Issue 1563 • May 2011
With the death of Bin Laden, several scenarios are being put forward regarding the future of his creation, Al-Qaeda
9 770261 087119 The Majalla
The Human Condition
Months after Mohammed Bouazizi’s self-immolation, there is no end in sight to the revolution spreading throughout the Middle East and North Africa
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In an exclusive intervie, Niall Ferguson discusses his upcoming work on Henry Kissinger and gives a preview of his new book, Civilization
Thinking Out Loud
The upcoming referendum on constitutional amendments in Egypt has produced an unsettling divide among the country’s political players
Established in 1987 by Prince Ahmad Bin Salman Bin Abdel Aziz Al-Majalla Established by Hisham and Ali Hafez Chief Executive Ofﬁcer Dr Azzam Al-Dakhil Editor-in-Chief Adel Al Toraiﬁ Editors Jacqueline Shoen Michael Whiting Editorial Secretary Jan Singﬁeld Designer Matt Dettmar Submissions To submit articles or opinion, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org Note: all articles should not exceed 800 words Subscriptions To subscribe to the digital edition, please contact: email@example.com To subscribe for kindle edition: firstname.lastname@example.org Disclaimer The views expressed in this magazine are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reﬂect the opinion or views of The Majalla and its editorial team. Al Majalla © 2011 HH Saudi Research and Marketing (UK) Limited. All rights reserved. Niether this publication nor any part of it may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior permission of HH Saudi Research and Marketing (UK) Limited. For digital subscription inquiries please visit www.majalla.com/subscriptions
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Editorial In this edition of The Majalla, our contributing editor, Manuel Almeida, addresses the power vacuum left by the death of Osama Bin Laden in the global jihadist movement, Al-Qaeda, which appears to be in decline. The future of the movement, Almeida argues in “After Osama,” depends on the changing nature of AlQaeda, as well as the still unfolding events in the region. Also in this edition, we would draw your attention to the “On Politics” section, which focuses on the ways in which the Arab Spring in the MENA region are affecting Iran’s growing power outside its borders. Both Arash Aramesh of The Century Foundation and The National Security Network, and Mehdi Khalaji of The Washington Institute, explore the debates surrounding this question in their articles, “Victor or Loser?” and “Inﬂuence Curtailed” respectively. We introduce a slight change of format this month and bring you three new sections in The Majalla “Editor’s Choice,” which contains two noteworthy articles syndicated from various publications; “Thinking Out Loud,” a selection of our many blogs published throughout the month and composed from around the world; and “Proﬁle,” an in depth report on one of today’s leading ﬁgures. We invite you to read these articles and much more on our website at Majalla.com/en. As always, we welcome and value our readers’ feedback and we invite you to take the opportunity to leave your comments or contact us if you are interested in writing for our publication.
Cover image © Getty Images
Adel Al Toraiﬁ 4
Contributors Manuel Almeida A contributing editor for The Majalla, and previously a senior editor for The Majalla’s English edition. Mr. Almeida is currently a PhD candidate at the Department of International Relations of the London School of Economics and Political Science, where he also teaches. His areas of expertise are failed states, international development and political violence. Mr. Almeida is currently working on a forthcoming book, based on his PhD thesis, tentatively titled From Godless Barbarians to Failed States: A History of the Problem of Disorder.
Arash Aramesh Iran researcher for The Century Foundation and InsideIRAN.org in Washington DC. Before joining The Century Foundation, Mr. Aramesh was at the London School of Economics where he focused on the influence of Iran on Shi’ite political parties in Iraq. Mr. Aramesh has been published in a number of print and online publications, including the International Herald Tribune, the New York Times online, the “Diplomatic Courier” and the “Huffington Post.”
Mehdi Khalaji Senior fellow at The Washington Institute, focusing on the politics of Iran and Shi’ite groups in the Middle East. A Shi’ite theologian by training, Mr. Khalaji has also served on the editorial boards of two prominent Iranian periodicals, and produced for the BBC as well as the US government's Persian news service. From 1986 to 2000, Mr. Khalaji trained in the seminaries of Qom. There he studied theology and jurisprudence, earning a doctorate and researching widely on modern intellectual and philosophical-political developments in Iran and the wider Islamic and Western worlds. Mr. Khalaji launched a career in journalism, first serving on the editorial board of a theological journal, “Naqd va Nazar.”
Nicholas Birch A writer who lived in Istanbul, Turkey from 2002 to 2009 working as a freelancer. His work from Turkey, Iraq, Iran and the Caucasus has appeared in a range of publications, including The Washington Post, TIME Magazine, The Guardian and The Times Literary Supplement. Based in London since the beginning of this year, and continuing to work as a freelancer, Mr. Birch is currently working on a book about a Sufi sect which changed Turkey's history. Issue 1563 • May 2011
Contents Quotes of the Month
War and Peace
• Houses Built on Sand: Opposition groups and democracy activists in the Middle East have yet to put forward coherent strategies
On Politics 14 • Victor or Loser? Iran in the waiting as the Arab revolution unfolds. • Influence Curtailed: Democracy in the Arab world stands to strip Iran of its power
The Wealth of Nations
With the death of Bin Laden, several scenarios are being put forward regarding the future of his creation, Al-Qaeda. Among these scenarios, and propelled by the events of the Arab spring, the ultimate demise of the organization has gained a legion of followers
• Recep Tayyip Erdogan
• Price Subsidy Reform, Iranian Style
The Human Condition
• The Dragon Eyes the Arab Spring
Thinking Out Loud
The Final Word
• Niall Ferguson • Hazem Saghieh
• QUOTES OF THE MONTH
Quotes of the Month Images © Getty Images
“I belong to the Syrian people and whoever belongs to the Syrian people will always keep his head high… Let it be bloodshed that unites us” President Bashar Al-Assad, in the wake of massive civil unrest in Syria
“Good evening. Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world, the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al-Qaeda, and a terrorist who is responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children” President Barack Obama, delivering the news America had waited 10 years to hear.
“The sum of my experience is that reaching a two-state solution, Palestine and Israel living side by side in security and peace, is still possible, despite the dangers that we face and whose severity has increased recently” Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, said optimistically after the announcement of a reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas
"[His blood] will remain, with permission from Allah, the Almighty, a curse that chases the Americans and their agents, and goes after them inside and outside their countries. Their happiness will turn into sorrow, and their blood will be mixed with their tears. We call upon our Muslim people in Pakistan, on whose land Sheikh Osama was killed, to rise up and revolt” Statement released by the extremist movement, Al-Qaeda, upon hearing the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death
“I find it a bit embarrassing, but I don't consider it a matter that would jeopardize any ongoing relations and discussions with the British government” Syrian ambassador to London, Dr Sami Khiyami, commented, on learning that his invitation to the royal wedding had been withdrawn
"The court has ruled that Habib Al-Adly will be punished with seven years in prison for profiteering” Judge Al-Mohamadi Al-Qunsuwa announced in a courthouse on the outskirts of Cairo. Al-Adly, former interior minister of Egypt, is the first high profile member of Mubarak’s regime to face charges
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• WAR AND PEACE
Houses Built on Sand Opposition groups and democracy activists in the Middle East have yet to put forward coherent strategies
The inspirational outbreak of resistance to tyranny and oppression in the Middle East is a testament to human spirit. But without a convincing agenda for the future there are limits to a revolutionary Middle East. Opposition groups are yet to prove they are up to the task of governance, and the reconciliation of Islamic ideals with populist uprisings is a long way off. Rashad Badr
But as we saw in 1979, 1989, and also 2005—when the Lebanese peacefully brought to an end nearly 30 years of Syrian occupation— revolutions such as these have many unforeseen consequences
Image © Getty Images
n the past months we have seen the unbelievable in the Middle East: Ben Ali was overturned in Tunisia following Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation; Mubarak was forced to step down in Egypt, bringing the reign of one of the regions most notorious strongmen to an end; the Libyan people have shocked the world with their courage, as have the Bahrainis, the Yemenis, the Omanis, the Syrians and the Lebanese before them. But as we saw in 1979, 1989, and also 2005—when the Lebanese peacefully brought to an end nearly 30 years of Syrian occupation— revolutions such as these have many unforeseen consequences. What has happened in the Middle East is an incredible testament to the human spirit—history will forever look upon this period as one where an entire region stood up to oppression and tyranny. But if we are to fully appreciate the sacrifices of people such as Bouazizi and the countless others who have followed in his footsteps, we must understand the limitations of a revolutionary Middle East. In the spirit of prudent anticipation, here are offered three somewhat pessimistic observations about the region followed by a reflection on US policy.
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Issue 1563 â€˘ May 2011
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• WAR AND PEACE
So far, the opposition movements of the region have not articulated a convincing, coherent agenda and strategy for change going forward. Indeed, even before these revolutions, opposition movements have been unable to step up to the challenge of governance. In the Gulf, opposition leaders—namely democracy advocates—exclaim with great passion the need for democracy in the region. They state that the time has come for a new Arab, Islamic democracy. Fine, but what does this unique blend of Arab democracy look like? Opposition leaders know what they do not want, but they are clueless about what their demands would look like once realized. The same applies to the Levant. In Lebanon the same flawed, stale political figures lead the country into further irrelevance and stagnation. The youth today dogmatically adhere to these agendas: university students furiously compete in school elections in the hopes of advancing the ideologies of Michel Aoun, Samir Geagea, Walid Jumblatt, Nabih Berri, and so on. The youth of Lebanon today follow the same misguided leaders of yesterday. Likewise in Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Oman and so on. The expulsion of autocratic leaders is a truly incredible thing, but then what? It seems that no-one really knows, including the opposition. Democracy is a feel good term until the time comes time to define it. Critics of this argument would claim that the Muslim Brotherhood and Hezbollah offer exceptions to the rule when it comes to governance planning; both of these groups offer public information as well as tangible positions on addressing many of the administrative problems plaguing Egypt and Lebanon respectively. But how do they plan on reconciling their Islamic agendas with large swaths of their populations who are either uninterested or blatantly opposed to Islamic governance? The Lebanese are increasingly disillusioned with Hezbollah’s alternative to governance, becoming more and more tired of being dragged into international disputes as a consequence of Hezbollah’s whims. Is this a coherent plan going forward? The second point is that these opposition movements do not have a coherent, long-term message because they are not coherent and unified groups. The Lebanese example again sheds some light, as perhaps the first of these monumental, powerful protests was the one that led to the expulsion of the Syrian occupation. Maronites, Sunnis, Druze, Greek Orthodox, and even Shi’ites came down to protest the Syrian occupation. Then the occupation that started in 1976 came to an end peacefully, almost miraculously. Thereafter the Lebanese suffered years of political paralysis, numerous armed conflicts, and countless death. The opposition coalition that ended the Syrian occupation crumbled and the hard-earned freedom of the Lebanese evaporated almost as quickly as it materialized. Critics would argue that Lebanon is a unique case: in truth, it is—but it is not too difficult to see the same fissures forming today in Egypt. Though the Egyptians don’t face exactly the same sectarian tensions of the Lebanese, an article by William Wagner and Daniel Nikbakht, published in The Huffington Post, outlines the difficulties facing the future of the opposition movement in Egypt. Labor movements will have to balance their demands with the demands of the youth, who will similarly have to balance their demands with the Muslim Brotherhood, who will have to operate against the backdrop of an increasingly menacing army.
Critics of this argument would claim that the Muslim Brotherhood and Hezbollah offer exceptions to the rule when it comes to governance planning; both of these groups offer public information as well as tangible positions on addressing many of the administrative problems plaguing Egypt and Lebanon respectively The third point deals with the policies and perceptions of the US. It is not shocking that US diplomats and intelligence officials were taken by surprise with these revolutions. Their views were tempered by their partnerships with ossified, repressive institutional counterparts. For too long, the United States overly militarized its relationship with the region, ostensibly trading democracy for stability. This, as we have seen, is a false dichotomy. The US can do very little now, nor should the West feel compelled to actively involve itself in the region. These Arab revolutions are not about the West, rather they are about legitimate domestic grievances. Western nations should allow the Arab people to determine their own futures and will be smart to refrain from becoming overly involved—lest they be seen as trying to hijack these local revolts. Indeed, Ambassador Barbara Bodine, former US ambassador to Yemen, has long argued for the need to rebalance the US relationship with the entire region. So how does the US go about doing this? The first step is to realize that the differentiation between interests and values has proven to be an incomplete typology. At the end of the day, acting in accordance with their values will certainly be in the US’s interest. Second, the US will need to elevate diplomacy as a tool of US national security. For too long, diplomacy has been sidelined as the inferior strategic option in the Middle East. However, the US should take these revolutions as an indication that it cannot divorce diplomacy from security—they are mutually reinforcing and intrinsically linked. Third, American diplomats may assist opposition leaders to define their agendas by engaging them in Arabic through local media to help foster debate and discourse. Finally, the US should elevate education and civic education as policy priorities, partnering with ministries of education, NGO’s, and Islamic schools in the region to help build the foundations for responsible governance in the future. Education is perhaps the most admired feature of the United States; it is time to replace bullets with books. Rashad Badr – Recent graduate of the Woodrow Wilson School and Fellow of the Program on Religion, Diplomacy and International Relations at Princeton University’s Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination.
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• ON POLITICS
Victor or Loser? Iran in the waiting as the Arab revolution unfolds
From the inception of the popular uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa in January of this year, there has been a debate brewing among experts and pundits in Washington as to whether Iran will also, this time successfully, follow suit. The Iranian outcome is not yet known, but it is certain that the government in Tehran is closely watching the events as they unfold, as are Iran’s regional allies, such as the Lebanese Hezbollah. Will Iran gain or lose from the current upheaval in the Arab world? Arash Aramesh
Image © Getty Images
he Islamic Republic of Iran benefitted greatly from the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and the removal of Saddam Hussein in 2003, both of which paved the way for Iran to expand its sphere of influence in the region. In contrast, today’s democratic changes in the Arab world (if these revolutions, in fact, result in the formation of transparent democracies) may not be to the liking or benefit of Iran. While the long-term implications for Iran are still unclear, in the shortterm at least, the Iranian regime is attempting to garner positive outcomes from the instability in the region. Internally, the Islamic Republic is pleased with the international community’s focus on crimes committed by Qadhafi rather than the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. Upheavals in the Middle East and North Africa have provided Iran with an opportune justification for the incarceration of Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, the de-facto leaders of the opposition in Iran, while avoiding much of the unwanted media attention. Regionally, Iran has benefited from the diversion of world’s attention from Lebanon and its newly instated Hezbollah government. Further, while the Islamic Republic may hold little direct influence on Egyptian or Tunisian politics, it can certainly insert itself into the intensifying power struggle in Bahrain, a country with a significant Shi’ite majority. Looking outward, the Islamic Republic is thrilled to witness the collapse of pro-American regimes. The end of decadeslong rules by Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Tunisia’s Zine ElAbidine Bin-Ali was celebrated by the government in Tehran. Bin Ali’s ties to the West were undeniable while Mubarak, according to Iran, was the third angle of the anti-Iranian triangle of Jordan-Saudi Arabia-Egypt. On the day that Mubarak’s resignation was announced on Egyptian television, state-run media in Iran dropped other news items and euphorically covered the fall of Mubarak. Fars News, a semi-official news agency with ties to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, dedicated 14 of its 15 first-page stories to Egypt and to Mubarak. Kayhan, the largest state-run newspaper with ties to the office of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, ran story after story about the demise of the US-backed regime of Mubarak.
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Issue 1563 â€˘ May 2011
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• ON POLITICS
The Iranian government and its propaganda apparatus behaved very cautiously in covering the uprising in Bahrain. While there have been a few cheers for the people of Bahrain in their push to topple their king, Iran’s vested interest in the island kingdom has led to a more measured and calculated response. While Iranianfunded Arabic language television networks such as Al-Alam and Hezbollah’s Al-Minar have been accused by Bahraini officials of provoking the Shi’ite population in Bahrain, the Persian language media, beholden to the regime, has so far maintained its distance from the uprising in Bahrain. But no matter how hard Iran tried to pretend it did not have a horse in the race, the Saudi intervention
Angry Students The recent history of Iran has been riddled student protest of a diverse nature. Indeed, the first student protest of significance was in fact Islamist in nature. Since then, prodemocracy protest has been the order of the day. 1977 October – Start of Islamist attacks on the regime. Students demanding segregation of women on University of Tehran campus go on rampage, smashing windows and burning buses. November – The Shah’s prestige is damaged during state visit to US. Noisy, militant demonstration outside the White House by Confederation of Iranian Students prompts police to use tear gas, which drifts across the street to the White House causing both the Shah and President Carter's eyes to tear as the event is broadcast on Iranian television. November – First secular protest of the revolution. Police attempt to disband a writer’s conference at Aryamehr University where 10,000 people are listening to poetry readings. Incites angry crowd to march out of the campus into the streets shouting anti-regime slogans. One student is killed, over 70 were injured, and some 1000 were arrested. 1999 July – Pro-democracy students at Tehran University hold a demonstration following the closure of the reformist newspaper 'Salam'. Clashes with the security forces and basij lead to six days of rioting and the arrest of over 1,000 students. Several students are killed and many more are injured. 2003 June – Thousands attend student-led protests in Tehran against clerical establishment. 2006 May – Student protests erupt in the Iranian capital following overnight clashes with police forces at Tehran University. 2007 December – Over 40 student activists detained by the Iranian regime during a day of student protest. 2009 December – With typical rhetoric, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei blames West for yet more student protests inside the country.
in the island kingdom on 15 March has forced Iran to take a sharp and clear position. Iran’s minister of foreign affairs, Ali-Akbar Salehi, called UN Secretary General Ban-ki Moon and asked him to use his position to end the cycle of violence—read: support the presence of Saudi troops—in Bahrain. While Egypt is geographically far away in Africa, Bahrain is much closer to home, only miles away from the Iranian coastline. Similar to Iran and Iraq, Bahrain also boasts a significant Shi’ite population, estimated to comprise the majority of Bahrainis. Countries in the region, especially Saudi Arabia, would be very much opposed to another Shi’ite government next door. To add to the already complicated picture is the presence of the US Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, which serves as the Navy’s home in the Middle East and plays a pivotal role in the day-to-day operations of the US Central Command. While the government in Tehran criticized the government of Bahrain for using force in response to the uprisings, it stopped short of making any strong statements about the formation of a Shi’ite government or an Islamic Republic in Bahrain. The Iranian regime knows full well that the threat of foreign intervention and foreign meddling can play right into the hands of the Bahraini ruling elite to crackdown on the protestors—Iran has masterfully used the scapegoat of foreign meddling in its own affairs as one of the prominent reasons for repressing the opposition Green Movement. Furthermore, Iran is now trying to take full advantage of Saudi involvement in Bahrain, calling Saudi troops “invaders” and reframing the Bahraini uprising as a fight by an oppressed, indigenous, Shi’ite minority against a well-armed, Sunni foreign military fully backed by the United States. In other words, Iran has already geared up for a major victory in a war of hearts and minds waged on the streets of the Arab world. Iran’s closest regional ally, Hezbollah in Lebanon, is also closely monitoring the events in the region. The eruption of violence and chaos in North Africa following the appointment of Prime Minister Najib Azmi Mikati diverted much needed media attention away from Lebanon. While all cameras focused on Tunisia and Egypt, another US backed government was sacked, this time without any bloodshed, and with direct Iranian involvement through Hezbollah. For Iran, a Hezbollah government in Lebanon provides an ideal ally in the Mediterranean. Unlike the Hakim faction or the Sadrist movement in Iraq, the Lebanese Hezbollah has never denied its Iranian ties. In fact, Hezbollah’s leaders have taken much pride in being followers of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and the current Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. While Iran may boast and, at least outwardly, revel in the formation of democratically elected Shi’ite governments in Iraq and Lebanon (and possibly a popular government in Bahrain), it also fears being the only Shi’ite country in the world that brutally oppresses dissent and responds violently to those in the opposition—an opposition that is overwhelmingly Shi’ite in composition. In the coming days, and as the Iranian regime struggles to control mass demonstrations on the streets, the Iranian people will look to Lebanon and Iraq, where the Shi’ite clergy are revered and elections are not rigged, and make comparisons to Iran, where dissenting grand ayatollahs are silenced, and a prominent political cleric, Karroubi, spends the night in prison. Arash Aramesh – Iran researcher at The Century Foundation, and also a researcher at The National Security Network. Mr. Aramesh has published in the “International Herald Tribune,” “The New York Times” online, “The Huffington Post” and the “Diplomatic Courier,” among other publications.
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Islam or Democracy?
The stark choice facing the Islamic Republic of Iran If the recent political movements in the Arab world lead to more free and liberal societies, this will promise the decline of Iranian influence in the region. For the current Iranian regime, democracy is no longer threatening only at home, but also abroad. Mehdi Khalaji
ayatollahs, such as Hossein Noori Hamadani, argue that Sunni muftis have misinterpreted Islamic text, which does not forbid demonstrations against unjust rulers. Yet, merely 20 months prior, the same ayatollahs justified the Islamic Republic’s crackdown on peaceful demonstrators protesting against the rigged presidential election. This time around, however, demonstrators are not predominantly Shi’ite Iranian citizens protesting against the Islamic Republic’s tyranny, but rather Shi’ites in other Arab states. Throughout the course of the current Arab uprisings, Iran has sought to portray itself as the voice of oppressed Muslims and a loyal patron of Shi’ites in the Arab world. Bahrain’s uprising has provided Iran with ample opportunity to do so, and Iranian propaganda has accordingly waged a vicious campaign against Bahrain’s brutal crackdown on protesters. Ironically, however, similar scenes were seen in Tehran in 2009 and 2010, when the
Image © Getty Images
ranian leaders have tried to portray the Arab uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt within their revolutionary 1979 framework, casting them as successes of their revolution export policy. However, Islamists like Rachid Al-Ghannouchi in Tunisia have claimed the opposite; Al-Ghannouchi does not want to be Tunisia’s Khomeini, nor his model of government. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt also made clear that the revolution in Egypt was not an Islamic event and that all of Egypt’s citizens have participated. This was made abundantly clear by the slogans and signs heard and seen throughout Tahrir Square. What is clear from this is that the Islamic Republic fears the failure of Islamist ideology over true democratic discourse. The Arab uprisings have forced Iran to take awkward and contradictory positions, belying their purported underdog, anti-status quo messaging. While some Saudi muftis argue that the demonstrations are religiously illegal, Iranian pro-government
Issue 1563 • May 2011
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• ON POLITICS
Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Basij militia attacked peaceful protesters, killing young men and women who had been demonstrating with shouts of “Where is my vote?” The majority of these victims were Shi’ites, as were the Bahraini victims. Yet, in his recent speech in March, leader of the Islamic Republic, Aytollah Ali Khamenei, stated that “on regional issues, our position is clear: We defend peoples and their rights… and we oppose bullying powers, dictators, malevolent dominanceseekers and plunderers all over the world.” But although he condemns the Libyan government’s brutality against its people, he opposes “US and western intervention.” Addressing the western power, Khamenei said, “You are not there to defend people; you want Libya’s oil; you want to use Libya as a place to monitor the activities of the future revolutionary governments in Egypt and Tunisia.” His accusations were echoed by several state-owned news agencies, such as Fars News (belonging to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Council, or IRGC), which asserted that western forces are targeting revolutionaries, rather than Qadhafi’s forces. Returning to the subject of recent demonstrations in Bahrain, Khamenei likened the nature of the protests to those of other regional countries embroiled in turmoil, such as Egypt, Tunisia or Libya. “The [Bahraini] government ignores people’s rights,” Khamenei remarked. “The main demands of the people were for elections and for one vote for every person. Is this too much?” he asked. As a leader who only recently manipulated an election in his own country, suppressed those who protested his actions and placed the opposition leader under house arrest, such a statement serves merely to cast him as a hypocrite in the eyes of his people. On Facebook and in other social media, Iranians now ask each other, “Why is a free and fair election good for Bahrain, but not for us?” Their perplexity only increased when Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Najaf added his voice to that of Khamenei in a public condemnation of the Bahraini government for its role in the death of Shi’ites. “Why do the Shi’ites of Bahrain deserve the attention of the ayatollah,” they asked, “when Iranian Shi’ites, who were similarly persecuted for political reasons by the Islamic Republic, don’t?” Unsurprisingly, Khamenei denied that his defense of the Bahraini people stems from the fact that most of the opposition is Shi’ite. He claimed that Iran defends all Shi’ites everywhere and labeled any attempts to ignite enmity between Shi’ites and Sunnis a “colonial powers’ conspiracy.” But history continues to unveil new ironies: Syrians are now demonstrating in the streets, yet on this topic, Iran has not uttered a word. Both Iranian and Syrian opposition sources are accusing the Syrian government of using Iranian IRGC, Basij and Lebanese Hezbollah forces to crack down on people. Shouts of “No Iran, No Hezbollah, but Syria!” ring through the streets. Meanwhile, Fars News reports that Israel is behind the text messages that have appeared on more than a million Syrians’ mobile phones in a call for revolution against Assad. Iran condemns western intervention in Libya and Saudi’s decision to deploy soldiers to Bahrain, but Iranian pro-government news sources like Raja News reported that Iranian Istishhadions are ready to go to Bahrain, fight with the Bahraini government and Saudi soldiers along with their “Shi’ite brothers.” As for Libya, a picture of Khamenei and Qaddafi smiling happily is now being widely circulated on the Persian Facebook network
and other political website. The picture dates from Khamenei’s trip to Libya in the 1980s as the then Islamic Republic’s president. Iran and Libya have enjoyed a close relationship since the new regime came to power in Iran 1979. Many Islamist revolutionaries trained in Libya prior to the 1979 revolution. Iran began purchasing chemical weaponry from Libya during the Iran-Iraq war several years later, followed by nuclear technology after the war’s end. Given Iran’s severed diplomatic ties to Egypt and its poor relations with Tunisia and Morocco, Libya, along with Sudan, served as Iran’s main gate of access to North Africa. As a result, Iran has long touted Libya and Sudan as its African allies. In July of 2008, Luis Moreno Ocampo, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), alleged that Al-Bashir bore individual criminal responsibility for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Darfur since 2003. Ali Larijani, speaker of the Majlis, traveled to Sudan in a show of Iranian support for Al-Bashir. Iran also refrained from pressing Qadhafi’s government on the disappearance of Musa Al-Sadr. Al-Sadr was an Iranian cleric and Lebanese Shi’ite community leader who disappeared during his 1978 trip to Libya to meet with a Libyan official. Most reports claim that he was immediately killed by Qadhafi’s forces after a bitter dispute with Qadhafi. Al-Sadr had been a close member of Khomeini’s family and Khomeini himself was under great emotional pressure to investigate his disappearance. For fear of risking the political benefits of their relations with Qadhafi however, neither Khomeini nor Khamanei pursued Al-Sadr’s case. Like all populist autocratic regimes, Iranian leaders seek to portray themselves as the advocates of the downtrodden everywhere. However, the recent Arab uprisings highlight Iran’s hypocrisy and inconsistency more than ever before. It seems that in the Islamic Republic only the authority of the ruling jurist is absolute; everything else is relative. For Iran, not only Islam but also Shi’ism is used as a tool to advance its ambitious agenda in the region, not more. Because Iran’s influence in the region stems mainly from its soft power and propaganda, the possibility that its propaganda might be weakened by the emergence of new democratic regimes in the Middle East has placed it in a very difficult situation. If democratic forces prevail in Arab nations, Islamism will lose its main forum for advocating state rule by Islamic ideology. Anti-American and anti-Israel discourse would be replaced by more practical demands and expectations, as we have already witnessed in the course of demonstrations in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere. Iran would find little fertile ground for its oldfashioned propaganda that portrays itself as the leader of the anti-American world and the main patron of anti-Israel forces. Democratic systems would allow people to focus more on their personal lives, participate more fully in the shaping of their political future, and hold their ruling class more accountable for its actions, meaning that Iranian propaganda would no longer be needed in the struggle against rulers or their western allies. If the recent political movements in the Arab world lead to more free and liberal societies, this will promise the decline of Iranian influence in the region. For the current Iranian regime, democracy is no longer threatening only at home, but also abroad. Mehdi Khalaji – Senior fellow at The Washington Institute, focusing on the politics of Iran and Shi’ite groups in the Middle East.
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• AFTER OSAMA
After Osama What will happen to his comrades? With the death of Bin Laden, several scenarios are being put forward regarding the future of his creation, Al-Qaeda. Among these scenarios, and propelled by the events of the Arab spring, the ultimate demise of the organization has gained a legion of followers. Yet Bin Laden’s path and legacy, the changing nature of al-Qaeda, as well as the events in the region still unfolding, recommend caution about proclaiming the imminent end of the organization. Image © Getty Images
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• AFTER OSAMA
uring the late 1980s, a tall, charismatic man from a respected and wealthy family became the new face of jihad in Afghanistan. He was greeted like a hero upon his return from battle to Saudi Arabia. He toured the cities of Riyadh, Buraidah and Mecca with the enthusiasm and righteousness of a victor, and lectured young Saudis about the necessities of jihad against the infidels. Prominent figures in the so-called Al-Sahwa (the term used for those involved in the Islamic resurgence in Saudi Arabia in the 1980s), such as Salman Al-‘Oudah and Ae’d Al-Qarni used to welcome the young Bin Laden into their camps, and promote him among their followers as the model of a Saudi Muslim man. However, much has changed in the kingdom since the 1980s, and Bin Laden, who was once a role model, is now a memory that everyone wants to forget. On 1 May 2011, Osama Bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and not even the Arab Spring could overshadow such an event. From Washington to Islamabad, his followers and foes alike were stunned with the abrupt, yet in some way anticipated demise of one of the most important figures—for all the wrong reasons—of the past decade. Even the sea-burial to avoid, among other things, the creation of a shrine to be used by Bin Laden’s followers for worship and to keep his ideas alive attests to the tragic significance of his legacy. Now several scenarios are being put forward regarding the future of Bin Laden’s creation, Al-Qaeda. Among these scenarios, the ultimate demise of the organization has gained a
Professor Gregory Gause speaks to The Majalla In conversation with The Majalla—concerning regional security in the Gulf—Professor Gregory Gause of the University of Vermont touched upon the likely consequences of Osama Bin Laden’s death. “I don’t think it’s going to have an enormous effect. I think that to a large extent Al-Qaeda has already de-centralized enough that the operation in Yemen is going to continue on, because it has its own local roots and its own local recruitment. The absence of Bin laden could lead to leadership infighting in Al-Qaeda central; it could lead to problems in recruitment down the line. But it seems to me, in terms of the immediate future, these groups—whether it’s Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb—are self-sustaining concerns. I think in the long run Al-Qaeda was in the decline anyway in the region. I don’t think that its ideological message has caught on. I don’t think that it has been able to achieve any successes in recent years. I think it has been on the run, for the most part. And so I think that the death of Bin Laden is just another mile post on the downward slope of Al-Qaeda’s fortunes. As a long-run prospect, I think Al-Qaeda is going to be of decreasing significance. But immediately, I still think that these various Al-Qaeda affiliates can cause trouble.”
legion of followers. To support this possibility, together with the death of its master, is the fact that, up to this point, Al-Qaeda has played no role whatsoever in the Arab Spring. Indeed, most of the ideals—more freedom and greater political representation and accountability—beyond the more pressing “bread and butter” that the majority of the people protesting in the streets of Tunis, Cairo or Sana’a are calling for seem to leave little or no room for Al-Qaeda to play any significant role in the political future of the region. Ultimately, the Arab Spring represents, in an indirect way, a mass rebuff of AlQaeda’s vision for the region, so this argument goes. Before rushing to proclaim the death of AlQaeda, and to be able to foresee different scenarios rather than the sudden demise of the organization, it is wise to try to understand not only what is Al-Qaeda today, but also what was the role of Bin Laden within Al-Qaeda, and how did a young Saudi, son of a billionaire, become a globally feared radical. The Young Osama Osama, believed to be Mohammed Bin Laden’s 17th son out of a total of 54, was born in 1957. In roughly a decade, Mohammed, once a poor Yemeni immigrant facing a daily struggle to make a living, became a billionaire thanks to his construction company and his relationship with King Faisal of Saudi Arabia. Led by King Faisal, the modernization program of the kingdom’s infrastructures greatly benefited Mohammed’s business enterprise. As a child, Osama played in the construction sites of the Saudi region of Hejaz, where his father’s company had various projects. Yet Osama hardly knew his father, who died in 1967 when Osama was only 10 years old. Contrary to most of Mohammed’s other sons, Osama never went abroad to study in the American or British cosmopolitan universities. Instead, the young man, described by Steve Coll in Ghost Wars as “an impressionable college sophomore on a $1 million annual allowance,” enrolled in the prestigious, nonetheless conservative King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah. Among Osama’s teachers were Abdullah Azam, the spiritual founder of Hamas—their paths would cross again in Afghanistan—and Mohammed Qutb, the brother, as well as editor, publisher and promoter of the ideas of the famous Egyptian radical preacher Sayyid Qutb, hanged in 1968 in Egypt under President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Among Sayyid Qutb’s ideas, beyond his inherent anti-secularism and anti-Americanism, was the concept of tafkir, according to which true believers can identify imposter Muslims, declare them kaffir (outside the Muslim community), and consequently earn the right to take violent action against apostates. If there are any doubts that Bin Laden’s close contact with both Azam and Qutb’s brother decisively shaped the former’s ideas and world view, these should be dissipated by recalling
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that another one of Mohammed Qutb’s students was Ayman Al-Zawahiri, who would become a member of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, and is widely considered to be one of the mentors of Bin Laden himself. The Rise and Fall of a Hero From his days as a student of both economics and Islamic jihad in Jeddah to the training camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where Arab volunteers joined the Afghan mujahideen in the fight against the godless Soviet invaders, it was just a small, almost natural step for Bin Laden. At the time, Bin Laden was already admired—by those who could ignore or support his violent ideals—for his renouncement of a mundane life of luxury for the sake of the salafi-jihadist cause. Bin Laden had other plans beyond expelling the Soviet Union’s troops from Afghanistan. Central among his goals was the overthrow of what he saw as corrupt regimes across the Islamic world. In the context of Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, after his own country rejected his plan to invade Iraq and deny the United States a military presence in the Gulf, Bin Laden turned against Saudi Arabia, and was eventually expelled from the kingdom. It was in the early 1990s, after the withdrawal of the Soviet Union’s troops from Afghanistan, that “jihad went global,” as Fawaz Gerges writes in The Far Enemy. Osama’s anti-Americanism decisively merged with his violent plans, later expressed in the World Islamic Front’s Statement titled “Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders” of 1998. The bombings of the United States embassies in Kenya and Tanzania; the first World Trade Center attacks in 1993; the attack on the United States Navy destroyer USS Cole in Yemen’s Aden harbor in 2000; and the 9/11 event that his cohorts will remember as his masterpiece and almost everyone else will recollect with grief, sorrow or revulsion were some of the dark, bloody chapters of Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda’s life and legacy.
Osama’s anti-Americanism decisively merged with his violent plans, later expressed in the World Islamic Front’s Statement titled “Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders” of 1998 No less tragic and significant was (and still is) the wave of suicide bombings that shook the entire Muslim world, from Morocco, to Saudi Arabia, to Indonesia, and that was attributed either to Al-Qaeda and like-minded groups, or the organization’s loose affiliates. This indiscriminate targeting of Muslims proved to be Bin Laden’s gravest strategic mistake, one that stroke a serious blow to Al-Qaeda’s popularity, leading experts and pundits to talk about the fall of Al-Qaeda. It also provoked a division within jihadist groups, many of which publicly criticized Al-Qaeda, disagreeing with the latter over what should be the direction of the jihadist movement as a whole. After 10 years, the invasions of Afghanistan and—much more controversial—of Iraq (which provided Al-Qaeda with a Issue 1563 • May 2011
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Osama Bin Laden 1957 Born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to a Syrian mother from Damascus. The seventeenth of 52 children of property developer Mohamed Awad Bin Laden—the biggest property developer in Saudi Arabia. His firm also managed all the affairs of the two Holy Mosques. 1966 Father dies when Osama is nine years old. 1974 He is married at seventeen to one of his cousins in Syria. He later completes his studies in Jeddah and graduates with a university degree in business management and economics from the University of King Abdul Aziz. 1979 Russia invades Afghanistan. Bin Laden would go on to fight alongside Afghan Mujahidin against the communists and gain prominence at the battle of Jalal Abad, which forced the Russians to withdraw from Afghanistan. 1988 Creates register of armed Mujahiden in Afghanistan. The database would become known as Al-Qaeda. 1989 After Russia’s withdrawal from Afghanistan Bin Laden returns to Saudi Arabia only to discover he is banned from further travel. He focuses on giving lectures and writes a letter laying out his advice to the government in the wake of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. 1992 Leaves Saudi, never to return. Travels back to Afghanistan, then to Khartoum. All of his assets are frozen. 1993 Heavily criticizes Saudi Arabia for endorsing the Oslo accords. 1994 Saudi Arabia revoke Bin Laden’s citizenship. Meanwhile US intelligence is taking special interest in the man for his perceived role in terror attacks in Yemen and Somalia. 1996 Under pressure from the US, Bin Laden flees Sudan to Afghanistan. He calls for Jihad against all American interests. 1998 Joined forces with Ayman Al-Zawahiri—the treasurer of the banned Egyptian Islamic Jihad. The two issued a fatwa that called for the “killing of Americans and their allies wherever they may be and the necessity to expel them from both Al-Haram and Al Aqsa mosques.” 2001 More than 3000 people are killed on the 11th of September, when hijacked planes are flown into the Pentagon in Washington DC, and into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York.
• AFTER OSAMA
golden opportunity), tens of thousands of victims, and billions of dollars spent—or squandered, depending on the perspective—Bin Laden was killed. The fact that his death represents a victory full of symbolism for the “war on terror”—a policy that with time became the target of increasing criticism and is now framed by US President Barak Obama as the “war against Al-Qaeda”— seems unchallengeable. The historic leader of Al-Qaeda, the mastermind of 9/11, the enemy of the western world and ideals was gone. Yet, as Obama mentioned in his official declaration, “The death of Bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat Al-Qaeda, yet his death does not mark the end of our effort. There is no doubt that Al-Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us.” Al-Qaeda: Between Adaptation and Diffusion Experts indicate that the salafi-jihadist movement depends, up to a critical extent, on charismatic personalities. In this sense, the figure of Bin Laden, given all its ideological, symbolic and financial weight within Al-Qaeda, is irreplaceable. Yet Bin Laden’s path to become what he was requires caution about declaring his death a fatal blow against Al-Qaeda. There might be only one Bin Laden, but the story of a young man who was indoctrinated with radical ideas and eventually chose the path of violent salafi-jihadism will most likely repeat itself. Bin Laden might be gone, but Al-Zawahiri, Al-Awlaki and others are still around. These ideologues will continue to preach and spread the seeds of radicalism, in person or through the internet, from remote villages in Pakistan and Yemen to western capital cities, attempting to indoctrinate, and drag to Al-Qaeda’s cause, impressionable young people at early, more vulnerable stages of their lives. Al-Qaeda as it once was—an organization with a permanent base and clearly centralized structure and leadership—probably no longer exists. Yet as has been noted by counter-terrorism expert Peter Bergen, according to an analysis of the FBI, Al-Qaeda “has always seen itself primarily as an ideological and military vanguard seeking to influence and train other jihadist groups.” This characteristic of Al-Qaeda will remain alive for the foreseeable future. Together with the existence of charismatic ideologues, AlQaeda’s persistence, although in the different, looser format of more independent groups, will also depend on finding safehavens where it can organize itself and where its ideas can flourish. It already has a few in certain areas of Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, to name a few. Pointing out the Arab Spring as the event that will decisively marginalize and eventually push for the demise of Al-Qaeda seems too hasty an assumption to be making, especially at a point when events in the region are still unfolding. A possible scenario, it can reasonably be argued, is instead that the organization will still be around, it will pull off an occasional attack,
Osama Bin Laden (continued) 2002 After the US begin a bombing campaign on AlQaeda sites in Afghanistan, Bin Laden releases a video almost a year to the day after 9/11. He praises the perpetrators and is consequently considered responsible for the attacks—as the mastermind and the funder. 2002-2010 Bin Laden largely disappears from the public arena. He appears only through video or audio recordings which are mostly broadcast by Qatari TVAl-Jazeera or published on Al-Qaeda websites 2010 The most recent audio appearances are broadcast on Al-Jazeera. Among Bin Laden’s assertions are that the release of French hostages in Niger should be incumbent on the withdrawal of French forces from Muslim countries. 2011 May 2nd, President Barack Obama announces the death of Osama Bin Laden, the consequence of a covert military operation in Pakistan. but it will no longer be as prominent a player in the geopolitics of the region as it was until very recently. Ultimately, and as the reactions to 9/11 proved, the extent of Al-Qaeda’s strategic relevance is likely to depend as much on the organization’s capacity to adapt and find supporters, as on those, particularly the United States, who are determined to chase its members. The events in Egypt, Syria and Yemen can develop in many different directions, and if there are reasons to be optimistic about a few situations (Tunisia, for example), there is also plenty of ground to be wary about other scenarios, namely Yemen, where Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is based. Even in Egypt, where the general idea regarding the Muslim Brotherhood has been that the group has abandoned radicalism and embraced moderation, the declaration issued by the organization strongly criticizing the United States for the operation that killed the “sheikh,” and with no condemnation of Al-Qaeda’s actions, is worrisome to say the least. This episode leaves a question mark on what will be the position of the brotherhood towards Al-Qaeda in case the former end up winning power in Egypt. With all its unpredictability, the Arab Spring can work against Al-Qaeda, but can also create new opportunities for the organization to flourish. The revolutions in the Arab world might generate governments not able, or not willing, to cooperate in the struggle to eradicate the presence of the organization, either in terms of intelligence gathering or in the no less crucial task of preventing the spread of radical ideas. After all, no one is born a radical, not even Osama Bin Laden.
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Al-Qaeda will try to memorialize Bin Laden's death—Al Qaeda expert Mohammed Al-Shafey for "Asharq Al-Awsat"
ONDON—Asharq Al-Awsat spoke with Pulitzer prizewinning American author and journalist Lawrence Wright, who is best known as the author of the critically acclaimed non-fiction book "The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11." Wright is frequently referenced by media pundits as an excellent source of background information on the Al-Qaeda organization and the September 11 attacks. Asharq Al-Awsat spoke with the American author against the backdrop of the news of the killing of the Al Qaeda leader about his views on the future of the terrorist organization. The following is the full text of the interview: Who do you think will succeed Bin Laden as the next Al-Qaeda leader? I think Al-Zawahri will take over, but he’s proven to be a very poor leader. He ran his own terrorist organization ‘Al-Jihad’ into the ground. He’s very divisive, he is not charismatic, and he doesn’t have the ability to inspire young people to the cause. There are other people that might be more capable; Abu Yahya Al-Libi, for example. He has good standing, he is a good speaker, he’s an inspirational figure, and he’s had religious training, so there are people that might follow him. Also, he is not Egyptian. The Egyptians are a divisive faction within Al-Qaeda. The other alternative which is possible is Anwar AlAwlaki, but he’s not a part of the central group. He has the religious training that gives authority to his statements, and he’s already proven that he has the ability to inspire young people to follow his direction. Also, he’s in a place in Yemen that might be safer than Pakistan is at the moment. That is my thinking about the future of Al-Qaeda; those three men. Whoever succeeds Bin Laden will not have the former Al-Qaeda chief's financial capabilities, how will AlQaeda overcome this? Well that’s a problem because so much of the money came from the Gulf, and none of these people that I am speaking of have those connections. So there is a succession crisis, but there will also be a financial crisis. On the other hand, Al-Qaeda has never needed a lot of money. They’ve always operated at a very low level. Terrorism is a cheap business to be in. What do you think of all of the contradictory information released by the Americans surrounding the operation that led to Bin Laden's death? I am encouraged that the stories that they are telling now don’t reflect well on the American operation. It suggests that these are true stories and not legends. I appreciate the candor that the administration has had in revising its initial statements. If it wanted to revise them they could have made them sound better, but what they are doing makes it sound more truthful. The truth is they shot an unarmed man, and they admit it, nobody accused them of it. Issue 1563 • May 2011
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Do you think that the Pakistanis knew about Bin Laden’s reported six-year presence in Abbottabad? It is very difficult to believe that he could be living in a town with three army regiments and ISI [Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence Agency] people are all over the place and nobody knows that he is there. I think he was there because he is a very precious asset to the ISI and the Pakistani military. Since 9/11 the US has given 20 billion dollars to Pakistan, mainly as military aid, so the Pakistani army was in the ‘looking for Bin Laden’ business. It therefore became a matter of great import that he not be found, so they had to hide him. This is my opinion. If you believe, as I do, that money to support the Pakistani military existed mainly through American support to find Bin Laden, it would be a disaster [for the Pakistanis] if they ever actually found him. Bin Laden's end came completely out of the blue, do you think that the future leader of Al-Qaeda, whoever that may be, will be far more cautious? In the next few weeks it wouldn’t be surprising to me to see other members of Al-Qaeda taken down. For one thing, Pakistan is very embarrassed. If they are going to try and stay in America's favor, and if they have anything else to tell us, this would be the time. For instance, Ayman Al-Zawahri, Mullah Omar, people like that, if they know where they are they better let us know, because the relationship with Pakistan is very fragile right now. Do you think Bin Laden's death represents the end of Al-Qaeda? What I think is that Al-Qaeda could not die with Bin Laden still alive. Now that he is dead, Al-Qaeda is still alive, but it might die. It doesn’t have an obvious successor to Bin Laden. Certainly Al-Qaeda will try to memorialize the death of their leader. They will try to do something. If there are things that were already in the pipeline, they will try and get them done quickly. I would certainly not be surprised if there was another attack. If they cannot pull something off and react to this, then yes, in many ways one can say they’re finished. This piece was first published in "Asharq Al-Awsat" on 7 May 2011
If you believe, as I do, that money to support the Pakistani military existed mainly through American support to find Bin Laden, it would be a disaster [for the Pakistanis] if they ever actually found him 25
Provincial Hero Recep Tayyip Erdogan
The far from liberal leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has managed to capture the minds of Turks and westerners alike. His exaggerated public image as a peopleâ€™s champion from humble beginnings has obscured some of his more treacherous policies. A worrying transformation is taking place, and one that somewhat mirrors the policies of Russiaâ€™s Vladimir Putin in which, with the support of the people, the promise of glory and power take precedence over the democracy. Nicholas Birch
brilliant, educated woman has to choose between two men: one a wealthy, cynical Istanbuliot as cosmopolitan as she is; the other provincial, poor but possessed by a burning desire to do good for his country. It is a love triangle that any reader of the mid-20th century Turkish author Peyami Safa will recognize. In the hands of this nationalist writer obsessed with what he saw as Turkish culture's capitulation to the West, it becomes a sort of national allegory. Attracted by the glitter and brilliance of western civilization, the woman at first belittles the provincial. Eventually, his passionate sincerity wins her heart, and the masculine honor of the East is saved. Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is not a natural counterpart to Safa's idealistic hero. He is known to prefer poetry to prose. He once admitted that he had never been in love. But as his improbable affair with Turkey's liberal intellectual elite and its counterparts in the West continues to fall apart at the seams amid accusations that he has abandoned a reformist agenda for authoritarianism, Safa's slightly heavy-handed account of unmanned men rediscovering their virility has more than a passing relevance. Numerically insignificant outside a couple of trendy central Istanbul neighborhoods, Turkey's liberals have played a central role in providing Erdogan and his Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) with international cachet. They were the ones who invented the conceptual framework which has governed western reporting on Turkey over the past decade: the image of a country, oppressed for years by an authoritarian secular elite, voting for democratization, even if it had an Islamic tinge. It was a vision that went down well among western leaders, searching for a "moderate Islam" in the wake of the Twin Towers attacks, and for the first five years of AKP's rule, it looked convincing. Erdogan pushed through reforming laws, worked to end divisions on Cyprus after years of Turkish stonewalling, chased an over-politicized military back into its barracks, and began accession proceedings with a grudging European Union. Five years on, the picture looks rather different. An unprecedented investigation into alleged coup plots shows signs of having turned into an indiscriminate witch-hunt against AKP opponents. Erdogan is increasingly authoritarian, ordering the demolition of a statue symbolizing peace between Turkey and Armenia, publicly berating the chair-
man of Turkey's biggest football club because fans booed him. The EU and international bodies warn of deteriorating press freedom. And yet liberals inside Turkey and outside continue the same rhetoric. "Turkey does not need such an Erdogan ," Ahmet Altan, editor of a liberal daily which has unflaggingly supported the AKP's efforts to rein in the army, wrote this January after the prime minister prosecuted him for publishing a critical article: "People supported you because... AKP was making Turkey a freer and more developed country." On 11 March, The New York Times added its grain of salt: "Turkey's government is betraying its values and its citizens," it opined, amid uproar at the arrest of two leading investigative journalists. Is it, though? A columnist from a pious background similar to Erdogan's, Nihal Bengisu thinks such judgments are based on a misreading of the psychology of the AKP's conservative support base. "The desire for change is not the only dynamic which defines the mass of people supporting the AKP," Bengisu says. More important is the "fairytale manifest in Erdogan 's personality," the image he presents of a humble man, unashamed of the handicap of his religion and class, who now has the world at his feet. Liberal criticisms that Erdogan has stopped being a man of the people and become a defender of the status quo, she claims, miss the point.
Gun-toting Valley of the Wolves hero Polat Alemdar (the first name means "power," the surname "standard bearer" of the faith) began his career liquidating internal enemies of the Turkish state. In two films released since 2007, he has turned his guns on the Americans in Iraq and the Israeli state.
Even after eight years of AKP government, ordinary people still see Erdogan not as "a ruler of the state but as a people's champion who has stood up to fight it." Again and again, Turkey's cack-handed establishment has helped him maintain his image as underdog. He came to power in 2002 on the back of a one-year prison sentence for reading a poem. And when Turkey's top court came within a whisker of closing AKP down in 2007 after a blatantly political prosecution case, AKP won the most crushing electoral victory in Turkey's history. Since then—his domestic dominance beyond all doubt— Erdogan has increasingly taken his role as people's champion to the international stage. His public dressing down of Israeli President Shimon Peres in January 2009 made him a regional hero. Back in Istanbul, crowds welcomed him as the second Mehmet, the Sultan who conquered Istanbul in 1453. A well-known cultural critic, Orhan Tekelioglu draws parallels between Erdogan 's trajectory and Valley of the Wolves, a block-busting TV serial broadcast since AKP came to power. Gun-toting Valley of the Wolves hero Polat Alemdar (the first name means "power," the surname "standard bearer" of the faith) began his career liquidating internal enemies of the Turkish state. In two films released since 2007, he has turned his guns on the Americans in Iraq and the Israeli state. "Alemdar is a typical neighborhood delikanli," says Tekelioglu, using the Turkish word for a charismatic young man. "He brings order, he rights wrongs, he answers to that most deep-seated aspect of Turkish psychology: the thirst for justice." A leading authority on Turkish Islamic thought, Ismail Kara says conservative Turks have traditionally believed the state was theirs "but in the hands of usurpers." He describes it as a statist view: Only the ministers are bad, not the state. And he says that it has blinded conservative Turks to the flaws in Turkey's authoritarian state model. Nihal Bengisu sees evidence of its influence in the huge public support for Erdogan 's increasingly explicit defense of a "forward democracy" based on the idea of a strong economy, a strong party and a strong government, not liberal ideals. In the past, she says, Turkey's former secular elites would cite clichés about "the need for unity and togetherness in difficult times" to justify limiting democracy. Issue 1563 • May 2011
"People hated that. Today, concessions are justified [by the AKP] with references to a more glorious and powerful Turkey. And I have the feeling that the people find that perfectly acceptable." Like the heroes of Peyami Safa's novels, Erdogan is a provincial boy come good. This time round, though, there may well be no happy ending in store for the elegant Istanbul lady of the stories: In the person of Erdogan , the AKP has found more effective ways of boosting the self-respect of its support base. Nicholas Birch – Worked as a freelance reporter in Turkey for eight years. His writings have appeared in a broad range of publications, including “Time” magazine, the “Wall Street Journal” and the “Times” of London.
â€˘ THE WEALTH OF NATIONS
Price Subsidy Reform, Iranian Style Balancing economic reform with political stability in Tehran In December, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad unveiled a subsidy reform program that immediately raised the prices of several essential commodities. The Iranian public, however, reacted with relative calm, thanks to several subtle, yet crucial policies that the government implemented. Nader Habibi
ne of the most challenging economic reforms in any developing country is the removal or the reduction of price subsidies. In Iran, a large segment of the population, particularly the poor and low- income households, benefit from the affordable prices of basic necessities that would not be sustainable without heavy government subsidies. Yes, these subsidies are inefficient and consume a large portion of the government budget. Their cost on goods such as sugar, milk, electricity and fuel, have reached as high as $50 billion in some years. Furthermore, the subsidized low prices often lead to wasteful consumption and growing demand over time. Sensitivity to the welfare of low-income families and fear of social unrest had compelled successive governments in the Islamic Republic of Iran to continue these subsidies despite their heavy fiscal burden. However, in recent years it became clear that unless the prices were adjusted, the cost of these subsidies would be unsustainable. Furthermore, policymakers finally realized that domestic demand for subsidized fuels was growing so rapidly that within a short period of time Iran would have had very little crude oil left for export after meeting domestic needs. These alarming facts, plus Iranâ€™s dependence on imported gasoline for almost one third of its domestic consumption and the worsening international economic sanctions, finally created a consensus within the ruling Islamic regime to reform the price subsidies. Nevertheless, even after the parliament approved the reform package in early 2010, the government was still hesitant, and implementation was delayed for several months. It was finally on
the evening of 18 December 2010 that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appeared on state television and announced that the prices of bread and several other essential commodities would be adjusted, effective the following morning. The next morning, the price of gasoline rose from $0.10 per liter to $0.40 per liter for up to 60 liters and $0.70 per liter for additional purchases (owners of private passenger cars are entitled to 60 liters of gasoline per month at subsidized prices). Similarly large price hikes also went into effect for diesel fuel and compressed natural gas (CNG), which is used as fuel in many vehicles in Iran. The immediate price shock of this policy was significant and, in anticipation of a violent public reaction, the government put the police and anti-riot forces on full alert. It also increased the presence of police forces in major intersections and trade centers of Tehran and other major cities. While people were upset about the price increases and one could easily hear private complaints about the economic hardship and high cost of living, there were no public riots similar to the bread riots that had occurred in Egypt, Jordan or, more recently, in Bolivia, in response to similar policies. Nearly two months after the implementation of these reforms, the public has remained peaceful and the government is now less concerned about the potential destabilizing role of price reforms. The peaceful and passive response of the public to these price reforms is partly due to heavy police presence and the more repressive environment that has emerged after the 2009 post-election protests. But several other factors have also played an important role in passive reaction of Iranians to these price hikes. First, while removing the price subsidies, the government has offered monthly income support to all citizens in an orderly fashion. Several months before implementing the price changes, the state-owned banks created a special subsidy account for each household. During the initial debates about these income subsidies, the government announced that lower-income households would be entitled to larger income subsidies. However, after some political considerations and concerns about the difficulties of implementing income-based subsidies, it decided to offer an equal amount of income support to all households. In October 2010, the government deposited $80 per person (a two-month payment of $40 per month) in these accounts. While small in absolute terms, these payments amount to $200 per month for a family of five. For low- income families, it can be a sizable supplement to their income. Initially,
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the households could verify that the money had been deposited in their accounts, but were not allowed to withdraw them until 18 December when the price increases were announced. Consequently, the bad news about price increases coincided with the release of these stipends, and this timing strategy might have reduced initial anger. Furthermore, the government promised to increase the amount of per capita payments in the coming months. The 18 December price jumps were also complemented with a strong warning by the government that producers and retailers are not allowed to raise their prices. Several thousand inspectors were commissioned to monitor the prices of a vast range of commodities and services. While these price controls have partially benefited the consumers, they have put significant pressure on domestic producers, who have had to absorb the higher cost of energy and utilities without being able to pass on these costs to consumers. From an economic point of view, these price controls will have an adverse consequence, though they are politically expedient. The government is aware of the fact that this policy has led to bankruptcies and that it could increase the unemployment rate down the road—particularly since it comes after another populist policy of flooding the markets with imported consumer goods to appease consumers in 2009 and 2010. To address these problems, the government has offered some additional subsidies to producers and exporters in some industries and it is likely that the price controls will gradually be lifted. Third, aside from the prices of fuel, CNG and bread that were increased overnight, the price adjustments for several other items such as electricity, milk and water are being implemented with a two or three month delay. So the households have not yet been exposed to the much higher utility bills for water and electricity. Had these prices been raised at the same time as fuel, the risk of public unrest would have been higher. Surprisingly the removal of subsidies has not led to a reduction of government interference in economic activities. If anything, the government has increased its regulatory interference under the excuse of preventing profiteering and speculation during the adjustment period. It has not abandoned its pricing powers on key products to market forces either. Many essential products such as fuel, CNG and utilities remain under government control and, although the amount of price subsidies have decreased, the prices are still administratively determined and remain vulnerable to political and bureaucratic interference. For the time being, the new prices appear to be sustainable and there are already some indications that they have led to a reduction in consumption of fuel and other energy products. What the government has achieved so far remains less than ideal, but one has to acknowledge its partial success. Perhaps there are one or two useful lessons to be learned for other oil exporting countries looking at how Iran implemented these important price subsidy reforms. The Iranian economy still faces many formidable challenges, not the least of which is unemployment plus the adverse effects of international sanctions. While Iranians have accepted the price adjustments without much resistance, they are generally unhappy with economic conditions. Nader Habibi – Henry J. Leir Professor of the Economics of the Middle East at the Crown center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University.
Issue 1563 • May 2011
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Arab Spring or Arab Hunger? Jane Harrigan, professor of Economics at The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), gave a lecture at SOAS at the end of April entitled, "Did food Prices Plant the Seeds of the Arab Spring?" In it, she made a convincing argument linking the causes of the “Arab Spring” to rising food prices throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. In the academic world, this would seem a somewhat obvious argument, but in the world of media, it is not and has hardly been touched upon. Instead, the media has engaged in a wholly political analysis of the events, which, when approached over time, say from 2007, in fact have a very solid economic dimension. Below is a short synopsis of Harrigan’s lecture. Food security and entitlements of food refer to the availability, accessibility and affordability of food. MENA countries comprise the most food insecure region of the world. Together, 50 percent of these countries’ food supply is imported due to a major internal food deficit and lack of water, whereby each country’s food requirements exceed the its national production of food by 50 percent. Therefore, when the global food market prices shift, these countries experience severe food shortages. Another factor affecting food security is the political relationships the importing country has with the exporting country. This means that the MENA countries must be on good terms with major food exporting countries like the US, Canada, Australia, Argentina, and the EU, which, for example, account for ¾ of all the world’s traded cereals. Professor Harrigan points out that in 2007-2008, and again in 2010-2011 there were huge increases in international food prices. The causes, according to analysts, are climate change, higher incomes, growth in speculative trading in food markets, the banning of exports in times of shortage, and other structural reasons. All of these factors will continue to exist, making the current situation long-term. Without sufficient food, poverty increases and so does inflation—driven by high food prices. For example, the poor in the MENA region spend “a staggering” 6575 percent of their income on food, while the middle class in Egypt spend over 40 percent of their take home income on food. In turn, we have witnessed political instability throughout the region, i.e. food demonstrations and riots in 2007 and 2008 in Bahrain, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. In January 2011, just prior to Tunisia’s Zine ElAbidine Ben Ali’s flight from the country, there were food riots in Jordan and Algeria. “It is not a coincidence that these same countries are experiencing unrest today,” Professor Harrigan told her audience. Her conclusion: Economic pressures have triggered the Arab Spring. People are fed up with their leaders’ inability to provide food, social services and to mitigate poverty.
• THE HUMAN CONDITION
The Dragon Eyes the Arab Spring China takes a wait and see policy on the Middle East
Four months after Mohammed Bouazizi’s self-immolation sparked protests in Tunisia, there is no end in sight to the revolution spreading throughout the Middle East and North Africa. This has forced the US and other western countries to openly take sides in each country besieged by demonstrations, either diplomatically or, in the case of Libya, through the use of military power. In contrast, China has remained mostly quiet about the political situation in the region. However, this does not mean that China lacks a coherent strategy to deal with the Arab Spring. Beijing’s policy seems clear: Prioritize economic interests, leave the most difficult issues to the West, and start cultivating relations with the new regimes. Ramon Pacheco Pardo
hina’s energy appetite makes the Middle East an important region for Beijing’s diplomacy in its quest to secure access to oil and gas supplies. In addition, the Middle East and North Africa has witnessed an increasing presence of Chinese companies and businesspeople—building the infrastructure that the region still needs, or selling the goods that cannot be produced in local factories. Trade between China and the Middle East stood at 51.3 billion dollars in 2005. It reached 107 billion only four years later, in 2009. However, economic relations between China and the Middle East are still dominated by oil exports from Saudi Arabia and crude and gas sales from Iran. Together, these two countries account for well over half of China’s total trade in the region. Therefore, even though Chinese economic interests in the Middle East and North Africa are expanding rapidly, they are still dominated by energy transfers from Riyadh and Tehran. Since both Saudi Arabia and Iran have remained relatively peaceful throughout the Arab Spring, Chinese core economic interests are yet to be threatened. Thus, it is not surprising that Chinese foreign policy has so far remained relatively unchanged in spite of revolutions threatening and even toppling other governments throughout the Middle East and North Africa. China has an interest in halting links between terrorist networks present in Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa and its own terrorist groups, in this case located in Xinjiang. Furthermore, Beijing wants to ensure that WMD and nuclear technology do not reach the hands of these groups. Therefore, Beijing shares some of the security concerns that western governments have in the Middle East and neighboring regions. Nevertheless, China would be little affected by the two main security fears that have prompted the West’s military intervention in Libya and frenzied diplomatic work in Egypt—the possibility that an Islamic group might form a government and the threat of Muslim terrorists having a safe haven a few kilometers away from the southern border of the EU. Neither would have a direct effect on Chinese security. Furthermore, trade between the Asian country and Egypt and Libya is a drop in the ocean of China’s total, in each case standing at little over US$6 billion in 2010. Therefore, there is no incentive for Beijing to get involved in shaping the government to
come out of revolutions in both countries. Western powers have far more important issues to consider, and China has been happy with letting them take the most difficult decisions. Most remarkably, Beijing decided to abstain in the UNSC vote authorizing a no-fly zone over Libya. This surprised many analysts, since it was a clear breach of the principle
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of non-interference in domestic affairs that China is alleged to hold very dear. But it made perfect sense for a country that has been willing to override this principle since Hu Jintao took power in 2002. It was illogical for Beijing to defend the Muammar Gadaffi government when no significant economic or security interests were at stake. It was easier to let western governments decide how far they were willing to go in support of the Libyan rebels. The fact that China’s behavior during the Arab Spring has been driven by its own economic interests does not mean that the Hu government has not tried to have good relations with the new regimes in power. The Chinese ambassadors to Egypt and Tunisia have met with representatives from the governments that replaced, respectively, the Hosni Mubarak and Ben Ali regimes. In the case of Egypt, Song Aiguo, who only arrived in Egypt in October 2010, has been exploring the possibility of Chinese companies increasing their investment in a post-Mubarak Egypt. As for Tunisia, the humanitarian crisis resulting from immigrants flocking from neighboring Libya has given an opportunity for China to cooperate with the new government. So far, Beijing has shipped two batches of humanitarian aid to Tunisia. According to the ministry of commerce of China, political turmoil should create “more opportunities” for Chinese companies in the region. Given that Beijing’s relations with Middle
Eastern and North African countries are driven by economic rationale, it is not surprising that the Chinese government is seeking to establish links with new governments which might not have as cozy relations with the West as those of their predecessors. This is different from trying to shape those regimes, yet it still gives influence to a China that recently became the second largest economy in the world. Economic interests, deferring to the West in the most complicated cases, and cultivating relations with new regimes are the main drivers of Chinese strategy towards the Arab Spring. China might need to re-assess its approach if the revolutions and protests carry on for a long period of time. However, this strategy has so far served Beijing to protect its core economic interests and avoid getting involved in the region more than necessary. China might even hold a stronger position in the Middle East and North Africa once the uprisings are over. Hence, it is unlikely that Beijing will shift its strategy any time soon. Ramon Pacheco Pardo – An expert on counterproliferation, Mr. Pardo is a lecturer at King’s College, London. His forthcoming book on North Korea’s foreign policy is enticingly titled, "From the ‘Axis of Evil’ to ‘Dear Mr. Chairman’: How North Korea Bargains with the United States."
Poker Face The Chinese Foreign Minister, Yang Jiechi, visited the Middle East at the beginning of May and gave predictably anodyne responses to the astonishing events of the past two months. “China and Arab countries face new opportunities and good prospects for mutual friendly cooperation,” he said. He first visited the UAE, to meet with GCC representatives, before heading to Egypt for meetings with Arab League chief Amr Moussa, Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil El-Arabi and Hussein Tantawi, chief of Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. “GCC members have become China's important partners in fields of politics, economy and trade and energy,” Yang said. He went on to praise the levels of trade between China and the Arab World—which he claimed reached 145.4 billion dollars in 2010. Equally banal were his statements on Egypt and the Libyan crisis, masking any genuine insight. Yang said that China “respects the will and choice of the Egyptian people and supports the efforts of the Egyptian authorities to maintain domestic stability, promote economic development and ensure a smooth power transition.” On Libya, Yang was unsurprisingly “deeply concerned.” What is beyond doubt is the determination of China to let the chips fall where they may in the Middle East, and simply continue to pursue an aggressive policy of trade expansion—with ambivalence as to who they are dealing with. Issue 1563 • May 2011
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• EDITOR'S CHOICE
The staple of King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz’s reform has been a careful albeit constant process. In the past six years, the king has managed to achieve progress in education, the judiciary, the economy and in society as a whole. Like many of Saudi Arabia’s neighbors, citizens of the desert kingdom are experiencing a particularly tough time due to a changing regional environment and a severe economic downturn, both of which have made for an uncertain future. Dr. Mohammed Bin Ibrahim Al-Hilwa, a member of the Shura Council (Saudi Consultative Assembly) and a professor of Political Science at King Saud University, and Dr. John Sfakianakis, the group general manager and chief economist of Banque Saudi Fransi, outline some of the most crucial challenges facing the Saudi government today, as well as the strengths that will help it to overcome them.
The challenges facing Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy
audi Arabia’s foreign policy is influenced by a number of factors. These factors are primarily internal yet they have successfully driven Saudi diplomacy and played a substantial role in increasing Saudi influence both regionally and internationally despite the challenges faced. These factors include economic, Arab and Islamic, strategic and realist dimensions.
Mohammed Bin Ibrahim Al-Hilwa for "Asharq Al-Awsat" The economic dimension: Saudi Arabia possesses a petrol reserve estimated at 265 million barrels of existing oil. This represents 20 percent of global oil reserves. Saudi Arabia is considered to be the leading exporter of oil, exporting 7.3 million barrels of pure oil and oil products daily. This represents 15 percent of all global oil exports. Saudi Arabia plays a central role in OPEC,
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which means that its policies must take into account the interests of all oil producing as well as oil consuming countries. It must also consider the stability of the oil market. In view of this, from 19732009, Saudi Arabia offered 99.7 million dollars in development aid to 95 developing countries. Moreover, Saudi Arabia is an active player in regional and international economic organizations. It has the lion’s share in the Islamic Development Bank, the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development as well as OPEC’s fund for international development. The kingdom is a member of the executive committees of the International Monetary Fund [IMF] and The World Bank [WB], enjoying a vote of 3.1 percent in the former and 2.79 percent in the latter, and a member of the G20. Its contribution to the WB and IMF is the seventh largest after the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain and China. The Arab and Islamic dimension: Saudi Arabia, in a spontaneous manner, has always expressed the depth of its Arab and Islamic identity. It is considered to be the first home of Arabs and the cradle of Islam. Saudi Arabia hosts the Two Holy Mosques, while Qa’aba draws the gaze of more than 1,300 millions Muslims five times every day. Saudi Arabia has the largest printing house used to produce copies of the Holy Qur’an, and it hosts the headquarters of many important Islamic organizations, including the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the Islamic Development Bank, the Muslim World League and the World Assembly of Muslim Youth. Thanks to the presence of these Holy places and its vast array of Islamic organizations, Saudi Arabia today represents the pride of Islam the kingdom has become a meeting point for Muslims around the world. The strategic dimension: Due to its geographic location, the size of the country and population, and its economic weight, Saudi Arabia plays a central role in the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf and in the Cooperation of Arab and Islamic Countries. Geographically, it functions as a link between the Asian and the African continents. Saudi Arabia sits next to two of the most important seas—the Arabian Gulf and the Red Sea, and it is also located very close to two of the most important international waterways— the Straight of Hormuz and Bab-El-Mandeb. The realist dimension: One of the consistent components of Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy was its realist approach in dealing with regional crises and international developments. This approach has earned Saudi Arabia enormous credibility. It has steered the kingdom away from imperialist tendencies in relationship to the region and allowed it to be an example of moderation. This approach also means that Saudi Arabia looks at its international relations from a standpoint of its national interests—Arab and Islamic interests, and from the standpoint of humanitarian interests. It pursues what is possible, whether in bilateral international relations or its proposed initiatives with regards to regional crises and international events. It aims to preserve regional poise in order to achieve stability for the countries of the region. When dealing with regional crises Saudi Arabia has always chosen diplomacy, believing that efficient diplomacy will economize the effort, reduce the cost, achieve desired aims and create a climate for action and international consensus. These are the factors that inform Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy on the one hand. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia faces numerous challenges that limit the efficacy of its diplomatic efforts. Issue 1563 • May 2011
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The first such challenge is that of institution building. The unprecedented development in international relations worldwide now places an unprecedented demand on the foreign policy apparatus in all countries. Saudi Arabia is no different. The proliferation of government institutions that have to maintain daily contact with foreign partners implies an increase in the number of institutions involved in the making and execution of the country’s foreign policy. Some of these institutions have communication links equal to that of the foreign ministry itself. Today, the interests of different states are highly interdependent and that changes the notion of national interest. The outlook of the ordinary citizen now also plays a major role in foreign policy, whether through civil society institutions, political institutions or simply public opinion. We are witnessing a revolution in communication and information technology, which opens a space of exchange between cultures and peoples that further complicates the formulation of foreign policy. In addition to all this, there is a new form of diplomacy that competes with traditional diplomacy. By this I mean—summit diplomacy, parallel diplomacy, parliamentary diplomacy and popular diplomacy. Saudi Arabia is no exception when it comes to the changes that inform this process. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Saudi Arabia has strived to respond to these challenges. The response so far has been limited due to the enormous weight and variety of issues that need to be addressed. What it did succeed to achieve is the restructuring of its ministries in a fashion that works with modern international relations making way for the role of regional and international organizations. What is needed now is the steering of foreign policy through institutional work in a manner that rises up to the challenges faced by Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy both regionally and internationally.
One of the consistent components of Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy was its realist approach in dealing with regional crises and international developments The second challenge today is the new shift in the balance of international powers. The end of the Cold War, followed by the collapse of the socialist camp, has led to a radical shift in the balance of international powers. A bipolar power structure was transformed into a unilateral power base led by the United States. This change has not served the interests of the international community, including the interests of Saudi Arabia as it limits the choices it has in the game of power balance. Saudi diplomacy, therefore, has strived to widen the base of its strategic alliances by looking east towards China, India and the Russian Federation. The void created by the collapse of the Soviet Union is still palpable today, and the influence of this void will remain an issue in the near future. This is because constituents of power cannot be measured only by the size of an economy or a country’s populace. There are other more decisive factors that come into play. Such factors are currently lacking in China, India and the Russian Federation. As a consequence, Saudi diplomacy now faces a challenge which renders it hostage to this international climate and prevents it from always choosing the best course that suits its national interests. 33
• EDITOR'S CHOICE
The third challenge is the escalation of regional crises: It was God’s will that Saudi Arabia should find itself at the heart of regional crisis. During the period from 1979- 2011, the region underwent tremendous transformations and witnessed a number of major crises posing an unprecedented challenge to Saudi decision makers. To give an example of such a crisis I would state the following: The Palestinian problem with all its political and humanitarian ramifications; the Iranian revolution and the political challenge it posed to the security of the Gulf States; the Iran-Iraq war and all its regional implications; Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, which threatened the Arab security consensus; America’s occupation of Iraq, which placed the world’s super power right at the northern doorstep of the kingdom and led Iraq into the mire of a civil war; Iran’s nuclear power project as well its attempts to build an advanced rocket launching system suitable for mounting nuclear heads; Iran’s meddling in Arab affairs; the chronic crisis in the Yemen, Lebanon and Somalia; and, finally, the political earthquake that hit the Arab world in 2011 putting an end to Arab exclusion from the wave of major political change.
Throughout his work, King Abdullah has strived to open a new page in the history of mankind where love and peace would replace tensions and animosities These changes have presented an unprecedented burden on decision makers in Saudi Arabia as well as on Saudi reserves. Yet, the influence of these changes continues to grow because of local, regional and international complications. This means that Saudi Arabia will face even greater challenges ahead because of regional crises. Lastly, there is a rise in new phenomena on the international arena. The last few decades have seen new international trends exerting influence on international politics. Again, Saudi Arabia has been no exception. The most prominent of these trends is globalization—a phenomenon which has greatly shaped international politics, and formed new values and new political concepts in the modern world. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin wall have led to the suppression of the role of ideologies in shaping international politics. Instead, the role of ideologies has been replaced by the vision of a common goal based on the promotion of human rights and civil participation through representative institutions that have taken their place in shaping the decision making process. But the greatest challenge yet is the political earthquake that has hit the Arab world at the beginning of this year, igniting a storm of popular revolutions that started from Tunisia and traveled east. This earthquake has lead to what Abdul Munaem Said called the end of “Arab exclusion” from the wave of major political change. This reality has placed even greater pressure on Saudi diplomacy as it struggles to balance between the needs of internal political stability and Arab cohesion on the one hand, and the political demands of popular Arab uprisings on the other. Such sudden developments place a great responsibility on Saudi decision-makers, as they need to take all these factors into account in order to guarantee the best political returns. This is
why it is so important that Saudi decision-making, with regards to foreign policy, is guided by institutional principles that can take into account all the aspects of the decision making process. Another phenomenon which has emerged as a new concept guiding international relations is the notion of the “clash of civilizations.” The concept emerged to substitute ideological and economic clashes in the international arena by cultural ones. According to Samuel Huntington—the man who advanced the thesis—“The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.” Huntington also says, “On both sides the interaction between Islam and the West is seen as a clash of civilizations.” In view of Saudi Arabia’s leading role among Muslim nations, it was imperative that the kingdom should take a strong stand against such an approach, which only serves to sow animosity and hatred between the people of the world. Saudi Arabia had to push forward an alternative vision, which called for dialogue among followers of different faiths in order to advance the values of love and peace. King Abdullah—Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques— has exercised enormous effort to promote and cement the notion of dialogue between followers of different faiths. His efforts started with an official call from Holy Mecca, followed by a conference in Madrid and ending with a summit meeting at the United Nations. Throughout his work, King Abdullah has strived to open a new page in the history of mankind where love and peace would replace tensions and animosities. He pressed for a focus on the shared humanity between followers of the different faiths and the importance of revealing the noble values of each of them while maintaining respect for the specificity of each. Since 11 September 2001, the kingdom has also found itself face to face with the new phenomenon of international terrorism. Saudi Arabia, like other nations, has been afflicted by this phenomenon, which has brought both material and physical harm to many countries. It was highly disconcerting for the Saudi leadership and the Saudi people alike that terrorist elements chose to dress themselves as true Muslims while perpetrating unspeakable acts. Saudi Arabia, therefore, faces a double challenge: firstly, material loss because of terrorist activities; secondly, the imperative to defend Islam against a terrible reputation that contradicts Islamic values. The Saudi Kingdom has had to devise an integrated approach in order to address both the security as well as the cultural dimensions. On the one hand it has solidified its grip on terrorist elements within the society, and on the other it has channeled the work of its public institutions to contain this phenomenon. So it worked to dismantle terrorist cells by depriving them of their funding sources, and at the same time it has established several programs to address the issue, among them, an “advisory and rehabilitation program” for those who have been affected by a terrorist ideology, and the “Sakina Campaign” [a Saudi state-supported online anti terrorism initiative designed to monitor and debate with extremist sites], which has been applied as a preventative measure to contain extremist elements. These are the factors that inform Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy. There is no absolute success or absolute failure in international politics. Successes and failures in the history of diplomacy have always been relative. The consensus today is to direct foreign policy through the wider mobilization of institutional work. This will increase the chances of success and reduce the political and monetary price needed to achieve the desired aims. This article was first published in “Asharq Al-Awsat” on 28 April 2011
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Saudi Arabia’s inevitable reforms under the leadership of Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz John Sfakianakis for "Asharq Al-Awsat"
audis have shown loyalty to their country and the ‘Day of Rage’ turned into a ‘Day of Unity.’ One factor ignored is that Saudis want to see King Abdullah bring change and reform. Saudis are also savvy in knowing that the violence in Libya and Yemen, uncertainty in Egypt and Tunisia are not sought by most. In today’s Saudi Arabia, the political will is there for economic reforms to unfold. There is no better evidence than a constant change in the welfare of society recently announced by King Abdullah: unemployment benefits enacted for the first time, extra capital for housing lending projects, social benefits, debt forgiveness for the needy and civil service wage increases. These projects amount to 8.3% of the country’s GDP. The Saudi monarchy has brought change and reform in critical moments in the history of the country. It was all too easy to call for the collapse of Saudi Arabia prior to 9-11 as oil revenues were subdued and Saudi Arabia run consistent budget deficits. It is true that Saudi Arabia hit the jackpot since 2003 due to oil prices rises. But money was saved and invested toward building its human capital. During the wave of terrorist attacks from 2003-2005 there were also plenty who were ready to call an end to the House of Saud. It is easy to discount the resilience of Saudi Arabia as its inevitability for change. It is too easy to call for increasing instability to rise within Saudi Arabia as Yemen’s domestic political labyrinth gives ample sparks for centripetal actions. Just like during the post-2003 Iraq, pundits were ready to call for political instability in Saudi due to external forces. Saudi Arabia withstood the shocks and managed superbly internal terrorist threats due to change and resilience. At every point in the history of Saudi Arabia, difficult internal and external challenges compelled policy makers and Royals to inevitably change for the better. The economic challenges facing Saudi Arabia today are plenty but manageable. The youth bulge of Saudi Arabia is an opportunity for the country as well as a challenge to find them jobs and endow them with the right skills. Change is inevitable for Saudi Arabia. The recent history is a telling example: more than 100,000 young Saudis are sent abroad under the government’s scholarship program. These young Saudis are an important engine of change. The labor market is on an inevitable path of reform as the current dynamics are very telling: in the private sector for every nine jobs going to expatriate workers only one goes to a Saudi. Labor market reform is a necessity as more Saudis will be joining the labor force over the next decade. More than two-thirds of Saudis are below the age of 30. Given the right incentives Saudis will find employment in the private sector. Although female participation rate in Saudi
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Arabia is among the lowest in the Middle East, economic necessity will compel women to look for jobs. In the early 1990s, only around 5% of the labor market was comprised of women, today it has increased by three-fold. No longer can a Saudi household live off from a single bread winner. Women have to contribute as well. Life has become more expensive. Housing as well as the energy future of Saudi Arabia necessitates inevitable changes. Affordability of housing is an issue for today’s young Saudis as most are opting to rent or stay with their parents for longer periods of time after marriage. The passage of the mortgage law as well as allocation of more land by the state for real estate development is inevitable. Saudi Arabia is working toward its energy future knowing that its current reliance on hydrocarbons is not sustainable. If its current oil consumption continue unabatedly, by 2028 Saudi Arabia will have capacity to export no more than 7 million barrels a day and its population increasing from 27 million today to 34 million then. As a result, Saudi Arabia is working towards an inevitable future in clean and green technology.
Affordability of housing is an issue for today’s young Saudis as most are opting to rent or stay with their parents for longer periods of time after marriage Moreover, Saudi Arabia today is very different from the 1950s in terms of institutions, knowhow and capital resources. The institutions managing the economy in all its facets have greater depth and continuity. The financial crisis which shocked the advanced world since 2009 did little damage to the Saudi banking system. Banks and regulator alike learned well from the systemic excesses of the 1980s. Today Saudi Arabia is standing on solid macroeconomic ground with 10.2% of government debt to GDP, which is among the lowest for a member of the G-20. It is has also made sure that the more its foreign assets, currently greater than 102% of its GDP. Saudi Arabia has always met all the global oil supply calls over the decades. Recently, Saudi Arabia invested more than $63 billion toward increasing its oil capacity to 12.5 million barrels per day when few did so. Saudi Arabia’s future is far brighter but more inevitably bound to change than people can forecast. This article was first published in “Asharq Al-Awsat” on 12 April 2011 35
• CANDID CONVERSATIONS
The Spring of the Arab Nation
An interview with Niall Ferguson, Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University and William Ziegler Professor at Harvard Business School In an exclusive interview with "The Majalla," Niall Ferguson discusses his upcoming work on Henry Kissinger and gives a preview of his new book, Civilization. In the context of the continued upheaval in the Middle East, Professor Ferguson also explores the strategy deficit in the Obama administration, and answer’s why it’s the Arab world’s 1848—a failed revolution, and one that failed due to a lack of foresight on the part of the revolutionaries. Without leaders, how can these uprisings become revolutions? Andrew Bowen
iall Ferguson is one of the greatest historians of his generation. A prolific scholar and public intellectual, Ferguson’s writings have set the bar for scholarship on grand strategy, great powers, and financial history. His candid and accessible style of writing have made his books and articles some of the most widely read and discussed works in the world today. Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University and William Ziegler Professor at Harvard Business School, Ferguson holds the Philippe Roman Chair in History and International Affairs at the London School of Economics. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and a senior research fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge. Ferguson is presently the contributing editor of The Financial Times, and writes a regular column for Newsweek. Ferguson’s most recent book is High Financier: The Lives And Times Of Siegmund Warburg. An author of over 14 books, his works include The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World, Colossus: The Rise And Fall Of The American Empire, and Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World.
We are today living through the breakdown of his Middle Eastern architecture. The transformation of Egypt into an American ally is one of his achievements. If you are trying to understand the second half of the twentieth century, particularly the 1970s, which I am very interested in, then he is the key figure. Of course, there have been other books written about him, biographies and some very critical studies, but I do not see any book that has engaged the full body of documentary evidence. Of course, nobody has had access to his private papers before. So, there is a very strong argument for writing a book like this.
Your upcoming series of works on the life of Henry Kissinger is to a certain a degree a departure from your other works. A number of works have already been written on Kissinger’s life. What inspired you to re-examine his life? Has Kissinger’s legacy been misunderstood? I have written on American foreign policy before. Colossus, published in 2004, is a short essay on American empire and other works on the world wars have a geopolitical character, so not all my work is financial history. Writing a biography is an art that interests me which is why I wrote the book about Siegmund Warburg. The person who inspired me to write about Henry Kissinger was Henry Kissinger, who suggested that I might be interested in doing that and gave me access to his private papers. I agreed to do it on condition that I had a completely free hand and the reason I agreed is that I can’t think of anybody in the period of the second half of the twentieth century who has made a more important contribution in international relations. Kissinger reshaped American foreign policy and grand strategy in the early 1970s in a profoundly important and enduring way. 36
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In what ways do you believe that Kissinger was a role model for leadership as the secretary of state? The conventional wisdom is that he is the arch-realist and somebody whose approach to power was Machiavellian, Bismarckian, and that therefore, Kissinger is the archetype of somebody who puts American interests first and any ideals firmly second. I think this is quite wrong. Part of the point of my book would be to show why. Of course, the book has not been written yet; so, it’s a little bit ahead of time to talk about this. I did a lecture here [at LSE], making the argument that Kissinger is not a realist but an idealist whose framework for constructing American strategy had a very strong, moral and ethical component to it. The critical point though is that in any grand strategy, there has to be choices. You have to rank your priorities. You can’t do foreign policy on an ad-hoc basis, which is what many of his liberal critics think. In other words, if you are Christopher Hitchens, here is East Timor and that’s a problem, here is Cambodia and that’s a problem, and here is Chile and that’s another problem; you come to these problems and say what’s the good thing to do and what’s the bad thing to do. If you are Henry Kissinger, you choose the bad thing, and if you are Christopher Hitchens, you chose the good thing. This is an incredibly crude view of foreign policy because, of course, none of those individual countries was of that much importance to the United States. They were of third or fourth order of importance, and the ways in which the US dealt with those countries have to be understood in the context of a really quite complex strategic design. In this upcoming work, I am trying to show what that design was, and also to show its limits and where it was unsuccessful, because this will be a critical study. You also need to be aware of the fact Kissinger did not know the future at the time. You can’t as a historian judge with the benefit of hindsight. For example, you can’t say that anybody at the point in which Allende was in power in Chile knew clearly what would happen were he to be overthrown. So, the decision making process is not only located in a strategic framework but it is based on uncertainty about the future and that’s what is invariably missing from the studies so far. You have a new work coming out this spring, and in this work you argue that the West developed six “killer applications” that the Rest lacked: competition, science, democracy, medicine, consumerism and the Protestant work ethic. Do you believe the West has lost its monopoly on these six things? If so, are we at the end of western ascendancy? The West has lost its monopoly on all these things and that’s very clear. There is a great deal of competition in the Asian economies today. Pakistan and Iran have science. They have enough science to aspire to or already have nuclear weapons. The rule of law and property rights are spreading rapidly. Those exist, for example, to a surprisingly advanced degree in India. Modern medicine is ubiquitous. It’s really only in Sub-Saharan Africa and places like Haiti that we haven’t made breakthroughs in extending human life expectancy. Consumerism, well, go to China and you can see how they have gone from having nothing in the 1970s to a cornucopia of advertising and retail, and then the work ethic, they all work much harder than we do now. No, you can’t possibly argue against the proposition that these killer apps are no longer monopolized by the West. They Issue 1563 • May 2011
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have been downloaded by practically everybody though not necessarily in the exact same combination. For example, the Chinese clearly are resistant to secure private property rights and the rule of law. They certainly do not want representative government. Does it mean that western ascendency is over? Yes, it does, and I think that’s the real point of the book that we can no longer look forward in the 21st century to the minority of people who live in the West calling all the shots. I think that was the case for much of the last 500 years, certainly in the last 200, and its not going to be the case in the next 200 years. How do you see Asia adapting to these killer applications? The civilization emerging in Asia is an Asian fusion where there is a great deal that has been taken from the West, but there is still an element of original Asian culture. I think that’s true wherever you look. It’s not as if the whole world is becoming like a Big Mac—a global chain of McDonalds. It’s more like an Asian fusion menu where some of the dishes are traditional and some are clearly from the West. There is not going to be a United States of Asia, or a United States of China or anything that resembles the United , because it’s sui generis: its resource endowments, its history, its population—all these things really are quite distinctive. But, you can imagine China becoming an economic power as great as the United States in terms of its wealth and potentially, in terms of its military and geopolitical capability. I think that’s going to happen. Does China hold any new killer applications that the West never developed? At the present point, China is in the business of trying to replicate our system without the same individual freedom. You could say this is their killer application: China does not have the same individual freedom, but instead, they have a culture of order, of Confucian harmony. I don’t buy that. I really don’t. The truth is they are trying to have the benefits of a free society without the cost in terms of political accountability. It will be very hard for China to pull off. Based on years of thinking and reading about this, I believe you can’t have a fully innovative entrepreneurial society without the full range of freedoms. The Chinese attempt to have this with a one party state can’t succeed. They can get so far with this model but when it comes to producing a Google or a Facebook, that is not going to happen in China. They will replicate what happens in the US, but I find it hard to see how a society which is basically un-free, that does not have a free press, can be a society that innovates in the way the United States does. In your piece in Newsweek, you recently wrote that President Obama lacks a grand strategy. Does the United States need a new grand strategy to confront these challenges? If so, where should Obama start? It’s extremely dangerous to have the US government without a strategy, without a strategic framework in which it can think about the numerous challenges it faces. My sense is that President Obama is an inexperienced president surrounded by second-rate advisors, and the result is they do not have a coherent policy. They have about two foreign policies at the moment. They seem to take it in turns. You know, Secretary Clinton’s on Mondays and the president’s on Tuesdays, and we revert to Secretary Clinton’s on Wednesdays. It’s bizarre. 37
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Imperium Defensor In recent years Niall Ferguson has become something of an academic celebrity. A slew of accessible television documentaries have introduced his name to circles beyond the usual ivory tower of scholars and professors. This boost in his profile has given him a certain cache and fairly deserved recognition for his work as a historian, but inevitably he has attracted some criticism. Most notably he has garnered attention for an apparently apologetic attitude towards an imperial system of power, the historian Eric Hobspawm going so far as to label him a “nostalgist for empire.” In his 2004 book, Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire, Ferguson demonstrates how adept he is at constructing compelling arguments for unfashionable ideas. In the chapter “The Case For Liberal Empire” he asks “whether or not it is correct regard national independence—what Woodrow Wilson called self-determination—as a universally viable model.” Over the course of the chapter Ferguson points out that independent nation states are a relatively novel concept and that right up to the latter half of the twentieth century the day-to-day effects of empire were still being felt across the globe. Ferguson attempts to defend empire from a mostly economic standpoint, opposing criticisms which place imperialism at the forefront of a malignant capitalist agenda and ostensibly he does a very good job. He marshals “incontrovertible” economic evidence which demonstrates that the proliferation of political independence has failed to alleviate poverty and that, by and large, prosperity was greater under empire. His argument focuses on the benefits of sophisticated (i.e. western) institutions in encouraging respect for property rights and the rule of law. He makes the fair point that The problem is that if you look back to the Bush administration, you can fault—and it’s easy to fault—what they did after 9/11, but you cannot deny that there was a strategic framework. The framework was to take the war to the terrorists and then to create by force in Iraq and perhaps also in Afghanistan a democratic wave in the Greater Middle. This was the vision. I think it was poorly executed, but it was coherent. This administration does not have any of that coherence except to say they are not George W. Bush. Essentially, the president’s policy since he came into office is to make a succession of speeches, including Cairo in 2009, saying effectively, “I am not George W. Bush, love me.” That is not a strategy. We have seen that clearly with the events in Egypt, which caught him completely unaware and which he found extremely difficult to handle. Now, we are into an extremely unpredictable phase in which its hard to predict what an Egyptian democracy would end up looking like. In the short run, the military is still in control. This revolution is certainly not, by the standards of European revolu-
“a representative legislature, a transparent fiscal system, an independent monetary authority and a regular market for securities create the institutional environment within which all kinds of corporations … can flourish.” His reasoning is all well and good, but fails to take into consideration factors which are at the forefront of antiimperialist ideals. By assuming that the only purpose of self-determination is to succeed where empire failed—in terms of ensuring global prosperity and peace—is to ignore less quantifiable reasons for wishing to cast off the yoke of empire. Ferguson makes much of the Indian example, highlighting the incredible investment and development of infrastructure that took place under British rule. It is inarguable that such progress could have been made without the British, but at what cost? Ferguson completely ignores the implied (very often explicit) paternal racism of imperial projects—his only concession is a few lines on the ambivalence of the British towards widespread famine in India in the late nineteenth century, which was the result of detrimental economic policies. This “institutional” argument for the benefits of empire overlooks at least one glaring, and even offensive example. Ferguson’s suggestion that even the best institutions were less successful in arid, landlocked countries with no access to sea-trade is risible. If this were true, then the Irish would have benefitted enormously from such a close proximity to Westminster. In the event, centuries of British rule left Ireland a barely developed country with a huge amount to catch up on—even in the later twentieth century. Ferguson’s detached analysis can be rewarding and his assertion, for example, that a collection of loosely knit independent states is not the best way to manage world finance is astute. However, in seeking to defend “liberal empire” he loses site of the fact that international trade and big business is not the only means to measure success. tions, doing too well. Secondly, there is no very well-organized secular democratic party. Thirdly, there is one well-organized Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, which one has to regard as the favorites to come out on top if the military cannot reconstitute the old regime, which I suspect they hope they can. I look at the performance of the administration and it’s been woeful. The National Security Council wholly failed to prepare the president for this scenario even though the Israelis have been discussing it for a long time. In fact, the idea that they had not thought through the scenario of some type of popular uprising against Mubarak, I find stunning. It’s not like it was a low probability event. It’s very alarming from a historian’s point of view because we know most revolutions do not end with some happy-clappy liberal democratic order. Most revolutions tend to be followed by a period of radicalization, often because of economic chaos, and they also—out of that radicalization—tend to become involved in wars because its much easier for a political entrepreneur in a revolu-
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tionary situation to point the finger at the enemy abroad than to address problems of a practical nature at home. The risk exists that this revolutionary movement, which began in Tunisia as well in Egypt and elsewhere could do for the Middle East what the French Revolution did for Europe after 1789, namely revolutionize and plunge it into war. The risks are far greater than anybody in Washington appears able to appreciate. The trouble is that people are seduced by the notion of a Prague-style Velvet Revolution happening in the Middle East. They are very tempted to believe that 1989 is being replayed. The reason they make that mistake is they look at a crowd on television and think it’s a crowd, that’s good. It’s amazing amnesia since 1989 is only 10 years after the Iranian Revolution, an event that initially was welcomed by Americans in much the same way but ultimately, completely span out of control. I worry very much about the failure of the administration to ask the following question: Do we want a) stability in the Middle East in which case we need to be very worried about the health of regimes like the Egyptian one of Mubarak or b) do we want, in fact, to have a democratic wave but just by peaceful rather than violent means? If it is the latter then that has certain implications. You need to know what to do when the crowds are in the street; you need to have thought about it. Secondly, you need to make sure that the crowds have leaders whose objectives are truly liberal and secular. The US was very good at this in the Cold War. You need to help the people who are going to lead the country in the direction of freedom. We have not done that. The failure of course goes back a very long way. No sooner had Obama given the Cairo speech in 2009 than he was sitting passive, silent as the Green Movement was crushed in Tehran by the thugs of Ahmadinejad. This is a really messy state of affairs, and my sense is that it’s going to have some very negative consequences not just for Egypt but for the whole region. Could the US have salvaged Mubarak’s tenure? Do you see the Muslim Brotherhood as following down the path of the AKP? How do you see the events in the region unfolding after the fall of Mubarak? The Mubarak regime was coming to an end. The only question was whether he could successfully hand off to his son. This option clearly did not have legitimacy, quite apart from the crowds of young people in the streets; it did not have legitimacy with the military. Otherwise, we would not be here. The US was asleep at the wheel. I do not think there was any kind of Mubarak continued option. The only question was what was going to come next? The administration did not have a clue. There is a mood of change sweeping the region and it could go in one of three ways: It could simply elicit a crackdown and a new generation of military but secular leaders. I don’t rule that out, even in Egypt where, let’s face it, the concrete result of the revolution has been six months of military rule. Then, there is a second scenario which is slightly less probable but nevertheless very easy to visualize in which in a period of economic confusion, even chaos, and a lack of any organized secular political leadership, the Muslim Brotherhood makes major gains, ends up if not winning the elections, then at least, becoming a dominant part of the government. Of course, then, the question of what exactly is the Muslim Brotherhood is very pertinent. Is it going to be aggressive in the imposition of Shari’a, or is it going to do it by stealth? I do not regard the situation in Turkey as a stable one or a good one from the point of view of the West. The Erdogan Issue 1563 • May 2011
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government is a cleverly run one which soft pedals in its negotiations with the West, but is no doubt taking Turkey away from the West in the direction of a neo-Ottoman policy. Indeed, we will see more and more of a challenge by Turkey to Iran to be the dominant force in the region. There is a big question mark over scenario two if the Muslim Brotherhood gets the upper hand. I do not think it will be as radical or violent as Khomeini’s Islamic revolution in Iran, but I do not think either we should regard the Muslim Brotherhood as a secular movement—incredibly—the administration’s director of National Intelligence said last week, an unbelievable thing for someone to say. The third scenario is the one that people in the office of The New York Times seems to think is likely, and I think is really unlikely, and that is Egypt 2011 as Prague 1989, transitioning smoothly to a western-style democracy. The reason I do not think its likely is that none of the foundations for such a transition are in place—no well organized opposition, no tradition of constitutionalism, a relatively small middle class, a very large and youthful population which is poor and poorly educated. You know, historically speaking that is definitely not the formula for a stable democratic regime. It’s the formula for nationalist or fundamentalist movements to gain traction. There are those three scenarios, not just in Egypt. The scenarios exist in Algeria, Tunisia, Yemen, and a whole bunch of countries. The other thing to watch is Lebanon, which is a very interesting case in which Hezbollah is essentially now in power. As a historian, I therefore look for analogies. I do not claim to be a great Arabist, and never have claimed that, but I am someone who studies revolution. I spent part of writing Civilization thinking about the great revolutions of 1789, 1917, 1989, but also, 1848, the revolution that failed. My gut feeling right now is that it’s the Arab world’s 1848, and these revolutions will fail because the forces, particularly the military forces of the status quo, have lost the figurehead, but are still very much in place. The other lesson of 1848 is that if the crowd does not have a coherent program beyond Mubarak must go or Metternich must go, then they will lose. It’s not coherent enough; it does not go far enough. Finally, if the crowd has no leader, remember the great words of Ledru-Rollin in 1848, “I am their leader, I must follow them”. When I watch the coverage from Cairo, I see this as an authentically leaderless revolution, and they don’t work, they don’t succeed. Have you written your defining work yet? I really hope not. I do feel as if the Kissinger book is a huge challenge, but also a huge opportunity to take writing about the post-1945 period, and also the writing of biography to new levels. This will be the best-documented biography ever written because technology is allowing me to gather material from, currently, nearly 60 archives around the world in multiple languages, and manage it in a way you could not 10 years ago. I think that in itself is a huge challenge: How does one manage a million plus pages of material in such a way that you do not get lost and bogged down? I really do see this book as a book that will be the summation of my work to date, bringing together the geopolitical and also, the economic history, because you cannot understand the crisis of the 1970s without that. I hope to say something fundamentally new about a period that is just now becoming history. It’s not the journalism of the 1970s anymore; it’s becoming the stuff of proper historical scholarship. 39
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The Ubiquity of Ideology
An interview with Hazem Saghieh, Lebanese journalist
The explosive mix of globalization, large youth populations, and weak economies has created an atmosphere ripe for change. In this interview with "The Majalla," the visionary writer and liberal thinker shares his views on the growing culture of arms and resistance in the Arab world, the problem of sectarianism and his take on the future of the Arab nation-state. Hanin Ghaddar
azem Saghieh is a senior columnist and editor at Al-Hayat daily. He is also the author of many books that range in topics from the Iraqi Ba’ath Party to the Lebanese Civil War to Hezbollah and its arms. He lives in Beirut and is also one of the founders and writers of Kalamon, a quarterly Beirut-based cultural publication that covers political, cultural and social issues in Lebanon and in the wider region. How do you see the uprisings in the region and where do you think they are going to lead? I believe the uprisings are the product of many factors. One of them is the contradiction between very aging regimes and a very youthful population. Our societies nowadays resemble kindergartens in the sense that between 60 and 70 percent of the population are less than 25 years old. At the same time, all the rulers are either dying or hospitalizing themselves. The Ba’athist regime in Syria was established in 1963; in Libya, the Qadhafi regime was imposed in 1969; in Egypt, Hosni Mubarak took rule in 1981 but he goes back to the 1953 July coup d’état, and so on. So, this contradiction is quite natural to explode. The main factor that helped this explosion to take place is also composed of many aspects. One is the globalization revolution. This globalized dimension made people worldwide closer to each other, and able to see what is going on in the rest of the world, and to draw comparisons among different countries and societies. Two, because of the size of the youthful population, and because the youth are very much identified with pride, and individualism, it became much more difficult to accept inheritance of power in supposedly republican regimes. Three, the economic problem has reached unprecedented levels. And then, there is the national humiliation. For example, a country like Egypt looked as if it has no foreign policy, and the main concern for Egypt was how to fight Sudan, the problem regarding Gaza, or networks related to Hezbollah. The Egyptian regime very much belittled Egypt, and you can feel the bitter reality that Egypt is not anymore an actor in engineering the picture of the Middle East. What is the future of these uprisings, are they going to result in modern states based on real democracy and reforms? This is a very difficult question, because dealing with these movements as if they were one is a bit exaggerated or at least not as accurate as it should be. There is a certain level of har-
mony between the compositions of the populations, but there are differences. In Egypt, the small but sizeable Coptic minority, which amounts to 10 percent of the population, could create a problem in building a future for Egypt, a future based on certain consensus. The same could be said about Tunisia where there is a regional contradiction between the coastal area and the desert, but it seems that the Tunisians are going to surpass this problematic issue, maybe because of the progress that was achieved by the Bourguiba era, which empowered the Tunisians to bridge this gap. When it comes to societies like Yemen, Bahrain and Libya, it is different. They resemble Sudan much more than they do Egypt and Tunisia, in the sense that in these societies, the sectarian, religious and regional contradictions are much bigger than in Egypt and Tunisia. The Bahrain problem is between Sunnis and Shi’ites. In Yemen, you have the South and North Yemen problem, and also inside North Yemen there is this conflict between the Hashid and Bakim tribes. In Libya, you have the Benghazi—Tripoli schism. So, the corrupt and despotic regimes put real effort to keep these contradictions, to perpetuate them, and to accentuate them, and unfortunately they succeeded in doing so, making it much easier for them to survive and much more difficult to make changes. For this reason, I do believe that those regimes can simultaneously harm the past because they realized history, the present because they rule people in a very despotic and corrupt way, and also the future because they make movement towards the future much more difficult with the current problems. In your youth you supported the Islamic Revolution in Iran, and last year you wrote a book criticizing the culture of arms and resistance. How do you think the culture of resistance changed during these years, and is it becoming an end in itself ?
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I believe that between the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and nowadays, there were some very important events which reveal some truth which we were blind to. One of them as far as we are concerned has to do with the Iranian Revolution itself, because it turned out to be a theological regime, which has minimal link with the outside world. It is very repressive, semitotalitarian and at the same time defends itself by using two main instruments, arms and ideology. And don’t forget the great event of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the eastern bloc, which was very strong militarily, but as it turned out its strength was made on the expense of every other aspect, leading to its fall. So these militaristic phenomena are not able to survive in a postindustrial world based on instruments of communication, which are very smart and individualistic, and young people who face violence with non-violence. You can’t overlook this tendency when you see the demonstrations in Egypt and Tunisia, and their peaceful slogans. So if you take all these experiences and add them to my own personal experience, what I have read, and what I have thought of, I think it wouldn’t be very farfetched to reach the conclusion that I reached regarding the Resistance today. So what really is the difference between resistance and civil war? Where does one end and the other one begin? Resistance is always the potential of a civil war. The idea that a certain unified nation that is invaded by another nation and this invaded nation is being unified under the banner of resistance to fight the outside invader is a total myth. You don’t find in history a credible example which would endorse it. I think the reason is the lack of national consensus among the population themselves. In the post-independence era, the effort which was put to build real nation states was very minimal. The contradictions which were inherited from the pre-colonial era were kept, preserved and reproduced, and we reached a point that there’s barely anything common between us, so when an invader comes from the outside some sects and populations would find it a pretext to hold arms, defending itself by a modern ideology: liberation, and then use those weapons if not against their compatriots at least they use it as a leverage which would give them the upper hand in articulating the political situation and controlling it. Others would feel threatened and afraid. And if this didn’t create civil war it would be a permanent potential. The problem in totalitarian ideologies is that they make from killing a glorious act. It is the difference between saying that I am pushed to do this and saying resistance, death, and martyrdom are my aim in life. In democracy your aim is to live better, to work better, to achieve more, to have, if not you then your kids, a better education, a better environment. If someone wanted to prevent you from doing this, then you have to fight it. But this is a non-starter; you start from what you want to achieve. On the other hand, in the totalitarian and semitotalitarian camp, the starter is that you want to fight the enemy, imperialism, America, Israel and so forth, and this fight is glorious and desirable. You went through different ideologies and concepts during your political life in Lebanon, do you think there is still place for any ideology in the region, or should we be looking at politics from a different angle? Can ideologies still work? Issue 1563 • May 2011
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I think everything is ideological, but the problem is that ideologies in the modern sense, be it right or left, nationalism, patriotism, democracy, or socialism, are the products of modernity. In Lebanon and some Arab countries, we are living in a pre-modern era, but for me, this is more about our individual taste than it is about programs which could be executed in reality. I will give you an example: Take socialism. Socialism means a certain way of distributing wealth, but in order to be socialist, you have to have a state. We don’t have such a thing. The almost comic aspect of this is that almost every Sunni in Lebanon is neo-liberal in economics, because Hariri’s economy is neo-liberal, while every Shi’ite could be a socialist. Neither the Sunni has a relation with neo-liberalism nor has the Shi’ite with socialism. So, in your opinion, what has the individual's strive towards an identity become? The prerequisite for the rise of individualism is the existence of the state, and of national consensus. Without a state no one could protect the individual. With the collapse of the Ottoman Empire we moved, theoretically speaking, to nation states, but we had a split between reality where there are nation states with education curriculums, flags, parliaments, a national economy, but at the same time, they don’t recognize this. For this reason they keep saying Arab nations, Arab homeland, Muslim nations, etc. I feel it is enriching to feel pride for belonging to supposedly Arab culture, Islamic traditions, your own region, your own family and your own country. Each of these levels of belonging is important, provided that each level is important in its own domain. For example, when it comes to politics, you are first Lebanese, when it comes to culture, you are first Arab, when it comes to theology, you are Sunni, Shi’ite or Christian, when you speak about region, you say I prefer my region, south, or north, but you have to be very decisive and resolute when it comes to the political level. The political level means the nation state, and priority should go to your national belonging. What about secularism? Is it becoming a requirement for the emergence of a strong state? If you want to go secular, or have a civil state, you have to get rid of the influence of religious sects, and you have to get rid of the weapons of Hezbollah. You can’t get rid of the weapons of Hezbollah without sorting out the sectarian question. Even if you militarily could, which is a very farfetched possibility, if you don’t besiege sectarianism and prevent it from having the upper hand in society, you will always have a sect that wants to protect itself, which could be armed and then wants to impose its agenda on the whole society. You have to build a real state accompanied with national consensus; you have to give your priority to the national not the tribal or the religious loyalty. Regarding Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda, and different Salafist groups in the Arab world, are these stable cultural and social phenomena, or are they temporary? What can be done to combat them? Well, these are combined phenomena. They are cultural, economic, demographic, and educational. You cannot isolate 41
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one aspect from the rest. This would help us to diagnose the salvation or the solution. I think this phenomenon could be combated only if a multi-dimensional program is developed by the cultural, economical and political elites in the region. This agenda as I see it should be based on the sense of patriotism, and by patriotism I mean that you give your political allegiance to a nation state. This patriotism is not chauvinistic, racist or aggressive. It is the only feasible way to live in a modern society, where one fabric would bring you with your compatriots all together. You can’t live without the rule of law, and you can’t live without a passport, and for this reason you need a state, and the world is composed of states. In the United Nations you are represented as a state, you are not realized as an Arab nation, or an Islamic nation. This is the reality of our modern world. You also have to stress stability, and then wars, battles, tension, and all the radical ideas would fall. Wars need men not women; they need fighters not intellectuals, and what’s more important is that they need a significant link with authenticity and heritage, because when you go militant you have to highlight everything in your past associated with authenticity. Islam is in the heart of this album of memoirs, so you cannot say that I’m going to go secular and at the same time militant, and all the experiences in the Arab Muslim world tell us that during wars, tensions, agitations, the religious and the fundamentalists won the wars against the seculars, liberals and the left, and all those that are the offspring of modernity. Moreover, you need to rehabilitate the slogans of secularism. In order for this to work, you have to be forthcoming when it comes to welfare. I mean you have to deal with the problems of poverty and economic unevenness in society. For example, you learn that Hosni Mubarak stole 70 billion dollars, you cannot help but think that this money could have developed Egypt. When I think of that, I think about this stupid anti-imperialist propaganda that the West is stealing us, when actually it is our own rulers who are doing it. The huge amounts of money stolen by these Arab dictators would create an economic revolution that is unprecedented in the region. What about the Sunni-Shi’ite strife created by these fundamentalist movements in the region? How politically valid is that now? The Sunni-Shi’ite problem is not a religious problem. It is sectarianism, and there’s a difference here. You could be atheist and sectarian at the same time: atheist in the sense that you don’t believe in god but you stick to your group. It has to do with a certain mechanical solidarity between certain groups, a sort of enlarged kinship between one group which wants a better share and more recognition. In this sense, I tend not to talk about the Sunni-Shi’ite problem as a religious thing; I tend to see it as one of the results of having no state and having no national consensus. In the midst of all this, what is the role of the intellectual? To say as much as could be said, to say what they see as the truth, and not to follow populists by theorizing for them and for their militant tendencies just because they are popular, or because it is what those with power want. Intellectualism in the Arab world should bring back at least the ideas of enlightenment, progress, building nation states, equality between sexes, the rule of law, and peace, because intellectualism only thrives
Nancy Ajram is no Karl Marx Hazem Saghieh is not an ideologue and seems to hate strict and predefined ideological thinking. In a book that many say is not his usual style, Saghieh compared the political thought of Karl Marx and Ibn Khaldoun to modern popular culture, such as songs by Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram. The book, Nancy and Karl Marx, proved to be a hit as its sales shot up. According to the Lebanese columnist, he once read an article on the internet that "compared the buttocks (muakhira) of Nancy Ajram to the Muqaddima of Ibn Khaldoun, or the Muqaddima to Karl Marx's book on economics." It does not have to be an either or situation, Saghieh argues. "I enjoy reading Ibn Khaldoun and Marx, and I also enjoy listening to Nancy's songs," he said in an interview. Saghieh mocks the region's ideological regimes that have tried to stand up to globalization. "Barbie the doll is in every home, yet the Iranians and the Syrians consider it to be—according to their ideological lines—a symbol of imperialism," he argued. "They produced a Barbie and called it Fulla," said Saghieh. "They were forced to engage in producing an equivalent because they could not keep out western influences." According to the Lebanese writer, globalization became irresistible when he "could listen to a song by (Egyptian singer) Amr Diab at Heathrow Airport" in London. "Such widespread exposure was inconceivable even for a diva singer like Um Kalthoum before globalization kicked in during the 1990s." Saghieh believes that the best option is to let both eastern and western influences coexist and mix. "When music dominates the lyrics, it means we live in a stupid society," he said. "But when the lyrics dominate the music, it means we live in a totalitarian and oppressive society," he added. "The existence of one does not come at the expense of the other," he concluded. when there is peace. Wars are the worst enemies of intellectualism as no ideas would be developed, and stability is the byproduct of peace; you cannot have stability when you are waging a war. So, peace and subsequently stability are the ideas which should be defended and promoted by intellectuals, and unfortunately this is not the case in the Arab world. On a related note, who do you consider the intellectuals, foreign and Arab, who shaped your thought? Are you following on any young writers? Among the classical names in the field of political theory, Hannah Arendt is my favorite. Among Arab political intellectuals, my favorites are my friends. And there are certain books I like coming back to, in particular the books of Carl Popper and Talmond.
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1979 The Iranian Monarchy is overthrown with Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi fleeing to Egypt. Ayatollah Khomeini returns from exile in Iraq and establishes a new political system based on an Islamic model, creating The Islamic Republic of Iran. 1979-1981 Islamic militants take 52 Americans hostage and demand the extradition of the Shah from the U.S to face trial in Iran. 1980 Abolhasan Bani-Sadr is elected the first President of the Islamic Republic. 1980 Iraq invades Iran. The conflict is devastating to both countries and causes extensive regional instability. In 1988, with Iran economically crippled, Khomeini reluctantly agrees to a ceasefire. 1989 Ayatollah Khomeini dies and President Khamenei is appointed Supreme Leader. 1997 Reformist politician Mohammad Khatami is elected President after defeating 3 other candidates. Many hope his victory signals the beginning of a more liberal period in Iranian politics, but these expectations are soon abandoned.
2002 US President George Bush accuses Iran of plans to develop long-range missiles. He equates Tehran to Baghdad and Pyongyang and labels them collectively as the "axis of evil." 2003 Iran announces that it has halted its uranium enrichment programme. IAEA concludes there is no evidence of a weapons programme. 2005 Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wins the 9th presidential elections. He defeats cleric and former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. 2007 US announces sweeping new sanctions against Iran. They are the toughest since the first imposed sanctions almost 30 years earlier. 2009 Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is declared victor in the June’s presidential election. His rivals challenge the result, and accuse the Iranian establishment of voterigging. 2009 The election result provokes the largest popular uprisings since 1979, in what is now known as the Green Revolution. Supporters of rival candidates took to the streets, Ahmadinejad’s regime responds with mass arrests and crack downs creating the worst scenes of state violence in 30 years. 2009 Tehran admits to pursuing a nuclear program and says that it is building uranium enrichment plants. The government insists that the programme is for peaceful purposes. 2010 Defiant opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi says the Green Movement will continue its struggle against Ahmedinejad’s regime.
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2010 UN Security Council votes in favor of a fourth round of sanctions against Iran. Sanctions allow UN members to inspect vessels in Iranian waters suspected of transporting prohibited items to the country.
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A turbulent year in Tehran Iran’s controversial president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was reelected in June 2009 to serve a second four year term amidst widespread accusations of electoral fraud. Supreme Leader Ali Issue 1562 • March 2011
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hree decades after Ayatollah Khomeini realized his Islamic revolution, the Iranian street is still a lively arena of political contestation. However, unlike in 1979, popular sentiment now challenges rather than supports the revolution’s Islamic agenda. Last year’s Green Revolution has been described by many analysts as the end of the Islamic republic. At the very least, the outpouring of public anger following the 10th presidential elections has been deeply damaging to the legitimacy of Ayatollah Khamenei’s establishment. The 1979 revolution in Iran constitutes the only popular revolution in the region. In the years leading up to the revolution the Shah’s unpopular and often brutal regime had fallen out of favor with a wide cross section of society. Students, religious conservatives and even the middle class were growing tired of the Shah’s policies. The tradition of Shi’a quietism, where the clergy remained neutral in matters related to politics was broken. Ali Shariati and Ruholla Khomeini were amongst those who openly criticized the Shah’s regime and began touting Islamism as an alternative ideology. Khomeini’s sustained and virulent criticism saw him exiled from Iran for 14 years. Towards the end of the 70s grievances spilled into the streets, the Shah fled to Egypt and Khomeini returned from exile in Iraq to lead the disgruntled masses. Khomeini and his supporters were quick to step in and fill the power vacuum caused by the Shah’s exodus. They denounced the standing government as illegitimate and proposed an alternative form of governance based on Islamic principles. This resulted in the adoption of a highly complex political system which combined elements of Islamic theocracy and democracy. The system is comprised of two blocs; an unelected clerical government, and an elected popular government. Until the late 1990s both blocs were dominated by conservative forces. This state of affairs helped Khomeini and his supporters to realize their pre-revolution ambition that Islam play a more dominant role in Iranian society. In the late 1990s and early 2000s however, Iranian politics became somewhat more competitive in nature. Reformists chipped away at conservative dominance in parliament and sometimes also succeeded in winning the Presidency. This was the case in 1997 when the reformist Mohammad Khatami was elected President with 70% of the popular vote. The overwhelming victory of reformists in the parliamentary elections raised popular expectations that Iran was entering a period of political and social transformation. However, conservatives utilized unelected political and religious institutions to block more than 90% of the legislation adopted by the reformist-dominated parliament. The resulting political gridlock left many Iranians disappointed by the political process. The illusion of a lively political environment was broken in 2004 when hardliners regained control of parliament. And in 2005, the fate of the reformists was sealed with Ahmadinejad’s victory in the Presidential elections. For the last five years both the unelected and elected organs of government have been dominated by conservative forces.
Full Name: The Islamic Republic of Iran Capital: Tehran President: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad GEOGRAPHY Area: 1.65 million sq km (636,313 sq miles) Location: Bordering Afghanistan 936 km, Armenia 35 km, Azerbaijan-proper 432 km, Azerbaijan-Naxcivan exclave 179 km, Iraq 1,458 km, Pakistan 909 km, Turkey 499 km, Turkmenistan 992 km PEOPLE Population: 67,037,517 Ethnic Groups: Persian 51%, Azeri 24%, Gilaki and Mazandarani 8%, Kurd 7%, Arab 3%, Lur 2%, Baloch 2%, Turkmen 2%, other 1% Religions: Muslim 98% (Shia 89%, Sunni 9%), other (includes Zoroastrian, Jewish, Christian, and Baha'i) 2% Languages: Persian and Persian dialects 58%, Turkic and Turkic dialects 26%, Kurdish 9%, Luri 2%, Balochi 1%, Arabic 1%, Turkish 1%, other 2% ECONOMY GDP (ppp): $876 billion GDP composition by sector: agriculture 10.9%, industry 45.2%, services 43.9% Inflation Rate (consumer prices): 16.8% Unemployment Rate: 11.8% Population Below Poverty Line: 18% Khamenei announced the result of the elections, in which 40 million votes were cast, just two hours after the polling stations closed. The incumbent, Ahmadinejad was awarded victory with a surprising 63% of the vote, in what had been a hotly contested election. The opposition led by former Prime Minister Mir Hussein Mousavi and former speaker of parliament and senior cleric, Mehdi Karroubi quickly labeled the elections as unfair. They suggested that Ayatollah Khamenei had intervened in the election process to secure the victory of Ahmadinejad. Khamenei responded saying that the Islamic Republic of Iran "would not cheat" and singled out western politicians and media - particularly Britain and the United States - to blame for fanning the flames of anti-government anger. The Green Revolution In the aftermath of the election, the world's attention was focused on one of the largest mass protests Iran had ever witnessed. The decisive victory claimed by Ahmadinejad was immediately challenged in Tehran’s streets. Mir-Hussein Mossavi and Mahdi Karroubi were cast as leaders of the nationwide opposition movement, otherwise known as the Green Revolution. The state took a hardline stance against demonstrators with brutal crackdowns on opposition figures, journalists and or45
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dinary demonstrators. However, in spite of these efforts the Green Revolution maintained its early momentum. Tens of thousands of opposition supporters clashed with the security forces and members of pro-government militia on Quds Day in September of 2009, the 30th anniversary of the storming of the US embassy in Tehran in November, and on National Students Day at the start of December. Acts of open repression and brutality undertaken by the government, particularly by the notorious basij militia were captured by "citizen journalists" armed with camera phones. Video footage of the death of an young Iranian woman called Neda, was uploaded onto youtube and became the defining image of the uprising and its brutal suppression. However, in the year that has passed since the elections, the brute force of state power has overwhelmed the opposition and a semblance of calm has returned to Tehran’s streets. For the time being, the state has re-established its control. On June 12th 2010, the anniversary of the election, a massive security presence prevented large gatherings, and leaders of the opposition called off planned protests out of fear that more blood might be spilt. After a year long struggle, the Green Revolution appeared to have failed.
What next for Iran? The last year has been particularly tempestuous for Tehran. Ahmadinejad’s controversial re-election prompted a massive public backlash. Although Tehran has stymied the Green Revolution the regime is undeniably vulnerable. Its disproportionate use of violence has merely forced opposition underground. Iranian judge and Nobel Prize winner, Dr Ebadi, has suggested that ‘there is fire beneath the ashes’ and it would take little to fan opposition flames again. This statement is now being tested, as the world waits to see how Iran will respond to the swathe of civil unrest in the Middle East.
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Iran's nuclear program. With the spotlight off domestic politics, attention shifted towards Iran's controversial nuclear program. Tehran was lambasted by the West for its extensive plans to build uranium enrichment plants. The U.S. and other nations believed that the technology
may be used to develop nuclear weapons. Officially, Iran denied such plans. However, Ahmadinejad’s hawkish foreign policy and his insistence on Iran’s right to develop a nuclear program led to increasing tensions in the international community. The most recent efforts to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions came in June when the United Nations Security Council passed new sanctions against Tehran. The sanctions called for UN members to inspect vessels suspected of transporting prohibited items to and from Iran. No stranger to sanctions Iran has been subjected to various economic and political sanctions since the 1979 hostage crisis. In January 1984 sanctions were imposed when Iran was implicated in the bombing of the U.S. Marine base in Beirut, Lebanon. In the 1990s deteriorating relations between Washington and Tehran prompted the United States to ban exports to Iran on a host of products, from airplane and helicopter parts to scuba gear.
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A Fork in the Road to a New Egypt Why Egyptian revolutionaries are calling for a “No” vote in the referendum to amend the constitution The upcoming referendum on constitutional amendments in Egypt has produced an unsettling divide among he country’s political players. The “Yes” camp is virtually limited to the Muslim Brotherhood and members of the old regime while the “No” camp encompasses almost everyone else. Oppositionists to the amendments rightly argue that what Egypt needs now is not to get busy fixing the flaws of the old system but a national rebirth in the form of a new constitution. Maxim Sansour
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ust one month after Honsi Mubarak’s resignation, the Egyptian ruling military council is going ahead with its promise to put forward recently proposed amendments to Egypt’s 1971 constitution—up for a referendum on Saturday the 19 of March. As referendum day approaches, however, the vote, which is the first meaningful electoral exercise for Egyptians in decades, has caused an unsettling divide amongst Egypt’s political players at a time of great instability. The “Yes” camp by now is limited to members of the previous ruling party (NDP) and the Muslim Brotherhood, while the “No” camp encompasses almost everyone else in the political spectrum, especially those who were most involved in the revolution. They include figures such as Mohammed El-Baradei and members of El-Wafd, El-Tagammu’ and El-Ghad movements. The most remarkable aspect of the referendum is the process and speed by which the proposed amendments were drafted and the time frame for elections that their passage would entail. The amendments were drafted by an eight-member committee of legal experts, appointed by the military council, which included members of the Muslim Brotherhood but no representatives of other opposition voices. The committee conducted its deliberation in complete confidentiality and almost no one outside this committee was consulted. The amendments took only a few days to finalize, leaving the Egyptian public in a very chaotic political scene, with no more than three weeks to debate them and formulate concrete arguments for or against their adoption. If the amendments pass then, as per the military council’s plans, parliamentary elections will be held in June, followed by presidential elections in August. This is an astonishingly hasty electoral timetable for a country that for decades had known nothing but suppression of political parties, deeply rigged elections and understandably high voter apathy. It is hard to imagine that such quick elections can produce a truly representative government befitting the aspirations of post-revolution Egypt. Analysts have attributed this time frame to the desire of the military rulers to shorten their interim phase in power and to be seen as moving quickly to civilian rule. They are, after all, military generals invested in their relatively affluent life in the military barracks rather than in a desire or aptitude to govern. The Muslim Brotherhood on the other hand has no need for more time. For decades they have been the only organized political opposition movement in Egypt, and despite their public 48
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announcements that they will not seek parliamentary majority, they are eager and ready to begin to participate in the political game that had alluded them for so long. Everyone else in Egypt seems to be increasingly skeptical and distrustful of this plan, and in the few days before the vote, a myriad of movements have grown somewhat more organized in leading a nation-wide campaign urging for a “No” vote in the referendum. Those advocating this position cite substantial flaws in the military council’s plans. They distrust the exclusionary process through which these amendments were produced and argue that the amendments fall well short of what is needed to create a political framework that would alter the previous dominance of the political scene by the NDP and the Muslim Brotherhood. They also distrust the time frame for these major political changes, worrying that parliamentary elections in June leave no time for substantial revision of the electoral system
and the growth of political parties and would, therefore, only produce a parliament dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and remnants of the NDP. More importantly, they are passionate in their belief that what Egypt needs now is not an edit of the 1971 constitution but an entirely new constitutional document that will herald a new and more inclusive Egypt. Not everyone is convinced by the wisdom of a “No” vote, and even those who are unsatisfied with the proposed amendments fear that their rejection in the referendum would lead to continued instability and uncertainty. The “No” camp, however, has countered this with their own vision for the country’s post-revolution path. Their proposals are based on interim tools that will provide more space and time for the drafting of a new constitution and the development of political parties. This vision includes a brief declaration of constitutional principles to affirm basic rights and govern the interim period; an interim presidential council of three to five civilians, elected through an open-list system, who cannot run in future presidential or parliamentary elections; and then a constitutional convention, elected through a proportional or semi-proportional system, to draft a constitution to be put to a referendum. This would be followed by parliamentary and presidential elections at a later date.
If the amendments to the constitution pass, then Egyptians will likely face an uphill struggle to produce the fair and representative political system that they aspire to As with all revolutions, the initial euphoria after the ouster of an undemocratic regime is followed by the uncertain forks in the path to the eventual fruits of that revolution. If the amendments to the constitution pass, then Egyptians will likely face an uphill struggle to produce the fair and representative political system that they aspire too. More worrying would be the scenario of the amendments passing but with wide accusations of electoral irregularities, which will lead to renewed distrust among political players. A “No” vote, on the other hand, might keep Egypt on an uncertain path but it gives Egyptians the opportunity to build the new Egypt that so many of them have fought for. Egypt must at this stage look at the experiences of other countries that have undergone similar national rebirths. In post-apartheid South Africa, for example, the country resisted the temptations to amend its previously flawed constitution and instead went through a two-year-journey to produce a new constitution that is still considered today as one of the most progressive in the world. It’s unclear at this stage whether the last minute efforts of those opposing the constitutional amendments in Egypt will be successful in halting the military council’s momentum, but the Egyptian public has shown repeatedly in this revolution an impressive level of political sophistication and mobilization. It would be no surprise if the “No” camp wins on Saturday and it would be another sign that Egypt can, as it had done in the past, be the leader of political visions and imaginations in the region. Issue 1563 • May 2011
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It’s a Man’s World Women are at the crossroads in post-Mubarak Egypt. Comprising 40 percent of registered voters, women stand to gain much if they manage to overcome the conservative social frameworks that often prevent women from fully participating in society. As the political dust settles, we will see where the revolution has left them. Alastair Beach
Whether or not this is the real reason is unclear. Yet whatever the truth about sexual harassment, there is no doubting the fact that Egypt—along with most of the Arab region—remains very much a man’s world. According to Abu El-Komsan, the future of Egyptian women hangs in the balance. “If we pass this transitional period with better democracy, the situation for women will be better. If we pass with a big appearance for Islam it will be worse.” The latest United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report for Egypt reveals that women still lag far behind in terms of both work opportunities and representation in public office. The report also said that “conservative social frameworks” stop women from participating in elections, which are seen as a “flawed and potentially rough activity.” Much of this may well change as a result of the Egyptian uprising. During the demonstrations which preceded Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, men and women rubbed shoulders together in the street and protesters proclaimed “men and women on one hand.” A so-called “Million Women March” last month was marred by a counter protest by men who insulted the female demonstrators, yet the event showed the willingness of women to fight for their political future in Egypt. But there is still a long way to go. Many women were outraged that a committee created recently by the ruling military council to amend the constitution had no female representation whatsoever. In a man’s world, the women are going to have to shout very loud to be heard.
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AIRO – During an informal interview with the editor of a Jerusalem newspaper some years ago, I was asked—half-jokingly—whether or not I was a terrorist. The editor, who was curious as to why I’d traveled to so many Arab countries before arriving in Israel, was betraying a common prejudice which some westerners often hold against the Arabs. Confronted by a daily media diet of death and destruction from the sand-covered wastelands of the Islamic world, it is all too easy for niggling preconceptions to ossify into hard-bitten prejudice. Yet when it comes to the Middle East, prejudice cuts both ways. Female travelers to Egypt are soon made aware of the overriding sexual assumptions some Arab men have about western women. It is a misconception that occasionally spills over into open harassment—a problem which doesn’t only affect western women. The Survey of Young People in Egypt, which quizzes youngsters aged 10-24, last year found that more than 50 per cent of Egyptian women said they had experienced sexual harassment at some point in their lives. Nehad Abu El-Komsan, director of the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, said that her organization has actually noticed a sharp drop in complaints about sexual harassment since the Egyptian revolution began. The number of calls her office receives now stands at about four per month compared to several every day before 25 January—drop she attributes to Egyptians having more respect for themselves and increased levels of optimism because of the revolution.
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A Complicated War At the heart of the ongoing turmoil in Libya lies a terrible contradiction. Amidst the clamor by western governments to ensure their mission is seen as humanitarian, they seem to have allied with groups that in another time and place (not too far away) would have been called enemies. Iason Athanasiadis
Seeing the Islamists up close—they make up only a small minority of the rebels—is rare. 1980s Afghanistan was the last time that westerners and Islamists mingled on a battlefront without one side trying to kidnap and decapitate the other, and the other not serving up airstrikes on the first. The Sinjar Records—an Al-Qaeda directory of foreign fighters in Iraq—lists the Libyans as the second largest jihadi demographic after the Saudis. Eastern Libya, the centre of the current rebellion, was the primary recruiting ground for fighters in Iraq. It is likely that several of the rebels currently struggling against Qadhafi picked up their experience fighting US soldiers. As I talked to intensely religious men who view their religion as a divine tool for liberating their country, I realised that they reminded me intensely of what my Greek school history teacher taught us were our own “freedom fighters”—pious, mountain rebels who liberated Greece from foreign “infidel” occupiers from the East, the Ottoman Turks. Perhaps Ottoman media at the time described these same men as “terrorists.” Perhaps if the conflict was taking place today, they would be dubbed “Greek Orthodox Taliban.” It’s one thing to be reminded that one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter, and a totally different one to inhabit a reality where people whose goals and beliefs are near-identical are labelled terrorists in US-occupied Iraq and Afghanistan, then freedom fighters in Qadhafi-administered Libya. And all in the space of less than a decade.
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he war in Libya is way more confusing than a mission to save half a million civilians trapped in a besieged enclave ought to be. Oil futures, the rebels’ links with western intelligence services and Islamist jihadi organizations alike, and the age-old question of whether foreigners should intervene in the affairs of a sovereign state all complicate what was once sold to the United Nations as a straightforward humanitarian intervention. Being on the ground hardly clears things up. It is heartwrenching to walk the streets of Benghazi and meet the ordinary people who would be targeted if Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi were to retake this city. In the backstreets, I caught myself scanning bystanders’ faces wondering where their sympathies lay: whether they belonged to the rebels or the once almighty but now persecuted lejan thawria (revolutionary committees) that Qadhafi established in every city as his ideological bastions and which turned into a fifth column after the rebels took over the city. Out on the frontline with the rebels, it’s just as complicated. The media sells the rebel army as ragtag and courageous. And there’s a lot of courage out there. But there sure are a lot of war-tourists hanging around the battlefield too, surgically attached to their cellphone cameras and getting in the way of the fighting. Then there are the Islamists too, identifiable by their bushy beards, shaved upper lips, shin-high baggy trousers, fluency in using automatic weapons, and distaste at being photographed.
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The current Arab uprisings will not necessarily favor Al -Qaeda The idea that Al-Qaeda will be the natural victor of the current Arab uprisings has gained some traction. In Libya, Qadhafi has tried to play the Islamist card, with relative success. As the outcome of the Libyan civil war remains unpredictable, the city of Derna and the jihadists of the Libyan Islamist Fighting Group have become the focus of western attention. Yet, the outcome of the Libyan conflict will not necessarily favor Al-Qaeda. Manuel Almeida
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ou should not listen to Bin Laden and his followers,” said Qadhafi in a phone call addressed to residents of the Libyan town of Al-Zawiya. Playing the Islamist card—an old trick of dictators when under pressure—the still Libyan leader expected to raise alarm among ordinary Libyan citizens that the alternative to his government is Al-Qaeda, but also, and perhaps strategically more relevant to Qadhafi, to convince the coalition that toppling his government could be a big mistake. Say the word Al-Qaeda, and the West will listen. As soon as the rumor spread that among the multifaceted armed opposition there were members of Al-Qaeda, the alarm bell went off in western capitals. Almost simultaneously, the eastern city of Derna, now in the hands of the opposition, became the object of western concern and of numerous journalistic pieces due
to its reputation for being a hotbed for jihadists. In particular, the information that Derna has supplied more volunteers per capita to the Iraqi insurgency than any other city in the Arab world has traveled the globe. Al-Qaeda has proven to have a great capacity to adapt to new situations, and it will surely seek to take advantage of the current Arab uprising, without interfering too much, aware that any mistake could backfire and hurt the name and strategic objectives of the organization. “If there is a power vacuum in Libya there will be an open market for Al-Qaeda,” a former commander of the Libyan Islamist Fighting Group told CNN. In Libya, one of the scenarios where Al-Qaeda could gain momentum is the dragging of the current contest for power for an indefinite time. With the two sides focused on the war, the chaos and power vacuums that would inevitably arise from a prolonged civil war would certainly fit the type of activity of recruitment among the youth and violent operations that have characterized Al-Qaeda’s presence in similar situations. Another scenario, which western leaders seem to be weary of, is the deployment of western ground troops in Libyan territory. Such foreign presence in the Libyan conflict fits perfectly the kind of anti-crusadist and imperialist rhetoric so typical of Al-Qaeda, and that would surely resonate with a larger social audience beyond the jihadists who belong to or are closely associated with Al-Qaeda. Several members of the Libyan Islamist Fighting Group have naturally joined the armed opposition against Qadhafi’s forces. Yet, this does not mean that Al-Qaeda is the natural victor. Jihadism in Libya is a product of Qadhafi’s repression, not of inherent radicalism. Furthermore, the Libyan Islamist Fighting Group and Al-Qaeda are not one and the same organization, although there are instances of occasional collaboration between both organizations in the past. As recently reported by The Economist, the Libyan jihadists seem to be thankful for the coalition’s air campaign, and not in an instrumental sense. “It’s changed the way we look at the West. They saved our people and we have to say thanks,” said one of the jihadists. Even the rebels from Derna seem to be frustrated by the “Al-Qaeda emirate” reputation that their city has earned in recent weeks. If countries like Egypt, Yemen and Libya evolve to more democratic, less repressive, and more responsible forms of government, then it is hard to see how Al-Qaeda can take advantage of the Arab revolution, as the frustration and repression that give rise to radicalism in the region will suffer a serious blow.
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Syria – Not a One Revolution Fits All As the revolutionary spirit has reached this previously hushed nation, the state machinery has slid into action, doing what it does best: denying or wildly fabricating the truth. Yet Bashar Al-Assad’s personality cult has succeeded in gaining many followers. Having witnessed the unfurling of revolution amongst their regional neighbors, Syrians rightly question whether it is the path for them.
The international media will begrudgingly broadcast these images, insisting that this show of public support is orchestrated whilst local news agencies continue to replay the footage long after the crowds have dissolved. As the revolutionary spirit has reached this previously hushed nation, the state machinery has slid into action, doing what it
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AMASCUS – I was rudely awoken Tuesday morning by the reverberations of helicopter blades circling above my roofless Damascene house. Then came the chants of thousands. The streets were heaving with Bashar Al-Assad’s supporters while army choppers surveyed the scene from above.
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• THINKING OUT LOUD
does best: denying or wildly fabricating the truth. Figures of the death toll released by the state sit at 30 whilst human rights groups claim well over 100 have been killed across the country. The international media has adopted a distinctly one “revolution” fits all broadcast; burning cars and angry mobs are the order of the day. The tendency to publicize one side of the story (the opposition) and draw parallels with Egypt or Libya has at times only enflamed the situation. What the wider world fails to address is that this Levantine nation is radically different from the North African and Gulf nations that have already experienced their own uprisings. Crucially, Syria is a far more diverse country, home to Sunnis, Shi’ites, Druze, Christians, Kurds and Alawis. No two demonstrations across the country have been alike, with varying demands, tactics and political allegiances. The opposition in Syria is far from unified. It is precisely this ethnic and religious diversity that the government has employed as a survival mechanism. Playing on sectarian fears has kept the ruling party comfortably unchallenged during the past four decades since the Ba’athist coup in 1963. The rhetoric issued from the president’s office in recent days continues to exploit fears of disunity claiming demonstrations are a “project to sow sectarian strife.” Deraa, the epicenter of unrest in Syria, falls within the southeastern Hauran region, a Druze enclave stretching from below Damascus to the Jordanian border. The Druze traditionally form an insular and secretive community. They represent a distant offshoot of mainstream Shi’ite Islam and are viewed by many Muslims as a heretical sect or entirely unrelated to the Islamic faith. Many in the rest of the country feel little solidarity with the people in the Hauran, viewing their demonstrations as tribal uprisings. It speaks volumes that while their compatriots are being shot down in the streets of Deraa and Lattakia Syrians in Damascus are celebrating. Residents of the capital city have been kept awake during the last week by what at first sounded like a large wedding procession but soon emerged to be a convoy of at least 50 honking cars filled with Assad’s supporters. The protesters, their cars plastered with portraits of the president sped their way through the city waving flags, chanting “God, Freedom, Only Bashar” until the early hours of the morning. All weekend hundreds of motorists jammed the streets of the city’s central Umayween Square, many criticizing the lack of international coverage of pro-regime demonstrations, waving banners stating “No to BBC, No to Al-Jazeera.” So is it true love or just a charade? Yes, children were given the day off school to join in the march today, and one student confided that the university district had been crawling with plain clothes police officers forcing students to participate but the sheer numbers and enthusiasm suggest the majority genuinely love their leader. Unlike Mubarak or Ben Ali the Syrian president has a wide support base eager to avert his departure. Bashar Al-Assad’s personality cult has succeeded in polarizing this devoted following who see in him a uniting figure, his secular government preaching ardent nationalism not sectarianism. This week the propaganda machine has been in full swing as public workers rush around the city replacing all advertisements with Bashar’s unblemished face—a constant reminder that his citizens are Syrian first and foremost, before Muslim, Christian or Druze.
Children were given the day off school to join in the march today, and one student confided that the university district had been crawling with plain clothes police officers forcing students to participate but the sheer numbers and enthusiasm suggest the majority genuinely love their leader Although the opposition in Damascus has been largely drowned out by the cacophony of beeping horns, a core group of protesters remain resilient. Since early February small groups of pro-reform demonstrators have been congregating throughout the city, mainly concentrated in the Old City around the landmark Umayaad Mosque. And each time the crowds have been quickly dispersed or arrested by the regime’s henchmen. Again on Friday anti-government protesters gathered across the city starting at the mosque where many were picked off by the security forces. Speaking to one of the activists involved, what started as a few hundred-strong was quickly whittled down to fifty. What sets the Syrian opposition apart from those demonstrating across the Middle East are their relatively small numbers and lack of co-ordination. Despite the large numbers of Syrians who want change the fear barrier prevents all but the dedicated few from acting on their grievances. This is hardly surprising considering that demonstrations are illegal under Syria’s emergency law. Those hardcore Syrian activists who brave the security apparatus are new to the game; they don’t know one another, and they don’t know how to organize themselves. The majority of Syrians condemn the system but have faith in their leader to make reforms. They have waited patiently for 11 years. Government reaction in the coming days and weeks will be instrumental in tipping the balance. If security forces continue to fire on demonstrators those sitting on the fence are likely to fall into the opposition camp. Conversely, the resignation of the government today, with a new cabinet to be named in the next 48 hours suggests sweeping reforms may be underway. An earlier statement this weekend to repeal the emergency law, if implemented properly, could finally end the brutal suppression of any dissent. Promises to open a political dialogue and grant greater media freedoms would be a hugely significant step towards signaling an end to government impunity and oppression and may just be enough to appease further unrest. It would be arrogant and shortsighted of the West to wish a similar revolution upon Syria to those in Egypt and Tunisia when the majority of the population wants reform not violent upheaval. Syrians share a healthy amount of skepticism on the conclusion of this “Arab Spring;” their beloved country, wedged between Lebanon and Iraq, two deeply divided nations, makes Syria’s diversity seem all the more combustible. Syrians have witnessed the unfurling of revolution amongst their regional neighbors and rightly question whether it is the path for them.
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• THE ARTS
The Death of an Ingenious Man Omar Amiralay Syrian filmmaker, activist and intellectual, Omar Amiralay, never subscribed to the idea that Arabs had to choose between democracy and stability. If he were alive today, he surely would have joined the youth on the streets to call for reform as he had done so many times previously, fully believing in their potential to change their world.
Hussain Abdul-Hussain Only a few Arab intellectuals have attained world recognition. Omar Amiralay, the ingenious Syrian filmmaker, has been one of them. Fate, however, had an ironic twist. Only 40 days before the outbreak of unrest in several Syrian cities on 15 March—for the first time in almost half a century—Amiralay passed away. Syria and the world lost one of the most illustrious minds who, despite his political activism, repeatedly insisted that he was not a politician but merely a member of Syria's civil society. Amiralay was born in Damascus in 1944 to a former Ottoman army officer and a Lebanese mother. At age 21, he moved to Paris where he studied at the French state film school, La Femis. He tried to record the events of the French Student Revolution of 1968, but with little success. In 1970, he returned to Syria and produced a trilogy that proved critical of late President Hafez Al-Assad and his Ba’ath Party system. In his first film, An Essay on the Euphrates Dam (1970), Amiralay presented a tribute to the dam. In his second and third films, Everyday Life in a Syrian Village (1970) and The Chickens (1977), Amiralay was so critical of the Ba’ath regime that his two films remain banned in Syria today. In the last of his more than a dozen documentaries, A Flood in Ba’ath Country (2003), Amiralay revisited the Assad Dam story and added to it two interviews, one with a parliamentarian, who was also the tribal chief of his village, and the other with his nephew, who was the village's school director. Amiralay's brilliance came to the fore when, without narration, he let his interviewees talk, and through their comments, viewers could clearly see the failure of the Syrian system, including parliament, government and schools. As a member of Syria's "new civil society," in 2000, Amiralay was among 99 Syrian intellectuals who signed a petition urging the then newly elected President Bashar Al-Assad to lift the Emergency Law, instated in 1963. In 2005, Amiralay joined the Damascus Declaration that also demanded reforms and the transformation of Syria from autocracy to democracy. The late filmmaker never subscribed to the idea that Arabs had to choose between democracy and stability. In an interview in 2006 with Youssef Hijazi on Qantara.de, Amiralay argued that, should there be regime change in Syria, he did not believe that the country would plunge into chaos like its neighboring Iraq. "I believe that the history of Syria and the Umayyad political heritage show to this day that politics cannot be allowed to ruin the country," he said. "That means that at some point a compromise must be reached. That is exactly what the story of the hair of Caliph Mu’awiya tells," he added.
Amiralay argued: "The Umayyad heritage differs from the Abbasid heritage. Baghdad was destroyed several times over the course of history, while Damascus has existed uninterrupted for more than four thousand years." And because Amiralay believed in democracy, he signed— together with human rights activists and other Syrian figures— a petition in which they hailed Tunisia's and Egypt's revolutions. "The Syrian people also aspire to justice and freedom," the statement said, according to AFP. "The Arab people have found their route to freedom, namely peaceful, non-violent social resistance uniting the population against those who repress it and steal its wealth," the statement concluded. The petition was signed on 30 January. Amiralay did not live to see Mubarak resign on 11 February. He was not fortunate enough to see Syrians take to the streets a month later, the Syrian government resign and Assad promising reform. Also remarkable about this special Syrian intellectual was his willingness to practice self-criticism. "If I allow myself to criticize the Ba’ath Party, I must first practice self-criticism. I collaborated with this Syrian ideology of modernization," he told Qantara.de.
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A Flood in Ba’ath Country: Revisiting Decades of Assad's Rule
Amiralay was an optimist, even if he described his optimism as being "hair-thin." He, like his close friend, Lebanese journalist Samir Kassir who was assassinated in June 2005 for his anti-Syrian regime positions, was also a believer in the potential of the Arabs. "[W]e [are] sick of European specialists providing a one-sided approach to the Arab world," Amiralay told Qantara. "People have to start accepting the fact that the Arab world has its own representatives," he said. "People who think according to western models and methods and produce rational, methodical examinations of their own reality. They reflect the position of people who are directly affected, rather than that of the observer or the analyst," he added. "The West must accept that the Arab world has these capabilities itself and is able to present itself on its own," Amiralay concluded. Now that Tunisia's Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak are gone, and a couple of other long-sitting Arab "presidents" are facing the risk of being deposed, it is up to Tunisians, Egyptians and other Arabs to show their class and "their capabilities," in the words of Amiralay, whose intellectual influence on Arab countries and the Arabs will remain part of the legacy of a man who—like many of his generation—had a dream but did not live to see it come true. Issue 1563 • May 2011
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Few are the Arab intellectuals who practice selfcriticism. Omar Amiralay was in this minority. When the Euphrates Dam was under construction, Amiralay expressed his admiration toward the Baath Party and its impressive dam system in his film-essay in 1970. 40 years later, fatal flaws had been discovered in the dam's construction. Amiralay thus revisited the dam and Lake Assad in an implicit reconsideration of his support of the Ba’ath and its devastating policies during its four decades of ruling Syria. The result was one of Amiralay's finest films, A Flood in Ba’ath Country, a slow-paced documentary in which he suppressed editorial commentary and let interviews serve as his narration. Amiralay interviewed a lawmaker—who is also the chief of the Mashi village on the banks of the lake 400 km to the north east of Damascus—his nephew, the principal of the village's only school, and students. Almost thoughtlessly, the interviewees repeated slogans that heaped praise on Assad and his Ba’ath Party. The setting of the interviews was telling. Both men were seated against a black background, signifying the status of Syria under the Ba’ath, with rays of light, symbolizing hope. The chief boasted that he was the longest serving parliamentarian in the world, a testimony that the Syrian Council of the People was a mere rubberstamp body under the Ba’ath and the Assad regime. The interview with the school principal showed a backward curriculum dominated by an outdated Ba’athist dogma. Students were "encouraged" to join organizations at different levels: For elementary pupils, the Assad Vanguard, for middle school the Assad Youth Union, and for high school the National Union for Assad Students. The absurdity of the Syrian education system is further exposed when the principal argues that the "military costume" imposed on all students was aimed at "eliminating" class differences rather than simply "hiding" them. The official said that the late President Hafez Assad borrowed the idea of military uniform in schools during his trip to North Korea. Students were still required to wear the uniform by the time of the production of the documentary in 2003.
Baghdad was destroyed several times over the course of history, while Damascus has existed uninterrupted for more than four thousand years 57
• THE CRITICS
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea Hitch 22: A Memoir by Christopher Hitchens Atlantic Books, 2010 Christopher Hitchens is, despite what his numerous detractors might say, a writer abhorrent of cliché and a man who prizes irony as virtue to be much admired. In his memoir, Hitch 22, Hitchens tackles his pet subjects of atheism, the vagaries of leftist politics, English literature and the abomination of fascism. Into this treatment is woven his encounters and close friendships with genuinely great personalities—from Salman Rushdie to Edward Said—which serve to illuminate, among other things, the topical menace of fundamentalist ideologies. The constant repetition of key themes and Hitchens' own fierce principles clarify why and how Hitchens came to be caught up in his Hitch 22.
How does a writer, abhorrent of cliché, tackle that most hackneyed of literary forms, the memoir? It is a medium so intrinsically self-regarding and bound up with centuries of tedious conventions that one might reasonably expect a genuine fear of falling into the trap of ironyfree reminiscence. Christopher Hitchens is, despite what his numerous detractors might say, a writer abhorrent of cliché and a man who prizes irony as virtue to be much admired. He has therefore written his memoir, Hitch 22, in the only way left open to him—relating the noteworthy events of his life in a manner which shuns cliché and sets up its essential themes as irony and a lively sense of the absurd. With this technique, Hitchens tackles his pet subjects of atheism, the vagaries of leftist politics, English literature and the abomination of fascism. Into this treatment is woven his encounters and close friendships with genuinely great personalities—from Salman Rushdie to Edward Said—which serve to illuminate, among other things, the topical menace of fundamentalist Islam. The title explicitly references Catch-22, that bible of the absurd which so brazenly unmasks the insanity of—among other things—war. How gauche, how presumptuous, one might think, before the dawning realization that it is not merely the title that is paying homage to Joseph Heller’s seminal work, with a cheap pun. In fact, the entire memoir is to some extent structured in such a way as to mimic the swirling design of Heller’s book. At the center of the whirlpool is the episode for which Hitchens, regrettably perhaps, will be most remembered—his avowed support for 2003 invasion of Iraq. The reader, as Hitchens demonstrably knows but admirably never admits to, is probably reading this memoir to gain some insight into the author’s so-called turncoat “shuffle to the right.” This initially unspoken event echoes the continued references by Heller’s protagonist, Yossarian, to the death of Snowdon in Catch 22. Just like Snowdon’s death, Hitchens’ upsetting of the Leftist apple cart is frequently foreshadowed by his early child-
hood habit of duality—keeping two sets of books—subsequent university accusations of champagne socialism, and his later adoption of a new nationality—adopting US citizenship in 2007. Hitchens is thus positioned as Yossarian, the airman who hates to fly, the bombardier who doesn’t want to drop bombs. Duality, irony and contradiction run through the autobiography. Even the obligatory account of childhood and early years does not simply relate the events of a few school memories, but amusingly demonstrates where the author first developed his loathing for fascism—the English public school system. A world in which the inhabitants were “subjected at all times to rules which it was not always possible to understand, let alone obey.” From then on it becomes apparent that the totalitarian absurdities of the twentieth century will become the monster that the young man will rail against. We can only take the author’s word that, while at Oxford, the radical student was as keenly and ironically aware of the schisms that plague the left, as he relates—ever making the distinction between his Trotskyist persuasion and those of other socialist comrades, with self-effacing good humor. It is hard to imagine the young man would not have been a tad more earnest and self-serving than he is portrayed here, but surely an autobiography is permitted a little vanity. Humor—and surprising warmth—is never more than a few pages away in Hitch 22. It is endearing to read of Hitchens’ unpretentious pride at meeting Nelson Mandela and the poise with which the former South African president assured him that a letter of support sent from Hitchens’ student labor club to Robbin Island “brightened his day.” Of course one of the pleasures of reading a memoir is the thrill of these anecdotes and encounters with celebrated individuals. Hitchens is blessed to have not only brushed with greatness, but to have actually been immersed in the company of genuine and worthy celebrities. Recognizing this, some chapters are even named for the individual. Martin Amis, unsurprisingly, features prominently throughout the book and he serves as a kind of poetic counterweight to Hitchens’ more practical literary mood—here the duality rears its head again, with Amis manifesting as a kind of golden-haired twin. Tales of the odd-shared adventure between the two close friends are titillating enough, but the chapters dedicated to Edward Said and Salman Rushdie reveal most about Hitchens’ personal struggle to come to terms with the inherent absurdities of the world. Rushdie’s keen mind and brilliant skill with words are contrasted with a knack for the puerile, the combined force of which sees him rapturously accepted in Hitchens’ London clique. It is the grave controversy surrounding the fatwa issued by Ayotollah Khomenei that forces Hitchens to bare his claws, in the face of reactionary
Even the obligatory account of childhood and early years does not simply relate the events of a few school memories, but amusingly demonstrates where the author first developed his loathing for fascism—the English public school system
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Hitchens on Said Christopher Hitchens devotes an entire chapter to his friendship with Edward Said, in which he charts the progress of a personal relationship that taught him much. He shares with the reader several amusing and titillating accounts of Said as he has rarely been seen—the warm man behind the academic façade. These anecdotes are all well and good, painting a picture of a kindly and fiercely intelligent man of letters who can find the time to laugh at a puerile joke. Said’s dandyish public face is gilded with stories of shopping for smoking pipes and picking out a handbag for Hitchens’ wife Carol. Hitchens even claims that Said’s always impeccable tweedy style was a little over done, hinting at an overcompensation which would ultimately drive a wedge between the two friends: “He almost overdid the ambassadorial aspect if you ask me, being always too faultlessly dressed and spiffily turned out.” Their gradual falling out developed from what Hitchens calls “an apparently narrow but very deep difference between us.” While appreciative of Said’s thought provoking and assumption challenging work, Orientalism, his later effort Covering Islam was considered by Hitchens to be naively dismissive of the perils of tyranny—particularly in the Iranian case. Said’s reluctance to name the (for Hitchens) quasi fascist leanings of political Islam was the seed of doom in their relationship. Ultimately, it was the rise of Hamas in Gaza that laid bare the problem; “it seemed that Edward could only condemn Islamism if it could somehow be blamed on either Israel or the United States or the West, and not as a thing in itself.” He totalitarianism. In the first major instance of him doing battle with former comrades, Hitchens is appalled at the lack of response to what he views as an outright attack on the grass-root principles of free society. The ordeal of Rushdie serves as a trailer for the events of 11 September 2001. That American violent attack on the US by forces of extreme, reactionary Islam—the erstwhile Trotskyist Hitchens sees nothing “radical” about the terror attacks—provokes genuine grief and anger in the heart of Hitchens, and he has zero time for the series of apologists for the crimes of that day, people often assumed to be his kindred spirits. Edward Said, admired by Hitchens as a friend, fellow lover of English literature and all round class-act, might embody the kind of apologist Hitchens took such exception to. The chapter devoted to Said might as well be addressed to all Hitchens’ former comrades on the Left. A warm friendship and mutual respect gradually deteriorated into professional antipathy, due mainly to what Hitchens sees as an abdication of responsibility and a failure to witness an evident righteousness on the side of those who stand for personal freedoms—with no vacillations depending on circumstance. Issue 1563 • May 2011
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stops short of calling Said an apologist, but that is certainly the inference—as is the notion that Said was overcompensating in his distaste for America. Whether you agree with him or not, Hitchens ought to be applauded for his steadfast principles that eventually meant the end of a friendship. And this particular relationship can be seen as a microcosm of Hitchen’s dealings with the Left. It did not begin and end with the question of Islam, or indeed (in the wider case) support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Hitchens’ dual character—a theme of his memoir—led him to become an American citizen, and he remains a vigorous defender of American ideals. He asked Said, more than once, whether his sophisticated lifestyle could be maintained in the stifling surroundings of Tehran. By his account he did not receive a satisfactory reply. A complex man, and apparently almost masochistically honest, Hitchens has defended the core values of the US against a barrage of assault from great academics like Said and Noam Chomsky. For him, personal liberty extends beyond the speculations of academia and he takes a somewhat more visceral view of reality. However, as he sums up with an anecdote concerning the attempted character assassination of Said, by none other than Saul Bellow “I certainly didn’t concur with Edward on everything, but I was damned if I would hear him abused without saying a word.” For Edward, here, one could also read the Left, or even the US. In short, the path of Hitchens’ friendship with Edward Said can be traced along a similar line to that of his relationship with leftist politics generally. He respected him deeply, so much so that when the time came he was fully prepared to say exactly where he thought things weren’t quite right. Hitchens’ anecdotes and frequently generous reminiscences circle around the central chapter (figuratively speaking) of the book. The 2003 Iraq war really dominates the memoir to the extent that everything before and after is a framing device. That Hitchens was such a devout supporter of regime change in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq upset many of his friends and admirers. But such is the attention to detail in his memoir, the constant repetition of key themes and his own fierce principles, that by the end it is clear—even to his most outspoken critics— why and how Hitchens came to be caught up in his “Hitch 22.” Situating himself as the Yossarian of the piece is never more appropriate than when he learns of the fate of a young American soldier who dies in tragic circumstances in Iraq. It seems that to some extent Hitchens’ own arguments for the war convinced the bright young man to sign up for service. In a moving passage, which manages to praise the American spirit in sugarfree way, it is clear that Hitchens does understand the infinite insanity he has faced in his life and is equally confident, just as Yossarian was, that we are all stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea. 59
• THE CRITICS
The Dark Side of Hamas Radical Islam in Gaza International Crisis Group, March 2011
Recent clashes between Israel and Hamas have raised serious questions about Hamas’s relationship with more radical militant organizations. In the past year, Salafi-Jihadist groups have seen a steady rise in membership stemming from frustration within Hamas’ military wing. Though these groups are small and their strategic capabilities poor, they present an ideological challenge to Hamas and threaten to destabilize the tenuous cease-fire. Since Hamas took over and restored security in Gaza, Salafi-Jihadis have had much less freedom of maneuver. Hamas is quick to point out the small size of Gaza’s radical Islamist groups. Salafi-Jihadists are few and have executed no significant military operations. But because a majority of its members were once part of Hamas, its actions have begun to be scrutinized. The Salafi-Jihadists adhere to a strict interpretation of Islamic law and see themselves not as liberators of Palestine but as part of a global movement of armed fighters defending Muslims against non-Muslim enemies. They appeal to members of Hamas’s military wing, who are critical of the decision to not fight Israel or implement Shari’a. Although their current strength is low, these groups—through rocket attacks as illustrated recently—could trigger an escalation, which could have serious consequences for Gaza and the region as a whole. To understand the emergence of the Salafi-Jihadists, we must return to 2006 when Hamas first rose to power. Hamas had not expected its electoral victory and was therefore unprepared to govern. Following the election, its ranks swiftly swelled, leaving little time to train followers fully or prepare them for the challenges of responsibility. Fresh recruits suddenly were in demand, for both security and administration, and these only became greater after its 2007 takeover. As a police spokesman said, “After the elections, everyone wanted to be Hamas, and many were brought in before we could give them a proper education.” This rapid expansion was not without its drawbacks, one of which was that serious differences in ideology were papered over. But as time has passed, these differences have been heightened, and the Salafi-Jihadists are but one facet. While these militants are calling on Hamas to Islamize and militarize, they acknowledge the difficulty of Hamas’s position. The government must keep foreign considerations in mind. There is debate within Hamas about the
Image © Getty Images
A briefing by the International Crisis Group explores the threat posed to Hamas by the more militant wing of its organization. The escalation in recent weeks has fed into the hands of militant groups such as the Salafi-Jihadists and risks an armed confrontation. A better understanding of Hamas’s relationship with rival Islamist groups and a fresh approach can help stave off another war. Yet if Israel continues its traditional approach, Hamas may be forced into an untenable position where military escalation is its only means of survival.
methods and speed with which the promotion of Islam should be pursued, as well as disagreement among Gazans about the degree to which the movement has pursued it. Due to the exigencies of governing, and pressure from both their supporters and the West, the Hamas leadership is being pulled in opposite directions. The result has been a zigzagging policy, where hard-line policies are proposed and then retracted when confronted with pressure. Yet the most worrying situation has been a series of bombings aimed at targets that appear un-Islamic and for which no suspect has been publicly tried. In addition, the random rocket attacks against Israel by militants has destabilized and delegitimized the Hamas government.
The consequences of another war, particularly in the current state of regional unrest, could be devastating—the beneficiaries of a confrontation would be Hamas’s more militant members and the Salafi-Jihadists seeking to recruit them By punishing Hamas for rockets launched by groups out of its control, Israel has provoked precisely the militants Hamas had been making efforts to keep in line. Spurring on the radical wing of Hamas and delegitimizing its leaders has had the opposite effect of Israel’s intent. This shift has led many in Gaza to conclude that the next armed confrontation with Israel is inevitable. It remains uncertain whether the current escalation can be contained and whether violence can be avoided. The consequences of another war, particularly in the current state of regional unrest, could be devastating. The beneficiaries of a confrontation would be Hamas’s more militant members and the Salafi-Jihadists seeking to recruit them. The report concludes that, “the best way to minimize the risk is to deal with Hamas not only as a military organization but also as a political movement.”
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• THE FINAL WORD
The Immoderate Brothers Adel Al-Toraifi
he Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt recently announced that it had established an independent political party—the Freedom and Justice Party—to represent the group in the next elections. Clearly named in an attempt to keep pace with the current phase of popular uprisings, brotherhood member, Mohammed Mori, said in his first statement as party head: "The [Muslim Brotherhood] Shura Council discussed many issues, and issued these decisions which we hope will be in the interest of Egypt, in light of the constitution and laws we hope will serve Egyptians.” He added that, "the party will be completely independent from the group [Muslim Brotherhood] in every way.” How can the new party be independent from the Muslim Brotherhood? This is a legitimate question, for what is the need that prompts a group that is nearly 80 years old to establish a new [political] party that is administratively and politically independent from it? Those who know the subject of the Muslim Brotherhood justify this action under the pretext that the (amended) constitution still prohibits the establishment of [political] parties based upon religious platforms, which it does so in Article V. But all that this means is that the oldest religious party in the region does not want to change its principle of politically exploiting religion, or re-draft its constitution to comply with the civil requirements of the national constitution. In other words this new party will be nothing more than a "front" for the old party. In truth, we do not know how a party can raise civil slogans whilst being owned by another party that raises religious ones, or how anybody can justify this legally and constitutionally. If the new party refers its establishment back to a decision made by the Shura Council of the Muslim Brotherhood, which raises a religious slogan, then the party by necessity is based on a religious platform that differentiates between citizens. For more than six decades, writers and researchers have argued that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood party is made up of doves and hawks, and that reforming—or developing—the party is being prohibited by a group of the old guard. However, even after the latest change of names and faces, the party remains the same, along with its literature which was formulated in an atmosphere of conflict with now obsolete parties and clashes with former governments. Yet despite this, the brotherhood continues to garner new supporters. The Muslim Brotherhood argues that they are "missionaries, not judges," and that they stand against all forms of violence. This is relatively true in that the group has no recognized armed wing, but the problem with the Muslim Brotherhood is not whether it is armed or not, but that it promotes a fundamentalist culture that is at odds with the civil world. Meanwhile, the group has a supreme guide to whom all members must pledge allegiance. The culture of the brotherhood is that there is only one path to take, namely "the Islamic solution," or in other words, the totalitarian rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, which teaches
its cadres religious extremism and fundamentalist discourse. In the end, however, the group says that it does not believe in bearing arms, and that this is part of the fiqh principle of ijtihad (making a decision based upon personal effort independent of any school of jurisprudence). The hadith, or words and deeds, of the Prophet claim that somebody who engages in ijtihad and reaches the correct conclusion receives two rewards [from God], whilst somebody who reaches a wrong conclusion nevertheless receives one reward. Each time the Muslim Brotherhood addresses a crisis there is a reference to a speech here, or an interview there, made by a member (a dove) of the group saying that in its forthcoming program his party will move towards democracy, or respecting civil rights, or women's rights, or freedom of expression, or rights for minorities. However, it is not long before another member (a hawk) comes out to release a statement invalidating all those rosy and idealistic statements, and the result is that the group changes its tactical positions, or political maneuvers, but nothing happens to suggest there is a genuine intellectual effort to change its (radical) ideology in order to become a civil party. Anyone who exerts a genuine effort ends up leaving the party, because the Muslim Brotherhood allows reform within its branches but not its foundations. Some are optimistic that the brotherhood will have to change in a democratic or civil sense because of the "revolution" against tyranny that is currently dominant in the region, and by providing an opportunity for the Muslim Brotherhood to engage in political activity without restrictions, this will enhance its chances of becoming a civil entity after it has experienced power, and people will be able to judge the Muslim Brotherhood based on its performance, not its rhetoric. Yet these people forget they are talking about a D’awa group that believes people are straying off the righteous track, a group that has not changed its slogans until this day, so how could it accept the terms of the democratic game that are only available in a secular or civil climate? Why should the head of a totalitarian party take power immediately, whilst others must wait for to be granted their "freedom" and "justice?"!
For more than six decades, writers and researchers have argued that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood party is made up of doves and hawks, and that reforming—or developing—the party is being prohibited by a group of the old guard
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