Issue 1564 • June 2011
Bread & Freedom The economic price of the Arab Spring
9 770261 087119 The Majalla
The Human Condition After the dust of the battle settles in the MENA region, will Arab societies remember to include women in the rebuilding of their countries?
Egytptian presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi is a prominent ﬁgure, gaining wide popularity as a staunch opponent to Egypt’s previous regimes
Thinking Out Loud
It is right that the vagaries of international politics should be debated furiously in public, except when it comes to Henry Kissinger
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 Azeddine Senegri Jacqueline Shoen Michael Whiting Editorial Secretary Jan Singﬁeld Designer Matt Dettmar Submissions To submit articles or opinion, please email: email@example.com Note: all articles should not exceed 800 words Subscriptions To subscribe to the digital edition, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org To subscribe for kindle edition: email@example.com 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 The Arab uprisings, or Arab Spring as various pundits would have it, has been all about freedom and political rights. Nevertheless, in the midst of the debate we tend to forget an important side to the story, which paved the way for discontent in the Arab street. In 1986 The Economist posed the question “How many minutes to earn the price of a Big Mac?” At that time a UBS report was published which provided a guide to how long it takes workers on the average net wage, in 73 cities across the globe, to earn the price of —possibly— the most famous burger in the world, and the Big Mac Index was born. A bit of fun? Something to discuss over the water cooler? Far from it. An eye opening presentation of the differences between income and purchasing price parity — PPP; Based on the theory of PPP, The Majalla has devised The Falafel Index; using the same principal as The Economist’s brainchild, but substituting the favorite fast-food from the MENA region. We present it to you this month together with our contributing editor Paula Mejia’s feature “Food: The Economic Price of the Arab Spring”, an in depth commentary on how political unrest has placed North African economies in a precarious condition. Supporting the feature we have an excellent analysis on the economic situation in Egypt by one of our long standing contributors, Stephen Glain. 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 invite you to take the opportunity to leave your comments or contact us if you are interested in writing for our publication.
Adel Al-Toraiﬁ Editor in Chief
Contributors Paula Mejia A contributing editor for The Majalla based in Tunisia. As a freelance journalist and consultant for the African Development Bank, her work has focused on the economic and social challenges in Africa, with a special focus on Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. She is a graduate of the London School of Economics, L'Institut D'Etudes Politiques de Paris and the University of Chicago.
Stephen Glain A freelance journalist and author based in Washington DC. In 1991, he joined the Wall Street Journal, which assigned him to cover South Korea. He remained as a foreign correspondent for WST for the next decade, covering Asia and the Middle East, from bases in Seoul, Tokyo, Tel Aviv and Amman. Mr Glain is also a former Middle East correspondent for Newsweek. He is the author of the book Dreaming of Damascus: Arab Voices in a Region of Turmoil (John Murray, UK) and its updated, US edition, published under the title Mullahs, Merchants and Militants: The Economic Collapse of the Arab World (St. Martin’s Press), was named the best book of 2004 by online magazine The Globalist.
Nima Khorrami Assl Researcher at the UK Defence Forum and the Middle East Future Network where he writes policy briefs and analysis on geo-economics as well as security developments in the Middle East and the Asia Pacific. Mr. Assl has carried out a number of projects for both governmental and private clients in the Middle East and has published op-eds in The Guardian, Open Democracy, and Defence IQ. Currently based in China, Mr. Assl’s main areas of interest and expertise include Political Islam and (de)radicalization, Iran, GCC, Turkey, BRICS Middle East diplomacy and geopolitics.
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. Issue 1564 • June 2011
Contents Quotes of the Month
War and Peace
• Sea Predators: Somalia’s pirates have been joined by a number of other sharks looking to benefit from the lawlessness in Somalia’s territorial waters
On Politics 14 • The Lord of Yemen: Ali Abdullah Saleh refuses to compromise and opts for civil war • Body Politik: How the Islamic-Nationalistic agenda will shape Iran and its global relations
Bread & Freedom: The economic price of the Arab Spring
The Price of the Arab Spring: Sit-ins, strikes, and other forms of protests comprising hundreds of participants were until recently not an image associated to Middle East and North African countries – there have been important cases preceding the January revolts that have hinted at the problems beneath the surface
• Mustafa Abdul Jalil
The Human Condition
• Women of the Revolution
Thinking Out Loud
The Final Word
• Gregory Gause • Hamdeen Sabahi
• QUOTES OF THE MONTH
Quotes of the Month Images © Getty Images
"We call on the Iranian government to end its systematic human rights abuses and political hypocrisy. Today's sanctions reflect our commitment to hold accountable those governments and officials that violate human rights and deprive their citizens of the opportunities and future they deserve.”
"First the [Yemeni] security forces kill and wound protesters, then they keep medical workers from treating the wounded and raze the protesters' camps to wipe out all traces of them." Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch
"However difficult the circumstances, the use of live ammunition US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton against allegedly unarmed protestors, "It is out of (the) question that we close the border resulting in large numbers of deaths and injuries, inevitably at this point. The developments in Syria raises the question of unnecessary are saddening. We are and excessive use of force.” Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human watching in worry." Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday in response to hundreds of Syrians massing at its border
"The man who terrified America in his life will continue to terrify it after his death… You will continue to be troubled by his famous vow: You shall not dream of security until we enjoy it and until you depart the Muslims' lands.” Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda's long-time number two in an audio message on 22 May.
Rights, said in a statement rebuking Israel for its response to peaceful protests at the ceasefire line between Syria and the occupied Golan Heights
"Turning to the NATO operation over Libya, it has become painfully clear that similar shortcomings—in capability and will—have the potential to jeopardize the alliance's ability to conduct an integrated, effective and sustained airsea campaign," US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said in a speech in Brussels on 10 June
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• WAR AND PEACE
Somalia’s pirates have been joined by a number of other sharks looking to benefit from the lawlessness in Somalia’s territorial waters For the Somalis, piracy is a necessity of last resort, with occasionally a very profitable outcome. Yet the fishermen turned pirates are not the only ones who can make good sums out of this activity and the vacuum of responsible power in Somalia’s territorial waters. From insurance companies and private security firms, to predatory fishing enterprises and foreign businesses looking for cheaper ways of waste disposal, a whole economy—most of it parallel—has formed in Somalia’s seas as a result of the constant instability inland. Manuel Almeida
Two illegal activities that have been taking place in Somalia’s exclusive economic zone since the early 1990s are well documented – one is the illegal fishing by foreign ships, mostly European and Asian, at the value of a few hundred million dollars a year in various kinds of fish
Image © Getty Images
n February this year, a US-flagged, privately-owned yacht, called The Quest, was spotted by a helicopter belonging to the Royal Danish Navy, sailing a couple hundred miles southeast of Masirah Island, Oman. When an attempt to contact the yacht was made, the Dutch Navy men soon realized that the yacht had been boarded by Somali pirates. Although a tense situation, in principle there was not too much to fear regarding the well being of the hostages. In the majority of these situations, the Somali pirates follow their own informal protocol—keep the hostages safe and fed, and demand for a ransom a couple million dollars in exchange for the prisoners. Once the ransom is paid, the hostages are released, the pirates retire and most of them get married.
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Issue 1564 â€˘ June 2011
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• WAR AND PEACE
Yet, in this case things did not turn out as planned. Four US Navy ships, including an aircraft carrier, were sent to find the hijacked yacht. Once the first goal was accomplished, contact was established with the pirates and negotiations began. Two of the pirates came over to one of the US Navy ships to continue negotiations, and remained onboard overnight. In the morning, however, the pirates on board of the yacht fired a rocket-propelled grenade against the US Navy ship where negotiations were taking place, while gunfire erupted inside the cabin of the yacht. The US Navy boarded the yacht, only to find that all of the hostages had been shot by the pirates, and eventually lost their lives. One version of the story recalls that the leader of the pirates, who went on board the US navy ship to negotiate, had instructed his men to execute the hostages in case he didn’t come back. And so they did. The Quest episode with an unusually tragic ending is a recent chapter of a problem that, according to the majority of available data, is getting worse by the year. Even despite the involvement of the navies of several NATO members, as well as those of other countries like China and India since 2008, until now the number of attacks has increased dramatically. In 2010, there were 445 pirate attacks, which is likely to be a conservative estimate as not even 50 percent of the attacks are reported to international agencies. In March this year, there were pirate attacks almost on a daily basis, and the pirates have extended geographically their operations through the use of “mother-ships,” as far East as the Maldives, and as far south as the Canal of Mozambique. It is not only the number of pirate attacks that is going up. The costs of Somalia-related piracy are skyrocketing, and last year ransoms paid to pirates reached $238 million dollars. An adviser to the UN on piracy places the economic cost of piracy at $5-7 billion a year. For neighboring Kenya, piracy increases the cost of imports to $23.9 million per month according to one estimate, while another estimate shows that the increase of the cost of exports for Kenya due to piracy is $9.8 million per month. A problem for many, the absence of responsible power—in this case an effective government inland and a Somali coastguard that can efficiently patrol Somalia’s territorial waters— can also become an opportunity for some. Insurance companies are among the first to make great profit out of the insecurity caused by Somali piracy, and the last guarantee of ship owners who have to see their boats cross pirate-infested waters. Private security companies are the latest addition to this picture that already includes a variety of different actors. As reported by The New York Times, the South African-based firm, Saracen, supported by Eric Prince, the founder of Blackwater, is getting involved in the fight against piracy, surely in exchange of a several million dollar contract. Two illegal activities that have been taking place in Somalia’s exclusive economic zone since the early 1990s are well documented. One is the illegal fishing by foreign ships, mostly European and Asian, at the value of a few hundred million dollars a year in various kinds of fish. Waste dumping, including toxic waste, by foreign companies in Somalia’s territorial waters is another illegal activity taking place in the Somalia exclusive economic zone since the 1990s, a much cheaper solution than the conventional forms of waste disposal. With the huge waves that hit Somali territory after the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004, all the toxic waste was pushed ashore. Beyond causing an alarming number of
Pirates of the Gulf of Aden Worldwide Incidents Total Attacks Worldwide
Total Hijackings Worldwide
Incidents Reported for Somalia Total Incidents
Current vessels held by Somali pirates Vessels
While the former scenario, in a time when the idea of state-building seems to be a bit wary, is way out of reach and out of will for the international community; so is the latter option of hitting the pirates inland a solution that has been so far ruled out by the countries involved in the naval operations diseases consistent with radiation sickness among inhabitants of northeastern Somalia, this toxic waste dumping, together with overfishing, has destroyed the livelihoods of Somalis fishermen, who have thus turned to piracy. Overfishing and waste dumping have been put forward as two possible causes of Somalia’s piracy problem. Ultimately, however, both the over-fishing and the waste dumping that are pointed out as alternative causes of Somali piracy end up being mere side effects of the original predicament—Somalia’s chronic instability. As a consequence, Somali authorities have little or no capacity to set up an effective coastguard to guarantee that Somalia exercises its sovereignty over its territorial waters. The only comprehensive solution to this problem would be to solve Somalia’s chronic instability, and as a shorter-term measure, to carry out operations to hit the pirates in their bases inland. While the former scenario, in a time when the idea of state-building seems to be a bit wary, is way out of reach and out of will for the international community; so is the latter option of hitting the pirates inland a solution that has been so far ruled out by the countries involved in the naval operations. Up to this point, the twin policies of sending military vessels to escort the oil tankers, and setting up international tribunals to try the pirates who are usually set free afterwards, are merely sweeping the dust under the rug.
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• ON POLITICS
The Lord of Yemen
Ali Abdullah Saleh refuses to compromise and opts for civil war With the world lining up against him and demanding that he accept a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative—which stipulates that he supervise a transition of power and step down within a month— Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has shown his hand. He simply cannot relinquish power. After the opposition out-maneuvered him by approving the initiative first, Saleh was left with two options: Either step down, or let the flames of civil war engulf the country he has pretended to protect since he first assumed power in 1978. Hussain Abdul-Hussain
Image © Getty Images
residents in Arab republics seem to be infected with the same malaise on which the novel, later made into a top Hollywood picture, Lord of the Rings, is based. According to the novel-turned-film, a ring was forged in ancient times which bestows on its bearer enormous power, yet invariably corrupts the wielder beyond recognition. In the fight over its ownership, the ring brings out the dark side of individuals and nations and leads them to engage in brutally epic wars. Throughout history the story of the ring has applied to various rulers. Upon calls for his abdication, Louis XV apparently refused to do so and stated "after me, the deluge." In modern times, such behavior has tainted the behavior of various Arab presidents who have found it nearly impossible to step down, give up their power, and spare their nations bloodshed and civil strife. After 33 years in power, Yemen's Saleh has proven to be no exception. He has been maneuvering left and right, sending his supporters to the streets and announcing that he would accept an organized transfer of power, only to renege later. Most importantly, throughout the Yemeni crisis that has broken out this year, Saleh has always threatened that should he go, chaos will breakout after him. Saleh, however, has failed to notice that even with him in power, his country had disintegrated from underneath his feet. Indeed, several analysts have argued that, over the past few years, Saleh's control has been restricted to Sana’a. With AlQaeda's Anwar Al-Awlaqi at large somewhere in Yemen, and with the Houthis in the north waging war against Saudi Arabia last year, Saleh's threats of chaos in Yemen do not mean much. Despite Yemen's dire situation Saleh has clung on to power, defying the whole world and a significant number of his people. To make good on his promise, he did not wait for his departure for civil war to start. He began one while still in power.
But war backfired on Saleh personally. While in his palace, a missile targeted him and his senior aides, killing several of them and wounding him so badly in the chest and neck that he was forced to quit Yemen for treatment in Saudi Arabia. Saleh's exit did not prove to be the end of the story. In his absence, there has been confusion over who runs the country, and whether the man he appointed as acting president was actually in charge or whether his son was in fact leading a presidential council. To make things worse, while Saleh's opponents celebrated his departure, he promised to return and rule. Despite what has befallen him so far, and his country, Saleh is determined to hang on to his position. Having run out of excuses, power has brought to the fore the dark side of Saleh. The Lord of Yemen cannot imagine the country without him in power, and he is ready to do what it takes to keep his grip tightened around the nation, just like the Lord of the Ring would turn on the world to keep the ring on his finger. As noted, Saleh's urge to stay in power for good is by no means a unique behavior. Before him, Libya's Muammar Qadhafi lived up to his promise that he would fight to the last Libyan to smash
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Quiet On the Houthi Front In J.R.R Tolkien’s celebrated series of fantasy novels, The Lord of the Rings, the entire world his characters inhabit is faced with the dark threat of war between several peoples and clans, both noble and nefarious. Similarly, in Yemen today there is a struggle facing the country as rampant forces of dissent attack the beleaguered government of Ali Abdullah Saleh. But recent protests are set against the backdrop of older problems, including southern separatist squabbles, the northern Houthi rebellion and Al-Qaeda’s prominent presence in the form of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. It is the perennial issue of the Houthis that has provided the most sustained de-stabilizing effect upon the country, so given the dramatic scale of this year’s mass protests, will the Houthi population seize an opportunity? As yet there has been no significant reaction from the recalcitrant group. If they do so, it will largely be as a direct result of the way Saleh has tackled the protests against his regime—which has shifted the delicate balance of power amongst influential Yemeni tribes. By resorting to extreme violence against the northern Hashid tribal confederation, and thus hazard all out civil war, Saleh has thrown into doubt the crude stability that has enabled him to stay in power for so long. Back in February, in the article Local Influence, The Majalla examined the shaky ceasefire between Houthi tribesmen and the Yemeni state. Now that the state seems to be losing its legitimacy amongst the major tribes, there is every reason to believe that the Houthi will sound out a potential alliance of convenience with those tribes formerly loyal to Saleh. That these are exactly the power blocs which have helped suppress the Houthi rebellion for so long, speaks volumes about the delicate transience of internal Yemeni politics. all the "cockroaches,"—Libyans who demand that he step down after 42 years in power. Syria's Bashar Assad, too, has proven to be the Lord of Syria. Even though more nuanced than both Qadhafi and Saleh by promising reform, Assad too has found it easier to kill more than 1,000 Syrians in two months rather than abdicate. Power has exposed the dark side of Saleh, Qadhafi and Assad. However, unlike Louis XV, these Arab "presidents" are making sure that the deluge starts while they are still in power. Instead of supervising a peaceful transition of power that guarantees the welfare of their nations, Saleh and his Libyan and Syrian counterparts have been guaranteeing civil war and destruction. If civil war starts with them in power, one would wonder how their countries will look after they have been knocked out. The most common fantasy is that, with power and its masters destroyed, evil will vanish and good will reign supreme, at least according to the Lord of the Rings. Hussain Abdul-Hussain – Washington based journalist specializing in Middle Eastern politics and current affairs
Issue 1564 • June 2011
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Having run out of excuses, power has brought to the fore the dark side of Saleh – The Lord of Yemen cannot imagine the country without him in power, and he is ready to do what it takes to keep his grip tightened around the nation, just like the Lord of the Ring would turn on the world to keep the ring on his finger 15
• ON POLITICS
How the Islamic-Nationalistic agenda will shape Iran and its global relations Since the disputed presidential elections in Iran, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) has become the dominant player in Iranian politics. In an attempt to consolidate its power, it is utilizing the domestic discontent with the Supreme Leader in order to construct an Islamic-nationalistic discourse and in doing so it is marginalizing Ali Khamenei. This will have significant implications for the international community in its dealings with Iran. Nima Khorrami Assl
Image © Getty Images
he “Green Movement,” which emerged in the midst of the 2009 presidential campaign in Iran, gained momentum after the unconvincing defeat of reformist candidates and became a genuine, strong opposition front challenging the very foundation of the Islamic regime, thereby facilitating the rise of the IRGC to the top of the political echelon in Iran. Today, the IRGC functions as an expansive socio-political-economic conglomerate whose influence extends into virtually every corner of Iranian political life and society. Bound together by the shared experience of war and the socialisation of military service, the Pasdaran (guards) have articulated a populist, authoritarian, and assertive vision for the Islamic Republic of Iran that it claims is a more faithful reflection of the revolution's early ideals. However, this power formula has now been revised and the IRGC seems to be sponsoring the promotion of national ideals as opposed to revolutionary ones. Growing domestic discontent with the Iranian regime—specifically the Supreme Leader—has prompted President Ahmadinejad, an ex-IRGC commander in Basij, and his supporters to look for alternative ways to counter the reformists' values and agenda, and in doing so they are marginalising the Supreme Leader. On 19 January, for instance, Ahmadinejad wrote a letter to Iranian MPs in which he bluntly criticised the very institutions that are supervised by the Supreme Leader; namely, the Judiciary, Parliament, and the Expediency Discernment Council. Simultaneously, the IRGC-dominated cabinet of President Ahmadinejad has realised that religion alone is no longer a valuable political currency and that promotion of nationalism, with an Islamic flavour, has started to replace revolutionary ideals in official discourses emanating from post-election Iran; a discourse that benefits the IRGC above all the other factions in the Iranian politics by allowing it to justify its call for a strong, centralised government. Ahmadinejad's closest ally, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, has claimed that Iran should seek to promote the Iranian School
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Issue 1564 â€˘ June 2011
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• ON POLITICS
arguing that "there are different interpretations of Islam, but our understanding of the real nature of Iran and of Islam is the Iranian school." In spite of harsh criticisms from prominent conservative figures such as the Larijani brothers, Ahmadinejad has supported Rahim Mashaei claiming that "Iranians accepted Islam because of their superiority over those who brought Islam to our land" and thus Iranian values as embedded in the Cyrus Cylinder should be the guiding principles of the Iranian nation in its drive towards "recreation of a strong state and a modern civilisation." Utilising the support of the IRGC, Ahmadinejad is trying to increase the powers of the presidency to the detriment of those of Parliament and of the Supreme Leader. In spite of the objections of many parliamentarians, he has imposed the lifting of subsidies in an attempt to both rationalise the economy and disenfranchise middle-class critics while promising more targeted subsidies for the lower classes that support his government. Add to this Manouchehr Mottaki's dismissal as foreign minister, Ahmadinejad's consistent support for Rahim-Mashaei, and the unsuccessful attempts by the Judiciary and the Parliament to prosecute Mohammad Reza Rahimi—the first vice president—and it then becomes clear that a new chapter in Iranian politics has begun. Much has been written on the political and economic might of the IRGC. What has been disregarded, however, is the corp’s recent attempt to penetrate the religious sector by establishing a number of religious institutes such as the Shaheed Mahalati Institute in Qom. In doing so the IRGC is seeking to reduce the clerical monopoly over religious organisations and expand its own influence in religious decision-making—so it can have a say in appointments to high offices. This is in harmony with Ahmadinejad’s periodical and unnoticed claims that interpretations of religion may no longer require a mediating role from certain clerics. What is more, the IRGC, contrary to the common belief in the West, has never been dependent on the authority of the Supreme Leader for its existence. Instead, it is Khamenei who has always relied on the guards in order to maintain his hold on power given that, among other factors, he lacks the religious credentials to be a faghih (leader). Thus far, Khamenei and the Pasdaran have pursued a common goal; preventing the election of another reformist figure as the head of state. Traditionally, Khamenei's command and moderation among conservative figures had been an asset in the attempts by the IRGC to eliminate reformist deeds in Iran. Nevertheless, Khamenei's unprecedented unpopularity has greatly reduced his constituency to the extent that he is now more of a political liability than capital. Therefore, should the IRGC come to the realization that he is no longer of any real political utility, it would have the power, resources, and desire to sideline him. It is in light of these considerations that Khamenei has arguably lost a great deal of political power and authority—especially considering recent comments from Hossein Ali Shariatmadari, to the effect that the contestation of the Supreme Leader on certain political developments is due to concerns over regime survival. Khamenei no longer calls the shots but is called upon to play his part in an orchestrated effort by the IRGC, to keep the society calm and prevent another large-scale uprising. Recent comments by Khamenei on an Iranian-Islamic model for economic development are a case in point.
Utilising the support of the IRGC, Ahmadinejad is trying to increase the powers of the presidency to the detriment of those of Parliament and of the Supreme Leader Equally illustrative is the dismissal of the former Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mottaki. It may very well be the case that Mottaki—Ali Larijani's top adviser in the 2005 presidential elections who was chosen as Iran's top diplomat at the insistence of Ali Khamenei—had become so insignificant that Khamenei accepted his dismissal. However, it was not long ago that Khamenei gave his backing to Mottaki by criticising the president for choosing his own foreign policy advisers. With regards ramifications for the United States and its allies, Ahmadinejad's faction, in its Islamic-nationalistic drive, is motivated by both domestic power consolidation and survival. Thus this new agenda tends to reflect its fears more than its ambitions, and it is this fear that should constitute the cornerstone of western approach towards the Iranian government. The US and its allies are now going to have to deal with a government that, on the one hand, has both the power to deliver on its promises and incentives to make compromises, while, on the other hand, is fearful of its future because it is engaged in an internal political wrestling match. This is why the Ahmadinejad camp is gradually coming to believe that penning an agreement with the West can bring it the much needed domestic and international recognition to successfully put an end to Tehran's political dysfunction and consolidate its power. Iran is reaching a critical juncture concerning its willingness to build nuclear weapons. North Korea has illustrated to the Iranian leadership that it is possible to build nuclear weapons at the expense of economic growth and everyday quality of life. Yet it is not clear that the government is willing to pay this price. Evidence suggests the 2010 sanctions have indeed hurt the regime by forcing costly and time-consuming shifts in banking and trade relations. In a sense, international sanctions have had a role in introduction of the new economic reform package. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his superiors at the IRGC are certainly aware of the impact that economic collapse could have on the regime's viability and hence they have strong incentives to make compromises on the nuclear programme. This is clearly evident in the president’s recent speech in the city of Rasht where he hinted at the possibility of reaching "positive agreements" with the West in "future meetings." As a result, there must be an urgent and honest debate about Iran and its role/influence in the Middle East and how it can enhance US interests there. Essentially, this requires a leapforward from the residual past differences and problems and a sharp focus on the present and beyond. Nima Khorrami Assl – Researcher at the UK Defence Forum and the Middle East Future Network where he writes policy briefs and analysis on geo-economics as well as security developments in the Middle East and the Asia Pacific, his areas of interest and expertise include Political Islam and (de)radicalization, Iran, GCC, Turkey, BRICS Middle East diplomacy and geopolitics.
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• BREAD & FREEDOM: THE ECONOMIC PRICE OF THE ARAB SPRING
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Bread & Freedom
The economic price of the Arab Spring Sit-ins, strikes, and other forms of protests comprising hundreds of participants were until recently not an image associated to Middle East and North African countries. And while the Jasmine and Lotus revolutions have altered the expectations that leaders and the international community have of the influence of collective action in the region, there have been important cases preceding the January revolts that have hinted at the problems beneath the surface. Paula Mejia
espite the absence of an active civil society in most of North Africa and the Middle East, the collective action of Egypt’s textile workers in recent years not only predated the revolutions no one saw coming, but highlighted the very socio-economic grievances that would bring down some of the region’s longest-sitting presidents. In 2008, for instance, textile workers from Misr Spinning and Weaving, known as Al-Mahalla, called for a national strike that led to militant demonstrations. Although the government met their demands and the strike was avoided, workers led mass protests against rising prices and the impact this had on their ability to subsist given their low wages and limited career opportunities. The government’s reaction was predictable. As Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram recalls, “Repression was brutal, during the three days of protests five people were killed, hundreds injured, and scores arrested.” Unable to sustain the repression, however, the government eventually conceded to the workers’ demands. The Al-Mahalla protests were not an isolated incident. According to the Land Center for Human Rights, reports Al-Ahram, “between 2004 and 2008 1,741,870 [Egyptian] workers participated in demonstrations, sit-ins, strikes and other forms of collective action.” This excludes one of the more memorable instances of civic action, the 1977 Egyptian bread riots, which were replicated recently in 2007 and 2008 when the cost of food reached an all time high.
Issue 1564 • June 2011
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• FOOD: THE ECONOMIC PRICE OF THE ARAB SPRING
Indeed, Al-Mahalla’s success in obtaining concessions from the government was an important precursor to the revolution in Egypt. They not only voiced the grievances of many Egyptians, but they also provided them with a solution: collective action for government response. While much has been said about the role that social networking sites have played in the successes of the Arab Spring, in Egypt certainly, the precedent set by AlMahalla and their willingness to join calls for protests made on Facebook and Twitter were crucial to the revolution’s success. As the case of Al-Mahalla demonstrated, grievances in Egypt and the region at large may have resulted in political change, but the underlying causes were fundamentally economic. The history of protests in Egypt particularly highlights the paramount role that economic opportunities, or lack thereof, had in motivating individuals to take on the state. Tunisia’s revolutionary martyr, Mohammed Bouazizi, who immolated himself after his vegetable cart was conﬁscated, is likewise indicative of the extent of the economic frustration felt throughout the region and how far people were willing to go to change the status quo. Despite the occasional protest in response to severe economic frustration, the world was caught by surprise when on 14 January Tunisia’s former president, Ben Ali, was ousted and even more shocked when the rest of the region succumbed to this revolutionary contagion. However, taking a look at North Africa’s economic performance in the past decade, it is easy to see why observers did not see the Arab Spring coming. After all, the region had maintained signiﬁcant levels of growth even during the global ﬁnancial crisis. The economies of North Africa boasted strong trends in tourism and trade. And in terms of the impact economic success had on individuals, North African countries were making impressive progress in terms of social development: In the last decade, literacy increased, school enrollment was at an all time high, gender inequality was declining, communities had more and more access to clean water, and life expectancy was increasing. To be sure, the region had reached nearly all eight of the Millennium Development Goals by 2010. For all intents and purposes, the region was economically robust. What the protests made clear, however, was that rapid economic growth and even improvements in human development were insufﬁcient if unemployment, income inequality, regional disparities in addition to limited government transparency and accountability, and food security were part of the deal. The persistent problem of youth unemployment was a crucial motivation behind the protests. Youth unemployment in the region ranged from 18 percent in Morocco to 30 percent in Tunisia in 2008, compared to the global average of 12 percent. As a recent report by the African Development Bank (AfDB) explains, changing demographics, particularly rising population aged be-
tween 15-29 years old, exacerbated the problem. In 2005, for example, the youth comprised 23 percent of the total population in Algeria, 18 percent in Morocco and 21 percent in Tunisia. Youth unemployment was also aggravated by the mismatch between skills received in education and those in demand, as well as an overall shortage of jobs in the formal market. Frustratingly for the young population of North Africa, these trends implied that there were negative returns on education. Rather than improving your chances for employment by pursuing higher education, there is an inverse relationship between employment and education in the region. True, there is an oversupply of students focusing on “soft” subjects such as humanities, rather than the type of degrees like engineering and science, which are more popular in the robust economies of Asia. Nevertheless, that 40 percent of Tunisia’s university educated youth were unemployed in comparison to 24 percent of non-graduates points to a fundamental problem in the system. According to the AfDB, there is a similar problem in Morocco where over 60 percent of youth with a high school degree were unemployed in comparison to 8 percent of uneducated youth. Given these statistics, it is clear why the youth in North Africa felt they had no future under the former regimes. Yet, beyond the shocking lack of opportunities young people have in the region, the existence of systematic inequality between rural areas and urban areas, and income inequality over all, helped to instill a sense of injustice in the minds of North African revolutionaries and ultimately motivated their taking to the streets. With a population of over 80 million people, more than 40 percent of Egyptians are estimated to live on less than two dollars a day, and around 21 percent lives on less than one dollar a day. This indicates that despite economic growth, the beneﬁts of Egypt’s successes in the global market, and those of North Africa more broadly, were not trickling down to the rest of the population. These types of disparities were evidently also at the heart of Tunisia’s revolution. It is no coincidence that the protests began in the disadvantaged regions like Sidi Bouzid. Add to these injustices, the stories of corruption and lavish lifestyles that characterized Mubarak, Ben Ali and Qadhaﬁ, and the story of the protests, becomes more inevitable. In addition to poverty, however, another form of economic pressure has driven the protests of the Middle East. Food security has been especially problematic for the region since the 2007-2008 food-price surge took the world by surprise. The Middle East, with growing populations accustomed to food subsidies that were dwindling and arid regions largely unable to provide consistent food supplies, was hit especially hard. Take Syria for instance. Prior to 2008, cheap food was a cornerstone of the government’s economic policy, and for that matter, of the country’s political stability. The government had liberalized the agricultural sector, however, and between January and June of that year food prices had risen 20 percent according to the World Food Programme. Pressure on food prices increased further when fuel subsidies were cut that May causing the price of gas to triple overnight, as reported IRIN, the United Nations humanitarian news
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The Falafel Index The falafel index, based on the theory of purchasing price parity or PPP, borrows a handy tool originally developed by The Economist . The index gives important insight into the value of a particular currency since one unit of a currency should be able to purchase the same amount around the world. In other words, currencies should move towards an exchange rate that will equalize the price of an identical basket of goods in more than one country.
What does that mean for the falafel index? The falafel PPP (purchasing power parity) is the exchange rate required for a falafel to cost the same in Lebanon as it does in Jordan, or anywhere else in the world. The relationship between the falafel PPP and the actual exchange rate indicates if exchange rates are overvalued or undervalued, which thus allows for more in depth forms of economic analysis. For instance, this relationship indicates the reliability of ofﬁcial inﬂation ﬁgures.
Average Price of a Falafel Sandwich in US Dollars
Average Daily Income**
Population on less than $1 per day
Population on less than $2 per day
Occupied Palestinian Territories
agency. The rise in fuel prices further affected the purchasing power of Syrians and many were forced to take drastic measures to make ends meet. Mohammed Wardeh, an agricultural development consultant, spoke with IRIN on the issue of food prices in Syria and explained: “People have strategies to deal with price rises at this level—they sell commodities, reduce consumption, take on an extra job; they cope.” Syria’s experience was just one among many—in 2008 Egypt as well experienced food riots. Given the extreme economic conditions the region faces, it is no wonder that so many have taken to the streets demanding change. And while poor governance had much to do with the many economic grievances that people faced in the Middle East and North Africa, the abrupt changes in regime will create additional economic obstacles for these countries at an already challenging time. Economic growth, although unable to guarantee equality, is necessary to quell political unrest. Problematically, however, although the Arab Spring may lead to important governmental adjustments that may support economic growth and equality, in the short term it will create the type of instabilities that hamper economic growth. The curse of the Arab revolutions is that while economic grievances motivated the political liberation of these countries, they also put these projects for reform at a severe risk of failure. Issue 1564 • June 2011
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Broadly speaking, the unrest has already impacted investor conﬁdence, tourism, and foreign direct investment. In Tunisia alone the revolution has already affected the country’s credit rating, which has been downgraded by Fitch Ratings to a notch above junk status in late January. Political demonstrations have also created pauses in the economic activities of the country and are estimated to have cost between 5 and 8 billion dollars, or 11 percent of the country’s GDP. According to The Financial Times, political turmoil combined with sluggish growth in Europe is expected to lead to a contraction of 1.5 percent in the real GDP for 2011. To make matters worse, two important sources of foreign currency have dropped signiﬁcantly, tourism and remittances from Tunisian workers in Libya. Egypt has fared no better. Government expenditure is rising steadily, “following a 15 percent hike in civil servants’ wages and a budget increase in food subsidies to soften the burden of high prices in global markets,” as reported in The LA Times. Moreover, the government deﬁcit is expected to exceed 10 percent while available foreign exchange reserves at the Central Bank have declined by $8 billion since January and now stand at $28 billion. Food prices remain an important concern for the region. In April, the World Bank’s Food Price Watch documented double-digit inﬂation in food prices for Egypt, Syria and Iran. Because food price in23
• FOOD: THE ECONOMIC PRICE OF THE ARAB SPRING
creases are linked to energy price increases, further unrest in an oilproducing region could be a particularly dangerous combination. The Falafel Index, produced by The Majalla, provides a picture of the differences in purchasing power throughout the region. Ironically, it demonstrates that some of the wealthier Arab countries, namely, those with populations that on average earn the most per day, pay relatively less for food, or in this case, a falafel. Certainly these inequalities will need to be addressed not only at a national level but at a regional level if political and economic stability are to be maintained. Cognizant of the economic sources of the turmoil, the interim governments have committed to creating jobs and addressing inequality. However, as Masood Ahmed explains in his article, “Middle East and North Africa: Protecting Social Cohesion and Economic Stability,” the immediate challenge for countries in transition “is to maintain social cohesion and macroeconomic stability.” In order to do so, governments have increased spending, allowing them to create a social safety net. They have expanded food and fuel subsidies, raised civil service wages and pensions, and approved tax deductions to alleviate the economic needs of the most vulnerable. However, increasing spending is not a long-term solution. Although the ﬁscal packages differ greatly and tend to be higher in oil exporting countries, this policy may strain public ﬁnances and result in increased debt levels, both of which will hamper macroeconomic stability. Additionally, as Michele Dunne and Jeffrey Fedmin note in their article on Egypt, “Too Big to Fail,” “If Egypt manages to make it through the next 12 months without a severe crisis, there will still be many questions about whether it has the political will to adopt the policies needed to attract the foreign direct investment critical to generating 700,000 jobs per year for its burgeoning labor force.” In other words, newly elected governments will have to make important decisions regarding the types of economic policies they pursue and their goals of implementing socially just policies. While it is uncertain whether newly elected governments will approach the established income inequalities by increasing government spending in a ﬁnancially responsible way, what is clear is that the regimes in ﬂux must do whatever they can to prevent capital ﬂight. Although the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt have been welcome for the political opportunities they offer, these revolutions will certainly be marked by challenges and setbacks, particularly in the economic realm. Egypt’s and Tunisia’s new leaders will need to manage the expectations of their constituents. Political reform is not a panacea that can address the underlying economic grievances that brought about the revolution over night. If anything, political unrest has placed North African economies in a precarious condition, the outcome of which will depend both on maintaining levels of growth and ensuring growth is inclusive. Creating thousands of jobs without straining the government’s budget is easier said than done, but at the end of the day this is what the revolutionaries are demanding. Paula Mejia – Contributing editor for The Majalla based in Tunisia. As a freelance journalist and consultant for the African Development Bank, her work has focused on the economic and social challenges in Africa, with a special focus on Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. She is a graduate of the London School of Economics, L'Institut D'Etudes Politiques de Paris and the University of Chicago.
Back to the Drawing Board Back in 2004 there were ominous signs for the Egyptian economy, so to encourage growth the Egyptian government embraced the reform plan set out by the International Monetary Fund. Despite some initial success that saw Egypt hailed as a model for the rest of the developing world, chronic unemployment laid the foundations for this year’s astonishing popular uprising against the government. Now, the economic outlook for the country has never been so uncertain. Stephen Glain
n a November 2008 interview, Mahmoud Mohieldin, a senior economic adviser to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, was weary but hopeful about his country’s future. He had just ﬁnished brieﬁng leftist political leaders about his plan to give citizens equity in public-sector companies and it had been a tough sell. Privatization was unpopular among most Egyptians and his plan had come under attack as a backdoor way of selling the nation’s prized assets to rich businessmen using the people’s money. The very unfurling of the investment plan, however, was a measure of how far the Egyptian economy had come in an astonishingly short time. Nearly bankrupt in 2004, the government had pivoted away from generations of statism and embraced a reform blueprint from the International Monetary Fund. Since then, the economy had grown at an annualized rate of 6.5 percent. Foreign direct investment and export sales had risen by 30 percent per annum, while the private sector had grown by 35 percent. Egyptian currency liberalization and banking reform was hailed by the IMF as a model for the developing world, as was its transfer of state assets from public to private hands. There were dark clouds on the horizon, however, Mohieldin conceded to a reporter as he lingered over a late supper of lamb kebab at the Nile Hilton. So long as the country staggered under double-digit unemployment and a population growth rate of nearly 2 percent a year, there was a limit to how far he could push the next cycle of reform. “The process has achieved much,” he said. “But how do you reﬁne it without provoking a backlash?” Twenty-eight months later, in February 2011, those very concerns would crystalize into a deﬁning moment of the socalled Arab Spring. Popular outrage over alleged corruption and chronic jobless rates - the one metric Mohieldin and his colleagues could not bend to their favor, triggered a peaceful revolution that would extinguish both the Mubarak regime and Mohieldin’s neoliberal vision for Egypt. Now an infant democracy, Egypt’s new political classes will likely indulge in populist opposition to the last half-decade of reform. Should the new government, to be established after elections scheduled for September, abandon or roll back the liberalization process, it would be a fateful moment for “free” Egypt.
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Market economics may have failed to deliver prosperity, but so too did the experiment with Arab socialism that came before it. A third option, perhaps a hybrid of the two, has yet to emerge. “Things are bad,” said a leader of the youth movement that did so much to unseat Mubarak, only to see the military, though an interim council set up after the regime’s collapse, tighten its grip on dissent. “No one knows when elections will be held or if they will be held at all. Our relations with the military has deteriorated and it is unsure which direction they will take, whether towards true liberalism or another form of control.” Not since 1952, when Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser and his Association of Free Ofﬁcers seized power in a near-bloodless coup, has Egypt’s political and economic outlook seemed so unclear. A pledge from the international community of several billion dollars in loan guarantees and debt relief will do little to rebuild the economy so long as political uncertainty keeps investors at bay. The nation’s tourism industry has taken a beating and investment, both foreign and domestic, has dried up. Capital ﬂight has wracked securities markets and interest rates have soared along with global prices for food and fuel. Once in surplus, the government has announced a balance of payments deﬁcit of $3 billion for the ﬁrst three months of the year. It has spent an estimated $6 billion of its $36 billion in foreign reserves in support of the beleaguered Egyptian pound and it squandered billions more in a failed bid to mollify its opponents with increased food subsidies and wage increases for government employees. According to the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a Washington-based think tank, Egypt’s economic growth estimate for 2011 has been slashed to 2 percent, about half the pre-revolution projected rate. It is a stunning denouement for an ambitious reform campaign that, for better or worse, established Egypt as the IMF’s Issue 1564 • June 2011
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poster child for neoliberalism. Prior to 2004, Mubarak had surrounded himself with hyper-cautious apparatchiks loathe to build on the modest reforms introduced by former President Anwar Sadat after a generation of Nasser’s command economics. Egyptian banks were government owned and run, currency ﬂows were tightly regulated and trade onerously taxed. The country lumbered under ﬂat growth rates even as population size grew precipitously, creating a chilling imbalance between the number of young adults entering the workforce and the economy’s ability to absorb them. All that changed seven years ago with the appointment of Ahmed Nazif as prime minister and his heavily credentialed economic advisers, most of whom were close to Gamal Mubarak, the president’s son and erstwhile heir-apparent. In addition to Mohieldin there was Trade Minister Rachid Mohammed Rachid, who lifted import duties and negotiated landmark trade deals with Egypt’s neighbors, and Finance Minister Youssef Boutros-Ghali, who liberalized the pound and allowed foreigners to buy controlling shares in the nation’s banks. Egyptian lenders were also allowed to offer long-term loans, introducing leverage to an economy that had known nothing but chronic illiquidity. On paper at least, the results were striking. From 2004 to 2008, the Egyptian economy grew from 4.5 percent to 7.2 percent before slowing to a respectable 5.2 percent in 2010. Last year, the World Bank ranked Egypt at the top of its Doing Business Report. None of this impressed ordinary Egyptians, however. In the end, what mattered to them was the country’s near-12 percent jobless rate and the deeply held suspicion that the fruits of reform, to the extent they existed, were plundered by regime cronies and foreign corporations. Immediately after the regime fell, Nazif was arrested along with Gamal Mubarak and his brother on corruption charges. Boutros-Ghali ﬂed, as did Rachid and his family, reportedly with whatever they could carry over their shoulders. Mohieldin, the man most closely associated with the much-loathed liquidation of public assets, managed a far more comfortable kind of exile; in fall of last year, he left Cairo for Washington, D.C., where he began his new job as a managing director at The World Bank Group. The failure of both Egyptian neoliberalism and its antithesis, Nasserism, begs the question: what will it take to produce enough good jobs to accommodate an enormous population of young people, not only in Egypt but throughout the Arab world, where demographics are similarly bleak. Will Egypt’s ﬁrst freely elected republican government re-nationalize the banks and reimpose currency controls? Will it draw down the country’s hard-earned foreign exchange to increase subsidies and expand government payrolls? That would be the short-term, tactical response to a problem that can only be resolved with a clear strategic plan. The answer may lie somewhere between Nasser’s vision on the left and Mohieldin’s on the right. Either way, a new generation of economic planners will have to ﬁnd one soon before the Arab spring fades into a long, hot summer. Stephen Glain - A freelance journalist and author based in Washington DC. In 1991, he joined the Wall Street Journal, which assigned him to cover South Korea. Mr Glain is also a former Middle East correspondent for Newsweek. He is the author of the book Dreaming of Damascus: Arab Voices in a Region of Turmoil.
Chairman of the Libyan National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdul Jalil As civil war continues in Libya, calls for more military aid intensify from the anti-Qadhafi National Transitional Council. Leading the rebel council is Mustafa Abdul Jalil, a well-respected judge and until recently the minister for justice under Qadhafi. His defection to the East of the country was a landmark in the Libyan uprising, but is Abdul Jalil tainted by association with Qadhafi's regime? Michael Whiting
Image © Getty Images
he official website of the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) goes some small way to dispelling the alarming and vaguely patronizing myth that “nobody knows anything about these rebels.” Admittedly it serves an understandably partisan agenda and the content is far from rigorous, but online for anyone with an internet connection to see is a comprehensive picture of who the so-called rebels are and what it is they want. The most cursory glance at the member’s page shows that, of the 13 members listed, several have obtained their PhD doctorates from outside Libya and yet more have a prominent legal background. It is therefore unsurprising that the chairman of the council should be Mustafa Abdul Jalil, a high ranking Libyan judge who served in his native Bayda, in the East of Libya, from 1978 and was ultimately named minister of justice in 2007—a move which unambiguously brought him under the wing of Colonel Qadhafi’s regime, based in the West of the country. It is of course not merely this esteemed legal service which places Abdul Jalil at the head of the council. Abdul Jalil was widely celebrated in the East of Libya—and in foreign press—for his astonishing mutiny against the Qadhafi regime. Sent to Benghazi to mollify the burgeoning uprising in February, apparently under orders to negotiate, the 59 year old minister promptly declared his resignation in protest at the violence being used against demonstrators. This dramatic act was a marked turn in the tide of what became Libya’s full blown rebellion. Abdul Jalil was the first member of Qadhafi’s regime to turn against the Libyan leader, but it was not an act without personal precedence—just over one year previously, in January 2010, Abdul Jalil had attempted to resign, again in defiance of the regime, over the issue of political detainees. His first resignation attempt was made publically, on state TV, and was easily the most audacious challenge to Qadhafi’s authority by a prominent member of the regime. At that time, his resignation was not accepted—this was most likely due to pressure from Qadhafi’s Machiavellian son Saif Al-Islam, who had been attempting to paint a veneer of reform over his father’s weathering rule. Indeed. Abdul Jalil had already
gained a reputation as a reformer, which is doubtless why he was appointed as minister under Saif Al-Islam’s increasing influence. Leaked American diplomatic cables demonstrate that he was willing to work with the US and even that he was well-liked by his staff at the justice ministry—a notable anomaly in ministerial offices anywhere in the world. The international group Human Rights Watch singled out Abdul Jalil for praise, for drawing attention to the unwholesome practices of Qadhafi’s regime and generally setting a pattern of giving enlightened rulings as a judge. "I have never seen an Arab minister of justice who will publicly criticize the most powerful security agencies in the country," said Heba Morayef, a Human Rights Watch official. So a picture begins to emerge of an almost saintly figure, bravely taking the struggle for human rights in Libya to Qadhafi’s inner circle. But who would be so innocent as to assume that any political operator in such an arena could carry a completely un-blotted copy book? Reading between the lines, it is plausible that Abdul Jalil, after gaining a modicum of opposition support as a fair judiciary in the troublesome East of the country, was co-opted into ministerial office to give the illusion of reform. Critics might argue this makes him as complicit in the Qadhafi regime as anyone. His defenders would suggest that he would have had little choice but to accept the 2007 appointment and try to achieve what he could.
The Rebel Council
One instance which damages Abdul Jalil’s claim to bear the torch of justice against Qadhafi, is recounted by French paper L’Express. Concerning the case of five Bulgarian nurses sentenced to death in Libya, accused of deliberately infecting children with HIV, orders from the US. The evidence against the women was flimsy at best, but nevertheless Abdul Jalil twice held up rulings for their execution. Those women have since been freed, but there are many voices in Bulgaria which oppose the Libyan NTC, citing the torture of their countrywomen which occurred under the authority of men on the council. In the murky world of politics, one can never be completely certain of the motives and aspirations of its players. In the case of Mustafa Abdul Jalil one must concede that while he is clearly now an opponent of Qadhafi, and a man who has stood for justice his entire career, the exact manifestation of that justice may never be entirely in keeping with the ideals of foreign western powers who currently champion him and his council. Meaning, western governments have found a convenient ally in their mission ouster Qadhafi, but there is no telling at which point the NTC may deviate from the ideal course of the West. Foreign powers can only hope that Abdul Jalil’s sentiments are genuine when he claims: "We are the same as people in other countries, and are looking for the same things. We want a democratic government, a fair constitution, and we don't want to be isolated from the world anymore." Issue 1564 • June 2011
So far only 13 members of the 31 member National Transitional Council have been named. This is chiefly due to the inherent difficulties involved in forming a coherent and effective opposition group within the authoritarian arena that Muammar Qadhafi successfully forged. Chief among the reasons for keeping the identities of some members secret, is the necessity to protect those individuals from regime-sponsored reprisals—specifically those members based in the West of Libya, the heartland of Qadhafi’s control. Of the names made public, a significant trend towards individuals with a legal or academic background is apparent. Complementing the judicial credentials of Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the position of vice-chairman is filled by Abdul Hafiz Ghoga, the former head of the Benghazi Lawyers Syndicate. The eloquent Ghoga also acts as the official spokesperson of the council, and is served by his notable experience in human rights law— representing families of people murdered during the notorious Abu Salim prison massacre in 1996. Dr. Salwa Fawzi El-Deghali is the only woman named on the council. Her background as a legal professor in Bengahzi follows the tendency towards law professionals. The member responsible for youth, Fatih Turbel, is primarily regarded as a human rights activist, but holds a law degree from Gar Yunis University in Benghazi. The membership of men like Dr. Fatih Mohammed Baja and Dr. Abdullah Moussa Al-Mayhoub—who took their PhD’s in Morocco and France respectively—denote an influence of foreign education and the links to external resources necessary to an internal rebellion. The other key ingredient of the council is its military constituent. Omar El-Hariri is in charge of military affairs and essentially controls the so-called Free Libyan Army and Free Libyan Air Force. Like others in the council, Hariri has strong links with Qadhafi’s regime. Indeed, he was involved in the overthrow of the monarchy that brought Qadhafi to power. Subsequently, Hariri spent 15 years in prison—with an eventually commuted death sentence over his head— for organizing a conspiracy against Qadhafi in 1975. Hariri is not alone in his experience of a Libyan jail. A graduate of the Military Academy of Iraq, the elderly Zubeir Ahmed El-Sharif was sentenced to 31 years in prison, in 1973. As the representative of political prisoners on the council, Sharif is the voice for some of the most egregiously treated men and women of Libya.
Abdul Jalil was the first member of Qadhafi’s regime to turn against the Libyan leader, but it was not an act without personal precedence 27
â€˘ THE HUMAN CONDITION
Women of the Revolution What will the future hold for Arab women after their regimes fall?
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The enormous role of women in the uprisings in the MENA region is undisputed. They faced verbal and physical abuse, violence, arrest and death just as their male counterparts. The transformation of these countries has been groundbreaking, and their participation is as important as ever. After the dust of the battle settles, will Arab societies remember to include women in the rebuilding of their countries?
Image ÂŠ Getty Images
Issue 1564 â€˘ June 2011
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he year 2011 saw a remarkable upsurge of Arab womenâ€™s voices in the international media because of the role they played in the political and social movements that have recently swept the region. Women have made front-page news, appeared in broadcast interviews and took part in debates on Facebook. They were up there, body and soul, cheering and fighting for change. Their demands were no different to the demands of their male compatriots. They want a new and modern society that offers freedom. Two of the countries that witnessed a regime change, namely Tunisia and Egypt, have now entered the second phase. Both of them are now busy cleaning up the remnants of the previous era, and preparing for new elections and to draft a new constitution. Yemen is still fighting for change but change has not yet come. Crowds continue to gather in Tahrir Square and in other parts of the country, demanding the removal of President Ali Abdullah Saleh after a rule that has lasted more than three decades. In the light of this turmoil, after the dust of the battle settles, after corruption is ousted and criminals are tried, when we start preparing for a new political and economic order, will Arab societies remember to reward women for their part in these groundbreaking changes? Without the participation of women they would not have been possible. Many commentators agree on this point at this moment in time, but will their feelings last? Last April, a national conference took place in Tunisia to discuss exactly this subject. It was designed to address the presence of women in media in the era that followed the revolution. Academics and media professionals attending the conference seemed to suggest that women were now barely present in the debate. It was the male voice that dominated television forums concerned with the future of the country; women only appeared as a matter of exception. Among the papers presented at the conference was one prepared by researcher Fathia Al-Saidi, who sampled the activities of 550 women operating virtually through Facebook. Her research showed the enormous role these women have played, both before and during the revolution, in issues regarding the abuse of rights. Their activities revealed a revolutionary face never seen before: Their sympathies were with those who died for the revolution. After the revolution, they began to express a new fear, namely, national discord in Tunisia and the exclusion of women from public discourse. The researcher pointed out that a small group of these women did try to push forward liberal religious views but that they were met with attacks from reactionary groups, such as verbal abuse and sexual discrimination. This is the state of affairs with women in Tunisia. When the revolution broke out, they were used as fuel to help bring down 29
• THE HUMAN CONDITION
the rule of Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali. Now, after the formation of two new governments, they have been sidelined and forgotten. One recent example is that their participation in government has been limited to one or two ministries, one of which is the Ministry for Women’s Affairs Today, one can easily sense the anxiety among these women. Follow the discourse on websites, in papers, among women’s organizations and speak to the activists themselves, and you will notice that those who aim to silence them—the Islamic Renaissance movement—have become their primary concern. The implications of this movement’s shift into politics are serious and worrying. In an attempt to alleviate their fears, a spokesperson for the movement recently said that, “Some of the constraints placed on women are an expression of social traditions and not religious laws.” Rashid Al-Ghannoushi, the leader of the movement, also spoke recently to stress that his party is keen to follow the Turkish example.
Porfessor Qarami also said that most of the parties, organizations and even Tunisia’s General Workers Union have put forward male candidates to represent them at the Supreme Committee tasked with overseeing the transitional period during which political reform will be carried out in accordance with the aims of the revolution Do these fears reflect the lack of popular trust in the future of democracy and the mechanisms that are yet to emerge following the stagnation of the former regime? I addressed this question to Professor Amal Qarami, a specialist in Gender and Islam studies at the University of Tunisia. She said, “People are not concerned with the Islamic Renaissance movement alone. Other Islamic parties also feed this fear. Some of those have already obtained licenses to function as official political parties and some haven’t, like the party of Al-Tahrir and other Salafi groups.” Professor Qarami went on to point out that there exist contradictions between what Islamic leaders say to the press and what they teach in their mosques and at other Islamic gatherings. She added that there is also a discrepancy between the discourse of the leaders and that of their base. Fundamentalist youth in Tunisia want women to return to their place at home; they want the hijab and the niqab to be imposed by force. Their inspiration comes from extremist satellite channels and not from progressive leaders. The matter doesn’t rest with government. Porfessor Qarami also said that most of the parties, organizations and even Tunisia’s General Workers Union have put forward male candidates to represent them at the Supreme Committee tasked with overseeing the transitional period during which political reform will
be carried out in accordance with the aims of the revolution. “Women made up only 20 percent of this committee while, before, in parliament, women amounted to 27 percent.” One can argue that women’s presence in parliament during Ben Ali’s rule, similar to that of the male parliamentarians, was equally inconsequential, but still, numbers are not meaningless. Shazelia, a Tunisian businesswoman shares this concern: “There is a covert agenda to sideline women in order to appease various parties.” She also speaks of the growing anxiety of many women vis-à-vis the rise of Islamic groups in the country. “We now see some women wearing niqabs and the number of women wearing the veil has also grown from what it used to be like before the revolution.” Journalist Shiraz Al-Rahali, who writes for Al-Mawqif newspaper, nevertheless, sounds more optimistic: “It is impossible to claim that women did not reap the benefits of the revolution because the initial demand—the fall of the regime—was realized, and efforts are still underway to achieve the rest of the goals.” At the same time she doesn’t deny the nature of some of the slogans that were voiced at the protests before the fall of the regime such as “Women’s place is at home.” It reminds us of the depth of the anger that people felt towards the president’s wife and the fact that her name was linked with corruption in the country, so no lamenting of the past here. Another woman, a lawyer called Salsabeel Al-Quleibi, said in her lecture at the Club of Tahir Haddad in Tunis, “We have ousted a corrupt regime that had no social values.” In response to these fears and the pressure from civil society, Tunisian authorities passed new measures that have no precedence in the Arab and Islamic worlds. According to this new decision, women will be awarded half of the seats on the Constituent Assembly during the coming elections in July. The elections will vote in a Constitutional Committee in charge of putting together the new constitution following the departure of Ben Ali. Women are victims of the “counter revolution” in Egypt In Egypt, women stood side by side with men on Tahrir Square and other places all over the country after calls from youth groups to gather in protest. The calls came on the 25th of January through web pages such as “We are all Khaled Said” and “The Youth of the 6th of April.” Women joined the protests to demand an end to political oppression and to call for radical reform before they began to demand the removal of President Hosni Mubarak. Women provided logistical support. They checked the identity cards of those who wished to join the crowds on the square, and they fundraised to provide supplies to those stationed on the square around the clock. They faced violence from thugs just as men did. Some gave their lives. Several women, known as the women of Facebook, became prominent members of the youth groups that led to the fall of the regime last February. Asma Mahfouz, for example, wrote on her Facebook page: “I am going to Tahrir Square.” She did it in order to challenge the young men of her generation to gather their courage and do the same. Israa Abdel Fattah was another prominent female voice. She became known in the media three years previously when, on 6 April 2008, she called for a strike in solidarity with the workers of Al-Mahallah, who were protesting against high inflation and corruption. Her page at the time managed to
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Women of the revolution The human rights watchdog Freedom House published a rigorous report in 2005, entitled Women's Rights in the Middle East and North Africa. The report found that despite some evidence of concessions made to gender equality, there was also “a pervasive gender-based gap in rights and freedoms in every facet of society” throughout the region. The watchdog published the follow-up in 2010, covering the period from October 2004 until the end of 2009. It examines the improvements and set-backs that have befallen women’s rights in that period and it manages to convey a sense of cautious optimism. This hopeful tone has been somewhat borne out by the instrumental role that women have played so far in the uprisings of 2011. There is a clear link between the pro-democracy stance of many protesters in the region, and the suggestion in the 2010 report that “In nearly all of the countries examined … progress is stymied by the lack of democratic institutions, an independent judiciary, and freedoms of association and assembly.” Could it be that while the world searches for concrete explanations for the pandemic of protests across the Middle East and North Africa, the answer lies in the incremental gains in gender equality over the past decade? The notion seems less unlikely when one considers that no matter how small are the gains that have been made, they effect as much as half of the regional population. Shown below, the broad conclusions of the 2010 report hint that a tipping point of critical proportions has been on the cards. Despite the relative nature of the improvements, and the stagnation in other areas, women have been given a freer hand to point out the persistent injustices they endure: • Economic Opportunities Grow Despite Persistent Challenges • Academic Achievement Expands Women's Prospects as New Threats Emerge • Protection from Domestic Abuse Remains Minimal • Political Rights Improve Amid Low Regional Standards • Women Are Still Denied Equality Before the Law attract more than 77,000 members. She wasn’t immune to retribution. Six days later, she was arrested alongside 20 others and put in jail for 20 days. Activist Dr. Azza Kamel, whose focus is women’s rights, commented on women’s roles in the political mobilization of the country. “For the first time in decades, women are treated as equal to men. There is no difference between those who wear the hijab or the niqab and those who don’t. There is no difference between Muslims and Christians.” This extraordinary scene was not mirrored in the decisions of post-revolutionary Egypt when two subsequent governments took over the ministry. The committee that was formed Issue 1564 • June 2011
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to look into amendments of the constitution consisted of nine legal professionals, all of whom were men. This is despite the fact that there are women who enjoy comparable legal qualifications in constitutional matters. Women reacted by going back to the streets just like on 8 March. They joined men in front of the Union of Journalists holding banners demanding that their requests be met. Again, they joined the crowds on Tahrir Square and in other parts of the country, but this time they met hundreds of thugs and religious fundamentalists waiting to hurl abuse at them. The debates on the square became more crass and uncivilized. You can say women are now victims of what came to be known as the “counter revolution.” The matter requires a new sort of organizing of women through the Coalition of Egyptian Women Societies. Last March the coalition addressed a letter to the prime minister demanding that the new ministries contain female cadres and that women are represented on all committees by at least 30 percent of the total membership. Particular attention was paid to women’s presence on the Constitutional Committee, which will be appointed by the new parliament to look into amendments to the constitution. Despite all this, the new ministries contain only one female minister—the minister of planning. Abdel Fattah, who works as the head of projects at the Egyptian Democratic Academy, admits that decision makers today are ignoring the role of women. “This is worrying for the future of women’s rights in Egypt.” She also thinks that the success of the revolution will not necessarily lead to a new faith in women’s role in shaping the future. She believes that a real change in the notions that surround the role of women in society will only come about through further consolidated efforts and much more campaigning. In the last few years, there have been some positive changes in civil status laws, and for the first time in its history, the Egyptian judiciary now employs a female judge and a female deputy head of the Court of Appeals. The Coalition of Women Societies, which contains 15 organizations, is trying to assert their presence and address the marginalization of women in society. The coalition already held one press conference in April where speakers expressed their support for a secular democratic state. Dr. Fouad Abdel Munaem Riad, a member of the National Committee for Human Rights, also spoke to stress that feminist issues are related to the dominant social culture and cannot be expected to change as a matter of fact as a consequence of the revolution. This challenge rings true for Israa, who acknowledges that “secular political groups have not succeeded in getting themselves organized in a way that can compete with Islamic movements.” Will a woman ever become the president of Egypt? Three women candidates have been discussed in the context of presidential elections expected to take place next autumn. The names have been pushed forward by other female enthusiasts. Two of these candidates have not yet expressed interest to run but there is already a Facebook page with a large number of followers— male and female—for Counselor Tahani Al-Jabali, deputy chief of justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court. Although she declined the offer, she did stress the right of Egyptian women to run for the post “The president’s post is not a Khalifet,” she said, “It is a job governed by law and the constitution.” 31
• THE HUMAN CONDITION
Another counselor, Nuha Al-Zeini—deputy chair of the Administrative Prosecution Authority in Egypt, told Alarabia.net that she definitely supports women candidates running for the presidency because the post of the president is simply a job in government. But, she said, she was not going to run in the coming election because of the culture that dominates the Egyptian street, which is vehemently opposed to the idea. So, this leaves media professional Buthaina Kamel as the only female running for president. She has recently announced that she intends to run her election campaign through the Reality TV channel, which will be launched shortly with a program called “Diaries of a presidential candidate.” The Balqises of Yemen put an end to discrimination by taking to the squares Those following the events in Yemen would have seen Yemeni women in veils and burqas among the crowds of young people protesting in the streets of the country and demanding the removal of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Those who know the social climate in Yemen and understand the weight of conservative tradition in the country will know the price these women have to pay to withstand the pressures of being female in a religious and patriarchal society. They must not only endure the brutality of the regime, including the government’s latest speeches that condemned the participation of women in demonstrations, but they must also face a common prejudice held by many in their country which condemns their behavior as prohibited by religion. Tawakul Karman is one of the most prominent media figures and activists to emerge from the new wave of change in the capital Sanaa. In 2009, Reporters without Borders selected her as one of the top seven women who have helped change the world. This young woman has been defying the authorities since 2004 when she established an organization called Yemen’s Women journalists without Chains, the first Yemeni organization ever to scrutinize freedom of speech in the Yemeni press. In the last two years she has led many strikes to demand the closure of the Special Press Tribunal and called on the government to stop meddling with affairs of the press. She has been arrested several times by the authorities for involvement in these issues. There are two facts about Tawakul, the young rebel who took off her niqab in favor of a simple hijab, that will no doubt come as a surprise: First, she is a member of Al-Islah, or The Yemeni Congregation for Reform—the only religious party in the country. In fact, Tawakul is not just an ordinary member; she is a member of the Shura Committee within the party. It seems that she is betting on the young reformists in the party and not on the more conservative wing represented by the party’s leader, Abdel Karim Al-Zindani. Journalist Widad Al-Badawi, director of the Cultural Media Centre, sums up women’s participation in the Yemeni protests: “The miserable state of affairs for women in the Yemen could be the reason why these women took to the streets to demand a secular government that would ensure their social rights.” Women are demanding the abolishment of tribe related clauses in the state’s laws as these serve to marginalize them. “Women who took to the streets to demand freedom are equally concerned about brutal discriminatory laws that work against them,” Widad said, adding, “There are more than 27 discriminatory laws that we have been fighting against for years
without any luck.” She doesn’t believe that women will be forgotten when the revolution is over considering that they have played an active part on, and in some cases leading, steering committees for the revolution throughout the country— in Sanaa, in Ta’izz and Adan.
Journalist Widad Al-Badawi, director of the Cultural Media Centre, sums up women’s participation in the Yemeni protests: “The miserable state of affairs for women in the Yemen could be the reason why these women took to the streets to demand a secular government that would ensure their social rights.” Writer, journalist and activist Bushra Al-Maqtari, who experienced the shelling of her home by the government, stressed that women entered this revolution as real partners. They have been fully conscious of their demands and very well aware of the challenges that surround them as they stand to face a traditionalist society. In a brief telephone interview with The Majalla, which took place during a government ban on the internet, Bushra commented, “We have very clear demands and they are many. These demands are supported by the youth movement and by many political parties.” One of their central demands is the introduction of female quotas in social and political life. They are also demanding a ban on under-age marriages. Al-Maqtari thinks that the current political battle reflects a real struggle between an old and a new mentality, between a new progressive project and an old conservative vision. Women, of course, are very much part of this debate. “Yesterday was a bloody day. A number of women activists were arrested and detained by the police. They were all verbally abused. They had to listen to the worst profanities,” Al-Maqtari explained. In an effort to step away from direct political activism, some women are also speaking. Ghada Saleh, an executive director of a private firm, expressed, “Women need to be equal partners to men, not in words but in deed.” Rajaa Ali Muqbil, a housewife, also commented: “We cannot depend on political parties. These often use women for their own ends. We need a push coming from women themselves.” She sees in the Muslim Brotherhood bad news for women. “We have seen precedents in Yemen.” But, some remain optimistic. Pharmacist Yumna Al-Aswadi believes that Yemen will soon see women occupying prominent positions in the new government, because “Women have led this revolution." Ghalia Kabbani – Syrian journalist, novelist and columnist based in London since 1994.
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• EDITOR'S CHOICE
The sensible pace of reform, in any context, ought to be measured, considered and deliberate. Within the complex sociological environment of Saudi Arabia this notion is no less true. Here, expert on Saudi affairs, Mshari Al-Zaydi, offers insight into the delicate issue of women’s position in Saudi society and provides evidence and support for the steady pace of careful change. Foreshadowing The Majalla’s upcoming interview with Professor Joseph Nye, the journalist Abdul Rahman Al-Shubeili explores the concept of "soft power," with particular reference to Saudi foreign policy, but equally applicable to internal affairs. The two writers interrogate common themes in contemporary Saudi life and shed light on the gentle tactics being employed to advance the nation’s reasoned policy of levelheaded reform in the twenty-ﬁrst century. 34
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Saudi Arabia’s Soft Power Abdul Rahman Al-Shubeili
he concept of ‘Soft power’ was coined by Joseph Nye, former assistant to the US Minister of Defense. He further developed his idea following the liberation of Kuwait from the Iraqi invasion and the events of 11 September. His book “Soft Power” was translated into Arabic in 2007. The term is now widely used in international affairs. During the cold war the phrase ‘Soft power’ was used to differentiate this approach from that of ‘Hard Power’ which essentially means the use of military force in resolving international conﬂicts. Joseph Nye coined yet another concept- ‘Smart Power”, meaning combing both into a winning strategy. He was interested in the use of alternative means such as ‘attraction’ as opposed to ‘coercion and payment’ in order to achieve results. Political theorists took the concept further applying it to economics, religion, education and media. They saw new horizons in the battle to win people’s hearts by taking new alternative routes such as “spreading democracy’, ‘human rights’ and economic aid. Joseph Nye says “The key thing is not the number of enemies you can subjugate but the number of friends you can win. ‘Soft power’ is not a form of weakness. It is a form of power. The failure to use it to advance national strategy is a grave mistake”. So, while in the past few decades hard politics was the name of the game, today, political scientists, experts in communication and various schools of ethics are all increasingly talking about a greater power that can win people and build bridges between nations. The use of soft power is not seen as an alternative to hard power and military force which is essential to national security. Most writings dedicated to exploring the concept of ‘soft power’, and these are not many, agree that the concept emerged in the last few decades especially after the Second World War, during the Cold War era, and following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Western powers had to formulate strategies with regards to countries that fell under the inﬂuence of the socialist block. These writings paired the concept of ‘soft power’ with strategies of foreign policy. More recently ‘soft power’ has been used to describe strategies of internal politics in the context of administrative, social and constitutional reforms. Some evoked the notion in the context of the latest revolutions that swept the Arab world using non violence as means for political change. ‘Soft power’ and the media is another possible angle. Media outlets such as Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and others have all played a major role during the cold war. Today, we see many countries running information networks and satellite channels in a variety of languages in a bid to inﬂuence opinion. Some writers picked up on the link between the greatest values of the Holy Quran and Sunnah describing them as two key sources that serve as an inspiration for the notion of ‘soft power’. For example, in July 2010, Ahmad Zuweil published an article in the Egyptian paper “Alshuruq” entitled “Will soft power succeed to push the Middle East towards new horizons?” He almost predicted what the youth of his country would bring about one year later through their stand on Tahrir Square.
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‘Soft power’ takes different shapes. In Japan, for example, it is the industry. In China it is the economic power. In Finland it is information technology. Switzerland and Norway have carved places for themselves by leading peace talks between nations. Singapore and Malaysia excel in personnel. Italy and France are linked with the arts and the creative industries while Argentina and Brazil with sports. So, in this context, we can talk about Saudi Arabia’s model of ‘soft power’ which is derived from the religious dimension, economic inﬂuence and the wider humanitarian values. Saudi Arabia was uniﬁed eighty years ago in 1932. Since then and, throughout all the recent decades, Saudi Arabia has opted to remain neutral. It has never resorted to the use of force as an option unless it was absolutely necessary. It embraced friendships and chose not to meddle in other people’s affairs unless it was asked to. By the same token, it refused to allow other countries to interfere with its internal affairs. So throughout the last few decades, Saudi Arabia always chose to show goodwill, moderation, thoughtfulness and prudence avoiding rash behaviour and impulsive decision making. It channeled dialogue between rivals encouraging them to resolve their differences in honourable ways and was instrumental in many agreements signed between various Arab, Islamic and international institutions. It stood with nations that advocate peace, offered help to countries in need and contributed to development banks and aid charities. Saudi Arabia enjoys ‘soft power’ due to the example it set in the ﬁelds of development, cultural relations and politics. Nevertheless, whatever it achieves on this count will never parallel the value it enjoys as the home of the two Holy Mosques. These two sites will remain the strongest living testimony to the faith and to the quality of service that has been developed to welcome the faithful. Each one of these sites is like a whole independent city with state of the arts facilities and services. You have to experience this to appreciate it. The religious and intellectual power of their light reaches all corners of the world. Television images seen all over the globe do not pay justice to the sophisticated service offered around the clock at these two locations to manage and satisfy the needs of the largest crowd gathering ever. Much has been done to draw attention to the message of the Saudi Kingdom, the spread of love, forgiveness, brotherhood and peace between people. Remember the operation that separated the Siamese twins in Poland and the joy it brought to their family; wells have been dug in the depths of the desert in Mali and the African jungle to provide water to people living there; Senegalese students have been given grants to study in Medina; Saudi diplomats have welcomed people from Kazakhstan and helped their pilgrims travel for Haj. Saudi Arabia sent Imams to help lead prayers in Indonesia. It welcomed and hosted parliamentary, commercial and other delegations, performing groups, art and heritage museums, cultural festivals both outside and inside the country. All these human connections often speak louder and cost less than international relations. 35
• EDITOR'S CHOICE
The credibility of Saudi Arabia and its soft relations suffered a blow after the events of September because some members of these extremist groups held Saudi nationalities. Saudi Arabia’s reputation also suffered because of distorted interpretations that surround its faithful commitment to Islam. The country has been called names and given qualities that Saudi Arabians themselves could never imagine. Because of this development, Saudi Arabia was keen to mobilize politically to explain its stand with regards to terrorism. Today, much of the country’s effort is focused on showing the true face of Wahhabism explaining that it is not a separate religion or an independent doctrine. One of the greatest initiatives in this regard, designed to show that the country is innocent of the charge of terrorism was the decision to award thousands of Saudi students grants to study abroad, in more than twenty different countries, so that these students can serve as ambassadors for Saudi Arabia all over the world.
Today, much of the country’s effort is focused on showing the true face of Wahhabism explaining that it is not a separate religion or an independent doctrine In the last Decade, Saudi Arabia, like many other countries, experienced the effects of terrorism. It dealt with it with resolve. Saudi Arabia’s approach towards those arrested was particularly worthy of praise and has gained the country a lot of respect among other societies. The Kingdom adopted a reformist educational program to conduct the dialogue with those who have adopted anomalous ideologies. It treated them humanely and showed both mercy and respect for their rights as citizens. This is an approach that embraces the vision of ‘soft power’. But, despite the distinctive spiritual and economic power of Saudi Arabia, official media, especially foreign official media, has not played a positive role in highlighting the ‘soft power’ of our country. Apart from the coverage of religious rites, often done without much creativity, there is very little that satellite channels have done to convey the reality. Saudi Arabia has issued a call pressing the idea of the need for wider dialogue between the different cultures and religions on earth. We need to stop and analyze this very important initiative especially that it was issued by a country known for being socially and religiously conservative. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is worthy of praise for the courage, zeal and confidence it showed in pushing forward this approach to the point that the call has become an integral part of its internal politics as well as its international relations. To end I would like to stress five important points: 1. ‘Soft power’ is definitely the best way to reach the hearts of the people but, adopting this approach by any country, needs constant engagement and creativity to devise new ideas and methods suitable for use in a variety of fields. ‘Soft power’ needs to become part of the political chemistry of the country and its international media efforts.
2. Today, Saudi Arabia is trying to regain the credibility and charisma that was earned by its founder King Abdul Aziz. Internally, King Abdul Aziz succeeded to secure the loyalty of tribes and citizens. Externally, he gained the respect of his rivals and the world leaders of his time. He artfully walked a thin line using hard power in the right place and the power of persuasion, wisdom and tolerance when these were needed. 3. The greatest ‘soft power’ of Saudi Arabia will always remain its spiritual power as the home of the Two Holy Mosques and the destination for Haj and Umrah. It is the country that houses key international Islamic organizations and acts as the guardian of the values of Islam. It is essential that these values are exploited with honesty and confidence and that the voice of Saudi Arabia travels from the land of Islam carrying the message of peace and goodwill to all. It is worth mentioning that, from the moment of its founding, Saudi Arabia strived to promote these spiritual values and to develop the facilities for those coming on pilgrimage. 4. Saudi Arabians look with a degree of anxiety on the fact that their country hosts many foreign residents who now make a third of its population but this reality could be employed positively as an element in Saudi Arabia’s ‘soft power’ by showing goodwill and respect for their rights. 5. Here I want to address the issue of leading through example. Thousands of Saudi Arabians travel the world for tourism and for business. Their reach could play a major role in Saudi Arabia’s ‘soft power’ spreading good vibes about the country and correcting the wrong ideas about Islam’s ethical values among other nations of the world. The aim here isn’t to flatter the country’s vision or sing praises for its use of ‘soft power’ to build bridges with other Arab and Islamic countries. No human effort is perfect. There are always flaws and weaknesses. There is no policy that doesn’t need constant rethinking and reform. So, we need to rethink our international relations through the lens of this new political concept which has proved to be one of the most successful tools to win over people. Today, our country is witnessing new media openness and a new cultural activism. We are going through the labour pains of an intellectual transformation and self criticism in order to improve our performance and speed up the pace of reform. We need to address any deficiencies we have in the service sector and management that have challenged our credibility among other nations. Part of this effort should be a focus on developing and promoting Saudi’s model of ‘soft power’. In politics they say “Winning wars is easier than winning peace. ‘Soft power” is essential for the latter”. The concept of ‘soft power’ was developed in the last two decades but it has already been equated with the new ‘art of the possible’ in social and political sciences as well as in media and communication. ‘Soft power’ is the ambassador of good intentions. It reaches people’s hearts getting what it needs through the power of attraction rather than the stick which was the tool of choice of traditional colonial powers in the past. Abdul Rahman Al-Shubeili – Saudi researcher and journalist. The article is an excerpt from a lecture given by the writer at the last Janadriyah festival in Saudi Arabia.
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On Women and Cars Mshari Al-Zaydi
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Saudi Arabian women being denied their natural rights, particularly as all other Muslim women, including those in Gulf states, enjoy this right. The entire issue has been completely politicized, which is something that Asharq Al-Awsat editor in chief Tariq Alhomayed put forward in his article “Saudi Arabia: Don't politicize the issue of women driving,” published on 26 May 2011. This truly is an issue that is being given far more weight than it deserves, and has become an issue that the international media is using to criticize the humanitarian record of the country as a whole. I believe that the time has come to settle this issue for good, and turn over the page, and move away from this issue which has harmed all concerned parties. The issue is one of traditions, and a delay in the administrative decision (on the issue of women driving); this is a state of affairs that lasted for so long that the issue of women driving began to be viewed as something untouchable. This is when such traditions become a problem, namely when everybody is afraid to try and change them. Saudi women are part of the fabric of society and culture. Women driving will not change their culture or morals. Whoever has reservations can discuss these, and we will hopefully find logical solutions. However banning something for the sake of banning it is not a solution, but rather a short-term sedative. Mshari Al-Zaydi – A Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism as well as Saudi affairs. Mshari is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page Editor, where he also contributes a weekly column. Has worked for the local Saudi press occupying several posts at Al -Madina newspaper amongst others. He has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism. This article was first published in “Asharq Al-Awsat” on 29 May 2011
Image © Getty Images
audi Arabian society, for the most part, is a young one. The majority of Saudis live in one of the country’s three major cities—Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam. Saudis are also among the most internet literate people in the Arab world, with modern means of communication being extremely popular in the country. In addition to this, more than 1,000 Saudi Arabian students study abroad, most of whom are doing so in the United States. Saudi Arabia is a geographically diverse country, with a similarly diverse and multi-cultured society, in the same manner as any large, rich, and affluent nation. During times of major social transformation and change, eyes are always drawn to the condition and role of women in society. This is what happened in Saudi Arabia when the state, during the reign of King Saud, decided to open state-run schools for girls. King Faisal also showed great resolve with regards to following this route [opening girls' schools], despite the protest campaigns that were launched by religious preachers. These preachers went so far as to dispatch a number of delegations to try to persuade the ruler to renege on his decision. Indeed, the first girls' schools in Saudi Arabia were, in some places, opened under the protection of military forces due to the religious campaign opposing such schools. We saw speeches, instigation and social mobilization calling for girls to be given the right to a modern education; however, despite all of the above, this was something that had to be forcibly established. Whoever wanted to enroll their daughter in school was free to do so, and whoever didn't want to was not forced to, and so that is what happened. We have now reached the stage which saw Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, opening the Princess Noura Bint Abdulrahman University for Girls, in May 2011. This is an enormous academic institute, which will be capable of graduating 60,000 female students each year. We have arrived at a great time for women's education in Saudi Arabia, and we are proud to have a number of Saudi female luminaries such as scientist Dr. Hayat Sindi, researcher Dr. Ghada Al-Mutairi, well-known political figure Thuraya Obeid, and scientist Dr. Khawla Al-Kuraya, among many others, both inside the country and abroad. Look at where we were when girls' schools in Saudi Arabia first opened, and how far we have come. If we listened to the demands of those who were afraid and against this, back then, what would our fate have been today? Would we have scientists like Dr. Al-Kuraya, Dr. Al-Mutairi and Dr. Sindi? The issue of women's right to drive is exactly the same; there are always those who reject anything new. This is a wellknown custom in conservative societies, whether this is in Saudi Arabia or elsewhere. The issue of women's right to drive has gradually been turned into a slinging match between one (social) current that views this as a matter of life and death, and another that believes that the ban on women driving represents
• CANDID CONVERSATIONS
"If the Syrian regime falls, that’s a major loss for Iran in this regional contest for influence" In this interview with The Majalla, Professor Gregory Gause considers the impact of recent regional developments on security concerns in the Gulf. He suggests that governments would be well advised to refrain from the use of force, or run the risk of further instability. Ultimately, especially within the GCC, political relationships have been strengthened in a bid to maintain the status quo. Michael Whiting
. Gregory Gause III is professor of political science at the University of Vermont. An acknowledged expert on international relations in the Middle East, he specializes in the Arabian Peninsula and the Persian Gulf. His published works include The International Relations of the Persian Gulf (2010); Oil Monarchies: Domestic and Security Challenges in the Arab Gulf States (1994); and Saudi-Yemeni Relations: Domestic Structures and Foreign Influence (1990). He spoke with The Majalla and offered his insights into shifting regional power struggles, the perceived threat of Iranian influence, the limitations of political oppression, the long term significance of Al-Qaeda and the durability of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as an alliance. Given the recent and astonishing events in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain and elsewhere, how do you see the regional policy of Iran and Saudi Arabia shifting, especially in relation to each other? I think that the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia predates the events of the last few months. I think it’s been the dominant theme of regional politics probably since 2007/2008. I don’t know how it’s going to shift because we don’t know how things are going to play out. We certainly know that Bahrain is not going to have a change of government which would certainly have been perceived regionally as a win for Iran. But if the Syrian regime falls, that’s a major loss for Iran in this regional contest for influence. So I think that things are still up in the air. I think probably the most disturbing trend that I see coming out of this is the increase in sectarian feeling in the region. Sectarianism is never absent from the region and certainly in places like Lebanon and Iraq—where there have been internal conflicts—those sectarian identities have become even more prominent. But I think now we’re seeing in the Gulf states even more emphasis on sectarian identity, and I think that could be very problematic in the long term.
What will be the lasting consequences or ramifications of the GCC and Saudi’s actions regarding Bahrain? Do you foresee sectarian problems? I’m certainly not surprised that the Saudi’s went into Bahrain with the other GCC members. They perceived that there was a chance that the monarchy in Bahrain might fall and they were not going to let that happen—that is a red line for the Saudis. But I think the way that the Bahraini regime has reacted subsequently—obviously with the support either tacit or active of the other GCC states—in conducting really sectarian purges in Bahrain, creates a problem down the road because this is a Shi’a majority country and I don’t think that you can permanently keep the majority down without the risk of some kind of violent reaction. Elements in Iran would certainly be happy to exploit that and even encourage that. So I think that while stability in Bahrain might have been purchased in the short term, the price might be high down the road. Related to that, to what extent do you think the Iranian threat is exaggerated by the GCC? I think that it’s a mistake to see domestic, political protest move-
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Image © Sally McCay / UVMphoto
ments—like we have seen in Bahrain—as simply an instrument of Iranian foreign policy. I understand the geopolitical worries that Iran presents in the Gulf and it’s not simply Iran’s size and its military power and its nuclear capability. I mean we know in the past that Iran has tried to exploit domestic divisions within Arab states. We know that Iran supports groups like Hezbollah, certain parties in Iraq, and tries to increase its influence in the Arab world. We know in the 1980’s the Iranian regime made a very active effort to export the revolution throughout the Gulf. So it’s understandable that governments on the Arab side of the Gulf look at Iran with unease and suspicion. But I think it would be a real mistake for them to attribute every domestic protest movement or political movement that happens to include Shi’a citizens as being something at the behest of Iran. That becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. In that case, do you see any relationship between regional security and any internal political oppression in the region? I think that internal repression can lead to regional problems if the internal repression generates a violent domestic opposition. Issue 1564 • June 2011
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In that case, that gives Iran a ready-made avenue into trying to influence the politics of that country and so it’s a risk. Conciliating your citizens, I think, is a much more effective way of preventing Iranian infiltration into your politics than a policy of repression. I mean there’s always going to be a balance between conciliation and force in any political system, but it’s the balance between those two. If you go completely on the force side—like the Bahrainis have done—it seems to me you run the risk of pushing even the most moderate types in the political opposition over to a position that Iran would be much more able to exploit. How do you see Iran and Saudi reacting to the current civil unrest in Syria? Well the Iranians are in the embarrassing position of having to back a strong ally who is repressing his own people in a way that the Iranian’s condemned when it was in Bahrain or Egypt or Tunisia. But embarrassment is not something that usually leads countries to change their foreign policies. So it seems to me that the Iranian’s are going to stick by the Assad regime— unlike the Turks—they’re not wedded to the idea that their 39
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Power Struggle A hallmark of the Iranian political scene is the constant tension between the absolutist clerical establishment and the aggressive scheming of President Ahmadinejad’s bloc. In this light, recent comments made by Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of the Revolutionary Guard, point to a potential breaking point in the power struggle. In April, Ali Jafari figuratively flexed the muscle of the IRGC by saying “the IRGC is not merely a military organization, but a security, cultural, ideological, political and military one, which means that the IRGC is expected to have many types of functions in order to be able to protect the Revolution and its results in the domains of culture, politics, economics, society, security and intelligence.” These comments were followed in May, by a succession of statements putting pressure on the potentially recalcitrant Ahmadinejad. "The president said he would dishearten the enemies of the regime (in accepting Khamenei's authority) but that is not enough. We are waiting for him to act on his words," said influential religious authority Hojatoleslam Kazem Sediqi. influence is linked to democratic movements in the region, I think that’s the view in Ankara but it’s certainly not the view in Tehran and so I just think that they’ll keep on backing Assad. Do you consider the position of Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh untenably fragile? What are the regional implications of his likely departure? My judgment is that it is untenable. But for a guy whose position is untenable he certainly seems to be sticking around awhile. With the split in the army and the very prominent defections from the regime by important tribal figures, I just doubt that Ali Abdullah Saleh can sustain himself as president of Yemen much longer. But I don’t think that this is going to have enormous regional consequences. Even though Saleh has been president of Yemen—well, North Yemen and later the united country—since ‘78, Yemen itself has always been a relatively unstable place with a weak central government. I think that’s going to continue and so I don’t really see whether Saleh stays or whether Saleh goes as having an enormous regional impact. Bearing that in mind, given Osama Bin Laden’s recent death, do you think that will have any significant effect on Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or regionally, within Yemen? I don’t think it’s going to have an enormous effect. I think that to a large extent Al-Qaeda has already decentralized 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—
Ahmadinejad told a cabinet meeting that he would obey Khamenei like "a son would his father" in an attempt to draw a line on the stand-off between the two leaders. Ahmadinejad had previously boycotted all public duties for eight days after Khamenei vetoed his sacking of Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi, an ally of the supreme leader. "Certain people within the regime have forgotten the values of the revolution and seek to misrepresent Islam ... but the people do not follow demons or jinns, and will not tolerate such deviance," warned General Jafari, who reports directly to the supreme leader. "To obey and submit to the supreme leader is a religious duty that has nothing to do with politics," said Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, Ahmadinejad's former mentor, who added that the president's "legitimacy is based upon the approval of the supreme leader and not the popular vote." Hojatoleslam Mojtaba Zolnour, Khamenei's deputy representative to the Revolutionary Guards, echoed the message: "Neither the president nor anyone has any legitimacy without the order of the supreme leader," he said, asking Ahmadinejad to "correct" his position. 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. What is the extent to which Saudi Arabia might be reassessing its relationship with other GCC countries, and do you think that recent events will allow other GCC states—particularly Kuwait or Qatar—to gain more influence? I think that recent events have brought GCC states together, sharing a common sense of threat because of domestic upheaval. The common interest of any regime is in maintaining their systems of government, which I think has always been the basis of the GCC. It’s interesting that Qatar has sent troops into Bahrain, most of the media report that Saudi Arabia and the UAE deployed troops—and I think that they were the first contingents—but both Kuwait and Qatar have also sent some troops into Bahrain. So it seems to me that is a pretty good indication that even the maverick in the GCC—Qatar—is on board with this operation. We also know that Al-Jazeera hasn’t really pushed its coverage of issues in Bahrain the way it has in other places, and that’s another indication of the Qatari’s stance on this. I actually think that these events do more to bring the GCC together than to push it apart.
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Riding the Wave
Hamdeen Sabahi, presidential candidate, Egypt Hamdeen Sabahi is a prominent figure on the political scene. He gained wide popularity as a staunch opponent to Egypt’s previous regimes, which often found him embroiled in serious political confrontations that led to his arrest under former presidents Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak. He is now running for president of Egypt. Read this interview with "The Majalla" to see what he has to say. Safaa Azab
will cut gas exports to Israel … and annulling Camp David is possible,” prominent Egyptian politician and journalist, Hamdeen Sabahi, said to the Journalists Syndicate gathered for the press conference to launch his presidential campaign. He is running against Mohammed ElBaradei, Amr Moussa, Ayman Noor, and other candidates in Egypt’s first presidential election following the events of 25 January that toppled the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak. Hamdeen Sabahi is a prominent figure on the political scene. He gained wide popularity as a staunch opponent to Egypt’s previous regimes, which often found him embroiled in serious political
confrontations that led to his arrest under former presidents Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak. The most legendary of these was when he stood firmly against Sadat during the latter’s meeting with the Egyptian Student Union after the January 1977 uprising. Sabahi was a staunch supporter of Lebanese and Palestinian resistance; he openly opposed the siege of Iraq and Gaza; and most recently, he played a key role in the 25 January uprising that escalated into a fullfledged revolution, beginning with the overthrow of Mubarak. His platform for the presidency will no doubt follow along the same lines in its bold radicalism, and it will attract the attention and concern of many in the West, especially the US and Israel.
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Born on 5 July 1954 in the city of Baltim in the Kafr AlSheikh governorate, Hamdeen Sabahi moved to Cairo to study communications and journalism at Cairo University. After obtaining his Masters in Mass Communications in 1985, Sabahi co-founded the Arab Media Center, which developed into a well-known and well-respected training center for journalists. He also co-founded Hizb Al-Karama (the Dignity Party), in 1996, which, under Mubarak, never received official party status. He left his position at Al-Karama as its president in 2009 to again run for the 2010 parliamentary elections (he was MP of Hamool and Burullus in 200 and 2005 respectively), which he did not win, and during which time he called for amendments to constitutional Articles 76 and 88.The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has reported that Sabahi’s supporters have managed to gather over 10,000 signatures endorsing his candidacy as an independent, however, due to the difficulty of running as an independent, Sabahi prefers to wait with other Al-Karama party leaders for a consensus to emerge among opposition groups. As a founding member of the National Association for Change, Sabahi retains an active network of individuals belonging to these opposition groups, thereby providing them with an appropriate medium to exchange ideas and make alliances. The presidential hopeful speaks to The Majalla in Cairo. Why have you decided to run for the presidency? I’m running for the presidency because I believe that Egypt deserves a true revival since the eruption of January 25 Revolution. Given my interest in politics, I’ve decided to run for office, and it is not only recently, as my candidacy was proposed in 2005, but I rejected it because I felt that they were token elections. I didn’t want to be part of that situation. However, in 2009, Al-Karama has chosen me as a popular candidate for the presidency, and a campaign named “A Popular Candidate” was launched one year before the revolution. If Mubarak’s regime had not been toppled, would you have continued in your campaign for the presidency? Yes, but providing the amendments of three articles of the constitution on the conditions of candidacy and the electoral process. Without such amendments, we would not have had any choice but to accept Mubarak (father or son), but after the revolution, the scene has become more appropriate and truly competitive. Dreams for Egypt Some people see that there may be other considerations and personal dreams behind your candidacy? This is true. There is a great dream, but it is not personal. It is a dream of putting Egypt on the first step towards comprehensive revival, to be within the next eight years, in 2020, among the first eight strong economies across the world. Despite the difficulty, we Egyptians believe in our capacity to turn dreams into reality, especially after our people have made the greatest revolution in human history in which they toppled a regime and have gained their rights. In this revolution, Egyptians have set free the ability to dream, and our dreams should be as great as our revolution. How do you plan to fulfill this dream? It is to start immediately by liberating the national economy from corruption and monopolies, based on three main facIssue 1564 • June 2011
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tors: a bureaucracy-free public sector, a cooperative sector that boosts production and competition, and a private sector led by national capitalism. In addition, minimum wages will be determined, and actions will be taken to restore Egypt’s stolen wealth, which will be one of the financial resources necessary for our revival. Also, the plan includes the application of progressive taxes and prioritizing specific budgetary needs while cutting the excesses. My platform includes major projects such as urbanization of the desert, a power generation project in the Qattara Depression, and the reevaluation of past major projects that have been wasted or spoiled by mismanagement. Moreover, there will be development projects in the Sinai and more investment opportunities for Egyptians living abroad. What about the political aspect of your platform? The political aspect constitutes the first part of my platform. It focuses on building a democratic political system based on a new constitution that guarantees rights such as freedom of belief, expression, to peacefully demonstrate, to establish a political party, and freedom of the press. The constitution would also confirm the rule of law in a civil state. There would be the restructuring of security agencies with judicial supervision to prevent their intervention in politics. And in the meantime, a law would be issued to make the president and the prime minister accountable while in service. Finally, I would announce the details of the public budget. Egypt’s Army Would this be applied to the budget of the army and armament? Yes, because every penny spent in the state should be under the oversight of the people through their representation in parliament. I would not seek permission from parliament to conduct deals away from its oversight as it was in the past—neither arms nor others. What would be your first decision in office if you won? My first decision would concern our fight against poverty and harmful social conditions by raising the monthly minimum wage to LE 1200 (about $200), which is the international poverty line according to global standards. This would have to take place over one or two stages in order to avoid severe inflation that would make their wage increase void. Why have you announced your candidacy independent from the party? I have been a public candidate for a year and a half now because I want to represent all Egyptians, away from any partisan orientations. But the rise of parties’ candidates is a significant feature of any democracy? I support the right of establishing parties, but I think that the president of the republic should abandon his position and membership in his party. If I win the election, I will demand that Al-Karama freeze my membership, because Egypt does not need a partisan president. Is it true that you have said that you are the most eligible presidential candidate? This is not accurate, as I think that all competitors are eligible. I meant that I’ve not found the candidate who convinces me that 43
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he is fit to represent the Egyptian people in office. It is worth mentioning that it was me, ElBaradei and Ayman Noor who firstly appeared on Egypt’s political scene. With my due respect for both of them and the others who joined later, I’ve not found among them a person who represents my perspective. Copts and Muslim Brotherhood What kind of chance do you think you have against your competitors? I think that Egyptians are in a better position to evaluate my chances against my competitors in these elections. I know that all candidates have the same chances and have their supporters, and I appreciate them all, but we are campaigning and the judgment at the end is for the people to make. If you become president, how will you approach the various political powers, Muslims and Copts? I welcome this diversity, and consider it a positive element of Egyptian society, especially that our Coptic brothers shied away from the larger society in the past, but now they are participating in their country’s revival. As for those powers that have been isolated from the government for many years, i.e. the Islamists, regardless of my differences with them, I hope that they continue to participate and dialogue with all other parties in Egypt as long as they work within the framework of the rights and duties of all Egyptians. We want a civil democratic state that is free of discrimination against any Egyptian.
Constitutional Reform Despite the fact that pro-democracy activists in Egypt wanted the constitution to be completely re-written before any elections, 77 percent of voters opted to support the compromise amendments that went to a referendum in March. Approximately 20 million Egyptians participated in the vote.The most salient alterations, especially regarding the office of president, are: • Reducing presidential terms to four years from six years and limiting the president to two terms • Obliging the president to choose a deputy within 30 days of election • Installing new criteria for presidential candidates, including a rule that they must be over 40 years old and not married to a non-Egyptian The fact that these changes have been implemented has allowed for upcoming elections to be carried out sooner rather than later. This has led to concerns among opposition groups that established parties will be the chief beneficiaries of early elections-particularly the ruling National Democratic Party and the now legal Muslim Brotherhood.
How would you respond clashes amongst radical parties participating in the political game? Clashes result from constrictions, and dialogue should be the basis of any action. Truthfully, I don’t accept their ideas, but they have the right to express them. The state should respect their views and provide guarantees for them and all people expressing their opinions, provided that they do not exceed the limits of expression, so that dialogue will not become conflict.
From another side, does this mean that you are willing to cooperate with Hezbollah in its efforts to offer assistance to Palestinians across the Egyptian borders? Undoubtedly we will consider everything according to our interests. Resistance is legitimate, and every Arab has the right to resist the occupation of any part of our Arab land. I think that it is the time for Egypt to end its backstabbing role against the resistance, as it has neither resisted, nor helped the resistance.
University Politics You were an active student in the Faculty of Mass Communication before the ban on politics in the universities. Will you allow the students to restore this right in Egyptian universities once again? Certainly. Students belonging to different directions have the right to practice politics inside their universities. This would be under new regulations that give them the right of expression and to work within a democratic frame.
USAID You were a founding member of the Anti-Globalization and US Hegemony Campaign. What is your perspective on Egypt’s relationship with the US and other western powers? First, I appreciate the American people and we are very keen to hold serious talks with them based on equality, not subordination, along with mutual partnership. We respect all western people, some of whom represent worthy movements which have helped us in developing our campaign. Our approach towards western governments and administrations will differ according to our interests under an Egyptian foreign policy that will revive Egypt and raise its international status.
But there are some people who consider this threatening to stability? On the contrary, I think it supports stability in Egypt, because it will create an environment of dialogue and not conflict, on the condition that there is no fanaticism. I believe that the student should understand politics in pre-university education, so everybody will know how to practice their political rights. You will allow political freedoms, so will you open the door for Egyptians who want to join the resistance in Palestine? I will not prevent any Egyptian who wants to help our Palestinian brothers whatever the way they choose. If someone wants to participate in the resistance, I won’t prevent them.
What will be your position towards USAID? It will be welcomed unless it depends on concessions at the expense of our needs and priorities. If we have to pay the political price of this aid by taking certain decisions, it will be rejected and not welcomed. Won’t this damage Egypt’s military interests? Anyway my plans do not include opening the door for wars,
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but certainly it is important to keep our army strong and respectable. Eventually, we will not miss military cooperation with other alternatives across the world. Camp David As president, would you be able to shake hands with Israeli leaders for the sake of Palestinian negotiations? I am not required to do so. Our relationship should be regulated according to the Camp David Accords, but at the same time, I will not accept any action that implies an insult or dictation to Egypt. This means that you will respect the Camp David Accords despite your stance against them? My platform is based on accepting in principle every treaty that maintains peace. However, it may be subjected to amendments or even cancellation if the people want, according to international law that gives the people the right to change their agreements. The Egyptian people own their rights. As for my personal opinion, I’ll always be against it, and this comes out of my national Arab conscience, but if I become Egypt’s president, my personal opinion would be managed by the elected parliament. What about the agreement on Egyptian gas exports to Israel? This is decided. If I become president, I will cut gas exports to Israel immediately. Exporting gas to Israel is not supported by any treaties, and any such agreement does not oblige any Egyptian government to resume it. Thus, it is a cancelled agreement, and there is already a judicial decision to annul it. Nuclear Program What is your position on Egypt’s nuclear program? Considering the disaster in Japan, would you consider cancelling the project? I support a peaceful nuclear project, and we have highlyeducated scientists who can work very carefully. This project without doubt will be at the top of the major projects agenda included in my platform—there will be no retraction. Have you communicated with some prominent Egyptian figures living abroad such as Dr. Farouq Al-Baz or Dr. Ahmed Zeweil? I did not have the chance to meet them personally, but I give priority for Al-Baz’s development project and Zoweil’s education project in my platform. Egyptian Expatriates Is it true that you will allow Egyptian expatriates to vote in the elections if you become president? Sure, it is their right. Any Egyptian living abroad is a partner in this home and is capable of taking a decision. There are around 10 million Egyptian expatriates who should have the right to participate in every election. This is part of my vision concerning Egyptians who live abroad. Regarding major projects that have been halted due to corruption, especially those owned by non-Egyptians, how much importance do you place on potential investors from the Arab world? Issue 1564 • June 2011
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Egypt has wealth and humans, which need to be invested in. We should open the door for our Arab brothers due to the importance of national and Arab capital. However, it is important that agreed-upon legislations provide a general feeling of safety and assure non-Egyptians that their money is safe. They should know that Egypt is really a democratic nation that is truly willing to end corruption. My platform aims at putting Egypt in the ranks of the major economic powers by 2020, and this cannot be achieved without cooperating with the Arabs and activating joint Arab efforts. Iran and the Arabs After the Tunisian revolution but prior to the Egyptian one, is it true that you commented that you were “wishing the same for Egypt?” Yes I said so, because our brothers’ revolution in Tunisia has opened the door to freedom across the Arab world. Some feel that Iran has had a hand in fomenting revolutions in different parts of the Arab world, what is your view? This is not acceptable and it is a baseless conspiracy theory. Iran cannot move the Arab street, whose decision is national and independent. It is greater than any foreign involvement whether Iranian or not that want to destabilize our nation. On this occasion, I greet and support all revolutions that the Arab world is witnessing. I feel happy that Egypt and Tunisia have started it all. What would your policy toward Iran be? I will call for establishing solid relations with Iran and Turkey, because Egypt would be gathering Arabs with both powers based on mutual interests. Egypt has an Arab Islamic role in shaping good strategic relations between Arab countries, and Turkey and Iran. These relations should serve the common interests of such a triangle of geography and civilization in the field of economy and security. We have to end the role of Egypt’s past regime in forcing the country into proxy wars against its neighbors and partners, not for the sake of Egypt or the Arab world, but for the US and Zionism. Could this be achieved easily? It is not difficult as long as there is a perspective and a will. The Counter-Revolution Do you fear the coming of a counter-revolution waged by those corrupt individuals who want to preserve their power in Egypt? Certainly every revolution faces a counter-revolution and the like, but it is weak, similar to a defeated army that skirmishes the triumphant army. I don’t expect them to be able to do anything, as the people that toppled the head of the regime can cut its tails. How confident are you in being able to implement your platform if you become president? First, I have faith in God, then in the people who can achieve a great revival by 2020 through a great project that combines democracy, social justice and development. The people who have been able to make this great revolution can achieve such a revival. 45
• COUNTRY BRIEF
Sudan Timeline 1956 Sudan's centuries of association with Egypt formally ends. 1962 Tensions in the south flare up into full-scale civil war, led by the Anya Nya movement.
1983 Second civil war breaks out in the south between government forces and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM). 1989 Omar Bashir seizes power in a coup against the government of Prime Minister Sadiq Al-Mahdi. 2002 Peace talks in Kenya lead to a breakthrough agreement between the government and rebels, ending the civil war. 2003 A separate conflict breaks out in western region of Darfur. Rebels in western Darfur rise up against government, claiming the region is being neglected by the central government. 2005 The final North/South Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) is signed, granting the southern rebels
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1972 First civil war ends when the military-led government of President Jaafar Numeiri agrees to autonomy for the south under the Addis Ababa peace agreement.
autonomy for six years and ending the civil war. Omar Bashir forms a government of national unity in July 2005 as part of the deal 2009 The International Criminal Court in The Hague issues an arrest warrant for President Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. 2010 Sudan holds first contested presidential, parliamentary and regional elections since 1986. President Bashir was predictably victorious, having received 68.24% of the votes 2011 A nationwide referendum returned the result of overwhelming support for the South of Sudan to secede from the North.
Omar al-Bashir: northern Sudan will adopt sharia law if country splits. "If south Sudan secedes, we will change the constitution and at that time there will be no time to speak of diversity of culture and ethnicity," Bashir told supporters at a rally in the eastern city of Gedaref.
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"Sharia [Islamic law] and Islam will be the main source for the constitution, Islam the official religion and Arabic the official language," he said.
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The Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the Future of Sudan After decades of civil war, Sudan was given the opportunity to implement transformative measures that would address the underlying grievances behind the conflict. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that was signed in 2005 between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) of the South, and the government’s National Congress Party (NCP), was meant to provide the Sudanese with a promise that has been left unfulfilled since the colonial era: the promise of self-determination. Not only was the CPA to ensure the election of government officials at all levels, these elections were to be a small step towards the referendum that would allow the South to choose between remaining a part of Sudan, or seceding and creating their own independent state. While the CPA has been commended on its ability to bring an end to the civil war and the relative success of the 2011 referendum, it came up short on many, if not most of its promises. Most notable amongst its shortcomings were the repeated delays of the elections, and the decision to hold elections for the presidency instead of the entire administrative body. Originally scheduled to take place before the end of July 2009, the elections took place in April 2010 and, even so, were largely tarnished by allegations of fraud. The inability of the government, and the international community, to meet the deadlines that were set by the CPA rendered the constitution of the country threadbare to say the least, and seriously undermined the possibility of ensuring the stability of Sudan. The challenges that Sudan is now confronting speak to an important lesson about peace-building processes. Looking back at the grievances that motivated the civil war in the first place, we see the political disenfranchisement of communities as one of the preconditions for the conflict. Years later, the level of distrust that pervades Sudanese politics, especially between the SPLM and the NCP, leads many to fear for the smoothness of a transition to southern self-rule. The Sudanese Elections and Subsequent Referendum President Omar Al-Bashir, to the surprise of very few, successfully won the long awaited presidential election in 2010. However, even prior to the elections, allegations of fraud were extensive, leading two of President Bashir’s main opponents to withdraw. At the time, this was considered a lost opportunity for the many ethnic groups that have been politically marginalized by the NCP, which saw the challengers as a means to reverse the state of affairs. In due course, the representatives of Issue 1564 • June 2011
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Image © iStockphoto
udan has two distinct major cultures—Arab and Black African. As a result, the country’s population is composed of hundreds of ethnic and tribal divisions and language groups. This has rendered effective collaboration between different groups difficult. The northern states cover most of the Sudan and include most of the urban centers. The majority of the 22 million Sudanese who live in this region are Arabic-speaking Muslims. The southern region has a population of approximately six million. The region’s economy is predominantly a rural, subsistence economy. Southern Sudan has been affected substantially by the civil war resulting in lack of infrastructure and development, not to mention the humanitarian impact of extensive displacement.
Capital: Khartoum Independence: 1956, from Egyptian-British rule President: Omar Al-Bashir GEOGRAPHY Area: 2.5 million sq km Bordering countries: Central African Republic 1,165 km, Chad 1,360 km, Democratic Republic of the Congo 628 km, Egypt 1,273 km, Eritrea 605 km, Ethiopia 1,606 km, Kenya 232 km, Libya 383 km, Uganda 435 km PEOPLE Population: 42.2 million Ethnic Groups: East African 52%, Arab 39%, Beja 6%, foreigners 2%, other 1% Religions: Sunni Muslim 70% (state), Christian 5% (mostly in south and Khartoum), Animism, indigenous beliefs 25% Languages: Arabic, English (official) Refugees: (by country of origin): 157,220 (Eritrea); 25,023 (Chad); 11,009 (Ethiopia); 7,895 (Uganda); 5,023 (Central African Republic) IDPs: 5.3 - 6.2 million (civil war 1983-2005; ongoing conflict in Darfur region) (2007) ECONOMY GDP (ppp): $92.81 billion GDP composition by sector: agriculture: 32.6%, industry: 29.2%, services: 38.2% Investment Gross Fixed: 20.6% of GDP Inflation Rate (consumer prices): 16.8% Unemployment Rate: 18.7% Population Below Poverty Line: 40% the South were able to rely on the referendum of 2011, which has guaranteed secession and the power that the 2010 elections failed to provide. At the time The Majalla went to print, secession was due to take place on 9 July, but in this unpredictable arena fears persist of an unforeseen hindrance—most likely in the form of Bashir himself, or the sporadic violence which has persisted in the wake of the referendum. A year ago the elections presented an important crossroads in Sudan’s history as any perception of their illegitimacy could have set a negative tone for the referendum on secession. Moreover, as Tomas noted in his report Decisions and Deadlines: A Critical Year for Sudan, while the SPLM originally favored rejecting the secession, “the widespread Southern perception that the central government has failed to take the opportunity to transform itself has strengthened the hand of SPLM leadership favoring secession.” The concern was that this negative perception of the government by the South would not benefit from a messy electoral process, and the chances of repeating the same mistakes at the time of the referendum could turn into a casus bellicus. 47
• COUNTRY BRIEF
President Omar Al-Bashir and The International Criminal Court But what about Omar Bashir? The blame game would be incomplete without a serious discussion of how Sudan, and the international community, could allow a man indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on accounts of war crimes and crimes against humanity to be re-elected. If the main purpose of the CPA is to allow democratic institutions to initiate a process of reconciliation between the various groups that have been at war in Sudan, then allowing Omar Bashir, accused of trying to eradicate non-Arab tribes from Darfur, to lead the country is contrary to the principles behind the CPA. However, the ICC’s involvement in Sudan’s peace-building efforts has been framed by the North as just another neo-colonial ploy. Realistically, the strong hold of power held by Bashir’s NCP is likely to shelter him, for the time being, from accountability over the genocide in Darfur.
The Future States Violence is no stranger to Sudan, and even the most optimistic of observers to do not foresee a completely peaceful transition to imminent southern self-rule. Despite the overwhelming mandate to secede, there have been several skirmishes between northern and southern fighters since the referendum. The sense of mutual distrust is palpable in the extreme, as more than a hundred thousand people have been displaced by continued fighting in 2011 alone. In June, as secession draws nearer, accusations from the resource-rich South that Khartoum has begun a secret bombing campaign only feed the concern. Khartoum will see a massive drop in its vital oil revenues when the South secedes—unless a revenue-sharing agreement is reached. This amicable solution is proving to be increasingly unlikely however, as even if a political accord is reached, decades of animosity on the ground may well provoke continued violence in the border regions.
Image © Getty Images
Hope for Sudan? Unfortunately, many have noted how the crisis in Darfur, which coincided with the signing of the agreement, drained many of the diplomatic resources in place. Although this is an understandably difficult obstacle to overcome, it is insufficient to legitimately excuse the commitment of the international community. If only for selfish interests, various countries should be committed to instilling stability in Sudan. The US admirably recognized this problem and, as of October 2009, announced a new policy that balances the need to end violence with the need to support the CPA. As usual, American engagement is insufficient, and the US government should be cautious in how its relationship with Sudan affects its internal politics. Since much of Sudan’s future will continue to be decided by high level politicians, Edward
Thomas argues that the politics of exclusion that undermine its stability could be worsened if the country looks to engage more with international powers than with its own population. In this case, regional actors including the African Union (AU) can support Sudan as it meets the upcoming deadlines of the CPA. Most importantly, these bodies can promote the type of local and national dialogue that will help to overcome the current tension in Sudan. Finally, there is hope that the two parties can cooperate in a peaceful transition towards secession. For example, an oil deal that equally supports both the North and South has been described as an important mechanism to create incentives for reconciliation. It is possible that in the months to come, shared interests such as these can undermine the mistrust that has characterized the relationship of what will be two new countries.
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• THINKING OUT LOUD
Sometimes it’s better to say nothing at all Where military intervention is concerned, passions run high. It is right that the vagaries of international politics should be debated furiously and in public. Except when it comes to a malevolent dinosaur like Henry Kissinger—surely everyone would be better informed if he stayed quiet. Michael Whiting
Image © Getty Images
he continuing foreign military intervention in Libya is a thorny issue. Indeed, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have enormously conflicted feelings towards the entire affair. From the very beginning—when some form of action was being mooted—most folk were torn between the dangers of wading into a potentially calamitous and lengthy foreign involvement in a sovereign country, and the horrors of the looming humanitarian tragedy that Muammar Qadhafi promised to instigate. There have been many thoughtful and considered contributions to the ensuing debate, which has pitched and rolled over the past few weeks as circumstances have changed. Initially, those fearing the worst (myself included) were given pause for thought, as it seemed the use of force may have been a timely and life-saving measure. As the weeks have passed though, fretted talk has turned to hurried “exit strategies” and straightfaced men are seriously discussing whether or not to supply arms to other men, who have been glamorously dubbed “the rebels.” The situation is dire as well as murky. It is quite right that the chief concern, even to idle observers of the unfolding tragedy, should be the avoidance of further human suffering and death. Given the current circumstances it seems clear that there will be no easy solution to what has become a gross tragedy for Libya, but that will not stop interested parties around the world from interrogating the ins and outs, the merits and shortfalls, of military intervention. And rightly so, when (apparently) at the heart of western motives in Libya lies a cherished ideal of “freedom,” which includes the right to express one’s views, on any topic, without obstruction. However, one would hope that in some cases the individuals concerned might have the good grace to keep their own counsel. Anyone perusing The Washington Post last week would have been afforded the unenviable opportunity to read the combined insights of Henry Kissinger and James Baker. Ordinarily, the pooled experience of two former bigwigs in previous US administrations might prove illuminating, but in this case it proves vaguely insulting. In theory their arguments are sound and, whether or not you agree with them, they are at least philosophically defensible in civil
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circles. Kissinger and Baker trot out familiar stuff, spouted from several quarters over the last few weeks, of balancing inherently American values with American national interest. What is so galling is the hypocrisy of these two men, Kissinger in particular. To begin with, the term they are so smugly employ: “pragmatic idealism”—a concept so laden with obnoxious euphemism and oxymoronic Orwellian doublethink that I had to double check the page when I read it. It really was there. Moving on, I dare say that the protection of civilians may be—as is claimed—“consistent” with the values of Dr. Kissinger these days, but it didn’t seem to be in March 1969, when he instigated the bombing of Cambodia despite being fully aware of the presence of a huge civilian population. It almost seems beside the point that this bombing campaign was initiated in secret, without congressional backing—therefore completely at odds with the assertion in this recent Washington Post article that “there must be domestic support in the United States [for military intervention].”
Given the current circumstances it seems clear that there will be no easy solution to what has become a gross tragedy for Libya, but that will not stop interested parties around the world from interrogating the ins and outs, the merits and shortfalls, of military intervention The double standards don’t stop there. Stressing the importance of considering the “unintended consequences” of any action is fine advice, but it rings hollow when it comes from two hypocritical men, one of whom played a prominent role in the kicking of the bee-hive that was the first Gulf War—namely Baker—did he have any idea of the ramifications that war would have? The other man claims not to have been able to foresee the tyrannical consequences of orchestrating the downfall of the democratically elected Salvador Allende, in Chile, in 1973. Kissinger denies the US played a role and claims “we did not support the Pinochet coup. I didn't even know who Pinochet was.” We can only take him at his word—lets’ say he really didn’t know who Pinochet was (though he clearly did) — given the fact that he was at the very least anti-Allende, and supported Pinochet’s junta he is in no position to preach on the importance of unforeseen consequences. The point is that the ghastly events in Libya today will provoke, as well as real human suffering, opinions and arguments from those of us safe at home, far from bullets and bloodshed. The debate will be occasionally well-informed, frequently passionate, not always comfortable and entirely free. But if western governments are sincere about their humanitarian and ideological motives then the public discourse can only be improved if men like Kissinger and Baker—who are tainted by ill-advised adventures from the past—have the good grace to be embarrassed by their former lives and completely refrain from comment. Issue 1564 • June 2011
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• THINKING OUT LOUD
Of Islamic compassion and jailed western journalists Syria has been following Iran’s lead in arresting western journalists. But then, it added its own bizarre innovation by deporting one of them to… Tehran. Will this journalist now be subjected to justice, Islamic Republic-style? Iason Athanasiadis
Image © Iason Athanasiadis
ournalist Dorothy Parvaz was playing with fire when she allegedly tried to enter crisis-struck Syria with an expired Iranian passport posing as a tourist. The passport officials at Damascus Airport are familiar with the overwhelmingly religious pilgrims who visit Syria’s Shiite shrines every year in their tens of thousands. The 39year old journalist may not have been. Growing up in Canada, she spent most of her life in North America. As such, her appearance does not fit the profile of the Islamic Republic’s pious poor and would have immediately stood out to officers already primed to catch western journalists trying to sneak in. But having arrested her, Damascus might have been expected to deport Parvaz to one of the countries whose valid documentation she holds (aside from Iranian citizenship, she also has American and Canadian passports) or Qatar where she works for Al-Jazeera English. Instead, the Syrian Embassy in Washington issued a statement claiming that Parvaz was deported to Iran on 1 May. There has been no word of her since. “After further questioning at the [Damascus] airport and searching her luggage, airport authorities discovered a large sum of undeclared Syrian currency in cash, along with transmitting equipment,” a statement from the Syrian Embassy in Washington said Tuesday. “Upon this revelation, Ms. Parvaz admitted to providing false information to the Syrian authorities regarding her status in Syria.” In dispatching Parvaz to Iran, Syria was hardly sending her to a safe port for western journalists. Tehran has been virtually off-limits to the media since anti-regime protests swept through in 2009. Since then, it has jailed several journalists, myself in-
cluded, and is still holding two Americans (one a journalist, another a student of Arabic in Damascus) that it arrested in July 2009. In January, Tehran released two German journalists who entered the country on tourist visas to interview the relatives of a woman whose sentencing to death by stoning sparked global outrage. Their 20-month sentence was commuted to a $50,000 fine but not before the German foreign minister flew into Tehran for a meeting with the Iranian president. Tehran turned the incident into a media event and claimed to have torpedoed the European Union’s diplomatic blockade. That’s not all. In 2008, an Iranian-Japanese journalist was detained, sentenced to spying and imprisoned for three months before President Barrack Obama intervened to win her release. During the 2009 presidential elections, Iranian intelligence arrested me at Tehran Airport and held me without charge for three weeks despite my legitimately being there on a press visa. A French researcher was detained at the same time. She was charged with espionage and held for 10 months. A Canadian journalist was also held for several weeks before diplomacy got him out. He was so traumatized by the event that he has never talked about it in public, fearing Iran’s long hand. These are just the detentions we know about. So is this the sort of country to which Damascus—a close Iranian ally—should be deporting a journalist to? The cherry on this farcical cake is the Islamic Republic’s habit of claiming that its release of western prisoners is an example of Islamic compassion. Not so. Islamic compassion— with which I’m familiar after over a decade of living in the Muslim world—is about the exercise of justice rather than the manipulation of innocents to serve political goals. When Iran claims to be using Islamic compassion, it is reducing the concept to an Orwellian shorthand for the process by which high-profile incarcerations of westerners or dual nationals end after extensive negotiations with their host governments. These “happy” endings often yield Iran heavy concessions and coffer-enriching fines that can reach a million dollars. When my release came, it was also on the grounds of “Islamic compassion,” a piece in the pro-regime media quoted an official saying. Despite having been in the country legally and innocent of any crime other than the commitment to journalism, I was told to thank my lucky stars for the Islamic Republic’s “compassion.” So were a number of Iranian-American and Canadian academics charged with the ultimate sin of westoxification and a host of British sailors picked up by the Revolutionary Guard in the Persian Gulf. Is it now Dorothy Parvaz’s turn to experience Iran’s compassion?
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Image © Getty Images
Money for Democracy This week, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that his coalition government will provide Egypt, Tunisia and other Middle East countries with about $180 million over the next four years, as part of an aid package to help nurture democracy and economic development. Cameron’s promise echoed similar guarantees made by his G8 colleagues. The US had already said it would relieve $1 billion worth of Egypt’s debts, while providing another $1 billion in loans to the revolution-ravaged country. The European Commission had pledged to chip in an extra $1.75 billion, under the EU’s neighborhood policy. And the World Bank has already devoted some $6 billion. Amar Toor
ottom line: the West desperately wants democracy to flourish in the Middle East, and it thinks that flooding the region with money could do the trick. “What I would say to everybody about the issue of overseas aid is that there is a real case for saying if you can secure greater democracy and freedom in countries like Egypt and Tunisia, that is good for us back at home,” Cameron said on Thursday, ahead of the G8 meeting in France. “That will mean less extremism, it will mean more peace and prosperity, it will mean there will not be the pressure on immigration that many otherwise face our country.” To a certain extent, he’s right. Egypt, Tunisia and every other country touched by the Arab spring probably won’t be able to develop robust democracies and economies without some sort of external support mechanisms. The political and cultural factions are too multifaceted, the wounds and bloodshed still too fresh. Democracy in the Middle East is still in a nascent phase, and, like a newborn baby, it needs nurturing. As Jeff Sachs would be quick to point out, there are cases in which the “shock therapy” approach to aid can pay dividends large enough to jolt a country out of a post-Communist coma, and set it on the path to more equitable governance. This isn’t to say, however, that there aren’t major pitfalls ahead. When Western governments and multilateral organi-
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zations blindly throw money at a country, it can often end up in the wrong hands—especially if said country is in the midst of significant political upheaval. Billions of dollars may sound big and bold on paper, but if there isn’t a strong verification mechanism in place, there’s no way we’ll ever know whether or not those funds made a difference – or, for that matter, whether they even arrived at their destination. The widely adopted solution, then, is to make conditional loans. Egypt, for example, may receive $1 billion this year, but will only receive the next billion if it achieves certain milestones toward democratic and economic development. The European Commission has already made clear that its aid will be contingent upon certain achievements, in an attempt to hold the region accountable for its actions. Even this approach, though, deserves careful attention. If the conditions are too lenient, all that money could end up going down the drain. If they’re too strict, a country could find itself in an even more dire fiscal situation, spurring debt defaults and, perhaps, more domestic instability. Going forward, then, it’s imperative that the international community remain committed to supporting economic development and political freedoms across the region. But speeches from a French seaside resort and ten-figure loans won’t be enough. The West’s words must be consolidated with diligence and action, lest the dream of a democratic Middle East end in disaster. 53
• THINKING OUT LOUD
Bin Laden and the Beauty Contest The news of Osama Bin Laden’s death has elicited diverse responses around the globe. Fluctuations in the financial markets tell a story of their own—of how investors seek to second guess reactions to all manner of events. Joel Schoppig
n Monday 2nd May 2011, when news broke that America’s enemy number one had at long last found a watery end, stock markets surged. Investors’ positive reaction to Osama Bin Laden’s death was however short lived; the Dow Jones in fact closed a little below the previous day’s trading level. The fact that markets reacted at all is telling of how emotional investors react to unanticipated information. It is straightforward to understand how an investor might change his asset allocation in reaction to a company’s quarterly earnings report or the Fed’s announcement to cut interest rates. These factors directly influence the value of assets. Political events on the other hand have a far more diffuse effect and are
anything but straightforward. In a paper published in the Journal of Economic Perspective, Asaf and Noam Zussman examine the effect of targeted assassinations by the Israeli army on the Israeli and Palestinian stock markets. They find that the killing of military leaders causes stock markets to rise while the assassination of political leaders leads to a market drop. They explain these findings with investors’ perception of how the assassination will affect overall stability. The demise of a military leader is assumed to lead to less conflict, thus stabilizing the political and economic situation. Killing a political leader however, is likely to cause retaliations and protests without any changes in the military situation. This increases investors’ perception of insecurity causing stock markets to go down. But can the same logic be applied to Bin Laden’s death? How does his demise change the global investment environment? We can speculate that it changes the outlooks for the war in Afghanistan, President Obama’s chances to get re-elected and maybe even lowers the risk of terror attacks across the globe (here is a collection of reactions from leading market analysts). But it is difficult to imagine traders on Wall Street getting to the office on Monday morning, looking at all the options, and coming to a certain conclusion before placing their orders. Trading decisions are more likely to have been based on the anticipation on how others in the market might react. John Maynard Keynes explained price fluctuations in the equity market with the analogy of a contest in which entrants are asked to choose a set of six faces from photographs of women that are the "most beautiful." Those who picked the most popular face are then eligible for a prize. Keynes says that in the stock market as in this contest it is not about “choosing those [faces] that, to the best of one’s judgment, are really the prettiest, nor even those that average opinion genuinely thinks the prettiest. We have reached the third degree where we devote our intelligences to anticipating what average opinion expects the average opinion to be.” New information is not always rationally integrated into the asset price, as the efficient market hypothesis, on which a lot of contemporary financial analysis is based, assumes. When the news about Bin Laden’s death hit the screen, market participants were flying blind. They tried to anticipate what others would assume this event, so far from having any direct economic or even political implications, would mean. The fact that markets calmed down so quickly proves that sometimes markets are just carried by pure sentiment. It also proves that despite all this, there is a good amount of rationality in markets most of the time.
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Not here the darkness, in this twittering world Attempts to create a day of online insurrection in Egypt lead to a near-constant stream of online dissidence. The limits of the High Military Council are being tested as doubts grow concerning the likelihood of genuine reform. Alastair Beach
So it was that the author of the Mandoism blog, an anonymous writer calling himself an “internet mogul in the making,” asked why the military had been so sluggish in prosecuting Hosni Mubarak. “Reason and logic says that the delay in the investigation and trial means he had lots of time to adjust his papers.” Another blogger, whose site goes by the portentous name, Merchant of Pain, starts his post today by praising the actions of the military when they intervened early in the uprising to prevent a “massacre.” But he finished his post by adding: “We must join hands and unite Muslims, Christians and other opponents for the home first, for the revolution and then for the community to reject the military junta, which is tantamount to Mubarak again.” In the UK right now, a Manchester United football player is currently suing Twitter after tens of thousands of people viewed his name on the site in connection with allegations of adultery—thus sidestepping a court injunction banning newspapers from reporting his identity. Over in Egypt at around 4pm today, one Twitter user called Evan Hill pointed out that at least 160 bloggers had posted entries criticizing the military council—thus committing a crime. The British government is currently figuring out how to deal with its online legal nightmare. Likewise, SCAF generals will have to figure out what to do about theirs.
Image © Getty Images
he Twitter updates kept on coming, sometimes at a rate of 10 a minute. “The sheer spite they had for us and for the revolution will never be forgotten,” said Mosa’ab Elshamy at around 12.30pm. Shortly afterwards, in response to a fellow user’s question, he added: “We were all humiliated during detention.” Out in the vast emptiness of cyberspace, legions of Twitter users were following suit. At 2.40pm, Omnia Khalil declared: “We’re not satisfied with the military council.” Two minutes later, Gigi Ibrahim joined the debate by declaring that “revolution means restructuring of institutions”—before adding that the Higher Military Council was not capable of such reform. And so it went on; a relentless tide of micro-tirades against the ruling military council. Elsewhere bloggers were joining the fray, each one responding to a recent online call for 23 May to become a day of internet insurrection against Egypt’s military rulers. Many of those taking part wanted to use the occasion to test the limits of freedom of speech, well aware of the long shadow which was cast over bloggers by the imprisonment of Michael Nabil last month after he wrote anti-military posts on his webpage. Others simply wanted to draw attention to perceived abuses of power by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which has hauled anywhere between 8,000-10,000 people in front of military courts since 11 February, according to human rights groups.
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• THE ARTS
Building Bridges with Art An interview with Professor Nasser David Khalili, art collector and philanthropist Professor Nasser David Khalili is not just any art collector. The Jewish-born Iranian, who began his career while studying at Queens College in New York, now has the largest and most extensive private Islamic art collection in the world. As someone deeply concerned with intercultural and interfaith understanding, Professor Khalili approaches his collections as not only works of art, but also paths to promote positive dialogue between people of different faiths and cultures. In this interview, Professor Khalili speaks to The Majalla about art, spirituality, dialogue and history. Images © Khalily Family Trust
Professor Nasser David Khalili's descriptions are peppered with visual imagery and metaphor. His colorful narrative and charismatic personality are helpful in promoting a project such as the Maimonides Foundation, an organization that works to encourage positive dialogue between the three monotheistic faiths of the Middle East. Professor Khalili, a scholar, property developer, art collector and philanthropist currently lives in the UK but was born to a Jewish family in Isfahan, Iran, in 1945, and grew up in Tehran. After completing his national service working as an army medic in a small village, he left for America in 1967 to study computer science. It was here, while studying at Queens College that Khalili began buying and selling art works. Today, his collection of Islamic art is the largest and most extensive private collection in the world. Khalili hopes to promote intercultural and interfaith understanding through art, on the basis that appreciating the art of a culture helps us to appreciate the culture itself. Khalili considers himself a “temporary custodian” of his works. As well as mounting his own exhibitions, he loans generously to museums around the world. He is adamant that anywhere the collection is exhibited it should be available to the largest possible audience. Khalili’s team of art experts at The Nour Foundation researches the artifacts continuously. Such dedication towards gaining an academic understanding of his acquisitions has brought them a scholarly value unmatched by those of other collectors. In 1989, Khalili founded the Nasser D. Khalili Chair of Islamic Art at SOAS, where he is also an associate research professor of the school and member of the school's governing body. In 1995, Khalili established The Maimonides Foundation, which, through schools, football, international visits, academic projects and art visits, aims to improve relations between Jews, Christians and Muslims. Khalili also created The House of Peace in 1998, which will display an exhibition highlighting five paintings, accompanied by photographs and film. This body of work has been commissioned for its unique representation of peace. Eventually the exhibition will travel around the world, but initially it will be shown in London during the Olympics in 2012. Khalili has been granted a number of honorary academic accolades, including an honorary fellowship at the University 56
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of London. In recognition of his interfaith work, Pope John Paul II honored him as knight of the Pontifical Equestrian Order of St. Sylvester (KSS) and Pope Benedict XVI elevated him to Knight Commander (KCSS) making him the only nonCatholic in the history of the Vatican to receive two knighthoods. Here he talks exclusively to The Majalla. Have you always been ambitious? It is very natural for any youngster to have a dream. Dreams are part and parcel of human nature. You must pursue and plan your dreams, and have to be sure that you get there: you can’t give up. Once you are sure of something you have to go for it. As a youngster I had a dream, but did not realise it was special. You think what you are doing is what everyone else is doing until society starts recognising your work. Today many people paint something in five minutes like on an assembly line. They churn them out. Nobody wants to work very hard any more, nobody wants to spend time, nobody wants to take the honest route to get to his ambition. There is a very old biblical saying, I think it’s from king David: “The people who get to the top of a mountain are the people who keep climbing without giving up for a second because they know that in the minute you give up, you slide down”. You have to keep climbing, life is like that. Never expect somebody to parachute you to the top. When you get there you look at the view and realize that it was worth it, all the hassle, all the problems and all the obstacles that you negotiated, it was worth it. Was your interest in the arts down to the influence of your family? I was born into a family of dealers and collectors. Objects used to come to the house and I had a tendency to ask questions all the time. I was probably the only one in the family who was very inquisitive when my late father, God rest his soul, bought something. Knowledge has to be earned. You cannot go to the pharmacy and say can I have 10ccs of knowledge so tomorrow I know about the history of the United Kingdom or I know about the history of Islam or the history of humanity; it’s a lot of hard work. Today’s information technology is so advanced that it is much easier for a lot of people to have instant access to information. In the old days, we used to read and spend more time absorbing information. We used to sit down and write carefully. Before you sent a letter you might have changed it several times. Nowadays we sit down at the computer and write and send something in a fraction of a second without even reading it twice. And most of the time people say to themselves, “What did I do that for? I really didn’t mean what I said”.
Incense burner Signed by Shoami Katsuyoshi; about 1890
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Could you tell us about your collection? I understand you have 25,000 pieces? These 25,000 pieces cover five collections. We have the largest and most comprehensive collection of Islamic art in the world. There are also collections of Japanese art from the Meiji period, Enamels of the World, Spanish Damascened Metalwork and Swedish Textiles. Almost 90 percent of the collections have been published. We are still working on a few of the catalogues of the Islamic collection, and then we are finished. The series of catalogues will be the largest publication of a single collection in the world. Every collection is the most comprehensive in its own right. 57
• THE ARTS Enamelled gold huqqah base and mouthpiece (waterpipe) India, Mewar, early 18th century
To be given the honour of being called a collector you have to collect, you have to conserve, you have to research, you have to publish, and you have to exhibit. If you fulfil these five criteria then you can say you have made a contribution to world. If you buy two Picassos or one Monet or ten contemporary pieces of art and take them home for your own pleasure, you should call yourself a selector. If you are not sharing what you acquire with anyone else you cannot call yourself a collector. Collecting is a huge responsibility as you are preserving heritage for the future. How does art relate to national identity? Art is probably the only real asset for any country to represent its national identity. The problem we have now in the Middle East, for example, is that a visitor to the region is not interested in seeing Picassos, modern art, or French furniture. The people who travel to the Middle East want to see the art that comes from that part of the world. They want to see the culture of the nation that they visit. Countries must accommodate their own culture before accommodating others. There is no problem having a national museum and representing art from the rest of the world, I’m all for it, but start with your own culture and make sure the visitor to your country goes back firstly knowing about your country. What initially inspired your move to interfaith work? It was very simple. I realized that the collection that was put together through our Family Trust was capable of bringing the three Peoples of the Book closer to each other. Culture is an incredible means of understanding amongst nations. Even though I was born as a Jew I have great respect for Christianity and Islam, so I studied the three religions and I realized they were all saying virtually the same thing in a different manner. I realized that every one of them is completing the others. Judaism was the first of these religions, Christianity followed Judaism, and Islam followed both Christianity and Judaism. They all talk about harmony, they are talk about peace, they are talk about understanding. Remember there is far more that unites these three religions then divides them. It was for this reason that I started my interfaith work, that now continues in the Maimonides Foundation. I named the foundation after Maimonides because he was a pinnacle of harmony and peace in the 12th century. He was born a Jew but is respected by Jews and Muslims equally. Most of his books were written in Judaeo-Arabic or Arabic and in his life talk about the harmony and how much there is in common between Islam and Judaism. I realized furthermore that there is not really that much misunderstanding between Judaism and Christianity. The misunderstanding is more between Muslims and Jews, so I started to invite Jews to go to the mosque and see how Muslims pray and the other way around – I took Muslims to the synagogue. I coordinated a number of lectures in universities and invited a Muslim Imam and a Jewish Rabbi to talk about medicine in Islam and Judaism, and ethics in Judaism and Islam. They realized after speaking, each individually, that they are virtually talking about the same thing.
I am now working on the House of Peace, a project that highlights Jerusalem as a place of peace for the three Abrahamic faiths. It displays images of the places that are holy in Jerusalem to Jews, Christians, and Muslims and together these create a vision of peace. Are people ever disappointed when similarities between their faiths are revealed? No, I think it is a relief, because these similarities are the common ground from which improved relations can begin. I’m not saying who is right and who is wrong, all I’m saying is that all the three faiths talk about peace, and I want to help foster this peace. I think tolerance is the wrong word to use because I tolerate something about you that I do not approve of. So let’s put that aside and replace it by saying, “Listen, I will learn about your way of life and I will respect it, and I expect you to learn about my way of life and respect it. That way we can live in peace and harmony. Each person has a different approach to and philosophy of religion and spirituality, what is yours? Religion is combined with spirituality. Religion and spirituality cannot be divided because they are intertwined. A lot of people take the spirituality side of it and run with it. It is much better if you stay right in between and consider religion as a ball of fire, stay close to it to keep warm but don’t try to throw yourself into it. I think when any of us hit hard times, become desperate, or have nowhere else to go we go back to our roots and we become very dependent on religion. Religion gives you a sort of morality, a guideline in your life that you should follow. Regardless of what sort of a background you have, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism, it doesn’t matter what it is. As long as there is a base for you to say to yourself, "Based on this force or understanding I am not to do x, y and z." It’s helpful. Every evening and sometimes every morning I look back at what I have done and judge myself for it. On Saturday, which is a Jewish holiday I sit for a few minutes, and personally take myself to court. I honestly believe that the only court in the world that does not need a judge is your conscience. Having already done a great deal for the progress of interfaith relations, what else do you believe could be done? I don’t think I’ve done a huge amount for interfaith relations. The more you learn in life and the more you achieve in life, the more you realize that there is still so much to do. Every chance I have, I look around and I follow a very simple rule. It was said by Moses, it was said by Jesus, and I think it was said by the Prophet Mohammed too, "What you don’t wish for your neighbour, don’t wish it for yourself." It highlights that every one of us at the end of the day is part of humanity. If you do something that brings pride to your community it is not only for you, it affects the other members of the community, and if you do something wrong that hurts somebody it’s not only hurting you, it will hurt all your fellow men. If everybody adopts this rule they’ll start thinking, "If I’m going to do something wrong in the name of my religion, I’m giving my
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Bifolio from a large copy of the holy Qur’an North Africa, early 11th century
The more you learn in life and the more you achieve in life, the more you realize that there is still so much to do religion a bad name. It might only affect me, but it will reflect back on the entire religion". I think the more we talk about the similarities between the religions, the more we quote from the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Qur’an and the more we bring scholars from each of these religions together we move to dilute ignorance amongst people. As long as the leaders of the three communities, be it the Pope, the Chief Rabbi or the Imam speak the same language and sing the same song, one of harmony and peace, we can reduce ignorance throughout the world and live with less problems than we have now. What role will art play in this? Each time I have an exhibition anywhere in the world, people come to see it regardless of whether they are Muslim, nonMuslim or from a different denomination, and they realize that culture is probably the easiest bridge between the faiths for people to cross. Beauty itself has a huge built-in message. A beautiful hadith [narratives containing the words and deeds of Issue 1564 • June 2011
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the Prophet] attributed to the Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon Him, says, “Truly God is beautiful and loves all beauty.” We used this quote as the motto of the exhibition we gave in Abu Dhabi. I made a seal out of it and gave it to the ruler of the country. Who is the person you admire most? Many, many people in the world, but when you think of a person like Ghandi, he epitomizes the philosophy and selflessness of life because all his life he decided that he was going to fulfil a vision of hundreds and millions of people without thinking for a minute about what was in it for himself. He lived in a simple room with one goat and materialism meant nothing to him, so he freed himself from materialism and connected himself to the spirituality of life. Once you have that sort of strength then you can call yourself a real leader. Is your family involved with what you do? They support me, it’s a bit difficult because sometimes they find it too overpowering, but what’s important is they are extremely supportive, and I am grateful for that. They understand that we must all contribute to humanity, and they are proud of what we as a family are achieving. Interview conducted by Amy Assad – A London based freelance writer, specializing in Middle Eastern art and culture.
â€˘ THE CRITICS
Setting Syria's Priorities Power and Policy in Syria by Radwan Ziadeh IB Tauris, 2011 In "Power and Policy in Syria," Radwan Ziadeh captures the essence of Syria's domestic, political and socio-economic scene better than any other book on the subject. In five chapters, this brief manuscript takes readers on a quick tour that covers a bit of history, some domestic politics, Syria's foreign policy and a concluding chapter on the nation's Islamist movement.
Radwan Ziadeh argues in his new book that Syria's current state of affairs can be traced back to what he calls the Third Republic, which started with the Ba'ath Party coup of 1963. According to Ziadeh, the First Republic extended between the country's independence from the French in 1946 and the union with Egypt in 1958. The Second Republic lasted until the union broke down in 1963, when a radical wing of the Ba'ath Party under Salah Jdid took over. In 1970, the party's military wing under Hafez Al-Assad executed the last of a series of coups that riddle Syria's history. Assad took control of the country. Ziadeh believes that Assad was hesitant at first. While effectively the ruler of Syria, he planned to stay prime minister and appoint a puppet president. Because the constitution stipulated that the country's president should be Muslim, and because Assad was Alawite, he first passed on the idea of becoming president but later changed his mind when his protege, Iranian-born Lebanese Shi'ite cleric Mussa Sadr, issued a verdict resolving that Alawites were Muslims. Once president, Assad consolidated his power by building a three-legged pyramid with him at its top and with prerogatives that made of him an undisputed autocrat. Assad realized his lack of constitutional legitimacy, so he turned to "revolutionary legitimacy." In 1973, he went to war with Israel "to liberate the Golan Heights, but he could only 'regain' Al-Qunaytirah." After the war, Assad received big money from oil-rich Arab countries. Together with Syria's oil-revenues, he lavishly spent on his extensive security system. Ziadeh calculates that today, there is one secret police operative for every 256 Syrians. Oblivious to domestic and economic issues, Assad focused his energy on foreign affairs, invading Lebanon in 1976 and siding with the United States in ejecting Saddam Hussein's Iraqi troops from Kuwait in 1991, after which Assad was rewarded and a "honeymoon" in relations with Washington ensued and lasted until 2001. Assad died in 2000. Before his death, he made sure to improve relations with all of Syria's neighbors. By the time his son Bashar had taken over, Syria was living in a more relaxed political atmosphere that came to be known as the Damascus Spring. Ziadeh was active in the debate that took place inside Syria at the time. The Damascus Spring, however, proved to be short-lived. "The Average age of the country's politicians was in excess of
60 years and almost all of them had risen through the ranks of the Ba'ath Party. Most of them had no academic qualifications or educational expertise and, furthermore, few had been given the opportunity to travel or to observe administrative, technical, scientific, political and social developments in the West," Ziadeh wrote. "For this reason, the country's leaders often had negative views of the projects introduced during the first two years of Bashar Assad's rule," he added. Ziadeh also wrote that there was "a sense in which the Syrian regime under the "eternal leader" Hafez Assad (as the official media called him) had been faultless, therefore, Bashar Assad has repeatedly refused to talk about 'reform' and has always answered his critics by saying the terms we use in Syria are development and modernization." But Ziadeh's perspective on a few foreign policy issues does not seem as informed as his knowledge of Syria's internal situation. He wrote that Lebanon's Hezbollah had scored a limited victory against Israel in 2006, "brought about by courageous defense and killing a large number of Israeli soldiers on the battlefield," and that the so-called victory "gave huge support to the Syrian position and enabled it to consider the option of resistance at a suitable opportunity in the Golan area." He does not reason, however, why in 2011, the "Syrian position" was still considering this "option of resistance" in the Golan area. Despite the book's shortcomings on Syria's foreign policy, Ziadeh correctly concludes that Damascus should in the future forget its foreign policy ambitions and focus instead on its domestic affairs. This Ziadeh calls "strategic withdrawal" or "strategic retraction." Ziadeh deserves all the credit for this book. His publishers IB Tauris, however, have done a lousy job. At a price of around $75, the book is riddled with language and factual mistakes. The manuscript seems to be a first draft that went to print without copy-editing. Errors include wrong names, such as "Major General Imad Aoun" (instead of Michel Aoun the Lebanese lawmakers), and assigning the date of the "Hezbollah armed attack on Beirut" as "23 March, 2008" instead of 7 May, 2008. Also according to this book, the Beirut Arab Peace Initiative with Israel was originally a Syrian idea before it was proposed by Saudi Arabia in 2002. In fact, Saudi Arabia was the first to float the idea at the Morocco Arab Summit in 1981, when it came to be known as the Eight-Point Peace Plan or the Fez Initiative. Other errors are as simple as considering that the United Arab Republic consisted of two regions, "Egypt (North) and Syria (South)." A look at the map would simply show that Syria is to the north of Egypt.
Oblivious to domestic and economic issues, Assad focused his energy on foreign affairs, invading Lebanon in 1976 and siding with the United States in ejecting Saddam Hussein's Iraqi troops from Kuwait in 1991
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Talking Shop Egypt in Transition Chatham House Workshop Report, April 2011 Chatham House’s April 2011 workshop report expresses the findings of a March discussion group held with numerous Egyptian citizens after President Mubarak’s departure. The report reaches obvious conclusions and fails to provide what participants expressed they need the most: improved internal dialogue between Egypt’s fracturing political groups.
For the Egypt in Transition report, Chatham House brought together a number of Egyptians for a dialogue on the country’s political transition for a discussion of current concerns and future goals. The report reaches rather obvious conclusions: Egyptians want a more inclusive and representative democratic government. They want a limited role for the military. They see western relations as damaged. While the workshop report gives clarity to the plethora of issues and concerns by emphasizing the agreed points, it offers no new information and reads more as an amalgamation of facts and sentiments already expressed by every major international (i.e. western) media outlet. The Egyptians who participated in the Chatham Housesponsored discussion are not named, likely in an effort to maintain their anonymity and promote candid discussion. It is not clear exactly which demographics were included, but it seems there is an inherent bias in the report as the participants no doubt have more amiable feelings toward the West since they were willing to take place in a western entity’s discussion group. It is not indicated how the participants were chosen. Were they solicited? Did they volunteer? What ages were they? What were their education levels? What was the men-women ratio? Were slum residents included? What is clear is that a Muslim Brotherhood (MB) perspective was left out. This fact alone indicates the potentially flawed nature of the report’s findings. This is also ironic, as the participants pushed for more inclusive dialogue between all groups in Egyptian society, including liberals, MB members, and the rural poor. But talking about talking is hardly taking a step in that direction, particularly when the talks have further alienated already marginalized groups. The exclusion of MB participants also presents a conflict of interest. Egyptian participants noted the damaged relations with the West, wherein the West is seen as a supporter more of Israel than a proponent of sincere democratic change in Egypt. However, they also discussed skepticism over the motives of NGOs and the fact that most programs and financial aid that originates from the West generally has strings attached to promote western goals rather than Egyptian. Unsurprisingly, there is a prevailing sense of mistrust and fear among participants regarding which political groups are colluding with whom, who is entering uneasy alliances and what is being said or what deals are being done behind closed doors. A lack of communication and internal dialogue contributes to this. Take, for example, the recent clashes between Coptic Christians and Muslims. The International Herald Tribune reports that these violent skirmishes have been caused by rumors of interfaith marriages—which so far, have not been validated. Issue 1564 • June 2011
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The role of the military, which stepped in immediately after Mubarak’s departure, was a contentious issue for the workshop participants. For them, the military is still an institution that represents the past regime and many feel it would be best to enact sweeping change across all of Egypt’s institutions. Certainly a purging of all personnel that hark back to the Mubarak era seems like a logical idea. But Egypt should at least learn from some of the difficulties discovered in post-Saddam Iraq. Purging all members of the government and launching a witch hunt for Ba’ath party members actually crippled Iraq’s political development because it eliminated the support and insight of some of the country’s most educated, respected and knowledgeable citizens. It is likely Egypt’s military members were also excluded from the Chatham House discussion group, but hopefully the participant’s hopes will somehow be communicated to Egypt’s armed forces. It is actually in the interest of the military, as a security and protection agency, to engage in more dialogue with Egyptian civilians. Its efforts to improve transparency would help quell some of the fears that feed into this environment of mistrust and frequently lead to violence. Additional solutions to some of the participants’ concerns were discussed at the workshop, albeit all too briefly. It was mentioned that creating a human rights monitoring group would be beneficial, but who would be responsible for forming such a group and which NGOs or entities might serve as partners in the endeavor are not considered. Similarly, there was talk of initiating a truth and reconciliation process, but no Mandela-esque figure was mentioned, leaving it unknown if that could be a viable route for guiding Egypt through the transition and healing the trauma of Mubarak’s oppressive rule. If the political vacuum is not navigated well, it leaves Egypt vulnerable to usurpation by another dictatorial power—be it a new politician supported by extremist rhetoric or a military that clamps down on civil liberties in the name of civil security. Yet security also cannot be overlooked. The violent insurgency in Afghanistan made some Afghans long for the rule of the Taliban that, while extreme and brutal, at least ensured a more stable environment than what has so far been achieved with the West’s intervention. So again, the role of the West is put under the microscope. How can it support organic democratic growth in Egypt without tainting the grassroots nature of the movement? This issue is up for debate, but it is clear that many Egyptians feel the West has to make amends for supporting Mubarak for so many years. The fortunate thing, as illuminated by the very fact that this workshop was held, is that there is an ongoing dialogue between Egypt and the West, and there is the intention within Egypt to promote more and better internal dialogue. It’s just time for NGOs like Chatham House to push for action. You can view the report in its entirety at http://www.chathamhouse.org. uk/publications/papers/view/-/id/1046/ 61
• THE FINAL WORD
Bashar’s First War… will it be his last? Adel Al-Toraifi
he Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), established by Uppsala University in the early 1970s, stipulated specific criteria for the classification of wars and conflicts, and provided mechanisms for measuring them (the UCDP is). According to the UCDP, recognized by numerous international organizations and bodies, one criterion for a war is the death toll, which must exceed 1,000 people killed directly in the armed conflict. Five months on from the beginning of the popular uprising in Syria, and the death toll has now exceeded 1,000, according to some sources. This means that what is happening in Syria is more than just protests, but rather a military operation, which has also resulted in the deaths of at least 120 police and military personnel, according to official reports. The Syrian authorities can cast doubt over the accuracy of these figures, and may decline to call what is happening there a war, yet the fact of the matter is that the regime has deployed its army, divided districts between its troops, and imposed a curfew. There can be no doubt that this is Bashar Al-Assad's first internal war, or let us say his first internal conflict, as he has been forced to mobilize his army in order to quell areas of civil strife. However, this is the second time that Al-Assad has issued his military with orders to move, following the humiliating withdrawal from Lebanon in April 2005. Currently, the regime is fighting to survive, and although five months have passed since the beginning of the popular uprising in Syria, the authorities seem to be unable to quell the insurgency, whilst at the same time they are facing tremendous international pressures and sanctions for regime change. There is almost unanimous agreement that no matter what happens, the Al-Assad regime will not be as strong as it was in the past. Yet, others believe that the regime's days are numbered. Prominent Egyptian playwright Ali Salem wrote an article entitled, "This is the era of collapsing dictatorships," in which he said that the Arab regime—any Arab regime—can no longer manage its affairs via a military dictatorship or by means of deceit. In this article, he referred to one of my previous articles, in which I asked what would happen if the Assad regime successfully remained in power (“What if the demonstrations in Syria fail?” 28/04/2011). Mr. Salem considers what happened in the Arab world to be nothing more than an extension of the collapse of dictatorships and totalitarian regimes, which began after World War II and continued through to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Salem said that he believed that the wave of change arrived late in the Middle East to uncover the false slogans of our regimes. Ali Salem is correct in his assessments, for a number of Arab regimes—not to mention the Ba’athist and the Arab socialist regimes—based their legitimacy on a mountain of lies, and there can be no doubt that these lies have today been exposed.
However, allow me to add that the crisis is not only in the presence of dictatorial regimes, but that the existence of dictatorships in the past was a justification for such lies. The problem is more than the existence of dictatorial regimes, or such regimes resorting to deceit in order to gain false legitimacy. Rather, the problem can be seen in everyone believing outdated ideas, such as nationalist or extreme religious views, or "the resistance," and other such ideas, as well as in people's inability to move beyond such ideas and viewpoints. The result of this is that people continued to be ruled by dictatorial regimes, which told them what they wanted to hear, but acted otherwise. The Syrian regime may succeed in remaining in power despite all the surrounding circumstances. Its Iranian allies may offer assistance and advise it on the mechanisms through which it can circumvent international sanctions through trading in the black market. Al-Assad might emerge from this crisis as a weak and illegitimate figure in the eyes of the majority of his people, but as long as there are still those who defend his rule, he will remain a ruler, even if this is a ruler of a small piece of land. He is convinced of his own position, and will continue to believe that others, even his own people, are acting against his interest. The real problem with Al-Assad is the values and principles that he and his party believe in. We should remember that a number of such regimes, which are regarded as lacking legitimacy by their own people, have managed to remain in power not only because of their physical capacity or because they know how to lie and deceive, but because many people are ignorant of how to establish a form of legitimacy that is acceptable to everybody, and that looks out for the general interest. In Syria, the minorities and a section of the middle class—both of whom sided with Al-Assad, not out of faith in him but rather out of fear of their own futures— have perhaps accepted their dictator remaining in power. However, this gives rise to a question: What is preventing another dictator, or another totalitarian regime, ruling them however he likes? It is clear that some people would prefer to be ruled by a dictator whom they know rather than the unclear form of government—whether this is sectarian or religious—that may emerge in the future.
There can be no doubt that this is Bashar Al-Assad's first internal war, or let us say his first internal conflict, as he has been forced to mobilize his army in order to quell areas of civil strife
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