the club in a decade or two. These apparently contradictory dynamics have reopened debate on the question of whether Turkey is becoming “European”, “Eurasian”, “neo-Ottoman”, or even “Islamic”. Few take into account the limitations of Ottoman Empire analogies, and the relatively predictable modern Turkish context. This debate is also too often a proxy for domestic political concerns – be it Europeans fearful about jobs, immigration and Islam, Arab commentators seeking sticks with which to beat their own governments, or pro-Israel activists seeking to bring US pressure to bear on Turkey. In fact, the EU and the West in general, contrary to what some Europeans think, need Turkey partly for the stabilizing impact that it wants to have among its eastern neighbours. Ankara’s priority is not a reborn caliphate, but the expansion of an economy that is already more than half the size of the whole of the Middle East and North African region. When Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan makes overenthusiastic statements on visiting Khartoum, Tehran or Damascus, he is partly thinking of the contracts to be signed by the hundreds of business supporters who accompany him. Similarly, when Erdoğan visited the United States last December, the main public result was a joint committee to boost trade. AK Party leaders, even if they have left behind 17
On Politics the Islamism of their youth, certainly feel a special warmth for fellow Muslim leaders. Some AK Party officials even talk of Erdoğan as the ‘representative of 1.5 billion Muslims’. But Turkey as a whole is more interested in Europe, and visitors to Turkish bookshops will search in vain for much about the Middle East. Turkey actually sells proportionally less to the Middle East than it did two decades ago, a figure that represents less than a quarter of its total exports. The EU has long accounted for half Turkish trade, and for nearly 90 per cent of foreign investment in 2008. Some four million Turks live in Europe, vastly outnumbering the few tens of thousands in the Middle East. Turkish airline companies fly frequently to a dense web of European cities, but serve more destinations inside Turkey than in Iran and Arab states. While two Turkish Airlines planes a day connect Istanbul and Damascus, four go to Tel Aviv. Extraordinary praise in Arab newspapers for Erdoğan when he confronts Israel should also not be mistaken for Arab endorsement of Turkish regional hegemony. Arab envoys to Turkey say they are happy to see a fellow Sunni Muslim state act as spokesperson for their concerns and as a counterbalance to the rejectionist defiance of Shia Muslim Iran. But they say their governments can feel uneasy at Erdoğan’s outbursts of anti-Israel populism, and that they would reject any Turkish effort to do more than offer its good offices in regional disputes. Turkey’s rising interest in its neighbours persuaded
its leading think tank TESEV to ask 2,000 people in seven Arab countries what they thought. In November it published results that found that threequarters of respondents were in favour of a highprofile role for Turkey in Israeli-Palestinian and other Middle Eastern issues. But 57 per cent said they wanted to see ‘a Muslim country’ in the EU, and 64 per cent believed that Turkey’s EU negotiation process had a positive impact on its role in the Arab world – including 62 per cent in Saudi Arabia. Turkey also believes EU ideas can help heal the divisions of the region. The recent popularity of Turkish sitcoms and singers in the Arab world is not just because the two have grown closer once again. In a Turkey in which EU-inspired reforms and competition have helped open up society, the economy and culture, Turkish music and films are now simply much better made – and win more prizes in Europe too.
Hugh Pope is an Istanbul based Turkey/Cyprus Project Director for International Crisis Group. Author of books on Turkey and the Turkic world, as well as the forthcoming “Dining with al-Qaeda: Three Decades Exploring the Many Worlds of the Middle East”. This article was first published in the Majalla 26 February 2010
No Quick Fixes
In the face of a deteriorating situation in Yemen, Washington has been abuzz with talk about what should be done by the US government. A traditional package of assistance from the US, whether it is training Yemeni special forces or large-scale economic assistance will achieve nothing in the short-term. Washington’s investment should be in shaping and coordinating the actions of the GCC to assist Yemen.
By Jon Alterman here is a tendency in Washington to assume that there is a Washington answer for everything. Americans’ wealth, creativity and accomplishment burnish the idea that every problem has an American solution. The explosion
of information in the last two decades has promoted the idea that people in Washington should have a view on all of those solutions. In many ways, the problem starts with Congress. When is the last time someone asked a congressman his or her view on an issue, and the answer was “That isn’t something I care about” or “I have no idea”? The presumption
llustration © Graphic News
Issue 1551 - 5 April 2010
Why the US should seek a regional solution for Yemen
On Politics is that everyone in Washington needs to have an idea, and if they can’t come up with one of their own, they should borrow one from someone else. For six weeks, Washington has been abuzz with talk about what the US government should do about Yemen. Should the US give Yemen more military aid? Should it begin a large-scale economic assistance pro gram? Should it help Yemen establish a governmental reform program, help implement a de-radicalization program, or boost special forces training? Yemen is a weak and poor nation, and the US is a strong and wealthy one. With the right package of assistance, most assume, we can work together on shared goals. The reality is that the overlap between US and Yemeni goals is narrower than is often supposed. For Yemen’s long-serving president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is less troubling to him than boiling insurgencies in the North and South of the country, swiftly dwindling oil revenues, a plummeting water table, and massive unemployment. In fact, to some in the leadership, al-Qaeda’s 200300 followers in the country must seem far less a threat than an opportunity. An increased US military commitment to Yemen pumps weapons and training into the country that can be employed against a wide range of threats that have nothing to do with al-Qaeda. Yemen has a whole host of problems, and while none of them are insoluble, virtually all of them are insoluble in the short term. US allies—and especially Arab allies from the Gulf Cooperation Council— will have to do much of the lifting here, because the US instinct in this and other conflicts is to make a difference quickly and move on. There are too many troubled nations, and too many emerging challenges, for the US single-mindedly to devote decades to development in any country in the post-Cold War world. The US’s GCC allies are far better positioned to work Yemeni politics skillfully than the US. These countries understand tribal politics rather than recoil from them, and they are equally comfortable coercing and co-opting recalcitrant participants. The GCC countries also have deep pockets. In December 2009 the United Arab Emirates announced a $650 million aid package to Yemen, and Saudi Arabia has poured untold millions into the country. Neither country’s expenditures thus far begins to approach their limits, and it may prove far easier to pry money from their coffers than from a US Congress facing annual deficits in excess of $1 trillion. Also, the GCC states have legitimacy that the US lacks. Few in Yemen will accuse them of being Western interlopers or infidels; they are regional actors. Even more, several ruling families in the Emirates trace their tribal origins to Yemen, creating an intimacy that goes back centuries. Finally, and most importantly, the GCC states have a truly enduring shared interest in Yemen, and Yemen has a shared interest in them. In the 1980s, more than a million Yemenis worked in Saudi
Arabia, doing grueling work in the oilfields and operating small groceries. Saudi Arabia expelled them when the Yemeni government took a benign view of Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, and the Yemeni economy has never recovered from the influx of unemployed workers and the massive loss of wages. For years, the GCC states have toyed with the idea of either admitting Yemen to the GCC or giving preference to Yemeni migrant laborers, and this represents a tremendous and enduring incentive for Yemeni action. Should Yemen implode, the GCC states will bear the brunt of the impact. The US is pouring resources into Yemeni special forces, the coast guard and the border police. In Washington, money is a sign of attention, and after the failed Christmas Day attack, no one in Washington can give the impression they are not paying attention to Yemen. But Washington’s most important task is a relatively cheap one: to help shape and coordinate the actions of the GCC. There is no single GCC state that can lead this charge successfully. Saudi Arabia, which has massive wealth and shares an extensive border with Yemen, is a necessary partner but a troublesome one from a Yemeni perspective. The Saudi government has a long history of intervention in Yemen, from supporting armed antigovernment insurgents in the 1960s and 1990s to paying a steady stream of subsidies to allies on the Yemeni side. Suspicions run deep on both sides. The UAE has neither the expertise nor the manpower to sustain operations in a country with more than twenty-five times its native population. Qatar has demonstrated a persistent interest in negotiating truces in Yemen and elsewhere, but the small country does not have the wherewithal to make those agreements stick. Oman is the poorest of the GCC states, but it shares a border with Yemen and worries openly about Yemen’s problems spilling over. An effective US role would be a quiet one that helps stoke Arab leadership on this issue, frames problems and responses, facilitates coordination and monitors compliance. Agendas will need to be negotiated and de-conflicted, and the US can play a useful role here too. Quiet US meetings with GCC leaders, all of whom have close relationships with the US, can do a world of good. The GCC-sponsored meeting in Riyadh later this month is a tremendous opportunity to continue to move along the right path. The US needs to apply its muscles, not leave its fingerprints on the efforts.
Jon Alterman is the director and Senior Fellow of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington DC This article was first published in the Majalla 19 February 2010
A Good Neighborly Idea
The Union of the Mediterranean When the first summit of The Union of the Mediterranean takes place next June, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, Palestine’s Mahmoud Abbas, Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan, Greece’s George Papandreou, to name a few, will be taking a family picture together. The very fact this union exists is nothing short of miraculous, although most of the 800 million people it represents don’t even know about it.
Issue 1551 - 5 April 2010
By Andrés Cala
magine yourself in 1945 looking into the future. Who would have bet that Germany, Italy, and Japan would eventually forge a military, economic, and social alliance with France, the U.K. and the U.S? That’s what comes to mind when I think of The Union of the Mediterranean, the heterogeneous community of 43 countries that includes Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Israel, Turkey and Cyprus, the Balkans, and Algeria and Morocco, just to name a few hatchets waiting to be buried. I don’t mean to draw simplistic parallels. This is not 1945 and the context is completely different, from the starting point, to historic bonds, economic structures, and political systems. So how could this union—which will finally start functioning in April—conceivably be more than another useless, bureaucratic, excuse for political leaders to take fieldtrips? Europe has very little in common with its Southern, Arab or Turkish neighbors, from political systems, culture, to economic models. Indeed, the last time the Mediterranean even remotely acted in unison was during the Roman Empire, almost 2000 years ago (when by the way none of the prevalent religions today were mainstream). But that is precisely what makes this reverie a good idea. Diplomacy works only when you intertwine destinies. What allowed post-Second World War enemies to eventually work as allies was the myriad of venues they created to exchange 20
commonalities, instead of succumbing to differences, such as the OECD, NATO, the European Union, the World Bank, and the International Energy Agency. I’m not optimistic that I will see 43 European and Mediterranean countries acting as allies any time soon. But I will put money on that many years from now the Union of Mediterranean will be remembered as a bold, visionary idea that put the ball rolling. Here’s why. The very fact this union exists is nothing short of miraculous, although most of the 800 million people it represents don’t even know about it. It was conceived 15 years ago in a completely different form. Then President Nicolas Sarkozy of France came along and tried to make it his in 2008, but Germany’s Angela Merkel stopped him short and demanded that the rest of the EU be included. As could only be expected, it took an additional year and a half for its members to agree on a headquarters and top posts. But it actually happened against all odds. Diplomats finally brokered a deal to sit all apparently irreconcilable sides. It’s headquartered in Barcelona, Spain; its secretary general is Arab (Ahmad Masa’deh of Jordan); the Arab League gets full representation, and both Israel and Palestinian each get one of six deputy secretary posts. The other four will be Italy, Greece, Malta, and Turkey. The names of the six secretaries will be announced by the end of March, although some of the names have already been filtered. With the names in hand, each of the six deputies will steer one of the six common
It is likely Arab countries will boycott the nascent summit if Israel continues undermining the Palestinian Authority. On top of that, France and Greece have no intention of allowing Turkey into the EU policy areas: cleaning the Mediterranean, land and sea highways, civil protection, renewable energy, university and research exchanges, and business promotion.And Libya still needs to be convinced to join. But all those so-called policies are just the excuse. The accomplishment is simply that Israelis and Palestinians will share leadership roles, along with Turkey and Greece, and that the Arab League will be represented along with the European Union. These are by no means the only divisions that have to be overcome in the region, but they are certainly the deal-breakers. The first test will come in June when the first summit is scheduled. Imagine Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, Palestine’s Mahmoud Abbas, Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan, Greece’s George Papandreou, to name a few, taking a family picture together. Indeed, it is likely Arab countries will boycott the nascent summit if Israel continues undermining the Palestinian Authority. On top of that, France and Greece have no intention of allowing Turkey into the EU, and Algeria and Morocco refuse to settle on the Saharawi issue, not to mention the broader Arab-
Israeli conflict, the Syrian and Israeli bellicose talk, ongoing Syrian intervention in Lebanon, and more. But even if this summit fails, the secretariat and its six mélange of deputies will continue to exist, however off the radar they remain. That’s how diplomacy works. In order for there to be peace, a channel needs to exist. Even if war lies ahead, there needs to be a vision. This is what is remarkable and promising about the Union of the Mediterranean. However useless the bureaucracy will be for years, enemies will share objectives and intertwine their futures. After all, it doesn’t matter how long the feud lasts or even if shouting evolves into punches. At some point, disputes are inevitably resolved. History has shown us that. And there’s nothing like a neighborhood association to catalyze an agreement.
Andrés Cala - Madrid based freelance journalist This article was published in The Majalla 19 March 2010
Two Sides of the Same Coin Meles Zenawi Prime Minister of Ethiopia
world away from the barista pouring your Starbucks Ethiopia blend coffee is the country where this bean was first cultivated as a drink fit only for the lips of emperors. Today’s leader of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi, unlike his predecessors, promises to lead the way for democracy in Africa. On the 23rd of May Ethiopians will queue at polling stations to register their votes in the fourth national election in their country’s history. Now in his third five-year term as Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi has been hailed as a model for democratic rule on the continent. Yet could this beacon of hope for democracy be a false 22
flame fed by government lip-service and Western optimism? While Meles’ government promotes fair elections and free press, rights groups and foreign observers condemn his party for crushing opposition and committing grievous human rights abuses. As the largest country in the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia pulls many of the strings within the region. Its strategic location, separated from the Gulf of Aden by Djibouti, Somalia and Eritrea makes it a valuable pawn in deciding the fate of the region. Western powers are hoping to keep Zenawi on side, especially concerning their counterterrorism agenda. In an interview with the Prime Minister Newsweek named Meles ‘Washington’s most important African ally in the War on Terrorism’. With neighbouring Somalia causing America some serious headaches as
Image © Getty Images
Issue 1551 - 5 April 2010
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister has been greeted by the world as the answer to stabilizing the horn of Africa. In addition to his efforts at undermining insecurity in the region, the 3 term leader has also done much to curtail poverty in his country. However, after 15 years in power, allegations questioning his commitment to democracy have surfaced. With elections due in May, Zenawi will have the opportunity to prove which side of democracy he is on.
On Politics a haven for terrorists, Ethiopia has gained importance in the US’s attempts at stabilizing the region. The links between the US, and its African ally are many. For example, in 2006, with US backing, Ethiopia invaded Somalia to rid it of extreme Islamist leadership and set up the Transitional Federal Government (TFG). Ethiopia has also been involved in the recruiting and training ethnic Somalis in Ethiopia to fight the Somalian militia group AlShabaab in coordination with Djibouti and Kenya. This assault is forecast to take place in the coming year.
With elections approaching in May, international observers will be looking closely for any false moves made by Zenawi’s ruling party For seventeen years the military regime of the Derg headed by Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam ruled over Ethiopia with terror, orchestrating the famines of the eighties with Marxist farming policies, keeping the weak population firmly under its grasp. In 1991 the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) swept down from Ethiopia’s Northern highlands taking the capital, Addis Ababa and toppling Mengistu’s communist dictatorship. The chairman of the TPLF at the time, a little known public figure, was Meles Zenawi. Born in 1955 in Ethiopia’s northern most region of Tigray, Meles Zenawi went on to complete his schooling in the capital, Addis Ababa. He then joined the medical faculty of Addis Ababa University before interrupting his studies to join the TPLF in their armed struggle against the ruling regime. After the fall of the military junta Zenawi led the Transitional Government until his election as Prime Minister and leader of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) in 1995. Initially a Marxist follower, Meles Zenawi moved to more mainstream politics, promoting free market policies and a becoming a spokesman for democracy. Zenawi was showered with praise from the international community for his efforts to alleviate poverty and promote democratization. He introduced a system of ethnic federalism instead of the centralised government under Mengistu. Meles was the poster child of the Live Aid charity appeal, the face of hope and self-sufficiency in Africa. At the time, in 2005, Meles was chosen to sit on the UK sponsored ‘Commission for Africa’ dealing with aid, debt-relief and trade on the Continent. He was praised by Tony Blair for his pragmatic and fair leadership. He has
also had considerable success in delivering aid, water and electricity to Ethiopia’s some 70 million people. With an ongoing battle against drought, rebel attacks and aid reliance Meles has still managed to improve the country’s living standards during his past fifteen years in power. Infant mortality is down by half and life expectancy has increased from 45 to 55 years. Yet the rose-tinted spectacles that many have viewed his tenure through quickly came off in the wake of the 2005 elections following a controversial win by Zenawi’s party marked by accusations of voter fraud. The opposition took to the streets. Violent clashes erupted between demonstrators and government forces leading to the deaths of 183 people. Yet Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry defended government action by saying that “Most contemporary press reports made no mention of the fact that 7 policemen were killed and over 340 injured in the violence. Throwing grenades, setting fire to buses with people on them and destroying government and private buildings do not constitute a ‘peaceful demonstration’.” Human Rights Watch has accused Zenawi’s government of harassment, torture and imprisonment of members of the opposition. In late 2007 Ethiopia was threatened with US congressional sanctions for its oppression of critics unless democratic reforms were made. Zenawi’s government has refused to admit to any human rights abuses. Claims have also been made about food aid being politicised, especially of withholding food to the Ogaden region where a separatist movement is underway. Although this was dismissed as false reporting by the World Food Programme and Zenawi himself said if this were true he would dismiss the persons responsible. With elections approaching in May, international observers will be looking closely for any false moves made by Zenawi’s ruling party. The Ethiopian government appears equally eager to avoid a repeat of 2005. The National Electoral board is closely regulating media coverage and funds between campaigning parties. The government has also introduced a Code of Conduct for Political Parties agreed on by some 65 parties that has now been passed into law. This code outlines the rules of the game in an attempt to divert dispute and fraud. Forum, the main opposition grouping, is the only party to refuse negotiations with the EDRDF claiming that they would cajole them into agreeing to terms that benefit their own agenda. This will be Zenawi’s opportunity to prove his critics wrong. The West seems, on the whole, happy to ignore Zenawi’s breeches of human rights and become cosy bed fellows in order to avoid a downward spiral into conflict in the Horn. The European Union and the United States are hoping for a Zenawi victory in the upcoming elections to keep their pawn in play in this volatile region.
This article was published in The Majalla 5 March 2010
Issue 1551 - 5 April 2010
The Bitter Fruits of the US Invasion
The world is watching as the final votes are counted in Iraq’s latest election. The polls have closed, but the hard part is still to come. Al-Maliki and Allawi, the two principal contestants now need to form a coalition government for the smooth transition of leadership. Balloting so far has been marked by acute sectarian polarisation in Shiite-Sunni allegiance. The formation of a cross-sectarian coalition government will ultimately dictate the success of Iraqi democracy. Failure to negotiate may result in a relapse into sectarian violence and even military takeover.
llustration © Amjad Rasmi
By Fawaz A. Gerges
ith 95% of the vote counted in Iraq’s March parliamentary elections, the results show a toxicallyfragmented country along sectarian, ethnic, and personality lines. Far from making Iraq ripe for democracy, the 2003 US-led invasion has established a sectarian-
based political system like neighboring Lebanon where sect and ethnicity trump other loyalties, including the nation. Now sectarianism has become deeply entrenched and institutionalized, threatening the national unity and integrity of Iraq. On the whole, Iraqis did not vote according to party and ideology but tribe and sect. Two weeks after the balloting, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition and the crosssectarian Iraqiya coalition headed by ex-premier 25
Issue 1551 - 5 April 2010
Al-Maliki’s gamble did not pay off. Resenting his decision to ban hundreds of mostly Sunni candidates suspected of links to Saddam’s Baath party, many Sunnis are unconvinced that the prime minister has shed his sectarian inheritance and consider al-Dawa
Iyad Allawi were projected to win roughly the same number of seats, about 90 of the 325-member parliament. The Iraqi National Alliance (INA), a grouping of Shiite religious parties closely linked to Iran, which includes the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) and the Sadrists, supporters of the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, is set to come a close third with 65-70 seats. The powerful main Kurdistan alliance of President Jalal Barzani and Massoud Talabani led as expected in Erbil, part of the autonomous Kurdish region, with about 40. The constitution stipulates that the largest bloc should form a government, a fact that risks creating an institutional and leadership vacuum. With alMaliki and his main rival, Allawi, falling short of the mandate—the 163 seats needed—to govern alone, they will likely need to ally with one or two blocs to form a coalition government, a complicated negotiation process fraught with security risks that might last months and likely put sectarian leaders back in the driving seat. After the last parliamentary poll in 2005, sectarian violence erupted as political leaders clashed for more than five months in an effort to form a government. Tens of thousands of civilians were killed, plunging the country to the brink of an all-out civil war. Although the security situation has improved today and fear of all-out civil war is unwarranted, the next few weeks will test Iraq’s fragile institutions to the breaking point. Unless they rise up to the challenge and build a reformist, cross-sectarian government, Iraq political leaders could squander precious security gains in the last three years and motivate the army to step in and fill the void. A military takeover is a real possibility. Early signs are alarming. The vote counting has been dogged by allegations of fraud by the two leading blocs of al-Maliki and Allawi, which risks delegitimizing the whole electoral process. As his coalition’s lead had slipped, al-Maliki has called for a nationwide recount of all ballots, and invoked his position as commander in chief of the military, suggesting that the country could return to violence if his demand was not met. In a written statement, the prime minister said that election authorities must manually recount the votes to “protect political stability and prevent the security situation from deteriorating and avoid the return of violence,” a statement interpreted by his rival coalition, Iraqiya, as a clear threat against the opposition. “This kind of statement could take us back to terrorism and violence,” said Intisar Allawi, a member of Allawi’s bloc. Similarly, Iraqi President Talabani issued a statement asking the inept Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) for a recount in some provinces, in particular in Kirkuk, the disputed city
llustration © Graphic News
Image © Graphic News
Regardless of how messy and risky the situation is in Iraq, the US must honor its commitment to extract its forces from the country and allow Iraqis to put their house in order that is Iraq’s northern oil hub, where Allawi held a narrow lead over Talabani and his Kurdish allies. Initially, Allawi had made similar fraud allegations when the vote count showed him trailing behind alMaliki’s. On the face of it, the fierce political struggle mirrored in the tally bodes well for transition to democracy. But the reality is much more complex and alarming than the mere distribution of parliamentary seats. Election is only one yardstick by which to measure democratization. There exist other critical variables that sustain and nourish a genuine democracy, most of which are missing in the new Iraq. In the post-US invasion, Iraq’s parties, ideologies, and civil society matter much less than sect, ethnicity and tribe, a development that structurally impedes genuine democratization, as the case of Lebanon tragically demonstrates. The US occupation authorities have set up a political system that allocates power along sectarian lines. It is no wonder then that Iraqis voted en mass for their sect and ethnicity. For example, Allawi, a secular Shiite who has emerged as the main rival to al-Maliki, has drawn mostly on heavy Sunni support in his campaign in central and western Iraq, appealing to Sunni Arab voters frustrated with their own incompetent religious leaders and political marginalization. Particularly resonating with Sunni voters was Allawi’s criticism of al-Maliki’s sectarian partisan and anti-Iran stance. An important story of this second parliamentary elections is that Sunni Arabs have finally come out of the political wilderness in which they entrapped
themselves after the invasion and ouster of Saddam Hussein. They voted overwhelmingly for Allawi whom they view as a vehicle for their political empowerment. Of all influential Iraqi politicians, Allawi has evolved into a voice of rationality and sanity, a potential cross-sectarian bridge. In contrast, few Sunni Arabs cast a ballot for alMaliki, a Shiite, who failed to finish in the top three in all but one of Iraq’s Sunni-majority provinces, a fact that speaks volumes about the sectarian polarization of Iraq seven years after the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime. Sensing public dissatisfaction with sectarian-religious parties, al-Maliki recasts himself as a non-sectarian nationalist who has brought law and order to the war-torn country, calling his coalition the State of Law. Al-Maliki’s gamble did not pay off. Resenting his decision to ban hundreds of mostly Sunni candidates suspected of links to Saddam’s Baath party, many Sunnis are unconvinced that the prime minister has shed his sectarian inheritance and consider al-Dawa, a Shiite-based organization of the INA variety, the driver behind the State of Law. Others are suspicious of his continued, if reduced, ties to Iran. While the results indicate that conservative Shiite and Sunni sectarian-based parties like the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) did very poorly, radical al-Sadr, and his supporters are the big winners. Defying widespread prediction that the Sadrists were a spent force after suffering repeated military setbacks against the Americans and the Iraqi military, the Sadrists are expected to win more than 40 seats. That would be a bloc roughly the same size as the 27
Cover Story Kurds, who have served as kingmakers in tilting the balance of political power since 2005. The Sadrists have emerged as a leading social movement that can no longer be excluded or isolated. Al-Sadrists’ spectacular gains complicate the effort to cobble together a governing coalition. They are bitter enemies of al-Maliki, who in 2008 sent the army to Basra and Baghdad and put down a challenge by alSadr’s Mahdi Army militia. Al-Sadr, who lives in Iran and has close ties with the mullah regime, has spearheaded resistance to the U.S. military presence amongst Iraqi Shiites, and his supporters repeatedly clashed with the Americans. His victory is welcome news to the Iranian regime which played a key role in setting up the INA bloc by bridging the divide between SIIC and the Sadrists. With the exception of Allawi’s secularist, crosssectarian alliance, the balance of power favors sectarian orientation cloaked in various disguises. In the end, given his religious base of support in Baghdad and rural southern provinces, al-Maliki, or one of his coalition partners, will likely try to form a government composed of some of his estranged former Shiite partners and current Kurdish allies. There are credible reports that the two main Shiite coalitions—the State of Law and INA—are discussing a political merger that aims at sidelining secularist Allawi whose cross-sectarian bloc won strong support from minority Sunni Arabs. The only obstacle standing in the way of a unified Shiite union is the Sadrists have made it abundantly clear that they oppose al-Maliki remaining as prime minister. Iran’s role will be crucial in whether to pressure alSadr to drop his objection to al-Maliki or convince the latter to agree to a neutral candidate. To strengthen his bargaining position, al-Maliki has also met with Talabani and discussed a coalition government with the Kurds. The eventuality of a Shiite merger as another sectarian-based government would alienate Sunni Arabs who, for the first time, voted in large numbers and threaten to fan the sectarian flame. “Forming coalitions is a natural right for the winning blocs, but we want the country’s interest to prevail, not the sectarian coalitions that will return us to square one,” said Iraqiya candidate Jamal al-Bateekh. Regardless of what blocs form the new government, the negotiating process will be arduous, risky and uncertain. The US and Iran, the two most influential external players in Iraq, are keenly watching the unfolding struggle of power and positioning
themselves for the morning after substantial withdrawal of American troops by the end of August. Iran yields considerable influence by virtue of its coopting leading Shiite groups and clerics and deepening economic and cultural ties with its neighbors since 2003. While distancing himself a little from Tehran, al-Maliki has not cut the umbilical cord with his giant neighbor. As he often states, Iran will be there after the Americans depart from Iraq.
Issue 1551 - 5 April 2010
The US and Iran, the two most influential external players in Iraq, are keenly watching the unfolding struggle of power and positioning themselves for the morning after substantial withdrawal of American troops by the end of August
Even if Allawi gets the premiership, he will be unlikely to antagonize the Mullah regime because that would be costly and destabilizing. Allawi would most likely turn to the Sunni-dominated Arab world, particularly Saudi Arabia, to counterbalance Iranian influence. To counterbalance Iranian influence in Iraq, Saudi Arabia has explicitly backed Allawi and encouraged Sunni Arabs to embrace him. The vote result means that the Iranian regime will be unable to call the shots in Iraq and fill the vacuum left by the U.S. exist. Far from it, the new coalition government in Baghdad whether led by al-Maliki or Allawi will seek to maintain good relations with the Americans and Iranians and to avoid putting all its eggs in one basket. Despite their previous criticism of U.S. interference in Iraq’s domestic affairs, alMaliki and Allawi view the relationship with the U.S. as critical to maintaining stability and peace in the short term and to deterring the country’s ambitious neighbors. Regardless of how messy and risky the situation is in Iraq, the US must honor its commitment to extract its forces from the country and allow Iraqis to put their house in order. Iraqis, with the help of the international community, are the people most equipped and qualified to reform their sectarianbased political system and democratize. As the U.S.led invasion and occupation of Iraq has shown, social engineering from the outside is not only dangerous and counterproductive but could also be catastrophic. Fawaz A. Gerges is a Professor of Middle Eastern Politics and International Relations at the London School of Economics. This article was published in The Majalla 26 March 2010
Europa Europa Issue 1551 - 5 April 2010
Turkey’s accession to the EU Although Turkey’s attempts at accession to the European Union have been replete with hurdles, Turkey has in effect benefited greatly from complying with these requirements. In Turkey’s attempts to gain accession to the EU, it has vastly improved its political and economic institutions. Further requirements for accession, particularly the aquis communautaire, stand to offer Turkey’s institutions the same if not more benefits than other reforms.
Daniel Capparelli 30
In Greek Mythology, Tantalus became famous for killing his son and offering him as a meal to the gods. Since cannibalism, infanticide and human sacrifice constituted an absolute taboo for the Greeks of classical times, the gods severely punished Tantalus for his actions. His sentence: stand for all eternity in a pool of fresh water under a tree bearing succulent fruits. Whenever Tantalus reached up for a fruit, the tree branches would retract, not allowing him to reach his meal; whenever he reached down to quench his thirst, the waters would recede before he could attain his objective. At first glance, one could be tempted to liken Turkey’s accession to the European Union to the fate of Tantalus. Whenever Turkey comes close to reaching the accession requirements, the requirements become more stringent and intricate. Requirements that were first overwhelmingly based on the objective improvement of Turkey’s political and economic institutions have since morphed into an inherently convoluted accession process. France, for instance, went as far as changing its constitution to require a national referendum on the issue. Notwithstanding the frustrating effects of these political hurdles, upon looking closer one realizes that unlike Tantalus, Turkey benefits greatly from this situation; perhaps even more than if it had been granted accession on less demanding conditions. These benefits stem from two main sources: first, the accession process reduces the existing barriers to trade, capital flows, and movement of people between the EU and Turkey; second, it serves as leverage for pushing forward badly needed reforms. At the top of the list of Turkey’s objectives is its accession to the EU’s internal market. One of the stipulations of the Ankara Agreement (1963) and Protocol (1971) was that a Custom Union should be implemented prior to accession to the internal market. The resulting Custom Union formed by the EU and Turkey in 1996 not only eliminated tariffs and quantitative barriers to trade in industrial goods and processed agricultural products, but also harmonized many economic standards and regulations.
The Wealth of Nations As a consequence, both economies are today relatively well integrated. In 2008, the EU topped the list of Turkey’s major trade partners accounting for 41.7% of trade flows, far ahead Russia’s 11.4%, China’s 5.2% and the US’s 4.9%. Between 2006 and 2007, European Foreign Direct Investment flows to Turkey amounted to more than €24 billion and European FDI stocks stood at more than €48 billion by early 2008. There are still many technical and administrative barriers to trade, particularly in the services sector, that need to be removed prior to an eventual accession. This will benefit the Turkish economy greatly: only the harmonization of these barriers and regulations would increase GDP by 0.8% and bilateral trade by 12-18% yearly according to some conservative estimates. The major gain from the EU accession process, however, lies in the improvement of Turkey’s economic and political institutions. In the last 50 years, the EU accession process has served as a lever to pushing forward with politically sensitive institutional reforms and economic policies that benefit Turkey even in the event of a definite collapse in the accession talks. As an illustration, prior to 1980 the Turkish financial sector was heavily regulated. This led to a system controlled by very few large banks benefiting from considerable profit margins. In the 1980s the government decided to reform the financial sector by liberalizing market access to foreign banks, and eliminating interest rate controls and directed credit programs. The increased competition created by the entry of foreign banks and their more efficient business models served as powerful incentive to domestic banks to modernize and expand the variety of services offered. Competition also reduced the margins charged by domestic banks, making their services cheaper to consumers. Over all, capital became better allocated in the economy and the quality of services has greatly improved One of the most demanding accession requirements still pending is the implementation of the “acquis communautaire”, i.e. the existing body of the Union’s legislation by Turkey. This would be a powerful catalyst to further institutional reform by, inter alia, pressing the modification of Turkey’s ineffective public procurement codes and services sector regulation. It would also considerably increase the transparency of government institutions, reduce corruption and, consequently, enhance Turkey’s international economic competitiveness. According to some studies, more transparency and less corruption could increase trade between Turkey and current EU member states by 17 to 27%.
Cashing In Accession in itself, nonetheless, could prove deeply beneficial at a sectoral level for the Turkish economy. Since tariffs and non-tariff barriers ultimately represent taxes, their elimination would result in a change in the relative prices of goods produced 31
The Wealth of Nations in Turkey and the EU. From a Turkish perspective, this would allow producers to specialize in Turkey’s comparative advantage—namely, textiles, Apparel, Business and Transportation services, and above all, agricultural goods, which represent over 50% of Turkey’s exports. Paradoxically, except perhaps for the free movement of people issue, this represents one of the main politico-economic obstacles to accession from a European perspective. Turkey’s full accession to the internal market is likely to further increase the competition faced by European (French) farmers and to divert trade from Central and Eastern European member states. Given that these countries specialize in the same economic sectors as Turkey, the latter’s accession to the internal market will most likely lead to a loss in production in the former. Up until now, Central and Eastern European countries have benefited from preferential access to other European markets. Turkey’s accession will toughen the competition and inevitably lead to some loss of market power. The major obstacle, in political economic terms, remains migration, however. The most conservatives studies put migration flows from Turkey into the EU at around 2.9 million migrants when and free movement of people is established. This is 3% of the population of Central and Eastern Europe and 0.7% of the population of Western Europe. Studies speculate that of these 2.9 million potential migrants, 76% would establish themselves in Germany, 8% in France, 4% in the Netherlands. Although, in purely economic terms, this would be greatly beneficial to the EU and Turkey, from a political perspective the situation is less appealing since it would increase the pressure in already saturated European labour markets. Not surprisingly, it is the countries likely to absorb the brunt of the
migratory flows that oppose Turkey’s accession most vociferously. The mood in these countries is well illustrated by the German Prime Minister, Angela Merkel when she said that “[i]if Turkey joined the EU, it could overload the EU politically, economically and socially, thereby endangering the process of European integration”.
Make the Most of It Unlike Tantalus, the fresh water and the shade from the trees are making Turkey stronger everyday. Its leaders have been able to turn a frustrating situation into an advantage for Turkey by using the accession process as leverage for the implementation of more economically efficient legislation and institutions. The establishment of the Custom Union between the EU and Turkey in 1996 implies that the principal objective is to use accession to reform the rest of Turkey’s inefficient institutions. As the prospects of accession improve, and Turkey’s ambition turn to joining the common currency, the government is likely to focus on Turkey’s unstable macroeconomic policies. The road, however, is still long. Accession to the EU would be needed if Turkey is to “lock-in” these economics and political reforms, since once inside, populist governments would be unable to roll them back no matter what political capital they may have.
This article was published in The Majalla 6 March 2010
The Future Remains Unwritten Does the Doha Round still have a future?
Issue 1551 - 5 April 2010
The Doha Round of multilateral trade negotiations is stuck. A big part of the reason is the misconceptions present at the launch of the round. Member countries will most likely have to readjust their expectations if the round is to be concluded.
Roderick Abbott he classical model for multilateral trade negotiations would include trade liberalisation through tariff reductions and elimination of non-tariff barriers. This model includes an expectation of active participation by around 40 countries—accounting for 90% of
world trade. Among other consequences, many GATT members in the 1960s and 1970s were thus peripheral to the process. This led to skewed results with much less progress in areas where developing countries had a major interest, but where the main players had a defensive attitude, such as agriculture and textiles. The Doha Round began with a similar model and two major differences: first, following
The Wealth of Nations progress in tackling other types of barrier, there was heavy emphasis on the need to deal with trade distortions—especially the effects of export and domestic subsidies in the agricultural sector in the USA and in Europe. Second, the active number of participants had swelled to potentially 120 or more. Over more than eight years – November 2001 to March 2010 – the negotiations have limped along with moments of progress amid long periods of stalemate or failure: deadlines not respected, discussions collapsed with no result. A strong concentration on two sectors, agriculture and NAMA (non-agricultural market access) tariff cuts, failed to produce an agreed outcome; and also failed to generate the needed progress in other areas such as services, rules or intellectual property, which might have led to a more balanced deal. There is doubt at least on whether the Doha Round will have a successful outcome. So why is that?
The Round can still be saved but ONLY if leading countries realise that the ambitious original targets of liberalisation set in 2001 are no longer possible
The most obvious factor is that the negotiators have been trying for so long to forge a deal acceptable to the 150 or so WTO members with a conspicuous lack of success. Even before the Round was launched in Doha, Qatar in late 2001, there had already been a collapse of talks in Seattle in 1999. A second collapse happened in Cancun, Mexico in 2003, when negotiations were already well under way. Since then, a further Ministerial Conference in 2005 barely allowed the Round to survive, with little real progress; and there have been further setbacks in 2007 and in 2008 and virtually no progress at all in 2009—the first full year of the Obama Administration. As a major contributory factor to these regular stalemate situations one would mention, first, that the negotiating model, designed at the end of the 1990s, no longer fits the needs of the members. An effort was made at the Doha conference to reengineer the model in a more development friendly direction—hence the other title for the Round, the Doha Development Agenda or DDA—but this too was not very satisfactory. It raised excessive expectations that poverty and marginalisation outside world trade would be attacked, but there was no real substance to the effort which would make that happen. Second one would have to cite a lack of effective leadership, whether at the highest political level (G8 or G20 summits) or among the main players in the negotiation. When the membership rose rapidly after the Uruguay Round there was no immediate
move to find a successor group to the Quadrilateral (USA, EC, Japan and Canada) which had previously exercised leadership. The G20 group of agricultural exporters was only formed in 2003, and this has slowly morphed into smaller groups (G.4 with sometimes G.5 or G.6); but they have proved unable to work out the shape of a negotiating compromise that different groups of countries with diverging interests can all accept. On the contrary, members are more and more divided into groups with mutually exclusive aims – for and against tariff preferences, for example; some focussed on agricultural exports while others (net importers) argue for food security. A third major factor would be the aim for “an ambitious and balanced” outcome which now appears to be beyond the reach of most participants. A quick look at the negotiating complexities in the NAMA sector and in the effort to reduce domestic subsidies in agriculture will be enough to prove the point. Modalities/flexibilities/special products/ variable coefficients: clearly the process has become too sophisticated (and complicated) and needs to be simplified and made more manageable. So is there still a solution that can be found? Many observers in the academic world and the media have written the Round off, with vivid language that includes long years of intensive care, ending in ‘rotting corpses’ and the crematorium. The author is a little more positive; the Round can still be saved but ONLY if leading countries realise that the ambitious original targets of liberalisation set in 2001 are no longer possible. Currently the major countries are hitting their heads against a brick wall, and there is little or no political will to make an effort to circumvent the obstacles. The WTO has embarked on its own stocktaking exercise to see what can be achieved in 2010; but in my view a scaled down version, with a phase one now and a phase two later, looks like the best alternative option. A more realistic and sustainable target for tariff reductions and market access, coupled with commitments to freeze present spending levels on agricultural subsidies and gradually reduce from that level, is required. Less rigorous tariff cutting formulae will lead to fewer exceptions and fewer special deals to take account of specific features of individual countries. It will be less ambitious than planned – sure – but it could be achieved and would be better than a total failure. At this time, however, ideas such as this still cause political indigestion in Washington and in Brussels, although they might appeal more in Delhi or Beijing. Roderick Abbott - Former Deputy Director General at DG Trade in the European Commission and Deputy Director General at the World Trade Organization This article was published in The Majalla 12 March 2010
The Wealth of Nations
Investing in Foreign Land
A food-security calculus or sound commercial logic? The food crisis of 2007 has raised awareness of the potential consequences that a more potent sequel might have. However, instead of waiting for governments to break promises regarding investment in food supplies, developing countries stand to profit much more from opening to private investment. FDI transfers not only bring money to the receiving country but also technology and knowledge, and productivity improvements often spill over to local production. Investment in food supplies should therefore be handled like other investments by independent companies looking at economic fundamentals and not by state-owned funds and companies driven by a strategic food-security calculus.
uddenly, the world food markets spilled out of control. Within a year, prices for wheat doubled, those for soybean and sugar even tripled. The drivers behind this surge were stock decreases during the preceding years, a disappointing harvest due to bad weather in several countries and growing demand for feedstuff. Once prices soared, governments of exporting nations curbed the outflow of food, thus exacerbating the crisis. Merely two years later, prices had come down roughly to previous levels—the affliction had ended. This is not the account of the infamous 2007/2008 price spikes; it is the half-forgotten story of the early 70s. At least for developed countries, this earlier crisis was worse than the recent one. Real food prices—corrected for inflation—climbed higher, and food expenditures absorbed a much greater share 34
of households’ income, so that any increase was felt more harshly. This episode nonetheless takes a backseat in our collective memory because OPEC limited oil production soon after the food prices had started to rise. Higher oil prices proved to be the more lasting and pernicious impediment to global growth. So there is a historical precedent of a food price surge that did not destabilize the world economy. Instead, it was eventually followed by a quarter of a century of low food prices beginning in 1980. But the 2007/08 episode was not perceived from this bird’seye perspective. Even in emerging and industrialized countries, much less affected than the poorer nations, the crisis has changed the thinking of the powerful. The fear was born that the next food crisis may be waiting for us, one that will dwarf anything the world has seen before. The world might cast off its multilateral, liberal veil in the merciless scramble for food. Under this lens, the purchase or long-term lease
Image © Getty Images
Issue 1551 - 5 April 2010
The Wealth of Nations of fertile farmland abroad appears to be a hardnosed move of Realpolitik without humanitarian disguise. Non-governmental organizations attack the neo-colonial land grab of Arab and Chinese investors that uproots local communities and undermines the self-sufficiency of poor nations. It’s smart but contemptible, so the common judgment goes—which may be wrong on both counts. The receiving countries may actually win. Investment in developing countries’ agriculture is direly needed: the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that an annual US $ 30 billion of additional funds will be required over the next 10 years. This is hardly a sum governments will muster. Often the significant pledges made by donor countries during the crisis are just that, pledges. Making a promise is not the same thing as signing a check. Private investment is necessary to fill the gap. Foreign direct investment (FDI) has long been considered as the most desirable form of capital inflow. It transfers not only money but also technology and knowledge to the receiving country, and productivity improvements often spill over to local production. Furthermore, FDI involves heavy transaction costs for the investor—in this case, selecting suitable land, negotiating agreements, setting up production and organizing transportation. Direct investment is therefore much more stable than the billions of speculative money that may trigger a bonanza today and dry up tomorrow. The very idea of farm land contracts for food security is long-term reliability. What about the food security gains of the investing country? What happened if world food prices skyrocketed? Pressures in many producing countries would be tremendous to scale back or stop exports. Certainly, investments are generally protected by investment treaties that guarantee the right to export and prohibit expropriation without compensation (which would be difficult for developing countries to pay, especially with high food prices that increase the value of the investment). Cynics say treaties are made to be broken, and they are likely to be right when it comes to food security. If it is either do or die, one government will inevitably cede to popular demands, others will find it convenient to follow suit and the entire system will unravel. Arab and Asian governments that pour billions of dollars into farmland FDI—whether through Sovereign Wealth Funds of state-owned enterprises— must be aware of the fragility of these contracts. The market outlook may nevertheless justify these investments on commercial grounds. The world population will continue to rise during the next decades and income growth per capita in developing countries will further add to the demand for food. Also, non-food uses of agricultural produce are expected to expand, especially for bio-energy. The supply equation is more complicated. Since the end of the Second World War, world food supply has grown even more rapidly than the
population—which underwent a growth spurt unseen in human history. Increasing investments into agricultural research and development suggest further productivity increases down the road. More important than new high-tech solutions are the gains to be had from ending the disastrous inefficiency rampant in many developing countries. The first challenge here is to improve the input, credit, land, and output markets on which farmers rely. It is plain to see that a farmer who lacks clearly established and enforced property rights will undertake only minimal effort to maintain or improve soil fertility and irrigation systems. The other challenge is to enhance farmers’ knowledge of production techniques. Quite tellingly, the application of organic farming often raises farm output in developing countries even in the short run, though this technique is by no means geared at quickly maximizing yields. Still, it performs better than the outdated piecemeal approaches currently found in many places of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Taken together, inefficient markets and lacking knowledge go a long way to explain why Africa produces only 7% of world cereal supplies on 22% of the world’s agricultural area. A tremendous potential thus lies untapped. Food production will also benefit from further trade liberalization as agriculture is the most protected sector of the world economy. While the Doha negotiations of the World Trade Organization are deadlocked and its ambition is watered down, more and more countries unilaterally lower tariffs and remove their heavily distorting subsidies. This facilitates greater specialization of production: less sugar from the EU and more from Brazil. Climate change is the wildcard in this market forecast. The threats include heat stress and droughts, soil erosion and salinization, the spread of pests and diseases and more frequent extreme weather events. This will be partly offset by greater productivity of agriculture in colder climate zones and higher CO2 concentration in the air, spurring plant growth. Most likely, we will see a reversal of the decade-long trend of lower food prices but no dramatic shortages in world food supplies. Buying farmland and ramping up production may simply be a good investment given this market outlook. In this case, it should be handled like any investment: by independent companies looking at economic fundamentals and not by stateowned funds and companies driven by a strategic food-security calculus.
Valentin Zahrnt - Research Associate at the European Centre for International Political Economy (ECIPE) and Editor of www.reformthecap.eu. This article was published in The Majalla 19 March 2010
The Wealth of Nations
Time to Invest?
Greek Papers and Contingent Convertible’s Investment
S Issue 1551 - 5 April 2010
overeign Debt and Market Confidence
When EU Finance Ministers met in Brussels on 16 February to consider Greece’s budget deficit and public debt divergence from the Maastricht criteria, they took little persuading that Greece’s previously proposed reforms, largely directed to revenue-enhancing measures as opposed to public spending cuts, would not achieve the required 4% reduction in the budget deficit for 2010. In order to underscore their lack of confidence, Ministers recited the failures by Greece to deliver on earlier requirements. The meeting concluded that, by 16 March 2010, the Greek Government had to produce a revised budget for implementation this year. To Greece’s credit, they announced the € 4.8bn of new cuts on 3 March, and launched a ten year bond issuance. The fact that the call was comfortably oversubscribed is hardly surprising, since it is paying an eye-watering 6.4%, reflecting the near 290+bps spread over German bonds. As if Greece did not have enough to contend with, there is no sign that the European Central Bank is going to moderate its collateral requirements, 36
following its decision in December to reinstate the original A- (or equivalent) credit rating qualification by the end of 2011: a decision widely credited with triggering the sell-off of Greek bonds, after they were downgraded to BBB+ at the end of last year. In the meantime, there is the threat that Greek bonds could be downgraded further, following the downgrading of all four of Greece’s main banks to BBB-, which would put Greek bonds out of eligibility from even the present scheme. The real question is whether Greece can actually deliver the first wave of cuts to public sector wages, pension reform, healthcare reforms, public administration, as well as measures to reform the product market, the business environment, productivity and employment growth. And this will still leave the deficit at 8.7%, and a further plan expected by 15 May 2010, detailing proposals to bring the remaining deficit and debt back within acceptable limits by 2012. At the time of writing, CDS spreads were at 298bps, which is still high, but is down 25% on the previous week. All of this has operated against the backdrop of an increasingly sceptical European political class, especially following the reminder that Greece entered into currency derivative transactions in 2001 as a
The Wealth of Nations means of flattering its balance sheet prior to joining the Euro. But President Sarkozy went out of his way on 7 March to signal clear support for Greece, compared with a rather more muted message from Chancellor Merkel. What is more, politicians have joined in the clamour to clamp-down on the, so-called, ‘naked’ CDS market in Sovereign debt, which they say is responsible for some of Greece’s woes. The truth is that this is little more than ‘naked’ political opportunism. What does this mean for the average investor? Well, in the short-term, higher yields on Greek paper, which are always welcome.
5.The Disclosure issue: How far in the capital forecast does the conversion get triggered? If a bank realises that it may breach the trigger level 12 months forward does it disclose the breach that could potentially cause obstacles for further capital issuance.
Problems with Contingent Capital
7.Ratings: if CoCos do not contain an objective threshold for conversion enabling an investor to reasonably measure the risk associated with conversion, Moody’s may not rate the CoCos, which will further limit the demand with investors. S&P have cautioned institutions that CoCos are not a replacement for permanent capital.
Whilst I have got your attention, I thought I’d share some reservations about the new kid on the regulatory block, namely the Contingent Convertible, or ‘CoCo’. To some this is the latest wheeze in clever hybrid capital instruments. To others, it is fraught with problems. Let me list seven of them for you to reflect on: 1.The Liquidity Problem: If a CoCo converts it will likely exacerbate a stress scenario. Publicising that a trigger event has occurred could well disrupt the liquidity/lines available to the bank.
6.Cash flow: Regulators have agreed to allow these CoCos to be mandatory pay securities (Tier 2 or even Senior debt), so cash will continue to exit the business to pay coupons, which is exactly what the EC wanted to stop. Furthermore, if hefty premium are allowed to be paid on CoCos, even more cash would leave the business.
So, before you rush off to buy yourself a Co-Co, will it really do what you want?
Graph © Graphic News
2. Risk Determination: Investors are not going to be able to determine the risk involved with CoCos: Definition of Core Capital: if capital definitions keep changing, how are investors going to be able to judge the implicit likelihood of the potential switch into equity if the rules are not yet set? Quantum of Core Capital: While regulators are still assessing the level of core capital that banks should maintain, what is the right level at which investors would be comfortable to subscribe? If the trigger is set very low, given historic level at which banks have run their core tier 1 ratios, there would be no benefit from issuing CoCos, until the crisis reaches a point where conversion to equity may not have any significant benefit. 3. Demand: Many traditional hybrid and subordinated debt holders may not be able to hold CoCos, due to their embedded equity conversion option. However, they may appeal to hedge funds, who will seek to hedge the bonds by shorting the underlying stock. 4. Pricing: CoCos would come at a hefty premium over their host securities. The only recent issue required investors to take up the CoCos by exchanging bonds that would otherwise not receive coupons or be called. Therefore, the premium on the CoCos was much cheaper.
Edward Bowles - Head of Public Affairs, Europe, at Standard Chartered Bank The views expressed here are the writer’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of Standard Chartered Bank. This article was published in The Majalla 30 March 2010
The Wealth of Nations
Behind the Graph
Pension Schemes rate of return (in percentage points)
Pension Schemes Market
Issue 1551 - 5 April 2010
Pension schemes are a tax-free investment tools that provide individuals with an opportunity to save capital to use it as a retirement income in the future. These investments are usually pooled into a common fund (a pension fund) with a relative risk-averse investment strategy. Compared to other funds, pension funds are by far the largest in the category. By the end of 2009, pension funds managed assets worth more than $29 trillion, far ahead of mutual funds ($23 trillion), insurance funds ($20 trillion) and sovereign wealth funds ($3.8 trillion). Despite the recovery observed in the end of 2009, the environment for pension schemes remains difficult. Although pension markets are growing rapidly in emerging markets—notably in countries like Brazil, South Africa and Singapore—this market is by far dominated by OECD countries. Within the latter group, the US accounts for 60% of assets, followed by the UK (9%), Canada (6%), the Netherlands and Australia (4%) and Japan (3%). Given that these countries have accumulated assets over any decades, they are likely to stay at the top of the list in the near future.
With the exception of South Korea and Turkey, in 2008 all countries in the figure experienced negative rates of returns in pension fund investments. Ireland, the US, Australia and the UK were by far the countries that experienced the largest falls. Rates of returns were mainly affected by the collapse of equity markets. By 2009, the situation changed drastically. The rebound of equity markets significantly affected the equity allocation of pension funds, bringing rates of returns back in the positive. The first countries to emerge from the crisis—notably Hong Kong, Chile and Israel—also experience the biggest jump in pension funds rate of return.
Global Pension Assets (trillion of US$)
Pension Funds Asset Allocation
After dropping more than 18% between 2007 and 2008—from $31 to $26 trillion—pension funds managed assets are estimated to have reached more than $29 trillion by the end of 2009. This represents a 14% growth in one year. This trend is a consequence of a rise in most asset classes in 2009, which in turn led to the positive returns of global pension funds. The recovery of equity markets and alternative asset classes, and the stability of the bond’s market reversed the negative trend of 2008—when pension funds returns had turned negative. This growth in assets, however, is different from the one observed before 2007, which was mainly the outcome of an expansion in funding (after pension reform in many countries).
Changes in asset allocation are heavily influenced by the volatility in equity markets, and thus usually constitutes an imperfect indicator of investment strategies. Nevertheless, this indicator is useful in assessing strategies in short periods of relative financial stability, such as 2003-2008. The asset allocation of other OECD countries differs substantially from the five countries appearing in this figure. While in the UK, US, Japan, Australia and the Netherlands, equities constitute over 50% of pension funds assets, in the rest of the OECD—including Norway, Denmark, Poland and Mexico—bonds still accounts for over 50% of assets. In Spain, Mexico, and South Korea, equities represent less than 15% of pension fund’s investment portfolio.
BRIC House. www.securities.com
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Realizing a Nation’s Potential Caryle Murphy
itting in his spacious Riyadh office, Khalid Al Khudair smiled as he recalled how “everyone laughed” when he started building Al Yamamah University on the desert outskirts of this city. “Too far out,” people said. Then, the first crop of 126 students plummeted to 40 in just one semester because many could not cope with the course work. The new university was “too hard,” people said. But Al Khudair persevered. Today, Al Yamamah has 1,400 students—half of them women—and is recognized as one of the kingdom’s most innovative and forwardlooking private universities. Still, critics remain. They send Al Khudair emails and text messages complaining that he is spreading harmful “liberal” ideas among Saudi youth. New acquaintances sometimes turn cold and distant when they discover that Al Khudair is Al Yamamah’s founder. The middle-aged businessman is not perturbed by the flak because he sees himself on an historic mission. “If 40
we go back to our Islamic history, we created a lot of things,” he said. “I think we have to be part of the world. We have smart people….I want my students to think they can have the Nobel Prize one day.” Al Yamamah’s success in such a short time—it opened in 2004—is evidence of the thirst for better education opportunities in this oil-rich kingdom. In the last decade, but particularly since King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz ascended to the throne in 2005, there has been a growing realization among policymakers that Saudi Arabia must revamp and expand its entire education system if it is going to meet the kingdom’s long-term demographic and economic challenges. Those challenges include a youth boom: About 70 percent of the country’s 22 million citizens are under 30. They include high unemployment rates—almost 7 percent among men and 25 percent among women. Moreover, if Saudi Arabia is going to successfully diversify its economy away from neartotal dependence on oil, as well as its dependence on foreign labor—which was 51 percent of the nation’s
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The reform and expansion of the Saudi education system is a crucial endeavour to address the Kingdom’s social, demographic and economic long-term challenges. It is no easy task, and to achieve it a three fold recipe is required—strong leadership, patience, and persistence.
The Human Condition total work force in 2007—then it has to develop its own people into skilled, educated workers. The king has made education a top priority; 26 percent of the national budget is now devoted to this sector. In 2009, that amounted to $32.5 billion. A good deal of that money has gone towards expanding higher education. A decade ago, Saudi Arabia had only eight public universities. Now there are 26, as well as 8 privately run universities. And 70,000 Saudis are now studying abroad on government scholarships. Many Saudis appreciated the need for education reform decades ago. But this need became more urgent after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States carried out by 19 suicide hijackers, 15 of them Saudi. This gave impetus to the efforts of those who want to broaden the horizons of Saudi youth by upgrading education. Mohammed Rasheed, who served as education minister from 1995 to 2005, was one of them. He is proud, he said in an interview, of what he managed to accomplish: Getting girls schools put under the same ministry as boys, for example, and modernizing math and science curriculums. But all too often, Rasheed said, his attempted reforms ran into resistance from conservatives who feared that change would dilute the religious component of education. They saw reform as dangerous appeasement of the West, especially the United States. When Rasheed campaigned for replacing rote memorization with a more interactive teaching method, the kingdom’s 400,000 K-12 teachers objected, he recalled, because “they were not used to it.” Even top officials in his own ministry “would agree with me” on new initiatives “but then I found out they were implementing something different from what I wanted.” This resistance, which stems from a religious culture suspicious of any change, is one of three major obstacles to improving the Saudi education system, according to Ahmad Al Eisa, author of the 2009 book, "Education Reform in the Kingdom." The lack of a detailed vision of education reform from the political leadership, and the highly centralized structure of education also are blocking effective reform, his book states. Al Eisa, who has been in education for 30 years and served as Al Yamamah’s first president, argues that the current system, rather than being renovated, should be rebuilt from the ground up. Labor Minister Ghazi Al Gosaibi called Al Eisa’s book, which was published in Lebanon and not available in bookstores here, “the most important book talking about a public issue within the past two decades.” Al Gosaibi also wrote that resistance to education reform is due to “strong ties between the prevailing values and the education system,” which creates the impression “that any attempt at educational change is an assault on the constant values of society.” This connection is even stronger when it comes to educating women and girls. Here, the trends all point in one, revolutionary direction: Saudi females are getting more and more educated every day. Today, women make up more than 58 % of university students.
But more needs to be done, according to a bold new report by Mona Al Munajjed, a sociologist and senior advisor with Booz & Company’s Ideation Center in Riyadh. As Al Munajjed writes in “Women’s Education in Saudi Arabia, The Way Forward,” the government needs “to formulate an educational reform strategy for young women that includes major structural changes in the school system and that will respond to the demands and priorities of a dynamic society.” The curriculum at girls’ schools through the secondary level is “dominated by religious studies and Arabic,” the report stated. And at university, the fields of study open to women “are limited”, and “do not correspond to the needs of the labor market.” “We have to upgrade ourselves, we women,” Al Munajjed said in an interview. “We have to be aware of what’s happening around us.” Most importantly, she added, “we have to differentiate between the local customs and traditions, and religion. There is too much confusion between them.”
This resistance, which stems from a religious culture suspicious of any change, is one of three major obstacles to improving the Saudi education system. The lack of a detailed vision of education reform from the political leadership, and the highly centralized structure of education also are blocking effective reform
Sorting out that confusion will be no easy matter; Which is why strong leadership, along with mountains of patience and persistence, is needed to bring Saudi education up to its full potential.
Caryle Murphy –Pulitzer Prize Winner in Journalism in 1991, is an independent journalist based in Riyadh. She is the author of “Passion for Islam” This article was published in The Majalla 12 March 2010
The Human Condition
Or why the ban is about French identity and not the rights of women The ban on the full veil in France has been defended as a means to protect the rights of women, but foremost to protect the definition of what is French. However, if the government intends to defend the quintessential values of the French state—liberty, equality and fraternity—they should take a second look at the partiality behind their definitions of what constitutes liberty and what constitutes equality. Rather than focusing on the ban, the government would benefit from revaluating the way it aims to integrate immigrants into French society.
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arly in February, French Prime Minister Francois Fillion announced that he was denying a Morroccan man citizenship because he forced his French wife to wear a burqa. Coinciding with a renewed debate over the place of the burqa and the niqab in France, Fillion’s decision to deny the man citizenship highlights an underlying issue in the country’s new initiative against face coverings. Although the government has argued that face coverings have no place in France because they contest the fundamental values of the French state (liberty, equality and most of all secularism), there is a degree of contradiction in the argument they present. True, gender equity is inextricable from equality and according to western standards the anonymity of a woman wearing a veil would be an affront to that equality. Yet should not people be at liberty to dress as they like? Is not respecting the social mores of other religions also a fundamental aspect of equality? In other words, by aiming to protect the secular nature of the French state, could the government not, in the end, subjugate the religious rights of women? Such questions have not been lost on the French public, with both sides arguing eloquently that they are defending what is most fair, and what is most French. However, the debate over the public banning of the burqa is more than a philosophical catch-22. There is more here than conflicting definitions between the value of equality and the value of liberty. This debate is instead representative of the real or perceived threat that French identity faces. A crisis which manifests itself in a debate over whose—the French or the Muslim Immigrants’—definition of liberty and equality should be the norm. This is not the first time that a law over the wearing of veils takes over French public thought. In the early 2000s France saw a rise in the number of Muslim students wearing veils in state schools. The refusal of some of these
students to remove their veils at their teachers’ behest led the French authorities to introduce legislation prohibiting the display of any symbols denoting religious or political affiliation, including but not limited to the veil. The law was passed in March 2004 by a significant majority of the French National Assembly. The ban being proposed today would build upon that law, prohibiting burqas in hospitals, schools, government offices and public transport. Women who continue to wear the full veil would be denied public services in these locations. If this law were passed, the government would be sending out the message that those whose religious practices fall outside a designated parameter of what is French, cannot benefit from French institutions. This would constitute a rather unwelcoming message, and one that could lead to a backlash from the Muslim community. France has an estimated 5 million Muslims, the largest Muslim population in Western Europe. Despite leading in this figure, the French Interior Ministry notes that approximately 1,900 women in France wear the full veil— that is less than 0.1% of France’s Muslim population. So why is the government igniting a divisive debate, when the number of people affected by the ban is negligible considering over 65 million people live in the French Republic? Again the figures support the notion that behind this law is not the rights of women, but rather the urgency with which the state would like to define what constitutes being French. This becomes especially clear in the government’s blindness to the similarities between forcing women to wear a veil and forcing them not to wear a veil. In other words, rather then liberating women, the government is appropriating their rights to create a more limited definition of what is French. The argument has been made that a ban on the full veil, would liberate women from oppressive families who force them into anonymity. While there are cases of husbands that force women to wear the veil, as Prime Minister Fillion indicated, the government is presumptuous in its
The Human Condition characterization of the veil as categorically involuntary behaviour. However, as New York Times contributor Sandeep Gopalan pointed out, if these families are forcing women to wear the full veil, what is to stop them from keeping them indoors full stop if the full veil is not an option—surely denying them access to public services is not going to promote their empowerment. Why, some might ask, would the French state choose to define what is French by limiting what women can or cannot wear? Women have historically played, and continue to play an important role in the construction of French identity and perhaps no figure better than Marianne explains why the French are fixated on how the values of liberty and equality are represented by women’s behaviour. Marianne, famously depicted by Eugene Delacroix’s work Liberty Guiding the People, can provide us in this case with great insight on the quintessential image of the French citizen. She is portrayed wearing a Phrygian cap, to symbolize liberty, with a musket in one hand and the French flag on the other. She is bare breasted, and falling in line with the anti-catholic establishment that defined much of the French Revolution, nothing about her can be associated to religion. Marianne, the consummate French citizen, is a militarized female defender of French secularism. However, the value of Marianne in this discussion is not limited to
her role as the symbol of French secularism, or laicité. She also ubiquitously represents the French state; embodied in statues, on stamps, and on government letterhead (to the point that Marianne is not only synonymous of French values but also of French taxes). Marianne is thus at the same time the French state, and the definition of the citizen, and she appears to have nothing left in common with the 1,900 women left in France who willingly wear a burqa. The ban on the full veil, is the French government’s reactionary response to protecting Marianne. The French government has interpreted the rise of its Muslim immigrant population, and perhaps more significantly the second generation’s affinity for overtly conservative
religious practices, as a threat to the ideal-type citizen; a symbol of the failure of the integration model expected by the French state of its immigrants. However, France is not alone in the challenges it faces to integrate its Muslim population. The Danish cartoon incident is one example among many of a prevalent intercultural-miscommunication between Westerners and Muslims. Beyond miscommunication, however, the Council of Foreign Relations, a Washington based think tank, points out that there is a far graver problem when it comes to integrating Muslim immigrants in Europe. Muslims in Europe are more likely than the general population to be poor and live in segregated, crime prone neighborhoods, and France is no exception. As a result of this segregation, they note, “Muslims that are not especially religious have been drawn to projecting strong Islamic identity.” In other words, initiatives like the ban of the burqa could do more harm to the government’s intentions of integrating Muslim immigrants. They do not address the causes behind the crisis of French citizenship. Rather, they completely ignore the failure of the integration model in place. Adding insult to injury, the ban of the burqa would, because of the number of people affected, barely constitute a response to the symptoms behind the failure of the French model of integration. The difficulty of the question is of course that the government cannot know for certain how many women wear the veil because they want to, how many do because they are made to, and how many wear the veil because its tradition. As the Council on Foreign Relation indicated, it is not unheard of that immigrant communities cling to conservative Muslim practices as a means of identifying themselves in contrast to the French ideal. The use of the veil could very well become a means of Muslim female empowerment. While this might not sit as easily with the French government, prohibiting the ban has the potential of inciting more, not less, conservative behaviour amongst the Muslim population. Instead of defining French identity with fashion—the irony of which has not been missed—and appropriating the rights of women in order to do so, the French government would do better by focusing on why integration has proved so difficult. It should take serious measures to reduce the conditions that lead to structural inequality of which Muslim immigrants are especially susceptible, and avoid the slippery slope against the liberties that a ban on the full veil might lead to.
This article was published in The Majalla 19 February 2010
The Human Condition
But A Game
Responding to Child Poverty in Egypt
Despite making great strides in lowering child mortality rates, Egypt has a long way to go in improving the living standards of its child citizens. The importance of assessing government run development programs is highlighted when Egypt’s advances are compared to those of Morrocco. Despite sharing similar challenges, their development trajectories may diverge substantially as a result of different government initiatives. Egypt should focus on addressing the causes of child poverty rather than responding to these social challenges symptomatically.
Image © Getty Images
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boy, maybe ten or eleven years old, eyes flashing with enthusiasm takes me to the second floor of a shelter for orphans and street children in Alexandria, eager to show me his room. When we get to his room he looks for something beside his bed. Moments later, he hands me a chocolate bar. Many images linger from my visit to community development projects in Egypt. But it is the memory of this boy and his desire to share even though he has very little in the way of material things himself that resonates most for me. His gratitude at being given the chance to live in a safe environment, with access to schooling and adequate meals was palpable—it was more than gratitude he was expressing, it was the joy of dignity, respect, and opportunity. Egypt has made great strides in lowering child mortality rates. The UNICEF 2009 State of the World’s Children Report illustrates the significance of these improvements in child welfare indicators. In 1990 Egypt had an underfive mortality rate of 93 per 1,000 births and by 2007 this had more than halved to 36. Its infant mortality rate for infants under the age of 1 stood at 68 in 1990. By 2007 it had dropped to 30. Despite this progress, Egypt has a long way to go to secure the human rights of its child citizens. In the 2009 State of the World’s Mothers Report, issued by the NGO Save the Children, Egypt ranks 22 on the Children’s Index rank (which measures child welfare) for what it classifies as “Tier two less developed countries.” To put this in an Arab states context, and this ranking is significantly better than Syria’s ranking of 55, Morocco’s ranking of 57, Libya’s ranking of 46, and Algeria’s ranking of 41. Only three Arab countries do significantly better in this ranking than Egypt: Jordan, Qatar and Bahrain. However, these generally strong numbers for Egypt are deceptive because Egypt fairs very poorly when the overall welfare of mothers and women are taken into account. A child’s well being is deeply informed by his/her mother’s
The Human Condition access to education, healthcare, economic resources, and equal legal rights. With consistently poor results in these rankings it is highly possible if not likely that Egypt will lose momentum and child welfare nationally will stagnate and soon decline. When the first UN Arab Human Development Report was issued in 2002 it focused on three key deficits that were preventing and slowing development in the Arab world: access to knowledge and education, women’s rights, and political freedoms. These remain key areas of concern. The lack of access to education and the lack of women’s rights have a particularly debilitating impact on children as they perpetuate a poverty trap and the marginalization of girls. Egypt is unique in the Arab world and faces exceptional human development challenges because of the large size of its population. Arab countries that have been able to achieve major improvements in child welfare tend to have both smaller populations, such as Jordan, and are significantly wealthier, such as Bahrain and Qatar. It is helpful to compare Morocco, a country with a similar GDP per capita as Egypt’s (according to the World Bank’s latest 2009 data, per-capita GDP stands at $2,580 in Morocco and at $1,800 in Egypt) with Egypt. Morocco, like Egypt, suffers from extreme poverty and high income inequality as well as an extensive problem of unemployment. According to UNICEF, its under-five mortality rate in 1990 was very close to Egypt’s, standing at 89 per 1,000 births. By 2007 this had dropped drastically to 34 per 1,000 births. The development trajectories of Egypt and Morocco may diverge substantially in future years, however, as their governments prioritize different areas for government expenditure. Morocco currently seems more invested in improving access to information, promoting the rights of women, and increasing educational opportunity. If these areas receive sufficient funding and are developed sustainably they are likely to yield significant improvements in Moroccan human development and the welfare of Moroccan children. Egypt’s massive military expenditures in particular undermine its capacity to combat poverty effectively and to provide for the needs of its children. Although there is an enormous gap between the needs of Egypt’s children to access their human rights as established in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child: including access to decent education, healthcare, shelter and sanitation facilities, and nutrition and Egyptian social realities, there are also successful child centered community development projects across the country that are making a tangible difference in the quality of life for Egyptian children and youth. A diverse group of NGOs are active in Egypt working with children. Some work under the auspices of large and familiar international NGOs such as PLAN, Save the Children, Oxfam, and CARE who partner with local Egyptian NGOs. Others are smaller NGOs without an international affiliation. The project with street children I visited in Alexandria is sponsored by the child-centered development NGO PLAN International. Major areas PLAN has focused its programming on include increasing school attendance, the creation of clubs where children have safe places to read and play, promoting the rights of girls and women, village savings and loans programs, revitalization and expansion of health and nutrition programs for children, and improving access to clean water and sanitation services.
PLAN places a unique emphasis on educating children about their human rights as children and providing them with opportunities in the media, community gatherings, and with government officials to communicate their concerns, needs, and experiences of human rights deprivations. While working on a local level to provide holistic support to children and to enable them to realize their rights to survival, development, and protection, PLAN also strives to promote child welfare on a larger scale across the nation.. Egypt’s greatest challenge is to scale up interventions like PLAN’s community-based programs and to use the financial and human resources of the state to do so, while coordinating them effectively. What are now projects limited to relatively small communities and reaching only a small percentage of Egyptian children and youth need to be expanded extensively. According to Save the Children, 54% of girls in rural Upper Egypt are not enrolled in school, for example. Ensuring universal enrollment in school for Egyptian children and improving teaching methodologies— which are often rote and involve memorization rather than interactive learning, a more effective way of engaging students—is one area the Egyptian government needs to prioritize. Some social challenges, such as the large and growing population of street children in Cairo and Alexandria are intricately connected to an array of complex and longstanding social problems: crime, poverty, domestic violence and child abuse that goes unpunished. There are many projects in Egypt that address these problems symptomatically rather than structurally, i.e. drop-in centers for street children that provide the immediate basic needs of children and reduce their vulnerability but do not address the underlying causes of their homelessness. This is not to underplay the importance of providing children that are already living on the street with their needs— rather, it is to emphasize that such a response is by its very nature partial and unlikely to lessen the number of children migrating to the street nor the push factors that cause them to do so. The lack of an organized and well financed government response in partnership with civil society to structural causes of child poverty and deprivation of child rights is common throughout the developing world and is not unique to Egypt. However, given the huge child and youth population of Egypt, the social, economic, and political consequences of not finally addressing this issue intensively and comprehensively poses a threat to the stability of the Egyptian state, in addition to the impoverishment in both human and financial terms that it causes to Egyptian society and Egypt’s children in particular. Egypt’s success in decreasing child mortality during the last two decades indicates that there is cause for hope. If political will matches the economic and human resources that Egypt possesses then the future of Egypt’s children will better reflect their human rights, intrinsic dignity, and potential to the benefit of Egyptian society at large.
Noam Schimmel is a London-based researcher and human rights practitioner with extensive development experience in the field. This article was published in The Majalla 12 March 2010
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Image ÂŠ Getty Images
Iraqis make their way to polls... 47
Dr Anne Marie Slaughter, Director of Policy Planning at the United States Department of State
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Dr Anne Marie Slaughter, the current Director of Policy Planning at the US State Department, talked to The Majalla about the Obama’s Administration unfinished business in the Middle East, the growing U.S. tensions with China, and the challenges to statecraft in an election year. Dr. Anne-Marie Slaughter runs what is widely regarded as Washington’s most influential think tank. As the Director of Policy Planning at the United States Department of State, she is the most recent in a long line of American diplomats and foreign policy intellectuals who have advised U.S. Secretaries of State dating back to 1947, when the office was established. Before entering public service, Dr. Slaughter was the Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Princeton and a professor of international law at the Harvard Law School. She is the author of several books on global affairs, including The Idea that Is America: Keeping Faith with Our Values in a Dangerous World. At the twilight of President Barack Obama’s eventful first year in office, Dr. Slaughter talked to The Majalla about the administration’s unfinished business in the Middle East, growing U.S. tensions with China, and the challenges to statecraft in a year of mid-term elections. The Majalla: The Middle East is a challenge for peacemakers even in the best of times. What is the most the Obama administration can expect to achieve in 2010 given the difficulties it faces at home? I think we can certainly hope for the beginning of serious negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and possibly other parties who would be essential to a broader settlement between those two 48
sides. And when I say serious I mean negotiations aimed at a final resolution of issues rather than just getting the process going again. Q: What would compel Israel to return to the negotiating table? It has a stable economy, its security wall has greatly reduced the number of terrorist attacks on its citizens, and the Palestinian condition is as remote to the average Israeli as it has ever been. Where will the pressure come from? I think one of the lessons of the administration’s first year is that engagement with individual countries within the Middle East process has to be about clarifying incentives and consequences so that it isn’t about putting direct pressure on a participant or to force it to take a position, so much as it is to make very clear how difficult issues are interconnected. We believe that when those perspectives are properly presented and understood there are strong interests on all sides to reach a final settlement. Q: Does that also apply to the Palestinians? They had good reason to hope Washington would apply enough pressure on Israel to ensure a freeze on West Bank settlements and it didn’t happen. To what extent did Israel’s refusal to freeze settlement expansion damage U.S. credibility in the region? The previous administration engaged these issues sporadically, off and on. The U.S. was sometimes not there at all, or it was sometimes there, though it was not clear how long it were going to be around.
Candid Conversations This new administration was clearly committed to engagement, though even the president himself has said our expectations were higher than they should have been about how easy this was going to be. I think we found ourselves in a position where everyone was waiting to see what we could extract or impose when in the end it is about mediating or directly engaging in ways that make clear what the choices are and what our own interests are. But it’s not going to be about us setting terms. Q: So you think the U.S. is still regarded as an honest broker in the Middle East? I think we are, though in the sense that I don’t think there is anyone else who is better placed then us to play that role. Q: There has been discussion in some quarters about how the Europeans should fill any vacuum in the region created by the Americans. We have always encouraged a sharing of responsibility. It is impossible to imagine a long-term stable peace between Israel and Palestine that did not allow for a large European economic role. Similarly, it is unlikely, given the EU’s growing political strength and the historic ties it has to different countries in the region to imagine the Europeans are going to play an economic role and not have a political one. So I don’t see a larger EU role as somehow threatening, or as a wedge that would ease out the U.S. If that were to happen, you’d be asking the same questions about EU credibility vis-à-vis Israel. Q: Let’s talk about America’s Arab allies and what it would take to bring them back to the table, beginning with Saudi Arabia. I think it’s important to recognize is that any new administration has to build its own relationships, particularly in the Middle East. It takes time to build up these links and to get a sense of each party’s overall strategies and priorities. Obviously we engage with Saudi Arabia in many different contexts, whether it is with Afghanistan or Pakistan or Iran, or with Israel, so there are a lot of dimensions to that relationship. I think we’ve been very supportive of the Arab Peace Initiative [of 2002] and that’s important but there is more to do there. President Obama’s watchword is that all countries have to take responsibility and nobody can wait until the end of the process to deliver. In other words, it has to be collective process where all parties with an interest in the process are giving bit by bit in a broader, confidence-building set of negotiations. So we’ve been in support of the Arab Peace Initiative but there are things that obviously we hope Saudi Arabia will do in response to what Israel will do rather than wait for a final settlement. Q: The Saudis’ might say it was not just the Arab Peace Initiative they fought for. There was the Riyadh Agreement in 2007, when King Abdullah waged his credibility brokering a deal between Hamas and Fatah, in which Hamas effectively recognized Israel by giving Fatah the mandate to negotiate for peace. Both Israel and Washington
ignored this, so why should they go to bat for you now? I would say that in this world and on these issues, “effectively” is not good enough. We’ve made it very clear to Hamas that it must accept the Quartet’s principals. We want Saudi Arabia engaged, which is a good thing. But there are very clear red lines in terms of our ability to engage Hamas. Q: A cultural anthropologist might say that in the Middle East, a de facto position can evolve into a de jure one if patiently cultivated. In the first place, there are plenty of people on all sides who get the culture and we have very experienced negotiators like Senator George Mitchell in the region. I think it does matter that even though this process has been going on for decade, when a new administration, a new team, comes in, it takes a while to develop personal relations in addition to longer-term diplomatic relations. What might be possible at the end of an administration in terms of accepting different moves and actions may be harder at the beginning of the administration. Q: What about Egypt? Are you satisfied with the role Cairo is playing? Egypt has been very actively engaged on the Gaza side and with Hamas and Fatah. I think the Egyptian perception of the need for urgent action has increased, particularly regarding their efforts to broker a solution. The Egyptians are working hard. They have not been successful in their efforts to broker an agreement, both between Hamas and Fatah but also with the Israelis on prisoner exchanges. They’ve worked hard and persistently so. Q: Let’s depart from the Middle East to focus on America’s relations with China, which is no longer a parochial concern but a global one. Sino-U.S. ties have been taking a beating lately, due to the row between Google and Beijing over Web censorship, U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, and President Obama’s scheduled meeting with the Dalai Lama. How bad can this get? The issues of the Dalai Lama and arms sales are always very difficult. We’ve made clear that even though we see China as an important partner in a lot of areas and a very important emerging power with whom we want to cooperate, that doesn’t mean we are always going to agree on everything and it doesn’t mean we’ll always tailor our policies to maintain harmony with China all the time. These are issues that come up regularly, with every administration. So it’s a rocky set of issues but at the same time my office was [in Beijing] all last week making arrangement for the next Strategic Economic Dialogue [between the U.S. and China.] Even close allies have their disagreements. Just think of our relations with Europe, where we’re constantly having crises. When close allies have problems, that’s what make the news. China is a country with which we have partnerships but we also diverge from each other at times. 49
Issue 1551 - 5 April 2010
Q: The press is playing this up as if there has been a qualitative change in the relationship, as if China is somehow shifting the rules as it emerges into a global power. Do you think that’s overdone? I do. I think that the global financial crisis has effected the perception and self-perception of many nations and China has come out of the crisis strongly, although I don’t think the end of that story is yet written. The U.S. obviously has a lot of work to do and that has given many individual Chinese a different perspective on their own rise. But again, over the longer term the Chinese government is well aware of how far it still has to go in development because it needs continued growth to bring another hundred million or so people out of poverty. And as the president made clear in his State of the Union address, the United States is well aware of what we have to do. So I don’t think the fundamentals have changed. Q: And China’s threat to sanction major U.S. firms that sell arms to Taiwan? For the Chinese to start sanctioning companies on whom their export markets ultimately depend is probably not very wise over the long term. Q: A devil’s advocate might say it is not wise to antagonize your banker, which is the role China plays to an indebted U.S. government. I think the global economy is very interconnected and it is hard to see these relationships in one-way terms. Q: What are your personal objectives for 2010? To fulfill the secretary’s desire to see us build up our capability in a whole range of areas, but above all to strengthen development capacity and to connect it to
what we do on the diplomatic side so that development and diplomacy are equal pillars of the civilian side of our foreign policy. Q: It’s an election year in America. To what extent do the demands of domestic politics compromise your ability to achieve your goals abroad? The administration has made it clear that it does not want a peace process for the sake of process. It wants negotiations towards peace. At the same time, it understands that even if you get those negotiations going and they are completely serious, they are not going to deliver a comprehensive settlement overnight. We’re talking months and maybe years. I don’t actually think there is any thought they’re going to deliver a peace settlement before the mid-term elections [in November]. The flip side is I don’t think this is an election that will be determined by foreign policy issues. There are so many domestic priorities, the economy being priority no. 1, but also jobs and health care, and financial regulation, that will crowd out attention to foreign affairs. The State of the Union was a good guide. The president did not mention foreign policy for almost an hour, and in my lifetime that’s a first.
Interview conducted by Stephen Glain This article was published in The Majalla 12 February 2010
The Future of Democracy in the Middle East
Daniel Brumberg, acting Director of the United States Institute of Peace’s Muslim World Initiative.
Professor Brumberg discusses with The Majalla the latest report by the United States Institute of Peace. He raises questions regarding the appropriate measures that the US should put in place to protect its security interests in the region, highlighting the role of democracy. Brumberg also discusses the conditions that are necessary for liberalized autocracies to promote democratization. 50
Candid Conversations Daniel Brumberg is acting director of the United States Institute of Peace’s Muslim World Initiative. Brumberg is also an associate professor at Georgetown university and a former senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment’s Democracy and Rule of Law Project. His research focuses on issues of democratization and political reform in the Middle East and wider Islamic world. With a grant from the MacArthur Foundation, he is currently working on a comparative study of power-sharing experiments in Algeria, Kuwait and Indonesia. A brief review of his most recent publication with the United States institute of Peace was published last week on The Majalla. The Majalla: Do you believe there is an incompatibility between Islam and Democracy? No, I don’t think there is an essential incompatibility between the two. It is the case that in any religious system— whether it is Judaism, Christianity or Islam—if a government is supposed to be based on religious precepts there is going to be a certain tension. I think democracy faces a broader problem that is not related to Islam. Religious ideas do not sit very well with democracy because religion, by its very nature, insists on very strict notions of moral life. If you look at studies that compare the Arab world to the Islamic world, you will see that where you have Muslim majority societies such as Indonesia and Senegal, in which democracy is done remarkably well, there is no evidence to suggest that it is the Islamic nature of Muslim majority societies that accounts for the presence or absence of democracy. There is some aspect of Arab politics and the Middle East that is to account for the phenomenon and not Islam itself. Q: What processes do you think are necessary for political reform in the Middle East? Political reform is not a new phenomenon in the Middle East, it did not begin with the Bush administration’s effort to promote it. In fact, there was a long legacy of state instigated political reform that goes back many decades. The primary example of that is Egypt in the 70’s and the political liberalization undertaken by the late President Amar Sadat. This is a good example of how regimes have used and invoked political reform not as a mechanism for actual democratization, but actually as a mechanism for holding on to power. So political reform as an instrument of state power is an old phenomenon in many Middle East states, not all, but many. The question that I am interested in, and the question that the USIP report tackles on reform and security is the extent to which the state managed game of political change—in which the state defines the rules for political change— can go beyond by a game that is largely defined by the state and move towards a pattern of political reform that is much more substantive and has a basis in the society itself.
Q: Is political reform in the Middle East then primarily a bottom up or top down process? It has to be both, in part because of the extent to which the boundaries of reform have been determined by states and regimes. Yet the US has based its hopes for democratic change in the Middle East largely on the hope that civil society groups and NGOs, through their own activism and their own actions, will be able to compel regimes to engage in political reform. That hope, what we call in our field a demand side approach— that demand is coming from civil society—has not been fulfilled.
Political reform is not a new phenomenon in the Middle East, it did not begin with the Bush administration’s effort to promote it There has to be a supply of democratic change from above. Therefore regimes have to see beyond the limits of reform that they have so far imposed, and that means a form of political liberalization that is wider. It also implies a genuine dialogue between regimes and opposition. Not the kind of dialogues you had between Egypt and elsewhere which are choreographed by the state. That’s typical of the region. Regimes are constantly engaging in dialogues but they are mostly really monologues, not dialogues with a goal of defining a political formula that moves beyond the boundaries of state managed political reform. Q: How do you explain the ability of liberalized autocracies to endure despite predications of their inevitable downfall? There are several reasons why they have succeeded so far. These regimes are not based solely on coercion and force. They provide goods and services, and they provide patronage, they have their own organized constituencies. They are able to buy political support to some extent by distributing all kinds of favours and goodies from the state. So they are not really coercive in that sense, they are patron states. But also these regimes extend the kind of protection to various groups in society. It’s a kind of protection in which the regime guarantees the safety of all groups, particularly those non-Islamist groups who are afraid of the outcome of a fully democratic game. What the state does is essentially liberalize but not democratize. Therefore you can participate but not face the possibility of an election in which you or your allies will be politically isolated. Algeria is a great example: the regime extends protection to nonIslamist groups afraid of going back to the elections of 1988-89. So non-Islamist groups get protection from these regimes, but so do Islamist groups. That’s 51
Candid Conversations the name of the game, you have to protect everybody. Even the Egyptian state, which does not allow the Ikhuwan-ul-Muslamin to establish their own political party, is very god at co-opting the Islamist message in the regime itself. It also has had a section of the NDP extend support to Islamists and to conservative Muslim leaders. States are good at creating their own constituencies and playing them off one against the other. It’s a divide and rule tactic, but these tactics are in part made possible because they are based on the fact that there are constituencies that prefer the status quo of state managed liberalization over the black hole of full democratization. That’s really what counts.
which are the coercive apparatus in the revolutionary guard make a lot more sense. These would probably be supported by the opposition. But broad based sanctions such as the kind that are supported by the US Congress are going to hurt the opposition much more than help them. Q: What kind of target sanctions, in this case, would be most effective? Economic and financial sanctions on the capacity of elements within the revolutionary guard to do business overseas, to import technology and capital, and to essentially service their own constituencies within the security apparatus would be most effective. Some of those targeted sanctions have been proposed by Congress and are getting more attention. Those are the kind of sanctions that the Obama administration is now supporting. In fact that the Obama administration has come out and said that the broader sanctions in Congress are wrong and counter-productive. There are a set of ideas in sanctions that can help more than they can hurt. Sanctions for the Congress are a way of making a statement in support of the opposition but it’s a statement that can do more harm than good. Q: The US has made various efforts to promote democracy in the Middle East. Do you think any of these have efforts have had the long term benefits that the US was looking for? Under the Bush administration there was both much continuity with previous administrations, and yet somewhat of a break. The break came in the form of the language of US support for democracy and the substance of our policies. Under the Bush administrations we began to speak to states much more clearly about the need for reform. At the same time we supported civil society groups. So this equation which I mentioned before—the demand side reform vs. supply side—was addressed by the Bush administration. The problem there was that there was a real hesitancy, once Islamist made advances in Egypt and Palestine, to support the pressure on regimes. The last two years of the Bush administration were spent reverting to the more traditional US policy to rely on civil society groups instead of pressuring regimes themselves. We are probably now back on that traditional policy. It is a policy that is largely risk free because we promote political reform by supporting civil society groups which don’t really have the capacity to force regimes to change. We can appear to be supporting democracy without jeopardizing our relationship with regimes—the cake and eat it too strategy. So we had a period of two to three years under the Bush administration which turns out to be in retrospect quite exceptional. Even during the last two years of the
Issue 1551 - 5 April 2010
The goal is not simply to decimate the Taliban but have a military strong enough to force them to negotiate, but that requires a military that is strong well trained and doesn’t depend ultimately on the US Q: For the case of Iran, what type of political struggle do you think would promote democracy? Iran is in some sense a mirror image of the case of the Arab world. In the Arab world you have semi-secular regimes that extend protection to all kinds of groups but particularly non-Islamist groups—bureaucrats, the business community, secular intellectual. In Iran it’s a regime rule by Islamists, and they extend the protection of an autocratic state to their constituencies and the clergy, the true believers, the hardliners who want to maintain a close relationship between mosque and state. As a result those who control the Iranian state speak not simply for themselves, but also for a constituency of several million or more for whom any political liberalization is a threat because liberalization is seen as opening the door to the nonIslamist opposition. Iran is a highly divided society and it is ruled by an elite that sees any form of democratization as a slippery slope towards its own downfall. As a consequence there is no real incentive from those in power to make any concessions to the opposition. The problem is that the opposition doesn’t really have the power to bring down the regime. The most likely scenario will be one of conflict and stalemate for some time, maybe even years. Q: How do you assess policies from the West towards Iran that encourage sanctions? Do they promote change, or do they do more harm than good? Broad based sanctions, or what we call crippling sanctions, hurt the opposition more than the regime. As a result, broad based sanctions on say imported gas are probably very counterproductive in terms of any resolution of the conflict between the regime and the opposition, and in their ability to provide some measure of political liberalization. Target sanctions 52
Candid Conversations administration we were back to a policy of supporting political reform and not democracy, because they are not the same. Whether we are ready now to walk the walk and really support democracy instead of patterns of political change that are ultimately determined by regimes remains to be seen. Q: Implicit in your answer is the possibility that even a democratic country would not be US friendly. Is that the case? That is a possibility. Governments, including the United States, do not like uncertainty, especially in the diplomatic field. But we really don’t know what the foreign policy of regimes in the region would look like if Islamist played an important part in the regimes as a consequence of elections. Elections leading to power sharing arrangements that would be inclusive of Islamists wouldn’t necessarily change the foreign policy of these regimes because that power sharing formula would have to be negotiated. It is also unlikely that if Islamist had a stronger role in government in either Egypt or Jordan, that they would scrap their peace treaties with Israel. Also, we don’t know what any of these dynamics would look like in the context of a successful peace process between Israel and Palestine. Its probably the case that there can be no real progress in terms of democratization in the region in the absence of a parallel effort to bring the Arab-Israeli conflict to a successful resolution and a just one.
We really don’t know what the foreign policy of regimes in the region would look like if Islamists played an important part in the regimes as a consequence of elections
Q: What policies do you think are necessary for Afghanistan to build its credibility and improve its stability? The problem with Afghanistan is that you have had elections in the absence of a strong state. In the absence of a state that has a strong legitimacy, elections are bound to be really about the distribution of patronage, like the paying off of war lords, than it is about strengthening the legitimacy of the state. So you need a functioning army, you need to fight corruption, you need patterns of government that are legitimate and efficient for democracy to work. The effort to fix the state by democracy alone, to some extent, flipped the formula. For example if you have a military preying upon the local population, all the elections in the world
would probably strengthen forces opposed to the state because the state is seen as predatory. That doesn’t mean the democratic process should be suspended, but that in parallel with that process, there should be a focus on issues of economic reform, education, corruption, governance and so on. If you don’t do that, democracy will probably be de-stabilising instead of stabilizing. Q: Will the surge in troops in Afghanistan by the US be able to achieve its intended objectives? I doubt it. I think the surge planned is probably inadequate for achieving the strategic aims defined by the administration. I hope that I will be proven wrong. It seems to me that politically it was impossible to make the argument for a larger surge than the one defined by the administration and they will try to make it work within the troop increase, but considering the timework defined, we have a very limited window of opportunity to strengthen the state and the army giving them a capacity to both address the Taliban militarily and politically. The goal is not simply to decimate the Taliban but have a military strong enough to force them to negotiate, but that requires a military that is strong well trained and doesn’t depend ultimately on the US. That is a lot to accomplish in the timeframe established by the Obama administration. We’ll have to keep our fingers crossed. Q: How do you assess the upcoming elections in Iraq, especially considering the disqualification of candidates allegedly affiliated to the Baath party? I think if the disqualification isn’t overruled [the decision was postponed until after the elections] its going to do great harm to the legitimacy of the elections. If the Sunni community is given a reason to boycott the elections it increases the readiness of some Sunni actors to go back to the old days with an insurgency against the regime. That will increase the fear factor of the Shiite community and undermine prospects of Sunni-Shiite reconciliation. In the last year we have seen this pattern where the two sides go to the brink and then step back from it, we may still see it but if they don’t step back this disqualification is going to really harm the election process. If it’s not thrown out we may see an election that is seen by the Sunni community as illegitimate. Al Qaeda and its mobile operatives are resorting to the use of bombings to rekindle the civil war that occurred in Iraq. That hasn’t happened because Shia leaders haven’t taken the bait, but this disqualification makes the process of reconciliation difficult.
Interview conducted by Paula Mejia This article was published in The Majalla 12 March 2010
Issue 1551 - 5 April 2010
The Islamic Republic of
Pakistani Politics The name Pakistan was derived from an idea first suggested in 1933 when Chaudhuri Rahmat Ali, a student, proposed that there should be a separate homeland for the Muslim-majority provinces in the north-west of the Indian subcontinent as well as the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. The name was formulated from: P for Punjab, A for the Afghanis of the north-west frontier, K for Kashmir, S for Sind and Tan denoting Baluchistan. The word also means land of the pure in Urdu. After India gained independence from Great Britain, the subcontinent was partitioned into Hindudominated but nominally secular India and the newly created Muslim state of Pakistan in 1947. Severe rioting and population movement ensued and an estimated half a million people were killed in communal violence. Since partition, the territory of Jammu and Kashmir has remained in dispute, with Pakistan and India both holding sectors. Since independence however, tensions with India
have not been Pakistan’s only problems. The country’s other troubling traditions are the military’s role as the arbiter of power, with four coups in the country’s 60 years, as well as problems with corruption and political violence. An important example of the effect of the military on national politics was the tenure of its former military commander, General Pervez Musharraf. General Musharaf was forced from power in 2007 and replaced by current President Zadari, the widower of Musharraf’s former rival Benazir Bhutto. Musharraf’s tenure was dominated by the aftermath of the Sept. 11th attacks, as well as political instability and the rise of Islamic extremist groups. Prior to 9/11 Pakistan’s intelligence services and portions of the military had been backers of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. However, once the War on Terror began, the United States demanded that Pakistan turn against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Mr. Musharraf agreed, but then walked a tightrope between satisfying the Bush 55
Country Brief administration without inflaming Islamic groups that strongly support al Qaeda. Since the rise of Islamic extremism in the regions, the mountains of western Pakistan have become a haven for Al Qaeda and the Taliban and a launch pad for increasing numbers of extremist attacks in Afghanistan and within Pakistan. Despite the political instability that arose from the presence of extremist groups in the country, the coup de grace for General Musharraf was his attempt to force out the chief justice of Pakistan’s Supreme Court, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry. This led Musharraf to negotiate a power sharing agreement with Ms. Bhutto, the former prime minister then in exile although none was reached. As a result, fearing that the reinstated court would rule against him, Musharraf declared a state of emergency. On Nov. 28, 2007, Mr. Musharraf gave up his military rank, and two weeks later ended emergency rule. Two weeks before the Pakistani general election of 2008, Ms. Bhutto, who was the leading opposition candidate, was assassinated. On December 27, 2007 as Ms. Bhutto was leaving a rally for the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) a bomb was detonated which killed her and sent the country into mourning. After Bhutto’s death her husband Zardari and Mr. Sharif, the other prominent rival of Musharraf, formed a governing coalition, which declared that it would seek the impeachment of Mr. Musharraf, who soon after announced his resignation.
The Islamic Republic of Pakistan
Capital: Islamabad Independence: August 14, 1947 from British India Chief of State: President Asif Ali Zadari since 9 September 2008 Head of Government: Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani since 25 March 2008
Border countries: Afghanistan 2,340 km, China 523 km, India 2, 912 km, Iran 909 km Land Boundaries: 6,774 km
Issue 1551 - 5 April 2010
Population: 174,578,558 Ethnic groups: Punjabi 44.68%, Pashtun (Pathan) 15.42%, Sindhi 14.1%, Sariaki 8.38%, Muhajirs 7.57%, Balochi 3.57 %, other 6.28% Religions: Muslim 95% (Sunni 75%, Shia 20%), other 5% Languages: Punjabi 48%, Sindhi 12%, Siraiki 10%, Pashtu 8%, Urdu (official) 8%, Balochi 3%, Hindko 2%, Brahui 1%, English (official language of elite and most government ministries), Burushaski, and other 8% 56
GDP (ppp): $448.1 billion GDP composition by sector: agriculture: 20.8%, industry: 24.3%, services: 54.9% Investment (gross fixed) 18% of GDP Inflation rate 14.2% Unemployment rate 15.2% Population below poverty line 24%
Pakistan and the War on Terror Pakistanis long supported the Taliban and other militant groups as allies to exert influence in neighbouring Afghanistan and as a hedge against India. Because they had never lived under Taliban rule, they were slow to appreciate the danger the Taliban posed. After Mr. Zardari took office, he launched an aggressive campaign against the Taliban in the western provinces. However American officials have continually raised questions about his commitment to combating the Taliban, often indicating to the links that Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, has with militant groups. Mr. Zardari’s rule has thus been characterized as a balancing act, as he seeks to appease both the United States, a military with close ties to militants and a populace angry at what was widely seen as American interference in the country’s government. Through 2008 and early 2009 the influence of the Taliban spread from the remote mountains along the Af-Pak border. The region of Swat in particular, has become the main scene of infiltration, intimidation and constant fighting. However, in early 2009 the government reached a truce agreement with militants there when Mr. Zardari signed a measure that would impose Islamic law in the valley. Nonetheless, Taliban militants, most of them under the leadership of Mullah Fazlullah, have since continued to attack the government. By mid 2009, the insurgency began to pose a serious threat to the Pakistani state. As a result, the government initiated an attack to take back the regions seized by the militants, unleashing air and ground forces in tribal areas along the country’s western border with Afghanistan and areas like the Swat Valley and South Waziristan. Despite the successes of the military campaign, these efforts had substantial costs for the civilians caught in the conflict. There were massive refugee outflows, and many Pakistanis were against American drone attacks which had killed many of their relatives. However, their anger at the Taliban outweighed their dislike for the joint Paksitani-American efforts in the country.
Image © Getty Images
Tensions between Pakistan and India: A Time Line
After Mr. Zardari took office, he launched an aggressive campaign against the Taliban
1947-48 War: In October 1947, after Pakistan supported a Muslim insurgency in Kashmir, India and Pakistan went to war. Although India agreed to a request for armed assistance from Kashmir’s Maharaja, in return for accession of the state to India the status f the territory remained in dispute because a referendum on accession was never held. The war ended on 1 January 1949, with the establishment of a ceasefire line. 1965 War: The two countries went to war again after Pakistan launched a covert offensive across the ceasefire line into Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir. India retaliated by crossing the international border at Lahore. 1971 War: Pakistan descended into civil war after East Pakistan demanded autonomy and later independence. India invaded East Pakistan in support of its people after millions of civilians fled to India. At the end of 1971, Bangladesh was created out of East Pakistan. 1989 Kashmir Insurgency: Armed resistance to Indian rule broke out in the Kashmir valley in 1989, with some groups calling for independence and others calling for union with Pakistan. India accused Pakistan of supplying weapons to the militants. During the 1990s, with the emergence of militant Muslim groups, the movement’s ideology became essentially Islamic in nature. 1996-1997 Diplomatic Push: India and Pakistan set up low-level meetings to defuse tension over Jammu and Kashmir. The diplomatic push became more concerted a year later and an agenda for peace talks was agreed on. Also in 1997, Pakistan suggested that the two sides meet to discuss restraining nuclear and missile capabilities. 1998 Nuclear Arms Race: Fears of a nuclear confrontation grew, after both sides conducted nuclear tests. The US ordered sanctions against both countries, with several European nations doing the same. Tensions were reduced early the following year after the two sides signed an accord pledging to intensify efforts to resolve all issues – including that of Jammu and Kashmir. 1999 Kargil Conflict: Conflict again erupted after India launched air strikes against Pakistani-backed forces that had infiltrated Indian-administered Kashmir. Fighting built up towards a direct conflict between the two states and tens of thousands of people were reported to have fled their homes on both sides of the ceasefire line. Later that year, General Musharraf led a military coup in Pakistan. 2000 Tensions: Conflict along the ceasefire line continued. In October 38 people were killed after an attack on the Kashmiri assembly in Srinagar. A month later, 14 people were killed in an attack on the Indian parliament in Delhi. India again blamed Pakistanibacked Kashmiri militants. A dramatic build up of troops along the Indo-Pakistan border ensued. 57
Issue 1551 - 5 April 2010
Behind Iraq’s Sectarianism
A review of “Muqtada al-Sadr and the Shia Insurgency in Iraq” by Patrick Cockburn, Faber 2009 Muqtada al-Sadr, a radical Shia cleric, has defined much of Shia politics since the US invasion of Iraq. How and why this young cleric managed to enthral and militarize a portion of the Shia population is addressed in Patrick Cockburn’s latest book. Although designed as a biography of Muqtada, this book is much more, providing insight on the history of Iraq’s politics and insight on its place in the region.
llustration © Graphic News
fter Operation Iraqi Freedom managed to topple Saddam Hussein, one thing was clear, that the Coalition Armed Forces had not planned for the political vacuum that was to follow. Although postinvasion state building has proved more of an art than a precise science, part of the reason for the US’s under prepared policies was their misunderstanding of Iraqi politics. As a result, out of the ashes of the war arose Muqtada al-Sadr, a radical Shia cleric, who not only understood Iraqi politics but had the capacity of mobilizing the young urban poor into a militia known as the Mehdi Army. Since his rise, al-Sadr has become an enigma, but a force to be reckoned with for allies and Iraqis alike. Recognizing that the story behind his rise and that of the Shia insurgency in Iraq are little understood outside the region, Patrick Cockburn, an Irish journalist based in Iraq since 1977, takes on the challenge of explaining this phenomenon to the world in his latest book. His fascinating account manages to turn the biography of one leader, Muqtada alSadr, into a study of Shiism and the importance of sectarian conflict in Iraqi politics. Despite the overwhelming amount of literature and interest on sectarianism in the region, Cockburn’s style and choice of content sets his book apart. The book addresses a range of issues, from the historical split between Shias and Sunnis, to current struggles within Iraq over sectarian issues. The breath of the book allows
Cockburn to account for the most significant moments in Iraqi politics and demonstrate how this combination of events led to the rise of the Shia insurgency and of Muqtada al-Sadr himself. Although the book does not begin to discuss Muqtada himself until the 9th chapter, the author’s choice in bringing the protagonist in at this point is not without merit. In fact, this strategic decision allows Cockburn to place Muqtada’s movement within the country’s historical context, thus explaining Muqtada’s popularity. More specifically, Cockburn illustrates how Muqtada managed to place himself as the natural heir to the leadership of the Shia in Iraq by building upon a discourse of the martyrdom that so affected his family, including his father and his father in law. Beyond depicting Muqtada al-Sadr’s life, this book also highlights the life and decision making of Iraq’s past rulers, particularly that of Saddam Hussein. Hussein’s rise and fall is depicted as a consequence of the leader’s skill, and his overwhelming misunderstanding of Iraq’s position in the region. Cockburn particularly succeeds in providing an uncomplicated account of the coup-proof regime that Saddam Hussein built. At the foundation of his regime, Cockburn argues, were military police and tribal allegiances. Most importantly, however, “was the jump in oil prices after 1973, which provided Baathists with funds sufficient to raise the living standards of all Iraqis and quell popular discontent.” This combination made Shiite clerics, and other politically active Shiites in the Dawa Party feel that there was a very little
The Critics chance of success if they were to confront Hussein. Beyond explaining the political trajectory of Iraq’s notorious dictator, Cockburn’s inclusion of the US’s support for Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war is also presented as an important historical lesson for Western allies with interests in the region. The same can be said of the US’s support for sanctions against Iraq. In recounting the impact of the US’s policies, Cockburn explains how Western countries did their fair share in encouraging sectarian conflict. Cockburn notes that the Iraqi economy and society were collapsing under the weight of the UN sanctions imposed after the invasion of Kuwait. As a result of the sanctions, millions of Iraqis saw their lives ruined, and this partly explains why they were so receptive to Sadr’s message. Much like the US’s support for the Mujahideen in Afghanistan during Soviet occupation, Cockburn’s implications here are clear. The US and other governments should be weary of who they support and how, lest their policies do more harm than good, and end up creating the type of resentment that surely contributed to the anti-American sentiment felt in the country. Cockburn’s evaluation of Iraqi politics is also important for the insight it provides on the combination between Shiism and nationalism that Muqtada al-Sadr would later rekindle as a foundation for his movement. Cockburn explains that the Shia in Iraq “were nationalist though their definition of what this meant in terms of Iraqi national
identity was different from that of the Sunni…Unlike the Kurds the Shia demand had never been for the destruction or weakening of the Iraqi state but rather a fairer share of power within it and an end to anti-Shia discrimination.”. The Sadrist movement that inspired Cockburn’s book would be comprised of a “potent blend” of Iraqi nationalist and Shia religious identity. Thus, the sectarian component of nationalism would come to explain the surprising popularity of Sadrism both under Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr between 1992 until 1999 and later under his son Muqtada. Cockburn’s book is a success in terms of its aim of presenting Muqtada al-Sadr’s rise within Iraq’s historical context. Most importantly, he demonstrates that if his rise was a shock to anyone, it was only for their lack of understanding of the evolution of Shia politics in the country, and its role in creating a specific brand of Iraqi nationalism. More than a biography Muqtada al-Sadr and the Shia Insurgency in Iraq, has the content worthy of a history book, and an analysis valuable for political scientists and lay people alike. Engrossing, and well researched, this book is not only readable; it is highly informative for anyone interested in understanding Iraqi politics today.
This article was published in The Majalla 5 March 2010
The Edge of Darkness
Issue 1551 - 5 April 2010
Yemen: Fear of Failure, Ginny Hill, Chatham House, January 2010
Yemen is increasingly becoming a liability to the stability of the Arabian peninsula. International actors should cooperate with regional powers to promote initiatives that will improve Yemen’s current situation. From development programs to counterterrorism measures, the Chatham House report explains which policies would best help Yemen at this crucial moment. 60
emen’s increasing instability has gradually become an important challenge for Western diplomats seeking to decrease the number of countries that function as de facto terrorist safe-havens. The multiplicity of socio-economic and political problems that Yemen faces have fostered a crisis and only worsened the state’s ability to govern over the country’s remote areas. Acutely aware of the challenges that Yemen’s potential as a failed state poses to regional security, Chatham House’s Ginny Hill revises a previous report on the current obstacles facing the Yemeni state. By building on prior research, the report, Yemen: Fear of Failure, is able to highlight the areas in which the security situation has worsened and why. As such, the report provides insightful policy recommendations for Yemen’s government, its regional partners, and its Western allies. Of the various themes explored by Chatham House, the fact that Yemen is at an important crossroads stands out as its most important message of the report. Development figures that confirm its standing as the poorest nation in the Arab world—struggling with 27% inflation, 40% unemployment, rapid population growth—stand in stark contrast with Yemen’s legacy as the Arabian Peninsula’s first democracy. How did it come to this? In addition to problems regarding state presence in remote regions of the country, the civil war in the North, the separatist movement in the South, and the resurgence of terrorist groups in the country have done little to help Yemen take the reigns of its own future. In addition, the report highlights that economic factors have had an important role as drivers of instability. ‘The state budget is heavily dependent on revenue from dwindling oil supplies. Yemen’s window of opportunity to shape its own future and cerate a post oil economy is narrowing.’ Unfortunately for Yemen, these conditions are not improving. Rather, they are encouraging the development of a vicious cycle in which a lack of economic opportunity encourages violence and instability, which in turn hinders the possibility of economic development. An important example of the vicious cycle created in Yemen is the growing presence of terrorist groups. The report noted more specifically that in 2009 al Qaeda’s branches in Yemen and those in the rest of the Arabian Peninsula merged to form a single transitional organization: al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP. In August, the report notes, ‘Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Interior Minister, Prince Muhammad bin Naif, narrowly escaped assassination when an al Qaeda affiliate blew himself up at the prince’s house after passing several security checks.’ The AQAP has acknowledged its responsibility in the plot, claiming it was a response to American led missile strikes that had taken place earlier in the year. Terrorism, however, is not the only security problem Yemen faces. The Chatham House report notes how significant Yemen’s location is for various regional interests, and how the rise in insecurity could jeopardize important initiatives that would affect the entirety of the region. For one, its position on the Red Sea makes the rise in piracy coming from Yemen problematic. Other security
concerns have had negative implications for the security of shipping routes, including the transit of oil through the Suez Canal. Moreover, it is argued that the instability of Yemen could spread ‘a lawless zone stretching from northern Kenya, through Somalia and the Gulf of Aden.’ Needless to say, both Yemen and stakeholders in the region have a vested interest in seeing the security situation of the country improve. Underscoring this point, the report makes important observations, particularly for the West, of how to help Yemen (or, more specifically, how not to help Yemen). With regards to the necessity of a political settlement, Hill argues that external mediation will be a fundamental necessity so as to improve the government’s legitimacy and support their conflict resolution measures. However, the report is very clear about the way in which Western governments should not become involved noting that ‘Direct Western mediation would inappropriate and counter-productive.’ This approach would likely, it is argued, encourage backlash and undermine the legitimacy of the government.
The report notes how significant Yemen’s location is for various regional interests, and how the rise in insecurity could jeopardize important initiatives that would affect the entirety of the region On the other hand, the report explains that Arab states, working in partnership with key international actors, have an important role to play in direct mediation. This recommendation is insightful in its ability to gauge the suspicion Yemenis have of direct intervention, and the alternative recipe is likely to provide the intended results. Nonetheless, as the report indicates, Yemen is a wild card with regards to very important Western interests and it is unlikely that many Western governments are going to stand back completely if they see that conditions are not improving. Furthermore, one should question what the report means by regional cooperation with Western governments. Would these include US led military attacks against terrorist in the country? These are important questions that are left unanswered by the report. However, the Yemen :Fear of Failure explores the importance of economic aid, arguing that it should be a priority for international actors to encourage President Saleh to revive the stagnant reform process and improve elite compliance. Hill notes that ‘Since 2006, international donors have pledged $5 billion in development aid but only a fraction of the money has been spent.’ As local donors and investors, members of the GCC are designated an important position in the future development of Yemen. A concerted regional approach thus appears as the fundamental recommendation for ensuring the future of the state.
For the full report please refer to: http://www.chathamhouse.org.uk This article was published in The Majalla 12 March 2010
An Inside Job
A review of “My Life with the Taliban”, by Abdul Salam Zaeef, Columbia University Press, 2010
Issue 1551 - 5 April 2010
My Life with the Taliban is the first book of its kind, a book about the Taliban written by one of its former senior members. It is an autobiography about Abdul Salam Zaeef, a former senior member of the group. It reads not just as a personal memoir but as a historical witness to the events that have ravished Afghanistan up to the present day. As such, My Life with the Taliban presents an alternative narrative to the orthodox viewpoint on who the Taliban really are. Look into your nearest bookshop window and you will probably see an array of titles covering “the War on Terror”, soldiers’ memoirs and histories on Afghanistan’s troubled past. There is a myriad of literature written on the subject of the Taliban as Western authors jump onto the bandwagon of terrorism, Islamaphobia and explosions in faraway countries. Not to render these works superfluous, but where is the inside perspective? Where is the evidence of personal experience? Right here in this book. My Life with the Taliban is the first book if its kind; a book about the Taliban written by one of its former senior members. It is the autobiography of Abdul Salam Zaeef, a member of the Taliban since they first formed in the early eighties. Zaeef is also a native to Kandahar, the province that gave birth to the movement. Born in 1968, his life spans some of the most formative events in Afghanistan’s history: from the Soviet invasion of 1979 to the exodus of Afghani refugees into Pakistan, as well as the factional fighting that resulted in the Taliban’s control of the government and the US invasion that followed. Zaeef’s first exploits with the Taliban began at the age of fifteen with guerrilla warfare against the Soviets; he then rose within the organisation and went on to serve as the Afghani ambassador to Pakistan. His memoirs also provide accounts of his suffering of abuse and degradation inside the prison walls of Guantanamo Bay. The book reads not just as a personal memoir but as a historical witness to the events that have ravished Afghanistan up to the present day. Zaeef’s story spans two continents and three countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States, the three nations that are perhaps most embroiled in the current conflict. The scene opens in Kandahar, Zaeef’s old stomping ground and the Taliban’s home turf. The book goes a long way in explaining the culture and identity of the Pashtun people, their tribal codes and power structure and in many cases their solidarity with the Taliban cause. Valuable lessons can be learned from Zaeef’s retelling of combat during the Soviet invasion and the people’s response to it. Zaeef mentions again and again how the Taliban still uses the same strategies as they did then to fight the coalition forces today. What is most astonishing to the reader is the moral tone in which the book is written. Zaeef is a religious man; educated in the Islamic schools, madrassas, and the son of a religious teacher. He claims that his objectives in writing this book are primarily to make people understand that ‘Life is a gift that nobody can take from another, not at any price’. These words coming from the mouth of Zaeef appear entirely incongruous with the Taliban’s mentality. Zaeef may be religious but he has also taken many lives in his early years as a Talib fighter. It becomes clear that the meaning of jihad for Zaeef is really a holy war, fought to remove the godless coalition forces that threaten Islamic principles.
The book peeks behind closed doors into the murky world of superpower hypocrisy and Taliban leadership. The most enlightening perspective is revealed from within Zaeef’s embassy office in Islamabad. The behind-the-scenes diplomatic manoeuvring between Western powers and Afghanistan divulge many of the fatal errors made in the lead up to 9/11.The chapter on ‘The Osama Issue’ shows the failure of the US and Afghanistan to compromise and ultimately ensure the trial and imprisonment of Osama bin Laden before the attack on the twin towers. Credit must go to the editors, Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn for their selection and compilation of material, in creating an accurate chronology that makes sense to the reader. A character list, regional maps and a chronology of Zaeef’s life running parallel to historical events are provided to untangle a seemingly endless mess of personalities, colloquial terms and geography. The work has been translated into English from Zaeef’s own memoirs in Pashto with fluidity and sensitivity to meaning. To avoid what many will see as a work of Taliban propaganda, the editors spent four years scrutinising Zaeef’s memoirs to ensure it was supported by hard evidence. However it is disappointing that the book fails to address the cruelty and corruption of the Taliban. Zaeef omits any reference to the horrific human rights abuses carried out by the organisation. Although not personally the perpetrator of these crimes, Zaeef was part of the movement’s machinery. Having read the book, it is important not to be sucked in by its reverence of the Taliban regime and to remember the atrocities committed under their leadership. My Life with the Taliban presents an alternative narrative to the orthodox viewpoint on who the Taliban really are. The Taliban are no longer a group of nameless, faceless gun totting men, but people who have been corrupted and disillusioned by their tumultuous history. Zaeef’s experiences are fundamental in understanding the psyche of today’s Taliban and other insurgent fighters. We should not sympathise but at least acknowledge that they come from a generation that has lived in a constant state of conflict, consequently experiencing the humiliation of living as refugees whilst helplessly watching the ruin of their homeland. Politicians, military commanders and the general public could learn a great deal from Zaeef’s memoirs as a window into the Afghani mind. The book provides a privileged insight into the world of the Taliban both to those who are amateurs in the subject and to those who have been searching for answers for years. As Zaeef says himself ‘As a foreigner, you can never truly understand what it means to be an Afghan’ but this book has gone a long way in closing the gap. This article was published in The Majalla 19 February 2010