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International Think Tanks Resources Issue 28
Table of Content
Libya
• • • • Fighting in Libya: The Military Balance……………………………………………………………………………….2 Steven Heydemann on Libya……………………………………………………………..……………………………….5 Do No-Fly Zones Work?........................................................................................................6 Bahrain’s Shia Question……………………………………………………………………………………………..………8 Is Syria the Next Domino?..................................................................................................11 Rage Comes to Baghdad………………………………………………………………………………………………..…13 Up in Arms……………………………………………………………………………………………………………….………16 Saving the Egyptian Revolution………………………………………………………………………………………..18 Egypt’s Draft Constitutional Amendments Answer Some Questions and Raise Others………20 Women and Egypt's Revolution………………………………………………………………………………………..24 Saudi Arabia's Musk Revolution……………………………………………………………………………………….26 Yes, It Could Happen Here…………………………………………………………………………….………………….28 Roil, Jordan?......................................................................................................................32 Oman's Days of Rage……………………………..…………………………………………………………………………35 Of Revolutions, Regime Change, and State Collapse in the Arab World…………………….………37 A legacy of violence……………………………………………………………………………………….…………………40 Iran's reformists under fire……………………………………………………………………………….……………..42 New Evidence of Iran's Nuclear Ambitions……………………………………………………………………….45 Turkey's New a la Carte Nerve………………………………………………………………………………………….47 China Reacts to Middle East Unrest………………………………………………………………………………….49

Bahrain: Syria:

Iraq:
• • • • • • • • • • •

Egypt:

Saudi Arabia:

Jordan: Oman: Revolutions in the Arab world

Iran:
• • • •

Turkey: China:

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Fighting in Libya: The Military Balance
By: Jeffrey White . Source: The Washington Institute Date: Mar 2, 2011
Jeffrey White is a defense fellow at The Washington Institute, specializing in military and security affairs.

The uprising in Libya has evolved into a significant military struggle. The Qadhafi regime and, to a lesser extent, its opponents are employing substantial levels of violence, including the use of heavy weapons. Thousands have been killed and wounded. At the moment, the military balance lies somewhat in favor of the opposition. Regime forces have suffered significant losses in weapons systems and personnel, and have had difficulty retaking areas. Nevertheless, the government is fighting hard to hold onto Tripoli and drive the opposition out of cities it has seized. The regime is not yet out of the fight, and a prolonged, violent struggle is shaping up. Course and Geography of the Conflict The conflict erupted over a wide area of Libya beginning on February 15, with civil disturbances in Tripoli and Benghazi spreading rapidly to other cities and intensifying. At least twenty-two cities have been caught up in the turmoil, most prominently the key coastal communities where most of the population and oil export terminals are concentrated. Urban areas in the interior, including the far south, have also been involved. By February 23, the regime had effectively lost the east, with Benghazi, al-Bayda, Ajdabiya, Darnah, Tobruk, and other cities under opposition control. The opposition has been less successful in the west, although it has taken several major communities, such as the hotly disputed Misratah, which fell on February 27, and Zawiyah. Even in these cases, however, regime forces are reportedly still operating nearby and attempting counterattacks to retake the cities. Meanwhile, Tripoli remains under regime control, and the opposition appears to have been largely suppressed there. Major Military Developments Several factors have influenced the course of the fighting. First was the regime's collapse in the east within only a few days, a development attributed to surprise at the scale and scope of the demonstrations, the defection of regular army personnel, and the opposition's determination even in the face of serious violence. Second was the relative effectiveness of opposition forces. With primitive or light weapons (at least initially), little apparent organization, and little or no military training, the demonstrators succeeded in overcoming government security forces. The opposition has since become better armed and organized thanks to the participation of former regime military personnel.

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Third was the collapse of cohesion within the regular military. As early as February 17, some regime security personnel were refusing to fight or were even defecting. This unraveling has continued, weakening the regime's ability to respond and boosting the opposition's capabilities. Fourth was the regime's willingness to deploy heavy weapons against the opposition. Tanks, artillery, antiaircraft guns, and fixed- and rotary-wing combat aircraft have all been used in the fighting. Most of these developments have favored the opposition. To be sure, the regime continues to control key areas in the west, carry out coordinated operations, and conduct long-range reinforcement activities and local tactical and operational movement. Yet its limited ability to retake other areas suggests difficulties in massing and coordinating large forces and a lack of willingness among certain personnel to engage in serious fighting. Types of Forces The regime has used at least five different kinds of forces against the opposition: regular army, air force, and navy units; regime security forces, including the well-equipped Khamis Brigade, a praetorian unit named after and led by one of Qadhafi's sons; organized, government-sponsored militia elements; foreign and domestic mercenaries; and pro-regime civilians who have been provided with light arms. Although the performance of these elements has been mixed, the government has been able to hold on wherever it has achieved a substantial concentration of forces. Opposition forces appear to consist of two types: large numbers of essentially unarmed or lightly armed demonstrators, and military personnel who have defected from the regime, including perhaps some small units. Some opposition elements have been observed using military weapons (e.g., tanks, armored infantry fighting vehicles, heavy antiaircraft machine guns, antitank weapons), but with little apparent organization. This is in addition to the large numbers of military-type small arms now in their possession. Regime Tactics The government's approach has centered on holding or retaking cities and airfields. The fight for the cities is the primary struggle, but airfields have emerged as important places from which the regime can assert residual control, such as supporting air strikes and troop movements. Qadhafi apparently seeks to establish and secure an area of control from Marsa al-Burayqah in the east to the Tunisian border. Regime tactics against the opposition have included the use of snipers, heavy automatic weapons, tear gas, and rubber bullets. In addition, roving patrols of mercenaries and militia have employed live fire to clear and control the streets and prevent demonstrations from forming. In areas where the regime has lost control, it is using a combination of heavy and light forces to conduct counterattacks. The regime has employed fighter jets and helicopters to attack arms depots and communications facilities seized by the opposition and is using transport aircraft and helicopters to move forces. Indeed, the threat of air attack has been a significant concern for opposition forces. The regime is also employing information operations to control the flow of information and the narrative of the struggle. These actions have included disrupting communications, limiting the information available to both the Libyan public and the external world, and engaging in extensive pro-regime propaganda activity. Outlook
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Initial expectations that the opposition's progress was unstoppable have been somewhat blunted -- the regime has proven more resilient than it appeared to be in the early days of the uprising. No matter how bizarre Qadhafi's public appearances have been, loyalists are mounting an organized and determined fight to preserve his rule. For its part, the opposition has been hampered by lack of military organization, limited firepower, and emergent political rivalries. It has already shown some difficulty in mounting an effort to seize Tripoli by force or to reinforce other disputed areas. All of these factors suggest that the fight may be protracted and costly. Still, the opposition seems to have the upper hand. It has great determination, the support of a significant part of the population (although not all of it), and control over many key cities. Meanwhile, the regime has lost much of its military capacity and has no way to rebuild it, at least in the short term. With no real foreign allies to call upon, it is essentially fighting to retain control of an enclave within the country. The conflict will likely evolve in one of three broad directions: 1. The regime could collapse quickly under the pressure of continuing opposition advances, its own isolation, and disintegration within the security forces. 2. A prolonged struggle could develop because neither side has the capability to quickly defeat the other. This could result in a period of continuing clashes, perhaps some form of negotiations, and regime attempts to break its isolation through promises of reform. 3. By taking advantage of opposition infighting and logistical problems, the regime could begin to reassert itself and retake lost areas. Of the three scenarios, the second seems most likely, as both sides lack the offensive capability to bring the conflict to a rapid conclusion. Implications A prolonged struggle would have several important consequences. First, as the fighting became more serious, casualties would increase, as would damage to the economy and infrastructure. This would heighten humanitarian concerns and produce more internal and external refugees. Second, increasing casualties or a protracted conflict would increase pressure for external military intervention. Most of the attention so far has been on establishing no-fly zones, but these may be inadequate to deal with Qadhafi's remaining forces. The regime's key instruments are ground units, so no-drive zones or airstrikes would likely be needed to truly curtail its ability to move against the opposition. ********************

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Steven Heydemann on Libya
By: Steven Heydemann. Source: United States Institute Of Peace Date: Feb 25, 2011
Steven Heydemann serves as vice president of the Grants and Fellowships program and as special adviser to the Muslim World Initiative.

What do you make of the current situation in Libya? How do you think it might impact the region considering the events that took place in Egypt? The current situation in Libya is deeply distressing. The violence being directed against the Libyan people by the regime of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi is an outrage that is appropriately being condemned around the world, including by the United States. The rapid and largely peaceful collapse of authoritarian regimes in Egypt and Tunisia might have contributed to a sense among Libyan citizens that they too could push a long-serving authoritarian ruler out of power through peaceful protests. Qaddafi, however, seems to have drawn different conclusions from mass uprisings across the region. One lesson is that if the Egyptian and Tunisian regimes had used more force, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Tunisian President Zein al-Abdin Bin Ali might still be in power. A second is that local armed forces are not to be trusted. Qaddafi has, instead, relied on armed units that were recruited on the basis of their political loyalty and, according to reliable reports in the media, mercenary forces recruited from Sub-Saharan Africa. The result has been carnage and a deepening conflict in which unarmed citizens confront much better equipped forces loyal to the regime. The international community has responded through international institutions like the U.N. and the African Union by imposing sanctions against the Libyan government, and by mobilizing humanitarian assistance. Additional measures, such as imposing a no-fly zone over Libya to further isolate pro-Qaddafi forces, are under active consideration, and seem likely to have support from the U.S. government. Despite having a military advantage, it seems likely that the Qaddafi regime will eventually fall, leaving terrible destruction in its wake. Both the intensity of the Libyan conflict, and the extent to which the Qaddafi regime had for decades weakened formal political institutions and undermined frameworks for social organization, mean that the struggle to construct a democratic political order in Libya will be enormously challenging, and could fail. Like the Albania of Enver Hoxa, the Libya of Muammar al-Qaddafi will require significant support to overcome the legacies of 42 years of misrule. The presence of large and easily available oil reserves creates opportunities to manage such a transition with less economic stress than in some other cases. Yet the governance of oil resources itself poses important challenges. What is the U.S.’s relationship with Libya? How might the current events change that relationship? At present, the U.S.-Libyan relationship is not strong. The U.S. broke off diplomatic relations with Libya in 1981, prohibited imports of Libyan oil in 1982, and subsequently imposed a variety of economic sanctions on the Libyan government in response to Libya’s role as a sponsor and organizer of terrorism. In 1991, the U.S. indicted Libyan nationals for their role in the December 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. Clandestine Libyan efforts to develop a nuclear weapons capability exacerbated tensions between Libya and the U.S. In 2003, Libya abandoned its nuclear weapons program and in exchange the U.S. reestablished diplomatic relations. Nonetheless, the relationship was not a warm one, and continued to be marked by significant tensions and disagreements. The U.S. government welcomes the possibility of a democratic transition in Libya, but acknowledges the difficulties that such a transition will need to overcome if it is to succeed. Immediate U.S. priorities for Libya include humanitarian assistance for
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Libyans affected by the current conflict, protection of U.S. citizens still trapped in Libya, and strong support for diplomatic efforts to bring about Qaddafi’s removal from power. Should these efforts succeed, it is likely that the U.S. would stand ready to assist in the establishment of a new, independent and democratic government in Libya, should Libyans themselves request such assistance. *******************

Do No-Fly Zones Work?
By: Joshua E. Keating. Source: Foreign Policy Date: Feb 28, 2011
Joshua E. Keating is an associate editor at Foreign Policy

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged on Monday that the United States and its allies are actively considering imposing a no-fly zone over Libya as a means to prevent Muammar al-Qaddafi's government from cracking down on rebel forces as the country seemingly spirals into civil war. There have been widespread reports of Libyan Air Force jets bombing and firing on protesters; rebels reportedly shot down a plane while it was firing on an anti-Qaddafi radio station on Feb. 28. Some 200 Arab groups from throughout the Middle East signed a letter over the weekend in support of a U.N. sponsored no-fly zone. How exactly do these zones work? It depends on the circumstances. There are two primary types of no-fly zones imposed by air forces. The first is imposed by one military over another, while the two sides are at war. In practice, this type of nofly zone amounts to a warning from one side that it will engage the other's aircraft if they are spotted in a given territory. The second type, more applicable to the situation in Libya, is when an outside power possessing overwhelming air superiority restricts flights over a given country in order to discourage an internal conflict or humanitarian crisis. This is a relatively recent tactic, which was used most famously in Bosnia and Iraq during the 1990s. No-fly zones are often a compromise in situations where the international community is demanding a response to ongoing violence, but full military intervention would be politically untenable. The establishment of no-fly zones is authorized under Chapter 42 of the U.N. Charter, which states that if non-military methods are insufficient for responding to a threat to international peace, "demonstrations, blockade, and other operations by air, sea, or land forces of Members of the United Nations" may be employed. That's pretty vague, so the actual terms and rules of engagement are set up in the resolution that authorizes any specific no-fly zone. In the case of Bosnia, "Operation Deny Flight" as it was called, was imposed by U.N. Security Council Resolution 816 in 1993, and applied to all "fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft in the airspace of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina." The already established U.N. Protection Force was charged with monitoring the airspace as well as authorizing exceptions to the ban, such as humanitarian aid flights. Deny Flight followed an earlier, less-stringent operation -- Sky Monitor - under which only military flights were banned and U.N. Forces only could only document violations, rather than engaging the aircraft.
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The ban made sense for the Yugoslav war, as virtually all the fixed-wing military aircraft in the region were under the control of one side -- the Bosnian Serbs. The zone was tested on Feb. 28, 1994, when six Serbian fighter planes were shot down by U.S. Air Force F-16s, in what became known as the Banja Luka incident. The effectiveness of Deny Flight, however, is debatable. NATO credits it with removing air power as a weapon for the Bosnian Serb forces and pushing the conflict toward an earlier conclusion. Critics contend that it did little to prevent the worst abuses of the conflict, including the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. The mission was later expanded into an active NATO bombing campaign. The other most notable examples of no-fly zones were those imposed by the United States and its allies over northern and southern Iraq following the 1991 Gulf War. Operations Northern Watch and Southern Watch (later, Southern Focus) aimed to prevent Saddam Hussein's air force from attacking Iraq's Kurdish and Shiite minorities. (Iraqi Mig and Mirage fighter planes were used in the 1988 gas attack on the Kurdish city of Halabja, which killed up to 5,000 people.) Unlike Deny Flight, the Iraqi operations were never specifically authorized by the U.N. Security Council. The United States, Britain, and France claimed authority under Security Council Resolution 678, which stated that member states could use "all necessary means" to ensure that Iraq complied with its postwar disarmament obligations. However, many observers felt there was no basis in international law for the zones and the debate over their legality continues to this day. The mechanism for enforcing a no-fly zone depends on the situation and the country doing the enforcement. In the case of Iraq, the zones were monitored by AWACS surveillance planes that would contact allied fighter jets, which flew regular missions, if a violation was detected. The operation was relatively effective -- very few violations of the zones were recorded between the end of the Gulf War and the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 when it was finally lifted -- though human rights abuses against the southern Shiites by Iraqi ground forces continued. For those who argue that a no-fly zone would hasten Qaddafi's departure from power, it's also worth considering that Saddam Hussein ruled under one for over a decade. But the Iraqi experience also demonstrated the dangers of no-fly zones: In a 1994 incident, two U.S. Blackhawk helicopters were shot down by American F-15 fighters after being mistaken for Iraqi aircraft. In the case of Libya, nearby Italy has suggested that it might allow its military bases to be used to stage the enforcement of a no-fly zone. The U.S. has its own airbase in the country as well. The United States is also positioning an aircraft carrier off the coast of Libya, which a Pentagon spokesman said will "provide flexibility" for future military options. The main obstacle to imposing a no-fly zone on Libya may be political, rather than military: U.N. diplomats say that 15-member Security Council is unlikely to agree to a zone unless there's a dramatic escalation of violence by the Libyan Air Force, and this time, it's unlikely the United States or its allies have the appetite to go it alone. In any case, while a no-fly zone could presumably prevent Qaddafi's planes from firing on protesters or rebel forces, it would do nothing to stop his ground forces and mercenaries from continuing their assault. Given the limited utility then, the U.S. and its allies must now decide if all the trouble involved in setting up a zone -- including inevitable questions of legality -- are worth the risk. ********************

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Bahrain’s Shia Question
By: KRISTIN SMITH DIWAN. Source: Foreign Affairs Date: Mar 2, 2011
KRISTIN SMITH DIWAN is Assistant Professor of Comparative and Regional Studies at the School of International Service at American University.

Summary: The democratic uprising taking place in Bahrain has been accompanied by concerns of Shia insurrection and resurgent Iranian influence. The United States should not buy into this fear. The spirit of Cairo’s Tahrir Square was reborn on February 16, as a diverse group of Bahrainis gathered in Pearl Square in Manama, the country’s capital. Two days before, a Facebook-organized “Day of Rage” had ended in two deaths as security forces cracked down on protesters. Now, the demonstrators marched from the funeral toward Pearl Square’s traffic roundabout, determined to continue the fight for a new Bahrain. Officials from the main Shia political society, the Islamic National Accord Association (AlWefaq) brought cleaning supplies to scrub graffiti off the Pearl Square fountain. The leader of the leftist secular National Democratic Action Society (Wa’ad) movement spoke of Bahrain’s proud history of crosssectarian labor activism and proposed the formation of a new national organization to press for a genuine constitutional monarchy. Shia and Sunni prayed together. By nightfall, thousands of unaligned Bahrainis had crowded the square to join what, by then, felt like a celebration. Yet that celebration was cruelly extinguished at three in the morning by a surprise police attack on the sleeping encampments. Security forces wounded hundreds and killed four in the brutally efficient raid. Even health workers seeking to aid the wounded were attacked. By morning, the space where Bahrain’s pro-democracy activists, Shia and Sunni, had come together was encased in barbed wire. The ruling alKhalifa monarchy did not want that unity to continue. Like much of the news media covering Bahrain’s uprising, it prefers a simpler narrative of Shia against Sunni. Just as Hosni Mubarak held Egypt hostage for decades to a false choice between staying loyal to his regime or facing an Islamist takeover, the ruling al-Khalifa family resisted democratic reform by presenting themselves as protectors of the Sunni community against the Shia majority. The extraordinary meeting of foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in Bahrain on the same day as the Pearl Square raid both reinforced and broadened this threat by sharply denouncing foreign (read: Iranian) intervention in Gulf countries. During the meeting and since, the GCC have been reviving the fear that plagued the region after Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution -- that Iran would foment unrest among Shia communities of the Gulf. The GCC warning resonates in the United States, which bases its Fifth Naval Fleet in Bahrain and is locked in its own confrontation with Iran. But it should not. In fact, separate from the Iranian question, the empowerment of the Shia majority is a necessary component of political liberalization. Shias should be able to engage as full citizens, and their role in building Bahrain should be respected. This would be the best way to curb Iranian influence. A more democratic Bahrain that fully integrates its Shia public would be less susceptible to appeals from the Islamic Republic. Over time, the political relevance of Shia
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identity might even decrease, since Shias would have less reason to seek communal protection from a discriminatory state. Contrary to Western fears and the Bahraini regime’s announcements, the country’s largely Shia opposition movement is not an Iranian implant. Indeed, its strength is a product of the Bahraini government’s own policies. Al-Wefaq, for example, is a deeply communal movement that emerged in the wake of the violent suppression of a Shia uprising in the 1990s. When I met with the movement’s quietly charismatic leader, Sheikh Ali Salman, a number of years ago, he explained that “the best democracy is practiced on the street,” meaning that the key to effective political change is constant communication with the people. It is this connection, combined with its religious legitimacy, that allows Al-Wefaq to mobilize Bahrainis so impressively when it wants to. Even in 2005, it drew more than 50,000 Shia -- nearly one in ten Bahrainis -- to a demonstration in support of constitutional reform, a demand that still unites protesters of all factions today. Those protests were ultimately unsuccessful. In 2006, Al-Wefaq ended a four-year boycott of the parliament, demonstrating a willingness to work within a flawed system and accept the necessity of incremental reform. The move was costly for the Shia opposition. One of Al-Wefaq’s founders, Hassan Mushaima, left in protest to form a rival organization, the Haq Movement for Liberty and Democracy. This would have been a tremendous opportunity for the al-Khalifa government to broaden its legitimacy, but instead of reaching out to Al-Wefaq -- inviting cooperation to lessen systematic discrimination against Shias in housing, government hiring practices, and political districting -- the ruling family worked to isolate the Shia opposition. So although it portrayed the Shias as dangerously sectarian, in reality it was the one fomenting sectarian distrust. By gerrymandering districts and holding strategic naturalizations of Sunnis from neighboring states, the regime prevented Al-Wefaq from gaining its rightful majority position in the elected lower house. At the same time, the government prevented the popular leftist cross-sectarian opposition headed by Wa’ad from gaining any parliamentary seats. As a result, the 2006 parliament was a strictly sectarian affair in which Sunni Islamists from both the Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood traditions faced off against the cleric-led Al-Wefaq. This composition belied the diverse views of the Bahraini public and solidified sectarian identities in the formal political sphere. Still, the al-Khalifa regime’s strategy did little to advance its stability. Indeed, it ultimately cost it a precious asset: a legitimate national Shia movement willing to work within the system. Al-Wefaq’s minority position in parliament left it burdened with the responsibility of governance without the structural power to force accountability and change. Former supporters decried Al-Wefaq’s inability to curb royal corruption while at the same time supporting the implementation of the Gulf’s first income tax. Disillusionment returned to the Shia street -- a wave of tire-burning protests hit Shia villages, and the popularity of Haq rose. The organization’s confrontational program of civil disobedience and international human rights activism siphoned support from al-Wefaq, particularly among the youth. The regime responded forcefully and brutally in 2010, arresting 23 dissidents, including human rights workers and a well-known blogger, allegedly subjecting some to torture while in detention. The outbreak of the Arab revolutions this year, then, came at a critical point in the evolution of Bahrain’s opposition politics. By providing a model of regime change through mass protest, the Tunisian and Egyptian examples reinforced the Bahraini opposition’s drift away from formal politics back into the street. The protests across the Arab world returned the opposition’s focus to core democratic issues:
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freedom and dignity. The al-Khalifa regime’s lethal crackdown hardened its resolve. Many in Bahrain now want more than constitutional reformation. They want to achieve what Tunisia and Egypt have done -- to fell the regime. After the violence in Pearl Square, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa apparently regained control from a hardline faction of the ruling family that had been running the crackdown, and tried to appease demonstrators by calling for national unity and a dialogue among all parties. To entice the opposition to enter negotiations, the King has met two of their key demands -- withdrawing troops from the streets, allowing the protesters to retake the symbolic Pearl Square, and releasing hundreds of prisoners, including the prominent Shia dissidents he had accused of plotting terrorism. But by calling all Bahraini factions to the table to talk, the regime has effectively diluted the opposition’s power by adding more conservative and pro-monarch parties to the conversation. The rival rallies held on February 21 by the opposition in Pearl Square and by monarchy loyalists in AlFateh mosque reinforced the image of a society hopelessly divided between Shia democrats and Sunni monarchists. The potential for sectarian polarization to harden to the point where compromise is impossible is real, but it belies the fluid situation on the ground. Fearing the loss of national unity, all sides present themselves as speaking for all Bahrainis, regardless of religion. The mass of people in control of Pearl Square still contains a number of cross-sectarian democratic and labor movements. And even the ostensibly pro-monarchy gathering at Al-Fateh mosque challenged the monarchy to enact deeper social and political reforms. As attention drifts elsewhere in the Middle East, the Bahraini public is still politically mobilized to an astonishing degree. It will take tremendous skill to find a solution that will avoid dangerous sectarian polarization and further bloodshed. Not having taken advantage of Al-Wefaq’s parliamentary inclusion, the al-Khalifa family now faces the street. The street wants revolution, but the majority of the Sunni community will not support the fall of the monarchy, and Saudi Arabia, just across the causeway, will not allow it. The best solution is reform -- substantial reform -- to put the island on the path of genuine constitutional monarchy. The U.S. confrontation with Iran has heightened sectarian tensions across the Middle East. Bahrain offers an opportunity to push back against this dangerous trend. The promise of the Pearl uprising -- that Bahraini Shia could be integrated through a broader democratic movement -- should be realized. Although the empowerment of Shias poses some risks, the alternative is much worse. If the Gulf’s first attempt at an Egypt-inspired democratic revolution ends in sectarian strife and violent suppression of the Shia majority, the unrest will not be restricted to the tiny island. And the government in Iran will find a much more receptive political environment across Arabia for its hard-line message. *********************

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Is Syria the Next Domino?
By: Ribal Al-Assad. Source: Project Syndicate Date: Mar 02, 2011
Ribal Al-Assad is Director of the Organization for Democracy and Freedom in Syria.

LONDON – With the Tunisian and Egyptian regimes gone and street protests roiling cities from Algiers to Tehran, many people are now wondering which domino might fall next. Syria, whose secular, militarized dictatorship most closely resembles the fallen regimes of Tunisia and Egypt, may not be next in line, but appears nonetheless to be approaching a tipping point. Of course, the old “domino theory” in international relations was only a crude way of emphasizing that different parts of any region are linked to each other. For today’s Arab world, a better metaphor might be a chessboard, from which the removal of even a pawn inevitably alters the relationships among all the other pieces. Today, as protests mount and multiply, the government of every Arab state in the Middle East and North Africa probably believes that, if left to its own devices, it can contain internal dissent. In Syria, it seems inevitable that protest may soon crack the regime’s brittle political immobility. Most ordinary Syrians face extremely difficult economic and social conditions, including high unemployment, rising food prices, constraints on personal freedom, and endemic corruption. These factors are no different from those that brought people on to the streets in North Africa and the Middle East. What began as protests over living conditions became full-scale demands for freedom and democracy. The regime in Damascus is fearful of similar unrest, as it should be. The best way to avoid a confrontation between the people and the security forces is a process of genuine reform leading to elections and a government of national unity. The ingrained inertia of the current regime, however, seems to preclude any early move toward that. Instead, Syria’s rulers are offering inducements to ensure that key constituencies remain in line – laptops for teachers, subsidies for public-sector workers, and empty reformist rhetoric. But the current situation calls for far more serious measures. Lifting the state of emergency that has been in force since 1963 – giving sweeping powers to the regime and its security services – would be both a symbolic and tangible step in the right direction. Unless Syria’s rulers, like other leaders in the Arab world, begin to appreciate that freedom is a fundamental human right, even the most quiescent people’s patience may wear dangerously thin. High food prices may have served as a trigger in North Africa, but the speed with which the protesters turned their attention to political reform caught everyone off guard. Putting this genie back in its bottle would be virtually impossible without bloodshed of the type we are now witnessing in some parts of the Arab world. So the Syrian leadership knows that it must respond – hence the half-hearted reform agenda that it recently outlined. But trying to address deep-rooted
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popular grievances with flowery language and a bouquet of subsidies is like trying to extinguish a forest fire with a water pistol. The solutions to Syria’s problems must be as substantive as the problems are serious. Until now, Syria’s rulers have relied on their anti-Israel, anti-Western rhetoric to protect themselves. But cries about the Israel-Palestine conflict were rarely heard in the protests in Tunis and Cairo. Furthermore, in the last few years, when Israeli planes struck targets in Syria, there was no answer from the regime – and still none when Israeli planes flew over the presidential palace. The regime claims that it is part of the 'resistance' with its senior partner Iran. However the WikiLeaks cables show that the Syrian leadership told the Iranian regime not to count on it in any war with Israel because it is too weak. So the regime is making a fatal error if it thinks that its old diversionary tactics will continue to provide it with immunity. On the contrary, with a young, well-educated population unable to find suitable work, the regime has created its own cadre of potential protestors, who are aware that it is using empty slogans to keep the state of emergency and stay in power. The Syrian people are strong, patient, resilient, and resourceful. Family and social bonds remain potent in the face of adversity. When food is scarce, people share. When the regime cracks down on the Internet, people use proxy servers. But they should not have to make do. They should not have to risk their safety when they seek to engage with the world online. No one wants to see the streets of Damascus consumed in protest, or a violent confrontation erupt between protesters and security forces. What the Syrian people want is a meaningful dialogue with the regime. The regime must appreciate that, despite its best efforts, Syrians have been watching events in the region with as much interest as the rest of the world. Syria’s people may have no predilection for violence, but the birth of freedom, once witnessed, is not easily forgotten – or trumped by state handouts and vacuous statements by a distant, self-isolated leadership. People said the Berlin Wall would not fall. They said that Mubarak would not stand down. And still some say that Syria cannot change. But Syria will change, and I, like my compatriots, pray that when change comes, it is peaceful and harmonious. *********************

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Rage Comes to Baghdad
By: RAAD ALKADIRI . Source: Foreign Affairs Date: Mar 3, 2011
RAAD ALKADIRI is a Partner at PFC Energy. He was Assistant Private Secretary to the United Kingdom Special Representative to Iraq from 2003 to 2004 and Political Adviser to the United Kingdom’s Ambassador to Iraq from 2006 to 2007.

Summary: Although the current protests in Iraq are unlikely to lead to the country's collapse, Iraqis’ patience with their government’s inadequacies is wearing thin. Should Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki be nervous? Saddam Hussein may have been overthrown in 2003, but the dawn of more representative government in Iraq has not inoculated the country from the popular unrest now sweeping through the Arab world. Over the past month, demonstrations protesting the woeful lack of services and widespread corruption have taken place throughout the country. These culminated in a violent “day of rage” in a number of Iraqi cities, including one in Baghdad on February 25 that left more than 20 protesters dead. These protests have not reached the scale of those witnessed in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia, and demonstrators have not demanded regime change per se. Nonetheless, the tight security measures taken to contain the “day of rage” protests in Baghdad -- including blocking access to the city and putting a tight military cordon around Tahrir Square, the focal point of the demonstrations -- and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s efforts to link the unrest to al Qaeda and Baathist provocateurs suggest that his government is rattled. And with good cause, because if Baghdad cannot respond effectively to popular demands, the current government’s political survival is no less at stake than those in Cairo, Tripoli, and Tunis. Although there is undoubtedly an element of contagion influencing events in Iraq, which began with small demonstrations in Baghdad led by intellectuals and professionals, the protests there are driven by local grievances. Popular anger at the persistent lack of services -- especially electricity -- has been rising steadily over the past few years. Demonstrations protesting power shortages occurred in Basra last summer, expressing a frustration common to Iraqis across the country; some parts of Baghdad, for example, received around two hours of electricity per day from the national grid in early February. Iraqis also share growing resentment toward pervasive government corruption, a factor that has been particularly important in driving demonstrations against the regional administration in Kurdistan. Iraq ranked 175 out of 178 countries on Transparency International’s 2010 corruption index. Meanwhile, there is broad resentment of the high salaries and generous benefits that public officials have granted themselves, especially given the government’s apparent ineptitude. None of these grievances is new; Iraqis have complained about poor services and unresponsive government since the U.S. invasion in 2003. But in the bloody, chaotic years that followed Hussein’s fall, security was the biggest popular concern. Now that levels of violence have diminished, Iraqis’ patience with their government’s inadequacies is wearing thin.

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Iraq’s leaders were slow to recognize this simmering popular frustration. In the early days of unrest in Egypt and Tunisia, Iraqi officials were blasé and almost smug, lecturing their Arab counterparts on the need for democratic government and dismissing the chances of similar disturbances in Iraq. The warnings that were issued over the risk of domestic turbulence had a clear political bent and seemed to be aimed more at casting aspersions on Maliki’s leadership than anything else. Consequently, Baghdad was caught unawares when protests did break out in the capital and in cities such as Mosul in early February, and its initial response was rather panicked. Following a now welltrodden path, Maliki announced on February 5 that he would not seek reelection for a third term, only for his official spokesman to claim a day later that the prime minister had been misquoted. Maliki, his cabinet ministers, and members of the Council of Representatives also discussed slashing their salaries. As a temporary measure to compensate for the poor state of services, the government pledged free electricity for approximately one million of Iraq’s poorest families. Maliki also promised that every person would be given 15,000 dinars (roughly $13) as compensation for deficiencies in the national ration card system, a program to supply basic foodstuffs that was first introduced by Saddam Hussein in the early 1990s, when Iraq was under international sanctions. Faced with continuing protests, the government followed up with a slew of other initiatives, including shifting spending priorities in the 2011 budget. The state will double its spending on the national ration card and increase capital spending on infrastructure projects at the expense of current spending (although its room for maneuver is limited, as the latter is dedicated mostly to salaries and wages). Most government officials have escaped salary reductions for the moment, but the prime minister, president, and speaker of the Iraqi parliament will assume 20 percent pay cuts. To address energy concerns, Maliki separately announced that factories will be removed from the national electricity grid between May and September to divert more power to households, and he has proposed a plan to distribute small generators to villages to supplement patchy national distribution. These proposals have yet to mollify the protesters. And although the initiatives look good on paper, the government faces a steep challenge in implementing them. Twenty years of war, sanctions, and invasion have hamstrung the fledgling Iraqi government. Maliki must confront a debilitating set of political and administrative weaknesses that severely undermines his government’s capacity to design and implement policy. Maliki himself has been the first to acknowledge that his new cabinet, much like its predecessor, sacrifices effectiveness for political inclusiveness. All the main parties and blocs in the Council of Representatives are represented in the new government -- including Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiya party, which narrowly defeated Maliki in last year’s elections -- largely because the factions feared being marginalized in opposition. But they have not committed to a common program, and political differences among them remain stark. Maliki may have secured his post by outmaneuvering his opponents, but his actions merely increased their distrust of him -- and, in some cases, their determination to weaken and even unseat him. Compounding these political problems is the diminished capability of Iraq’s public service ministries. The overall quality of the country’s civil servants has steadily deteriorated over the past eight years. Although violence and de-Baathification have taken a toll, time itself is an enemy. Iraq’s most capable technocrats -- many of whom came from the last generation to be educated abroad in the mid-1980s -- have passed retirement age. Many of the current senior civil servants are simply out of their depth, having suffered through years of isolation under sanctions and having been promoted rapidly, as a result of political connections or the need to fill the leadership vacuum. Moreover, they are forced to operate in ministries
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that -- particularly in the case of service branches -- have become political fiefdoms serving party or constituency interests rather than the country at large. Such provincialism results in little or no coordination between ministries and undermines the capacity for broad strategic planning and implementation -- both of which are necessary to solve the country’s infrastructure and services deficits. None of this is to suggest that Iraq is on the brink of collapse. With continued oil revenues -conservatively estimated at around $70 billion this year but liable to rise if crude oil prices remain at their current elevated levels -- the government will retain a powerful means of increasing social spending and, more important, protecting the crucial patronage networks relied on by various ruling parties to preserve their influence. At the very least, these funds will help the government maintain the status quo. But the threats posed by the protest should not be underestimated. It is possible that the shock of the protests, combined with the impending loss of the safety net that U.S. troops have provided for the past eight years, will force Iraq’s leaders to assume greater responsibility. This shift would not immediately change conditions on the ground, but it could improve the government’s administrative capacity and nudge it toward more realistic and manageable policies to address Iraq’s social and infrastructure challenges. Or, more worringly, Iraq’s dearth of administrative and technocratic capabilities could remain an obstacle to implementing even small-scale government initiatives. Worse still, Maliki’s rivals may begin to try to take political advantage of the current protests. Leaders from across the political spectrum sense the opportunity, and some, Iraqiya, are already hinting at a parliamentary vote of no confidence against the prime minister. The Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s call last week for his followers to give the government a six-month grace period in which to improve services seemed to provide Maliki with some respite, especially as the Sadrists are a key government ally, representing some of the poorest and potentially most disruptive parts of Iraqi society. But even this reprieve has been temporary. Sadr and his lieutenants have joined a chorus of attacks on the prime minister sung in recent days by many of the other major parties. The fact remains that Maliki has made a host of enemies among rival political blocs over the past five years, all of whom would be happy to see him fall. Consequently, unless conditions improve in Iraq, Maliki may face the unpalatable choice of allowing himself to be replaced or clinging to power through authoritarian means. It is by no means clear that he will choose the former. As he showed during the nine months of painful negotiations over government formation last year, he will not yield power easily, and his reaction to the recent “day of rage” was a reminder of his authoritarian streak. In the time-honored fashion of Arab strongmen, the prime minister has sought to establish personal control over Iraq’s security services over the past few years, and his instinctual response to the latest crisis has been to consider further centralizing his control by establishing overseers for each ministry based in his office and appointing special representatives in the ministries themselves. Such actions would have a corrosive impact on the country’s representative politics. Iraqis have already shown unmistakable signs of disillusionment with the new order. Voter participation has dropped over the last five years -- official turnout fell from 79.6 percent in 2005 to 62.4 percent last year -- and many of those who did vote in last year’s general elections expressed their frustration with business-as-usual politics through a clear anti-incumbency vote for Allawi’s Iraqiya party. The fact that incumbents -- Maliki chief among them -- were largely able to protect their power and prerogatives simply widened the chasm between Iraq’s rulers and its ruled. The Maliki government’s failure to respond effectively to the
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latest protests will expand that gap further. An Egypt- or Tunisia-style revolution is not in the cards for Iraq -- at least not yet. But if Iraqis are forced to endure another hot summer without sufficient electricity supplies, protests will continue and pressure on the government will grow. Worse yet, the Iraqi people may lose faith altogether in electoral politics, which would put not just Maliki’s future at risk but also the stability of the entire post-2003 political order. ***********************

Up in Arms
By: Alice Fordham. Source: Foreign Policy Date: Feb 28, 2011

Alice Fordham is a Middle East correspondent who has reported from Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, and Egypt.

BAGHDAD — The only way to get to Baghdad's Tahrir Square -- yes, it has one too -- on Feb. 25 was to walk. It was a treat to stride down roads usually solid with traffic, but the silent city also felt ominous. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had warned that the long-planned "Day of Rage" protests would be infiltrated by al Qaeda and remnants of Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime, and imposed a ban on all vehicles within city limits to reduce the risk of car bombs. Religious leaders warned people to stay away, while security officials made doom-laden predictions of violence. Most people were too scared to venture outside. The hush throughout Baghdad made the clamor in Tahrir Square seem all the louder. Thousands of demonstrators had walked for miles to gather there, not even bothering to go to Friday prayers first. They were mostly men -- some university graduates, others day laborers, but all with the same grievances. We have no electricity and no water, scant job opportunities, and our politicians are liars and thieves, they said. They flung themselves against the blast walls blocking the entrance to the Green Zone, a symbol of the distant and unaccountable elite that they were raging against. The protesters' banners were homemade and simple in their demands. "The government in the Green Zone is afraid of the people," said one. "Yes to democracy and public services," another proclaimed. Settar al-Sammarai, a soldier with six children who had been retired on a pension of $200 a month when Saddam Hussein's army was disbanded, said, "I would like my voice to be heard by the government -- I would like to be heard condemning the robbery of public funds." The Baghdad protests highlight the same frustrations that led Tunisians and Egyptians to topple their autocrats. A generation of Iraqis has grown up with even less control over their lives than youth elsewhere in the Arab world. They went from brutality and scarcity under Saddam Hussein to a U.S.-led liberation they never asked for. Foreign troops patrolled their streets, searched their houses at night, yelled at them in a language they didn't understand, and, as the WikiLeaked war logs show, killed without good reason. The ensuing chaos placed them at the mercy of Iraq's fearsome militias. And now, they're living under a prime minister who is undermining some of the crucial checks and balances that are meant to make the Iraqi government accountable to its people.
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Maliki, who has undoubtedly kept a close eye on the unrest that is threatening leaders across the Arab world, has tried to respond to the growing tumult. In a conciliatory speech on Feb. 27, he gave his ministers 100 days to evaluate their performance and suggest reforms to their ministries. He also declared that he would halve his salary and would not seek a third term as prime minister. On Feb. 28, Maliki announced his support for a law that would allow Iraq to hold early provincial elections, saying that it would allow citizens to make their demands for change felt. At this point, as with last-minute concessions made by other Arab leaders, it may be too little too late. It's true that the past few years have brought a measure of stability and democracy to Iraq that was sorely lacking before. Last year, more than 60 percent of the electorate risked terrorist attacks to participate in parliamentary elections, which were declared free and fair by international monitors. But what came next made their bravery seem futile. Iraq's politicians took more than eight months to build a ruling coalition. During this undignified ethnosectarian tussle, the country's shoddy services and security improved not one bit. Maliki was eventually renominated as prime minister despite the fact that his bloc did not win the most seats in the election. Lawmakers continue to live an insulated life in the heavily guarded Green Zone, an institution of the invaders that the new Iraqi elite seem in no hurry to get rid of. Parliamentarians make a fat $22,500 a month and are immune to the electricity shortages and curfews that make life so tedious for everyone else. The Iraqi press, who sit around parliament waiting for work to start, joke that it's the only place in the country with 24-hour electricity. The debates usually start hours late and sometimes go on past midnight, leaving everyone else, from the boys who fetch tea to TV crews, stuck explaining to aggressive checkpoint security officers why they're out past curfew. Meanwhile, politicians travel the short distance home in armored convoys. There is more to democracy than elections, and, in some crucial ways, Iraq is becoming more autocratic. Iraq's Supreme Court ruled in January that several independent institutions -- including the central bank, the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), and human rights and anti-corruption committees -should be under the control of the government's council of ministers led by Maliki. The prime minister's critics have accused him of pressuring the court to issue the ruling. The bloc led by Ayad Allawi, the former interim prime minister and Maliki's rival, issued a statement condemning the verdict as "a coup against democracy." This decision will have a significant and pernicious effect on Iraq's nascent democratic system. Qassim Aboudi, an Iraqi judge and IHEC official, condemned the Supreme Court's decision, raising fears that future elections could see more meddling if the elections commission is not politically independent. The human rights committee is also an important check on the security services' behavior. A recent Human Rights Watch report, detailing abuses at secret prisons run by a security force close to the prime minister, is just the latest example of the sort of issue that the committee cannot be expected to investigate objectively if it is under political control. The protest in Baghdad was dispelled at dusk with no major injuries. Protesters elsewhere in Iraq, however, were not nearly so lucky. At least a dozen people were killed in clashes with Iraqi security forces in Mosul, Fallujah, Basra, and near Kirkuk during similar protests on Feb. 28. The spasm of violence in Iraq's usually peaceful Kurdish region, where at least three protesters and a policeman have been killed in clashes at demonstrations in the last two weeks, is particularly notable. The semiautonomous area ruled by the Kurdistan Regional Government markets itself as the "other Iraq"
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-- a region that is safe, secular, and democratic. But Kurdish politics are dominated by two parties, both of which maintain corrupt patronage networks that bear more than a passing resemblance to the instruments of control wielded by autocrats throughout the Arab world. The focus of the protests in Iraqi Kurdistan is the chilly mountain town of Sulaymaniyah, where citizens say they have had enough of the region's scant resources being awarded according to political allegiance. But the demonstration became a perfect example of the repressive tools Kurdish leaders are prepared to wield to remain in power. Only one television station, run by the Nalia company, showed live coverage of the growing protests in Sulimaniyah. Two days after the protests began, it was mysteriously shot up and burned down in the middle of the night. What next? Iraqi authorities seem shaken. Three provincial governors have resigned, and some local government buildings in Anbar province have been reduced to ashes. Mosul, the violent northern city where five people were killed in protests, witnessed another rally on Feb. 27. Iraqis have seen what an impact an angry population can have on their government -- and few people have greater reason to rage. *********************

Saving the Egyptian Revolution
By: Shlomo Ben Ami. Source: Project Syndicate Date: Mar 03, 2011
Shlomo Ben Ami is a former Israeli foreign minister who now serves as Vice President of the Toledo International Centre for Peace.

TEL AVIV – Revolutions throughout history have proven to devour their children. Their final outcomes are seldom congruent with their prime movers’ intentions. Too frequently, revolutions are hijacked by a second wave, either more conservative or more radical than what was first contemplated by the initiators of change. What started in France in 1789 as an uprising of the middle classes in alliance with the sans culottes ended up with the return of the monarchy in the form of Napoleon’s dictatorship. More recently, the first wave of the Iranian revolution, under the presidency of Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, was by no means exclusively Islamist; the second wave, led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, was. The question for Egypt is whether the agenda of a truly pluralistic democracy – proclaimed by the avantgarde young protesters at Tahrir Square, the admirably self-empowered Facebook and Twitter generation – can prevail against the resilient forces of the past. Indeed, according to a Pew Research Center poll, only 5.5% of people have access to Facebook, while 95% want Islam to play a major role in politics, 80% believe that adulterers should be stoned, 45% are practically illiterate, and 40% live on less than $2 a day. Ideally, the new democratic order should be based on a common platform adopted by the forces of change, both secular and Islamic, and on a transition pact between these forces and those representing
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the old system, first and foremost the army. Indeed, one of the Egyptian revolution’s odd features is that it now operates under the exclusive trusteeship of a conservative army. True revolutions occur only when the old repressive system is thoroughly dismantled and purged. But Egypt’s revolution is one whose initial stage ended with power fully in the hands of the old regime’s repressive apparatus. The risk is that the fraternal ties between the army – not exactly innocent of the Mubarak regime’s repressive practices – and the protesters might prove short-lived. So far, the army has acceded to only one of the protesters’ central demands – getting rid of Mubarak. It has not endorsed the wide array of liberal demands voiced by the revolutionaries of Tahrir Square. Arguably, the military concurred with the protesters’ demand for Mubarak’s removal as the best way to circumvent a move towards a dynastic republic under Mubarak’s son, Gamal. The masses called for a revolution, while the army conducted its own coup d’etat in the hope of saving what is essential in the system while sacrificing the man who embodied it. The army’s temptation to limit change reflects the conservative profile of its hierarchy, the extraordinary privileges it enjoys, and the economic interests with which it has been tied. Egypt was ruled as a police state, and, with a gigantic and all-pervasive security apparatus, the army might be tempted to assume the role of guardian of order and stability if democracy proves too messy. Fortunately, there are limits to the Egyptian military’s capacity to impede change. A Western-leaning army, funded and trained by the United States, it cannot allow itself the liberty of shooting peaceful protesters. Indeed, limiting the army’s political role will certainly be a fundamental condition for maintaining Egypt’s warm relations with the West. A free-trade agreement with the US and improved access to EU markets might be powerful incentives that the West can offer to Egypt’s young democracy. So, no matter how conditioned the Egyptian army may be by its worldview and vested interests, it has no option but to facilitate the democratization process. It should have to accept, however, that no Arab democracy worthy of the name could refuse to open the electoral gates to political Islam. Indeed, Egypt’s formidably historic task now is to refute the old paradigm according to which the Arab world’s only choice is between secular and repressive autocracy or obscurantist and repressive theocracy. But the regime that emerges is bound to be more attuned to local conditions, and thus to religion’s vital role in the social fabric. A democracy that excludes religion from public life entirely, à la France, cannot work in Egypt. After all, such a democracy does not work in Israel, or even in the US, a country that G. K. Chesterton described as having “the soul of a church.” Building a modern secular state for a devout people is Egypt’s main challenge. That said, a scenario in which the Muslim Brotherhood usurps the revolution does not seem plausible, if only because this might lead another strongman on horseback to take over. Although still inspired by staunchly anti-Western conservatives who believe that the “banner of Jihad” should not be abandoned, the Brotherhood today is not the unconditionally jihadist organization that Mubarak regime’s portrayed to the West. It has long disavowed its violent past and has shown an interest in peaceful political participation.
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The tense relationship between the incumbent Arab regimes and political Islam is not necessarily a zerosum game. It is in this context that the abortive Palestinian “Mecca Agreement” between the religious (Hamas) and the secular (Fatah) to form a national-unity government for Palestine might have established a new paradigm for the future of regime change in the Arab world. Such compromises may be the only way to stem the slide to civil war, and possibly co-opt Islamists into a settlement with Israel and rapprochement with the West. ************************

Egypt’s Draft Constitutional Amendments Answer Some Questions and Raise Others
By: Nathan J. Brown. Source: Carnegie Endowment Date: Mar 1, 2011
Nathan J. Brown, a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University. Michele Dunne is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Proposed amendments to Egypt’s constitution meet some longstanding opposition and civil society demands but also create new uncertainties. A committee appointed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces presented the amendments on February 26, allowing for a brief period of public discussion and possible further changes before a public referendum, which might be held as soon as March 19. The proposed changes shorten the presidential term and create a two-term limit, significantly expand the pool of eligible presidential candidates, restore judicial supervision of elections, pave the way for a new constitution after elections, and restrict the ability to declare and renew a state of emergency. At the same time, some surprising amendments raise questions about whether the changes serve specific agendas within the military or other leadership circles. In particular, a change in the eligibility criteria for the presidency disqualifies any Egyptian who has dual nationality or is married to a nonEgyptian. This was not a step demanded by the opposition or civil society and seems designed to exclude prominent expatriates, such as Egyptian-American Ahmed Zewail, from running. Mohammed ElBaradei denies that he has held any citizenship other than Egyptian, but there have been rumors—never substantiated—that his Egyptian-born wife has foreign ties. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces announced on February 28 that parliamentary elections will be held in June, followed by a presidential election later in the summer. But it is still unclear whether there will be a change in the electoral system for the parliament before these elections take place. Without major amendments, use of the current system (in which deputies are elected by district) would work in unpredictable ways, as the only experience with that system came when the National Democratic Party was strongly dominant. In the new environment, the system might result in a diverse parliament dominated by local leaders. There has also been talk of moving to a different electoral system from the current system of individual districts; the constitution was amended in 2007 to permit a change to either a proportional
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representation or mixed system. Such a change would require the ruling military council to issue complicated new legislation by decree very soon. This type of system would be difficult without also liberalizing the party system, a complicated step but also one widely expected at some point. Whatever system is used, these uncertainties raise the prospect that parliamentary elections will be held only a few months after the establishment of new parties, leaving little time for them to mobilize support. The committee did not address controversial Article 5 of the constitution, which bars any political activity “with a religious frame of reference”—despite the fact that a Muslim Brotherhood politician, Sobhi Saleh, served on the committee. While the Muslim Brotherhood could still try to form a party by writing a platform that meets the current constitutional requirement, the movement has said that it will not take any steps that require it to apply to the existing “parties committee,” a body established by law that has been very stingy with approvals in the past. Thus the Brotherhood may very well not move beyond internal preparations for establishing its new party before the elections. Tentatively named the “Freedom and Justice Party,” the party is led by Saad al-Katatny, who headed the alliance of independent Brotherhood deputies in the parliament elected in 2005. The Proposed Amendments in Detail The amendments have provoked a mixed reaction from Egyptians. The general spirit of their proposals has been welcomed widely, but a large number of activists anxious for a more thorough transition continue to say there is no point in trying to tinker with minor constitutional amendments and that it makes more sense to move immediately to a wholly new document. Others worry about a rapid series of elections in a still inchoate political environment. Despite such concerns, many leading political figures and some opposition movements have been supportive and enthusiastic that some concrete political changes are finally imminent. Most of the commentary thus far has focused on the general thrust of the amendments, though as more time elapses, more detailed reactions are likely to be forthcoming. The most significant changes are:

Candidates will have three ways to get on the presidential ballot: nomination by a party with at least one parliamentary seat; endorsement by 30 members of the parliament; or attainment of 30,000 signatures of citizens eligible to vote. The president will serve for four years and be limited to two terms. The president will be obligated to appoint at least one vice president. The judiciary is returned to active supervision of elections and will be the final arbiter of the validity of legal challenges to results. The president or half of the members of parliament may call for a new constitution and a 100member assembly can be convened to draft a new constitution.
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The president may declare a state of emergency with parliamentary approval; any extension beyond six months would require approval in a public referendum. An article setting aside constitutional human rights provisions in terrorism cases will be removed entirely.

A more detailed discussion of the amendments, article by article: Article 75: Adds that the president may not be a dual national or married to a non-Egyptian. This change is a surprise, as it was not among the protestors’ demands and was not mentioned in the original list of articles that the committee was tasked with amending. And it is ironic as well, since the drafting committee includes members from the country’s Supreme Constitutional Court, a body that actually struck down a law imposing a similarly stringent ban on Egyptians married to foreigners serving as judges. It might be intended to exclude some expatriates considering presidential campaigns. Article 76: Eases procedures to get on the presidential ballot in such a way as to create the possibility of real competition. Before 2005, the parliament nominated a single presidential candidate, who was confirmed in a public referendum. In 2005, the public voted directly for the president but it was virtually impossible for any independent candidate to get on the ballot, and even political parties faced stringent requirements in choosing a candidate. The new amendment would create three ways to get on the ballot: endorsement by 30 members of the People’s Assembly or Shura Council, endorsement by 30,000 eligible votes (endorsements must be from at least fifteen provinces with at least 1,000 endorsements from each), or membership in a political party with at least one seat in either of the houses of parliament. The amended article also establishes a commission composed entirely of senior judges by virtue of their position (no appointees) to supervise the presidential election from the opening of the nomination period through the announcement of results. The commission’s decisions will be final. The insistence that presidential elections be returned to judicial supervision has been a core opposition demand. While such a system is unusual internationally—most countries have opted in recent years to create independent electoral commissions—Egyptians’ experience with supposedly “independent” commissions is a bitter one. Such commissions—introduced in the past decade—were woefully short of true independence. But while judges have a reputation for professional integrity, they are not generally trained to oversee electoral processes; the commission is likely to need some technical assistance. Amended Article 76 also calls for prior review by the Supreme Constitutional Court of the constitutionality of laws pertaining to presidential elections. The requirement that the Constitutional Court review legislation before elections is presumably to ensure that there is no challenge to the legitimacy of an election after it is held; on previous occasions, the Court has found the electoral law for the parliament unconstitutional, casting doubts about the validity of legislation passed and forcing immediate new elections. The electoral commission is also given final and absolute authority over the process, perhaps to ensure there can be no doubts about the legality of any election. Amended Article 76 is also important for what it implies about the sequence of elections and about
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postponing changes to the party system. When it created the constitutional review committee, the ruling military council specified that first there would be a referendum on the constitutional amendments and later parliamentary and presidential elections. It was not clear, however, in which order the elections would be held. As the existing parliament has been dissolved, the first and third routes to nomination for the presidency would work only if the parliamentary elections preceded the presidential elections.

Article 77: Shortens the presidential term from six to four years and establishes a limit of two terms. This has been a principal opposition and civil society demand since at least 2004. Article 88: Establishes complete judicial supervision over all elections and referenda—from the announcement of elections to the announcement of results—and specifies that electoral rolls, voting, and counting will be supervised by members of the judicial apparatus nominated by their higher commissions. This amended article would return Egypt to a system of full judicial supervision. But it would go much farther than simply return it—the article specifically ensures that the committee is fully judicial and that it has full control over all aspects of the electoral process. In the past, even when judicial supervision operated, the regime attempted to remove strategic parts of the electoral process from such supervision and also worked to squeeze non-judicial personnel into the process. For instance, the electoral rolls were notoriously manipulated and kept out of judicial control by the interior ministry. This enhanced role would put a real burden on the judiciary and probably force elections to be carried out in stages (because there are not enough judges to supervise the process country-wide in a single day). And the judges would likely need considerable technical assistance and administrative support. Article 93: Gives the Supreme Constitutional Court, not the parliament itself, the authority to decide and enforce legal challenges to parliamentary races. Formerly, electoral challenges for most cases went to the Court of Cassation, Egypt’s highest court of appeals. It would issue its judgment but then refer to parliament for enforcement. This procedure was justified on the separation-of-powers grounds. But it also was seriously abused as large numbers of deputies were simply allowed by their colleagues in the parliament to hold their seats even after the Court had ruled their election invalid. Article 139: Obligates the president to nominate one or more vice presidents within 60 days of being elected in an apparent effort to avoid the confusion and anxiety that accompanied former President Hosni Mubarak’s last years in office. There was some speculation that the commission would move toward an elective vice presidency; it has apparently decided not to do so. Article 148: Restricts the ability to impose a lengthy state of emergency by saying that the president must submit a declaration of emergency to the parliament within seven days. It also restricts the duration of the emergency period to no more than six months, which can be extended only by approval in popular referendum. As Egypt has been in an almost continuous state of emergency (with only brief interruptions) since 1939 and since the state of emergency has been routinely renewed sometimes for years at a time, this is a major change. There are gaps, however—for instance, some emergencies might make the referendum
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impossible, or it might be possible to allow the emergency to lapse for a single day and then declare it again. Also, it is not clear how the approval of this article would affect the current state of emergency— which the Supreme Military Council has not yet lifted despite persistent demands from the public— should it still be in place at the time of the referendum. And indeed, the military council has already made use of its emergency powers by trying some civilians (accused of violence against protesters) in military courts (bodies that are notorious for quick and reliable convictions). In addition to revising the constitutional provisions for a state of emergency, attention also needs to be given to the law that governs states of emergency, because it is this law that determines what the authorities can and cannot do. It is unclear if such legislative changes are contemplated any time soon. Article 179: Eliminates this entire article, which allowed constitutional provisions to protect human rights to be waived in cases of terrorism. The 2007 amendment to Article 179 was clearly aimed at taking “emergency” measures that had been in effect for a long time and embedding them in the constitutional text. Elimination of this article reverses that process. Article 189: Adds a provision for a new constitution to be requested by either the president (with cabinet approval) or at least half of the members of both houses of parliament. It calls for a constituent assembly of 100 members to be elected by a majority of the elected members from a joint session of the People’s Assembly and Shura Council, which would draft a new constitution within six months and submit it to a popular referendum. There has been much debate among Egyptians about whether to amend the 1971 constitution or abolish it and start over. The constitutional revision committee was authorized only to suggest amendments to the 1971 constitution, but they have used this article to allow for a completely new text. And the chair of the committee has made clear he believes that the amendments are designed to render the 1971 constitution provisional. That said, this article only allows such a process rather than requires it, as some of the committee members suggested they had planned to do. Moreover, it allows the parliament, rather than the public, to choose the members of a constituent assembly; this it is a half-way measure. *********************

Women and Egypt's Revolution
BY: LAUREN E. BOHN, SARAH LYNCH. Source: Foreign policy Date: Mar 2, 2011

LAUREN E. BOHN, SARAH LYNCH . Bohn is a Fulbright fellow and multimedia journalist based in Cairo. h Lynch is a Beirutbased multimedia journalist.

CAIRO — When 19-year-old Nahal protested in Tahrir Square several weeks ago, she wasn't there to fight for her rights as a woman, but to fight for her rights as an Egyptian. "There are no differences between men and women here," she said. "We are all one hand."

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Thousands of women echoed Nahal's sentiments as they raised brazen signs, led lively chants, and stood next to men in what some have deemed an unprecedented display of equality between the sexes in modern Egyptian history. Although the movement that ended a dictator's 30-year reign in just 18 breathtaking days had little to do with feminist concerns, in the weeks following the country's uprising, women are saying the empowerment they felt during the demonstrations should be used to effect change for women themselves. "In the square, I felt for the first time that women are equal to men," said activist and feminist Nawal El Saadawi. Now more than ever before, she says, there is a promising opportunity to act. "It's like I carried a burden on my back, and now I feel free." Saadawi, a a spry octogenarian, has led the fight for women's rights in Egypt for decades. She was arrested and censored for her work under Anwar Sadat's and Hosni Mubarak's regimes. "Suzanne Mubarak silenced women, killed the feminist movement, and did nothing for us," she said, dismissing the former first lady's "National Council of Women" as little more than a PR campaign for the regime. Women have long faced challenges in Egypt, from sexual harassment on the streets to prejudice at work to paternity laws upheld in the courtroom, Egyptians say. As the country grapples with a transition to democracy, some worry that these problems could get worse with an Islamic revival. Many, however, do not see this as a real threat. "The younger generations of the Muslim Brotherhood believe in a secular constitution, believe in equality between men and women, equality between Muslim and Christians," Saadawi said. "So we are not afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood." In 2005, designer-turned-activist Hind el-Hinnawy created a national scandal when she took famous Egyptian actor Ahmed el-Fishawy to court to prove that he was the father of her child. Egyptian law stipulates that if a woman gives birth outside legal marriage, the child is illegitimate and is not recognized under the law. Hinnawy sought to prove that an urfi marriage contract -- an Islamic agreement that binds a couple under God -- existed. "It was only when I faced the laws and talked to lawyers that I understood how difficult it would be," said Hinnawy, who hurdled legal battles to eventually win the landmark case. Legal cases like Hinnawy's are just one set in a series of struggles facing Egyptian women, says Hala Galal, who directs films that deal with women's rights. "[A woman] doesn't have the right to wear what she wants, to marry who she wants, to go out in the street any time she wants," Galal said. "Small things like this show she doesn't choose her life. She's not a free person." A 2008 report conducted by the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights found that nearly half of Egyptian women are sexually harassed every day. Eighty-three percent of the Egyptian women surveyed reported being harassed on the street at least once in their lives. But some old habits changed in the days leading up to Mubarak's ouster. Despite isolated, albeit extremely disturbing, incidences of sexual violence such as that experienced by CBS News correspondent

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Lara Logan, many Egyptian women say cases of abuse in Tahrir Square were unusually low -- even with men and women pressed shoulder to shoulder on some of the square's most crowded days. In the weeks ahead, activists vow there will be more transformations. "The future will show us a lot of systematic and organized groups of women fighting for their rights more than ever before," Galal said. Fatma Emam, head researcher for Cairo's women's rights research organization Nazra, is documenting experiences of women in the revolution, establishing a forum to aggregate young feminists' demands in the upcoming era, and taking steps to stop legal discrimination against women. Some are already beginning to see change. "Before [the revolution], my dad would only really talk about politics with my brother," said Sarah Abdelrahman, a student at the American University in Cairo who was featured on the cover of Time magazine. "But now he's talking about it with me. It's like a barrier was lifted and I feel more empowered and appreciated than ever." Still, activists concede many challenges lie ahead. "I am optimistic, but I also believe that we shouldn't think it's going to be something that will come mechanically," said Iman Bibars, regional director of Ashoka Arab World, an NGO that develops the citizen sector through entrepreneurship. She has lobbied for decades to have women included in important governmental committees. But as recently as last week, efforts were clearly lagging. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces appointed a committee to amend the country's constitution, but not one woman was included. In fact, it wasn't until 2003 that Egypt appointed its first female judge, Tahani el-Gebali. In 2007, the Supreme Judicial Council swore in 30 female judges to preside over family courts in what feminists saw as a major step for women's rights. But in February 2010, council members voted to bar female justices from serving in administrative courts. The new Egyptian cabinet includes few women, with less than a handful of female ministers. Amy Mowafi, managing editor of Egyptian women's magazine Enigma, counsels patience. "Democracy, as history has shown, is the first step," Mowafi says. "Then we start to look at subtitles of that, and one of those things is equality and freedom for women." ********************

Saudi Arabia's Musk Revolution
By: Simon Henderson. Source: The Washington Institute. Date: Mar 1, 2011
Simon Henderson is the Baker fellow and director of the Gulf and Energy Policy Program at The Washington Institute.

"The king is dead, long live the king" is a call which, in its Arabic form, is sure to be heard before too long in Saudi Arabia. In the latest chapter of the saga of the House of Saud, the ailing and aged King Abdullah returned to the kingdom on Feb. 23 after a three-month absence, which included two back operations in New York City and a month's recuperation at his palace in Morocco.

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It wasn't quite a triumphant return. Upon his arrival in Morocco, the king was brought down to earth in a wheelchair, carried from his aircraft in a scissor-lift disabled-passenger vehicle modeled on the design of a catering truck. A similar contraption was employed on his return home to Riyadh. The gerontocratic monarch is, obviously, on his last legs. The real story of the king's return, however, was the gifts that he lavished upon his population. The king took the opportunity of his arrival to announce financial handouts to the Saudi population worth an astonishing $36 billion, including, according to the Financial Times, a 15 percent salary raise for public employees, reprieves for imprisoned debtors, and financial aid for students and the unemployed. And all this on top of Saudi Arabia's planned budgeted expenditure of $400 billion through the end of 2014 on improving education, infrastructure, and health care. King Abdullah's largesse looks a lot like preventive medicine to ensure that Saudi Arabia does not catch the revolutionary disease spreading from Tunisia and Egypt across the Arab world. But few serious analysts of Saudi Arabia think that politics in the kingdom could play out as dramatically as the events in North Africa. A tweet or two by a young, foreign-educated, Saudi woman resentful of her lack of rights does not make a Riyadh Spring. And it is unlikely that much will come of a Facebook campaign calling for a day of protests on March 11, or that an online petition signed by more than 100 Saudi academics and activists demanding a constitutional monarchy gains momentum. The kingdom is, in the judgment of many, an extraordinarily conservative place, where people know their place and do what their parents tell them. To the extent there is a national sport, it is either driving dangerously or lethargy. But it appears that not even Saudi Arabia can escape the currents of unrest sweeping through the Arab world. And the royal family, through its mismanagement of the kingdom's public infrastructure, might have brought some of it on itself. This has been one of Saudi Arabia's wettest winters, bringing calamitous floods to the coastal city of Jeddah. During one stormy night, three months' worth of rain arrived in a few hours. At least 10 have died, and more are missing. It was during one of January's storms that the fleeing ex-President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia arrived with his entourage. The sewage system of Jeddah is basically nonexistent; at best, it is inadequate. In many houses, the waste from the bathrooms flows into underground tanks that are emptied every few days by fleets of tanker trucks. The trucks used to drive into the hills to the east of the city and dump their cargo into the deceptively named Musk Lake. That was until 2009, when heavy rains raised concerns that the dam at the western edge of the lake would break -- evoking fears that a proverbial wave of fecal matter would sweep downhill several miles to the city below. Since 2009, Musk Lake has been partially drained and treatment plants set up at what is hoped is a safe distance further into the desert. However, fears arose this winter that even the remodeled Musk Lake would once again pose an excremental threat to the city, and Jeddah's citizens protested vociferously. Prince Khalid al-Faisal, the regional governor who is rated as being a good candidate for the throne sometime in the future, visited the flooded areas and commiserated with those affected. Interior Minister Prince Nayef took a helicopter trip over the flooded areas, peering through the windows, Bush-after-Katrina-like, at the devastation below.

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As the world's largest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia has huge earnings but, by virtue of its relatively large population, has a GDP per capita much lower than those of neighboring Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. Even this wealth is badly distributed, and, in Jeddah, many still face real hardship. King Abdullah's generosity to the people of Saudi Arabia was probably motivated by a desire to both ease the difficulties of the kingdom's own poor and reinforce the House of Saud's reputation during what promises to be a difficult transition period. The princes are going to need the support over the next few months. In televised and well-photographed action in the Council of Ministers building over the last few months, a bizarre charade is being played out. Crown Prince Sultan, King Abdullah's designated successor, is chairing meetings of the Council of Ministers, as well as greeting visiting foreigners and Saudi dignitaries. Sultan, however, is reportedly suffering from Alzheimer's disease and, anecdotally, does not even recognize government ministers whom he has known for years. A WikiLeaks cable described Sultan as "for all intents and purposes incapacitated." Keeping Sultan in the public eye appears to be an elaborate deception carried out by his younger full brothers or his sons, as part of a palace plot to ensure Sultan becomes king when Abdullah dies. This would allow him to choose the next crown prince -- either one of his own full brothers or one of his sons. Having been undermined by Sultan and his close relatives for decades, King Abdullah has tried to blunt such a maneuver by setting up a so-called Allegiance Council, made up of his 30-plus half brothers or their senior sons, to choose a future crown prince. This wouldn't stop Sultan from becoming king, but it would widen the choice for crown prince beyond Sultan's closest kin. However, the Allegiance Council could simply be voided by Sultan once he becomes king or by those pulling his puppet strings. So Abdullah's other blocking tactic is simply not to die anytime soon. If Sultan meets his maker before Abdullah, the main problem disappears -- though a new one would be created, as Abdullah and the wider Allegiance Council would still have to outmaneuver Sultan's surviving full brothers, who would continue to form the largest single voting bloc in the institution. This, at least, is the chess game currently being played within the House of Saud on the question of succession. Whether the Saudi people will accept this quietly, given the winds of change running through the rest of the Arab world, is quite another question. ********************

Yes, It Could Happen Here
By: Madawi Al-Rasheed . Source: Foreign Policy Date: Feb 28, 2011
Madawi Al-Rasheed is a professor of social anthropology at King's College, University of London.

In the age of Arab revolutions, will Saudis dare to honor Facebook calls for anti-government demonstrations on March 11? Will they protest at one of Jeddah's main roundabouts? Or will they start in Qatif, the eastern region where a substantial Shiite majority has had more experience in real protest?
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Will Riyadh remain cocooned in its cloak of pomp and power, hidden from public gaze in its mighty sand castles? Saudi Arabia is ripe for change. Despite its image as a fabulously wealthy realm with a quiescent, apolitical population, it has similar economic, demographic, social, and political conditions as those prevailing in its neighboring Arab countries. There is no reason to believe Saudis are immune to the protest fever sweeping the region. Saudi Arabia is indeed wealthy, but most of its young population cannot find jobs in either the public or private sector. The expansion of its $430 billion economy has benefited a substantial section of the entrepreneurial elite -- particularly those well connected with the ruling family -- but has failed to produce jobs for thousands of college graduates every year. This same elite has resisted employing expensive Saudis and contributed to the rise in local unemployment by hiring foreign labor. Rising oil prices since 2003 and the expansion of state investment in education, infrastructure, and welfare, meanwhile, have produced an explosive economy of desires. Like their neighbors, Saudis want jobs, houses, and education, but they also desire something else. Since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq in 2003, they have expressed their political demands in their own way, through petitions that circulated and were signed by hundreds of activists and professionals, men and women, Sunnis, Shiites, and Ismailis. Reformers petitioned King Abdullah to establish an elected consultative assembly to replace the 120-member appointed Consultative Council Saudis inherited from King Fahd. Political organizers were jailed and some banned from travel to this day. The "Riyadh spring" that many reformers anticipated upon King Abdullah's accession in 2005 was put on hold while torrential rain swept away decaying infrastructure and people in major cities. Rising unemployment pushed the youth toward antisocial behavior, marriages collapsed, the number of bachelors soared, and the number of people under the poverty line increased in one of the wealthiest states of the Arab world. Today, nearly 40 percent of Saudis ages 20 to 24 are unemployed. Meanwhile, scandal after scandal exposed the level of corruption and nepotism in state institutions. Princes promised to establish investigative committees, yet culprits were left unpunished. Criticism of the king and top ruling princes remained taboo, and few crossed the red line surrounding the substantial sacrosanct clique that monopolizes government posts from defense to sports. The number of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience swelled Saudi prisons. Under the pretext of the war on terror, the Saudi regime enjoyed a free hand. The interior minister, Prince Nayef, and his son and deputy, Prince Mohammed, rounded up peaceful activists, bloggers, lawyers, and academics and jailed them for extended periods. Saudis watched in silence while the outside world either remained oblivious to abuses of human rights or turned a blind eye in the interests of oil, arms, and investment. "We are not Tunisia," "We are not Egypt," "We are not Libya," (and perhaps in a month's time, "We are not the Arab world") have become well-rehearsed refrains of official Saudi political rhetoric in recent weeks. There is some truth in this: Carrots are often the currency of loyalty in oil-rich countries, including its wealthiest kingdom. But the Saudi royal family uses plenty of sticks, too. Public relations firms in Riyadh, Washington, and London ensure that news of the carrots travels as far as possible, masking unpleasant realities in one of the least transparent and most authoritarian regimes in the Persian Gulf. What cannot be hidden anymore is the political, economic, and social problems that oil has so far failed to address.
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When Saudis were poor and lagged behind the world in education, aspirations, and infrastructure, oil was the balm that healed all social wounds. The wave of coups d'état that swept the Arab world in the 1950s and 1960s did not make much impression on Saudis, despite some agitation here and there. Few Saudis were impressed by the effervescence of Arab revolutionary or liberation movements. At the time, most Saudis lacked the education or inclination to question their government, apart from a handful of activists and agitators, including a couple of princes. By the 1970s, oil wealth was developing their taste for the consumer economy and the pleasures of cars, planes, running water, air-conditioning, and sunglasses. Political participation wasn't part of the package. Today, oil remains abundant, but Saudis are different. They enjoy more consumption and liquidity than others in the Arab world, but less than those in neighboring Qatar, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates. Saudis are today looking for something else. They are young -- youth under 30 account for twothirds of the Saudi population -- educated, connected, and articulate. Above all, they are familiar with the global discourse of democracy, freedom, entitlement, empowerment, transparency, accountability, and human rights that has exploded in the face of authoritarian regimes in the Arab world since January. They watch satellite channels like Al Jazeera and eagerly consume news from uprisings around the region. So far young Saudis have occupied their own "Liberation Square" on a virtual map. In the 1990s their exiled Islamist opposition used the fax machine to bombard the country with messages denouncing the leadership and calling for a return to pristine Islam. Later, a wider circle of politicized and nonpoliticized young Saudis ventured into Internet discussion boards, chat rooms, blogs, and more recently Facebook and Twitter to express themselves, mobilize, and share grievances. These virtual spaces have become natural homes for both dissenting voices and government propaganda. Recently the king's private secretary and chief of the royal court, Khaled al-Tuwaijri, launched his own Facebook page. Saudis thought that they were safe in their virtual world, but the regime has been determined to trace each and every word and whisper that challenges its version of reality. Young bloggers, writers, and essayists have been jailed for asking simple questions like: Who is going to be king after Abdullah? Where is oil wealth going? Who is responsible for corruption scandals associated with arms deals? Why do the king and crown prince take turns leaving the country? Why are Abdullah's so-called reforms thwarted by his brother Prince Nayef? And who is the real ruler of Saudi Arabia? All unanswered taboo questions. On Feb. 23, King Abdullah, 87 and frail, having spent three months abroad undergoing from two operations in New York and recuperating in Morocco, was brought back to Riyadh amid a package of welfare promises worth $36 billion. These were for the most part a rather transparent attempt to appease the burgeoning youth population and deflect it from the lure of revolution -- public-sector salary increases, unemployment benefits, and subsidies for housing, education, and culture. In years past, such handouts have been welcomed by a population that has grown used to royal largesse, but now the economy of unmet desires is raising the bar. The king, too old and too weak, may have misread the level of disappointment among many Saudis of all political persuasions, who are voicing their complaints on the Internet. The common thread is a demand for genuine political reform. All signs suggest that Saudis are in a rush to seize this unprecedented opportunity to press for serious political change. The response to King Abdullah's handouts on Saudi Facebook sites is the refrain "Man cannot live by bread alone." Of course, it's not just liberals who are demanding change. A couple of weeks before the king's return, a group of Saudi academics and professionals announced the establishment of a Salafi Islamic Ummah
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Party and launched a web site. Reformist Salafists are calling for democracy, elections, and respect for human rights. Five of the founding members were immediately put in jail. The king's brother, Prince Talal, disenchanted and politically marginalized but extremely wealthy, went on BBC Arabic television to praise the king and criticize other powerful royal players, the so-called Sudairi Seven (including Crown Prince Sultan, the defense minister; Prince Nayef, the interior minister; and Prince Salman, the governor of Riyadh) without naming them. He revived his 1960s call for constitutional monarchy, which is now being endorsed by some Saudi activists. To date, 119 activists have signed the petition calling for constitutional monarchy. More petitions signed by a cross section of Saudi professionals, academics, and journalists are circulating on the Internet. A broad swatch of Saudi society is now demanding political change. If Saudis do respond to calls for demonstrations and rise above the old petition syndrome, the majority will be young freethinkers who have had enough of the polarization of Saudi Arabia into two camps: a liberal and an Islamist one, with the Al-Saud family presiding over the widening gap between the two. They want political representation and economic opportunities. An elected parliament is demanded by all. So far, Saudi Shiites have remained relatively silent, with only minor protests in the Eastern Province. Having watched the Feb. 14 massacre in Bahrain's Pearl Roundabout, they may hesitate to act alone. If they do, it would be quite easy for the regime to mobilize the Sunni majority and crush their protest, exactly as it did in 1979. In fact, the Shiites would do the regime a great favor at a critical moment when its legitimacy among the majority of Sunnis in the country cannot be taken for granted. The Shiites may have to wait until they form solid coalitions with mainstream Saudi society to remove any sectarian dimension to their demands. The Hijazis along the western coast would be natural allies, as their complaints about the poor infrastructure of their main city Jeddah may act as a catalyst to push for more political rights and autonomy. A liberal constituency there would be more receptive to overtures from the Shiites of the Eastern Province. If Jeddah and Qatif were to unite in their demands, Riyadh would look more isolated than at any other time. It has many supporters among its historical Najdi constituency, but even they are flirting with the global discourse of freedom. And now some Salafists, the puritanical literal interpreters of Islam, are calling for a real shura, in other words democracy. It seems that the kingdom is at a crossroads. It must either formulate a serious political reform agenda that will assuage an agitated young population or face serious upheavals over the coming months. To respond to public demands, the agenda should above all start with a written constitution, limit the rule of the multiple royal circles of power within the state, regulate royal succession, inaugurate an elected parliament, and open up the political sphere to civil society organizations. Hiding behind Islamic rhetoric such as "Our constitution is the Quran" is no longer a viable escape route. Many Saudis are disenchanted with both official and dissident Islam. They want a new political system that matches their aspirations, education, and abilities, while meeting their basic human, civil, and political rights. Like other falling Arab regimes before them, the ruling Al-Saud will inevitably seek to scare the population by raising the spectre of al Qaeda and warning against tribal, regional, and sectarian disintegration. They will try to thwart political change before it starts. Saudis may not believe the scaremongers. The command centers of the Arab revolutions today are not the caves of Tora Bora or Riyadh's shabby al-Suwaidi neighborhood, where jihadists shot BBC journalist Frank Gardner and his cameraman in 2004. They are the laptops of a young, connected, knowledgeable, but frustrated
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generation that is rising against the authoritarian public and private families that have been crushing the individual in the pursuit of illusions and control. Yes, Egypt was key to the coming change, but when Saudis rise they will change the face of the Arab world and its relations with the West forever. Now is the time for the United States and its allies to understand that the future does not lie with the old clique that they have tolerated, supported, and indulged in return for oil, security, and investment. At a time of shifting Arabian sands, it is in the interest of America and the rest of the world to side with the future not the past. ***********************

Roil, Jordan?
By: Dominic Dudley . Source: Foreign Policy Date: Feb 28, 2011
Dominic Dudley is a writer and editor focused on the Middle East.

AMMAN, Jordan — On Feb. 18, as dozens of protesters were killed by Libya's security forces in the first stirrings of that country's uprising, as thousands of Bahrainis took to the streets for the funeral of demonstrators killed a day earlier, and as police in Yemen used tear gas to disperse a "day of rage" in Sanaa, the largely stable Jordan also appeared to be witnessing at least a few moments of rage. On the streets of Amman, a gang of pro-government supporters attacked protesters who had gathered after prayers at the capital's central Husseini mosque. Eight people were reportedly injured before the police intervened to break it up. At least two people were later arrested. The street fight was the first outbreak of any violence this year in Jordan, where a peaceful protest has become a regular feature of Fridays in the capital since early January. But Jordan's King Abdullah II has, so far, managed to avoid the level of opposition seen elsewhere in the region. Most people here still respect the institution of the monarchy. "I think 95 percent of the people are in favor of the king," one local tells me while walking along the waterfront in Aqaba, a resort city on Jordan's short coast. Still, a key lesson from the events in Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, and elsewhere is that regime-shaking protest movements can appear almost overnight. If the cataclysmic elements of government overthrow don't appear to be present in what is still a largely content population, some early fissures are nonetheless visible. Jordan has never had a strong opposition, though many here admit that the king's support may be somewhat overstated. "I am sure there are republicans in this country. It would be difficult to assume we are all monarchists," says Nawaf Tell, director of the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan, one of the country's leading think tanks. "I am not aware of any anti-regime forces. I am sure there are individuals against the Hashemite monarchy, but there is definitely no group."

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The closest thing to a genuine opposition movement has been the Muslim Brotherhood, whose political wing, the Islamic Action Front (IAF), is the country's largest and best-organized political party. For now the Brotherhood appears willing to work within the system, and there have been no explicit calls for the monarchy to be overthrown. Yet Jordan shares many important similarities with the countries where regimes are wobbling or have already toppled. Complaints about the prevalence of corruption, the lack of jobs, and the curtailing of basic political freedoms are common themes in Amman, as they have been in Tunis, Cairo, and Tripoli. Economic growth has halved from 7.6 percent in 2008 to 3.4 percent last year, and unemployment is officially 13 percent, but unofficially as high as 30 percent. Urban Jordanians, a majority of the population, complain they are vastly underrepresented in parliament. Freedom of speech is also suppressed, particularly when it comes to the position of the monarchy, the peace treaty with Israel, or the position of Palestinians in Jordanian society. All this means the monarchy cannot rely on respect for the institution alone -- it also has to try toaddress the grievances of its citizens. "The potential [for more social or political unrest in Jordan] is there; the grievances are there," says Ralf Erbel, who heads the local office of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Liberty, a German organization promoting individual liberty and free markets. "The economic situation is not satisfying." So far the authorities have succeeded in meeting at least some aspirations for change. The Husseini mosque protesters' demands have included the dismissal of the government and greater subsidies to reduce food and fuel costs. In response, Prime Minister Samir Rifai unveiled a package of subsidies and public-sector pay rises worth $423 million a year on Jan. 20, but he was still sacked by King Abdullah II on Feb. 1. In his place, King Abdullah appointed a new prime minister -- Marouf al-Bakhit -- and asked him to accelerate the political and economic reforms. Since the appointment of Bakhit's government on Feb. 9, a number of planned reforms have been announced, with the promise of more to come. Among the new government's proposals are giving teachers the right to form a professional association - a long-standing demand that had been resisted by authorities who claimed it would be unconstitutional to allow public sector employees to have their own regulatory body. The government has also agreed to lift the ban on access to some websites from government offices and end a stipulation that groups must obtain official permission before holding a demonstration, changing the requirement to previous notification instead. Of these, only the removal of the website block has gone ahead so far, but the fact that the government appears serious about the other measures has helped take the sting out of the opposition movement. The economic complaints are proving harder to address. Jordan, hit hard by the rising price of imported commodities and fuel, has little fiscal room to maneuver. The government has promised to keep fuel prices steady and vowed to take tougher action against corruption, but there is little it can do to create jobs quickly. From today's perspective, these economic issues look far more dangerous for the regime than the political ones. The new government is also due to draw up a fresh election law, less than 12 months after the last attempt to reform the country's deeply flawed electoral system. Local political analysts and businessmen
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alike complain that the existing election law encourages tribal and clan considerations to dominate the electoral process, making it all but impossible for parties with national policy platforms to emerge. The IAF is arguably the country's only really credible one. The institutionalized conservatism of a system in which tribal loyalties are to the fore helps bolster the position of the monarchy, but if stronger political parties materialize, then the balance would likely shift. If the new reforms achieve what the previous effort didn't and manage to encourage the emergence of mature political parties, it could presage even greater change in the kingdom's political scene. There are many possible beneficiaries, including the IAF, but new secular parties could also emerge. The most likely loser would be the monarchy, which could find its power and influence challenged more easily in a culture of vibrant policy debates. The king says he wants to see genuine opposition parties emerge and also insists that he wants the pace of reform to accelerate. In a speech on Feb. 20, he told members of the government, parliament, and the judiciary, "Through your cooperation, we will move forward and proceed with comprehensive reform ... And when I say reform, I want real and quick reform. ... I want quick results. When I talk about political reform, I want real reform consistent with the spirit of the age." The king does not have a strong history as a reformer, however. The fault of passivity to date lies less with successive unwilling parliaments and far more with the king himself, given the overwhelming amount of power he holds. Plans such as the National Agenda, which was published in 2006 and proposed sweeping reforms to life in the country, have been quietly sidelined. And the reform agenda that the king now insists he is committed to has been largely forced on him by the dramatic changes in neighboring Egypt and across the Middle East. Those looking for democratic reforms coming from the king can't have been encouraged by the royal court's response to a story by Agence France-Presse's longtime Amman correspondent, Randa Habib, in early February. Her article quoted a statement from 36 tribal leaders that openly criticized Queen Rania, alleging her family was involved in corrupt land deals and she had been involved in securing Jordanian citizenship for tens of thousands of Palestinians. The latter is a particularly sensitive issue in Jordan, due to the tensions between Jordanians originally from the east bank of the Jordan River and those of Palestinian origin. Similar stories have appeared in the past in foreign media outlets, but this time the Royal Court issued a statement, which was carried by the local press, angrily condemning the AFP story. "That was a fiasco. They shouldn't have responded," says Tell. "It was a mistake on those people to claim that they represented all of their tribes and it was a mistake also to say they represent no one. It's not black and white. Irrespective of that, the royal court should not respond. That reaction shows panic." Abdullah deserves some credit for quickly adapting to the new political reality in the region. But even if he manages to retain control of the domestic reform agenda, further external influences could yet easily undermine his position. If the reform program that Jordan has tentatively embarked on fails to meet the aspirations of its people, it's quite possible that far more people could take to the streets. Just as important, however, is the democratic transition in Cairo, which Abdullah is no doubt watching closely. "If the developments in Egypt result in a democratic, prosperous, liberal society -- this will be an incredibly attractive force, and Egypt will regain its long lost political and cultural leadership role in the
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Arab world," says Erbel. "If that happens, millions of people all over the region will look towards Egypt and ask for similar rights. But the opposite also holds true: If Egypt degenerates into street violence, chronic instability, and economic crisis, then this will likely have the effect of discouraging people from rebelling against state authority." One thing, however, is clear: This year has shown the region's leaders just how quickly absolute control can dissolve into absolute chaos. That's as true of Jordan as of anywhere. ********************

Oman's Days of Rage
By: Jackie Spinner. Source: Foreign Policy Date: Feb 28, 2011
Jackie Spinner is a journalist based in the Middle East. She was a staff writer for the Washington Post for 14 years and covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

MUSCAT, Oman — In the four decades since Sultan Qaboos bin Said al-Said came to power in this sleepy sultanate on the Arabian Peninsula, his subjects have lived through the very birth of a modern nation. Before Sultan Qaboos, at age 29, staged a nonviolent coup against his father, Oman was a forgotten land of mountains and deserts with only a couple of schools, no public health system, few paved roads, and an ancient sea trade in frankincense. It wasn't that it was backward. Oman just had never come forward, and it was too isolated to even be aware of it. Today, Oman is a vibrant society, a place that values education and technology, a country that is fat on oil, a monarchy with a constitution called the "White Book" that offers a range of protections to its citizens, including equal rights for women and fairly progressive press laws, as long as the sultan is not discussed or disrespected. But with all these extraordinary changes, no one in Oman has ever witnessed anything like the public demonstrations of anger and rioting that have gripped this conservative country the past few days, thrusting it into the lineup of Arab populations clamoring for change. The Omani people's demands may be slightly different from those of their regional brethren. Sultan Qaboos himself may remain well-loved, untouchable even. "His blood runs through us," one protester in the capital Muscat explained, tapping his heart. But in a matter of days, in the time it took for a peaceful sit-in in the industrial city of Sohar to morph into a deadly riot, Oman suddenly seems as vulnerable as any other country in the Middle East. "I smell the winds of change, and it's unstoppable," said a man demonstrating on the night of Monday, Feb. 28, in front of the Majlis al-Shura in Muscat, an elected body that advises the government, the only real representation that Omanis have. "The wise government will come and listen and respond before it's too late," he said, declining to give his name and referring to himself only as "Mr. Incognito." About 250 people held signs and waved Omani flags in front of passing traffic, a remarkably peaceful demonstration compared with the looting and violence 142 miles up the road in Sohar, where at least one person was killed Sunday, Feb. 27, in clashes with riot police.

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Their demands are hardly radical; nobody is chanting "down with the sultan." Omani activists are calling instead for an elected prime minister and parliament, the end of alleged corruption, new cabinet ministers, and more economic opportunities for college graduates and young people. "The people are not against His Majesty," said Sultan Al Bustani, an oil-company executive in Muscat who was at Monday night's demonstration. "He did a lot for the country. But we need change in the government. We don't have a say." This was not Muscat's first demonstration in recent weeks. On Feb. 18, about 350 protesters marched peacefully in front of the government ministries, rallying against corruption and demanding to know how their country's oil proceeds have been spent. Protesters carried signs that read, "No to high prices, no to corruption" and "Where is democracy?" At each ministry, the protesters stopped and shouted, "Hey guys, no, no, no to corruption!" At specific ministries, the crowd called out particular slogans such as, "Where is the money from oil and gas?" But when the crowd started to shout about specific ministers, the organizers quickly stopped them and encouraged the protesters not to insult individuals. Protesters argued briefly with police when they tried to enter a road that had been blocked, but the situation was soon calmed. Omani police and soldiers never drew their weapons, a marked distinction from how the Persian Gulf country of Bahrain was reacting to its demonstrators at the time. This weekend, the protests spread to Sohar as well as the southern city of Salalah. Sohar caught this country off guard on Sunday, when youthful rioters, many with their faces covered in scarves, seized the main roundabout to the city, hurtling rocks at riot police, burning buildings, and looting shops. Omanis, not being used to public displays of any kind, were stunned at the violence and anger in Sohar. "We have never even demonstrated here," said Humaid Al Hajiria, who was at the gathering Monday night to ask for more accountability for the government. Many of the young college graduates in Sohar complain that the port city's growing base of foreign companies won't hire them. They may not be going hungry, but in Sohar, young Omanis need only to look into neighboring Dubai to see what they don't have. While their parents reach back proudly to see how far they've come, these young people look ahead and are disgruntled. It is not clear what happened exactly Sunday in Sohar, where the roundabout was consumed for most of the day in clouds of smoke and tear gas. Some witnesses said police attacked protesters without reason. Others said the police shot rubber bullets when the crowd attacked a fuel truck and police station. Reuters, citing a hospital official, said that six people had died, but the state-run Oman News Agency said Sunday that only two protesters had died. On Monday, it revised that figure to one. When asked about Sohar, Said Marjibi, director of protocol for the Majlis al-Shura, shook his head. Like many Omanis, he seemed genuinely surprised by the scope of anger. "We don't know what happened," he said. Some protesters said the government is simply disconnected from its young people, out of touch with their ways and their thinking. Others said the government may not yet understand how deep the anger runs.

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Tariq al-Sabahi, who protested Monday night in Muscat, said it took him six months to find a job even after he completed his master's degree. "It's frustrating," he said. "I was lucky. I eventually found a job, but my sister has a bachelor's degree in English, and she's sitting at home. Why can't she find a job? What's going on here?" The sultan has tried to meet some of the protesters' demands, offering to change cabinet ministers and look into the inflation that has stymied the upwardly mobile. After the violence in Sohar, the sultan ordered the creation of 50,000 jobs, though some protesters questioned how he would do that. He agreed to study giving more authority to the Majlis al-Shura and to grant oversight powers to financialmonitoring institutions, and he offered the equivalent of about $400 a month in unemployment benefits. Many Omanis expected that the concessions would return Sohar to normal by Monday. But hundreds of protesters continued to gather, blocking the main road to the port and keeping control of the roundabout, essentially shutting down traffic on Oman's superhighway that connects the north to the south. Basma al-Kiyu, one of the organizers of the demonstration in the capital, said on Monday that the sultan's concessions simply were not enough. People are not willing to wait for change to come slowly, she said. "We want a constitution," she said. "We want a parliament." Nasser Al Mawali, deputy chairman of the Majlis al-Shura and an elected official -- albeit one with no real authority -- was at the demonstration on Monday, meeting with protesters. He said people have a right to demand more of their government. "We started from zero," he said. "We have achieved a lot. Personally, I'm proud of what we have achieved. But it's the right of everyone to ask for more. We have to listen to the people." Omanis on Facebook have called for a nationwide uprising on March 2. The page has attracted more than 2,300 users in a country of about 2.5 million. "The credibility between the government and people is gone," said Bustani, the business executive. "We don't have that trust. My big fear is that if the people don't get a response, there is going to be unpredictable rage." ********************

Of Revolutions, Regime Change, and State Collapse in the Arab World
By: Marina Ottaway. Source: Carnegie Endowment Date: Feb 28, 2011

Marina Ottaway works on issues of political transformation in the Middle East and Gulf security.

With breathtaking speed, massive popular protests across the Arab world have swept away two Arab strongmen and shaken half a dozen monarchies and republics to their core. But the Arab world has yet to witness any fundamental change in ruling elites and even less in the nature of governance.
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Libya now seems poised to be the first country to see a true change in governance, thanks to Muammar Qaddafi’s megalomania and his amorphous jamahiriya (state of the masses). But such change may not have a happy ending. The damage Qaddafi has inflicted on his country is likely to extend well past his demise because he leaves behind a weak state without functioning institutions. The uprisings sweeping across the Middle East have similar causes and share certain conditions: authoritarian and ossified regimes, economic hardship, and a growing contrast between great wealth and dire poverty, all worsened by the extraordinarily large number of young people who demand a better future. But the consequences will not be the same everywhere. Tunisia and Egypt: A System Still in Place Pro-democracy protesters in Tunisia and Egypt have been quick to use the word “revolution” to describe their astounding achievement in forcing Presidents Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak from power after decades of rule. Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolution” and Egypt’s “January 25 Revolution” have certainly injected the long-silenced voice of the people into the autocratic politics of the region. But they have not brought to the fore a new ruling class, system of governance, or the profound social and economic changes associated with the classical meaning of revolution. And it remains to be seen whether they will succeed in doing so. The protesters who keep turning out after Friday prayers in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and on Tunis’s Avenue Bourguiba are absolutely right to keep pressing their cause. They have their work cut out for them. Mubarak and Ben Ali may be gone, but the individuals and institutions overseeing the transition remain the same—the old cronies of the former presidents and the pillars of the old regimes. Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq in Egypt was appointed by Mubarak days before he resigned. Mohammed Ghannouchi in Tunisia had been prime minister since 1999. In both countries, the same well-developed bureaucratic states and powerful military and security forces that buttressed authoritarian rule remain intact and seemingly determined to curb the pro-democracy momentum generated so far. A change in ruling elites and system of governance is still a distant goal. Libya: A System Built Around Qaddafi The fall of Qaddafi will be a different matter. By necessity it will bring about both a new leadership and an entirely different system of government. His downfall will create a vacuum because the political house he built—inspired by his rambling Green Book of philosophical socialist musings—is now being blown away with him. The mercurial Revolutionary Leader really does believe “l’etat, c’est moi” or, perhaps more precisely, “l’etat, c’est ma famille.” Intermediary bodies between himself and “the masses” of his jamahiriya were few, deliberately fragmented, and carefully controlled. Qaddafi allowed no political parties and no civil society organizations. He labeled everything “revolutionary” or “the people’s” this or that to build an imaginary “direct democracy” with an unlikely national anthem of “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is Great.” His system of governance, defined not by a constitution but by a Declaration of the Establishment of the People’s Authority, consisted of 2,700 local “basic people’s congresses” that met just three times a year. They sent delegates to state congresses, which in turn selected the 760 members of the General People’s Congress that met at The Leader’s whim and will. He called his cabinet “the General People’s Committee” and the Politburo of his non-existent
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party “the Revolutionary Command Council.” Few Libyans even understood how the system was supposed to work: an attempt by one of us a few years ago to obtain clarifications about the confusing system from a Libyan diplomat elicited the answer that he really had no idea. In reality, the complex revolutionary trappings were a thin screen behind which Qaddafi manipulated Libya’s tricky tribal politics, favoring three groups in particular: his own Qaddafa tribe plus the Maghraha and the Warfalla. No Libyan or outsider ever believed that anybody other than Qaddafi himself (or perhaps one of his seven sons) decided anything. Qaddafi’s Fall Could Mean the Collapse of the State If Qaddafi’s demise only entailed the dissolution of his regime, it would be tempting to declare good riddance and hail the good fortune of the Libyan people in freeing themselves of the old regime in one blow, without having to deal with its remnants, as Tunisians and Egyptians are struggling to do. Unfortunately for Libya, the fall of the House of Qaddafi will not only put an end to his regime, but risks causing the collapse of the Libyan state. Qaddafi’s long reign did nothing to forge institutions that can ensure the continuity of the state beyond regime change. There is no well-organized bureaucracy to ensure administrative continuity. The military and security forces—the institutions of last recourse in weak states—were deliberately fragmented by Qaddafi into militias and special brigades led by his sons and counterbalanced by a large praetorian guard and various paramilitary groups. The weakness of state institutions is already apparent in the eastern part of the country, which is now under the control of anti-government movements. Reports indicate that insurgents are trying to organize ad-hoc committees to keep order, direct traffic, maintain services, and even protect oil installations. Many efforts are carried out at the community level, but attempts are also underway to form a new government. Led by former Justice Minister Mustafa Abdel Jelil and the professional class of the city of Benghazi, the temporary governing mechanism is reaching out to tribal councils for support. In the vacuum created by the collapse of the Qaddafi regime in the eastern part of Libya, the country’s tribal structure appears to be the only enduring element. In Egypt and Tunisia, the permanent features are the bureaucracy and the military and security forces. An Uncertain Outlook for Democracy Key to the outcome for Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya is whether a functioning state exists. Without a state, democracy is unlikely—if not outright impossible. Democracy can only emerge in the context of functioning institutions, not of chaos. Unfortunately, the strong state institutions also bolstered the old regimes. They were not one-man affairs: no matter how authoritarian Mubarak or Ben Ali were, they did not rule single-handedly. Their regimes were multi-layered, supported by massive security apparatuses and extensive bureaucracies, and used, among other purposes, to produce landslide electoral victories for the ruling parties. Countries with such strong state and regime structures are difficult to change. Both Egypt and Tunisia may in the end weather the crisis with little—indeed too little—change, by sacrificing the presidents and their families and scapegoating the top layer of politicians. But the maneuver to stymie change may not succeed if protesters keep up the pressure—the sudden resignation of Tunisia’s Ghannouchi on February 27 testifies to the importance of continuing popular pressure. If protesters succeed in bearing prolonged pressure on the regimes and force them to introduce more far-reaching reforms, however, countries like
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Egypt and Tunisia stand a chance of developing into democracies, because they have the necessary prerequisite of stable state structures. In countries like Libya or Yemen, where such structures are weak or non-existent and the autocrat holds the country together through a web of personal relations, the prospects for democracy appear far more problematic. A sustained uprising in such countries could lead to sudden and complete regime change, since the leaders and their immediate entourage constitute the entire regime. Even the state is likely to collapse because there are no underlying structures independent of the top leaders. Regime change thus would be extremely unlikely to lead to democracy. More likely, the outcome would be a variation of the fragmentation that has bedeviled Somalia for twenty years. ********************

A legacy of violence
By: Efraim Karsh. Source: Middle East Forum Date: Mar 1, 2011

Efraim Karsh is professor of Middle East and Mediterranean studies at King's College London.

Turbulent times often breed nostalgia for a supposedly idyllic past. Viewing the upheavals sweeping the Middle East as a mass expression of outrage against oppression, eminent historian Bernard Lewis fondly recalled past regional order. "The sort of authoritarian, even dictatorial regimes that rule most of the countries in the modern Islamic Middle East are a modern creation. They are a result of modernization," he told The Jerusalem Post. "The pre-modern regimes were much more open, much more tolerant. You can see this from a number of contemporary descriptions. And the memory of that is still living." I doubt past generations of Muslims would share this view. In the long history of the Islamic empire, the wide gap between delusions of grandeur and the forces of localism would be bridged time and again by force of arms, making violence a key element of Islamic political culture. No sooner had the prophet Muhammad died than his successor, Abu Bakr, had to suppress a widespread revolt among the Arabian tribes. Twenty-three years later, the head of the umma, Caliph Uthman ibn Affan, was murdered by disgruntled rebels; his successor, Ali ibn Abi Talib, was confronted for most of his reign with armed insurrections, most notably by the governor of Syria, Mu'awiya ibn Abi Sufian, who went on to establish the Umayyad dynasty after Ali's assassination. Mu'awiya's successors managed to hang onto power mainly by relying on physical force to prevent or quell revolts in the diverse corners of their empire. The same was true for the Abbasids during the long centuries of their sovereignty. WESTERN SCHOLARS often hold up the Ottoman Empire as an exception to this earlier pattern. In fact, the caliphate did deal relatively gently with its vast non- Muslim subject populations – provided they acknowledged their legal and institutional inferiority in the Islamic order of things. When these groups
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dared to question their subordinate status – let alone attempt to break the Ottoman yoke – they were viciously put down. In the century or so between Napoleon's conquests in the Middle East and World War I, the Ottomans embarked on an orgy of bloodletting in response to the nationalist aspirations of their European subjects. The Greek war of independence of the 1820s, the Danubian uprisings of 1848, the Balkan explosion of the 1870s – all were painful reminders of the cost of resisting Islamic rule. The 1990s wars in BosniaHerzegovina and Kosovo are but natural extensions of this "much more open, much more tolerant" legacy. Nor was such violence confined to Ottoman Europe. Turkey's Afro-Asiatic provinces were also scenes of mayhem. The Ottoman army or its surrogates brought force to bear against Wahhabi uprisings in Mesopotamia and the Levant in the early 19th century, against civil strife in Lebanon in the 1840s and against a string of Kurdish rebellions. In response to the national awakening of the Armenians in the 1890s, Istanbul killed tens of thousands – a taste of the horrors that awaited the Armenians during World War I. Violence and oppression, then, have not been imported to the Middle East as a byproduct of European imperialism; they were a part of the political culture long before. If anything, it is the Middle East's tortuous relationship with modernity that has left physical force as the main instrument of political discourse. Unlike Christianity, Islam was inextricably linked with empire. It did not distinguish between temporal and religious powers (which were combined in the person of Muhammad, who derived his authority directly from Allah). This allowed the prophet and his erstwhile successors to cloak their political ambitions with a religious aura. Neither did the subject populations of the Ottoman Empire undergo the secularization and modernization that preceded the development of nationalism in Western Europe in the late 1700s. So when the old European empires collapsed 150 years later, individual nationstates were able to step into the breach. By contrast, when the Ottoman Empire fell, its components still thought only in the old terms – on the one hand, the intricate web of loyalties to clan, tribe, village, town, religious sect or local ethnic minority, and on the other, submission to the distant Ottoman sultan/caliph as the temporal and religious head of the world Muslim community – a post that now stood vacant. INTO THIS vacuum stepped ambitious political leaders speaking the rhetoric of "Arab nationalism." The problem with this state of affairs was that the diversity and fragmentation of the Arabic-speaking world had made its disparate societies better disposed to local patriotism than to a unified secular order. But then, rather than allow this disposition to develop into modern-day nationalism, Arab rulers systematically convinced their peoples to think that the independent existence of their respective states was a temporary aberration.
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The result was a legacy of oppressive violence that has haunted the Middle East into the 21st century, as rulers sought to bridge the reality of state nationalism and the mirage of a unified "Arab nation," and to shore up their regimes against grassroots Islamist movements (notably the Muslim Brotherhood) articulating the far more appealing message of a return to religious law (Shari'a) as a stepping stone to the establishment of a worldwide community of believers (umma). One need only mention, among many instances, Syria's massacre of 20,000 Muslim activists in the early 1980s, or the brutal treatment of Iraq's Shi'ite and Kurdish communities until the 2003 war, or the genocidal campaign in Darfur by the government of Sudan. This violence has by no means been the sole property of the likes of Muammar Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, Hafez Assad, and Ayatollah Khomeini. The affable and thoroughly Westernized King Hussein of Jordan didn't shrink from slaughtering thousands of Palestinians during September 1970 (known as Black September) when his throne came under threat from Palestinian guerrillas. Now that the barrier of fear has been breached, it remains to be seen which regimes will be swept from power. But it is doubtful whether Middle East societies will be able, or willing, to transcend their imperial legacy and embrace the Western-type liberal democracy that has taken European nations centuries to achieve. *********************

Iran's reformists under fire
By: Kaveh L Afrasiabi. Source: Asia Times Date: Mar 2, 2011
Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy.

Inheriting a revolutionary legacy and projecting power as a revisionist actor on the world stage, the Islamic Republic of Iran constantly prides itself as an historically superior system to the ancien regime that perpetuated itself for a quarter of century with the help of American power and a notorious secret service. Today, in light of the official news of the house arrest of two leading opposition figures, Mir Hussain Mousavi and Mehdi Karubi, the regime risks fueling the furnace of anti-Iran forces in the West as well as in the Middle East, which count on the debilitating consequences of internal strife to weaken Iran's rising power. According to Hojatol Eslam Ejehi, a spokesperson for the Justice Ministry, "The first step" against Mousavi and Karubi, referred to as leaders of "sedition" (fetneh), has begun by cutting off their telephone and Internet services and curbing their movements, in essence placing them under house arrest. This while, according to opposition websites, both men and their spouses have been transferred to Heshmatieh prison in Tehran. Western governments and rights organizations have denounced the move against the opposition leaders, who have a long track record, ie, Mousavi was prime minister during the Iran-Iraq war in the
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1980s, and Karubi was a speaker of parliament (Majlis). The German government, for instance, which has recently moved nearer to Iran, is hopeful that Tehran will show sensitivity to their expressed concern over the fate of Karubi and Mousavi, after summoning Iran's envoy to Berlin. The Germans recently favored a United Nations Security resolution condemning Israel's illegal settlements, which was vetoed by US, and succeeding in securing the release of two of its nationals from Iran's jails accused of spying; this was made possible by a Tehran visit of German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. The risk is that the German stance against Iran may harden and negatively affect its attitude in future rounds of the "Iran Six" talks with Tehran on its nuclear program. The other members of the of the six are the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council - the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China. On a broader level, how the Iranian government behaves towards its internal dissent has a direct impact on its image in the region, a key issue nowadays that much of the Arab world and North Africa is engulfed in revolutionary upheavals and the question of which model to emulate has acquired a new significance. If Iran is perceived as moving away from the rule of law and toward arbitrary and autocratic exercise of power, this will undermine its efforts to enhance its net of solidarity, including in countries such as Egypt, which has just overthrown its entrenched dictator, Hosni Mubarak. Consequently, it is vitally important for the sake of Iran's foreign and regional agenda to disallow the harm to its external image that would in turn diminish its chance of ingratiating itself to the newly democratizing regimes in the region. Tehran can do this only by remaining loyal to its own Islamic constitution, in which the rights of political opposition operating within the constitutional framework, ie, refraining from overthrowing the regime, are enshrined. Political factionalism has been, from the outset of the post-revolutionary system, tolerated, giving the Islamic Republic a semi-pluralistic image that cannot and should not be compromised for the sake of any faction in Iran. Nowadays, factionalism has focused on, among other matters, the upcoming election for the 86-member Assembly of Experts, presently headed by pragmatist former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who is vilified by some hardline groups over complicity with leaders of the opposition Green movement. Trying to distance himself from the Green leaders, in a recent television interview Rafsanjani implicitly criticized them for joining forces with known counter-revolutionary groups by refusing to take part in the official pro-Egypt rallies last month and, instead, calling for a separate rally that turned out to be an antigovernment spectacle with some protesters chanting death to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In retrospect, the Green leaders' decision - to reject the government's small olive branch by inviting "all groups" to take part in the pro-Egypt revolution rally - appears to have been misguided and a major miscalculation that has backfired. If their intention was to spread the democratic fever gripping the rest of the region to Iran, they underestimated the extent of the government's stern reaction that essentially nipped it in the bud, thus setting the stage for today's prosecution of those leaders and some of their followers.
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"The Green leaders missed a unique opportunity to demonstrate their political acumen by moving toward reconciliation," says a Tehran University political science professor who supports reformist politics in Iran, adding that in his opinion the only future available to the Green movement is to "deradicalize", or it is doomed. However, speaking on the condition of anonymity, the professor advised the rulers to refrain from taking any action against Karubi or Mousavi "outside the legal framework ... there may be short-term gains by putting them under house arrest, but for how long? It is better to commence legal proceedings against them and allow them to have legal representation and defend themselves against the allegations." Pointing at Iran's "culture of martyrdom", the professor stated that the Green movement may actually be energized by the prosecution of its leaders and even further "radicalized". Path toward political reconciliation Democracy, as English author George Orwell once put it, is the counting of heads and not breaking them. Iran's unique experimentation of Islam and electoral politics, as a key manifestation of an Islamic democracy, hinges on the sustaining power of political competition and tolerance of dissent, not to mention the politics of compromise, a dread word in Iranian political discourse. But, with important parliamentary and presidential elections approaching next year and the year after that respectively, the only logical path toward political evolution in Iran is to harmonize inter-elite factionalism and to steer clear of arbitrary exercises of power against the groups and parties known as reformists. This is by all indications a two-way process and the reformists have their work cut out, since they have lost much of their momentum since the summer of 2009, when huge mass protests followed the presidential elections that culminated in the victory of incumbent President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. According to Ahmad Montazeri, son of the late dissident ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri, in his letter to Supreme Leader Khamenei, political reconciliation could materialize if there is an initiative from the top to form a reconciliation committee. The leader is simultaneously being lobbied by conservative factions to take decisive action against the "heads of sedition and their accomplices". How the leader responds to these contrary pressures will likely hinge on his perception of the balance between internal stability and the protection of the rights of opposition figures, a delicate issue at a time when Iran's enemies are anything but shy about the importance of exploiting the pro-democracy movement in Iran to undermine the regime's foreign objectives. Concerning the latter, David Frum, a neo-conservative who was former US president George W Bush's speechwriter and who is credited with coining the term "axis of evil" in a speech he wrote for his boss' state of the union address in 2002, has questioned President Barack Obama's Iran policy, urging him to seek regime change partly through the democracy movement. If it turns out that the Obama administration is tilting toward endorsing the neo-conservative agenda against Iran in the coming weeks or months, then it is clear that the Tehran rulers will intensify their efforts to stamp out "Americanist dissent", a pejorative term used by Iran's conservatives to label Green supporters and their leaders presently suffering the indignity of house or prison confinement.

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The release of political prisoners and the retracking of government-opposition hostilities toward reconciliation is now most certainly in the country's best national interests. **********************

New Evidence of Iran's Nuclear Ambitions
By: Simon Henderson. Source: The Washington Institute. Date: Mar 2, 2011

Simon Henderson is the Baker fellow and director of the Gulf and Energy Policy Program at The Washington Institute

On March 1, the Pentagon announced it was sending the USS Monterey -- a vessel equipped with the sophisticated Aegis radar system, capable of protecting Europe from a potential Iranian nuclear missile strike -- to the Mediterranean. The guided missile cruiser is the first part of a missile shield announced by the Obama administration in 2009. Its deployment comes one week after the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released a notably outspoken report on Iran's nuclear activities and lack of cooperation with inspectors operating under the UN Security Council's mandate. Issued on February 25, the report appears to agree, at least in part, with the conclusions of a new U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, about which members of Congress and their staff were briefed a week earlier. Together, the reports paint a picture of Iran persisting in its controversial nuclear activities despite international concern, although the U.S. report suggests that sanctions and sabotage have slowed the program. New NIE The latest NIE reportedly revises the conclusions of a controversial 2007 NIE on Iran, which argued that the regime had halted its clandestine work on a nuclear weapons program. When the 2007 estimate's "key judgments" were declassified and released, they offered a starkly different perspective than the message emanating from the Bush White House, which had been emphasizing a growing Iranian threat. Yet public perception of the 2007 NIE largely ignored one of its other key findings: that Iran was continuing to develop uranium enrichment technology. In the absence of a civilian need for such technology, this finding suggested that enriched uranium was being produced for nuclear weapons. The new NIE remains classified and is only available to a limited readership in government. Yet the U.S. media, quoting sources in Congress, has offered a glimpse of one of the estimate's main conclusions: although Tehran has yet to make a strategic decision on whether to build a nuclear weapon, it is developing the unspecified components of a bomb, itself a complicated engineering challenge. Tougher IAEA Report? The quarterly IAEA reports are intended to record the agency's progress in persuading Tehran to convince the world that its nuclear activities are for peaceful purposes. This is a diplomatic obligation for Iran as a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. In addition, mandatory provisions of several
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UN Security Council resolutions oblige Tehran to cooperate with IAEA inspectors. Progress has been slow at best, but under the leadership of director-general Yukiya Amano, who took over from Mohamed ElBaradei in late 2009, the quarterly reports have indicated a tougher IAEA approach to Iran. The February 25 report noted the following:

Contrary to Security Council resolutions, Iran has not suspended its uranium enrichment activities at several facilities, which are under IAEA safeguards. Indeed, enrichment activities have been expanded at both a pilot plant and the main plant at Natanz, and at an enrichment plant called Fordow, near the holy city of Qom. Tehran admitted the existence of the latter facility in 2009, days before it was revealed by U.S. and European surveillance. Indeed, Iran is enriching with more than 5,000 centrifuges, 1,000 more than three months ago. (A rare optimistic note is that Iran's total of 8,000 centrifuges is slightly less than the total at the time of the last report, suggesting breakdowns remain a problem.) Iran has now produced more than 3,600 kilograms of low-enriched uranium; if processed into higher proportions of the fissile isotope U-235, this amount could theoretically be enough for several atomic bombs. In addition, Iran continues to enrich some of this to a higher (20 percent) proportion of U-235, a cause for concern because anything beyond is defined as highly enriched uranium (HEU). Iran is also working on two new centrifuge designs that might be more efficient than its problematic IR-1 centrifuge. Iran is not responding to information requests about the Fordow plant and has yet to tell the IAEA anything about ten new centrifuge plants. Sites for five of these plants have already been chosen, and construction will begin on one of them before the Iranian new year (March 20) or shortly afterward. Iran has provided no further information regarding its claim last year that it possessed laser enrichment technology, nor on its later announcement that it was developing a new type of centrifuge. The regime has also ignored IAEA requests about additional locations related to the manufacture of centrifuges and research and development on enrichment. Although Iran has stated that it is not working on reprocessing -- which the IAEA confirmed, but only in the facilities it was permitted to inspect --the regime continues to work on heavy-water projects in violation of Security Council resolutions. Some activities at the Isfahan uranium conversion and fuel manufacturing facilities contravene Iran's international obligations. Under a section titled "Possible Military Dimensions," the IAEA report refers to "new information recently received "as well as concerns "about the possible existence in Iran...of activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile." This disturbing conclusion reinforces previous evidence that Iran is working hard to design a nuclear weapon small enough to fit on top of a missile less than three feet in diameter. It also suggests that Iran intends to design an implosion-type device, which is more challenging than the gun-type design used in the Hiroshima bomb and later developed by apartheid-era South Africa. Nuclear devices for missiles must also be more durable than those dropped from aircraft because they need to cope with the huge acceleration and high reentry temperatures associated with rocket launches.
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(The IAEA report also notes that Iran has had to delay the start-up of the Russian-designed Bushehr civil nuclear power reactor because of unspecified problems requiring the unloading of the uranium fuel rods. The New York Times subsequently reported a problem with the reactor's cooling pumps. Although Bushehr is not an immediate proliferation concern, its personnel need many of the same skills required for the controversial portions of Iran's nuclear program.) Tehran's Nuclear Intentions Iran's nuclear progress has been extraordinarily slow. Using technology similar to Iran's, Pakistan needed eight years to reach the testing stage in the 1970s and 1980s.Iran is believed to have been working on nuclear weapons since the mid-1980s, or roughly twenty-five years. Some of the delay can be attributed to poor administration, but the technical challenges and the disruption of needed imports of material and equipment have also contributed to the slowness. The reported, and perhaps unreported, incidents of sabotage have probably played a role as well. The United States sees this delay as confirmation that its sanctions policies are working, while also claiming that Tehran has yet to make a "strategic decision" on whether to move from the technical ability stage to actually making a testable device. Yet it is difficult to reach the same optimistic conclusion from reading the IAEA report, and it makes the deployment of USS Monterey seem unnecessary. Much of the confidence that Iran remains unable to make a nuclear device rests on the knowledge that its IR-1 centrifuge has never been successfully used to make the required 90 percent HEU needed for a deliverable atomic bomb. Iran's attempts to develop two new centrifuge types, known as IR-4 and IR-2M, could be beyond the regime's technical skills. Given Tehran's relations with Pyongyang, however, Iran could obtain access to advanced P-2 centrifuges, which were revealed to be operating in North Korea last year. Pakistan has used this type of centrifuge to develop enough HEU for as many as a hundred atomic bombs. Tehran is still refusing to engage in any meaningful dialogue with either the IAEA or the international community -- the January talks in Istanbul between Iran and the P5+1 (United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany) failed to make any progress. Meanwhile its nuclear decisionmaking is likely being affected by the popular demonstrations sweeping the Arab world, which it probably sees as distracting Washington and weakening the U.S. position in the region. The resultant higher oil prices will certainly compensate Iran for the effect of trade sanctions. Both the IAEA report and the new NIE should serve as reminders not to become complacent about the threat of a nuclear Iran. **********************

Turkey's New a la Carte Nerve
By: Soner Cagaptay . Source: the Washington Institute Date: Feb 25, 2011
Soner Cagaptay is director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Have doubts that Turkey has changed since the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, assumed power in 2002? A look at what arouses popular anger in Turkey today reveals a society in flux -- one rapidly adopting new and risky political sensitivities.
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In the past, actions considered offensive to Turkish national identity, such as support for outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, terror attacks, would have been a virtual casus belli for the Turks. Not anymore. Recent WikiLeaks reports have disclosed that Russia has been helping arm the PKK, producing barely a raised eyebrow from the Turkish public -- a far cry from the angry protests that would have been expected in years past. Today's Turks are focused on taking issue with people and ideas they consider offensive to Muslims. While a negative reaction to perceived anti-Muslim sentiments is understandable from the Turkish people's perspective, this new morality is based on a la carte morals and selective outrage: Turks take issue with perceived offensive behavior by Westerners against Muslims, but they give carte blanche to similar behavior by Muslims against Westerners or even against fellow Muslims. The roots of this new selective morality lie in the transformation of the Turkish identity under the AKP. In decades past, the Turks considered themselves both Muslim and Western simultaneously, for they saw no conflict between these identities. Now, however, many Turks view the two identities as being mutually exclusive. Increasingly, many are siding with a politically defined "Muslim world" as opposed to the West. Accordingly, contemporary Turkish society is outraged by Westerners whom they consider offensive, but can turn a blind eye to Muslims who transgress others' rights, even including those of fellow Muslims. Take for instance recent Turkish reactions to a visit by acclaimed film director Emir Kusturica and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. The former, a Bosnian who stood with the Yugoslav National Army as it slaughtered Bosnians in the 1990s, was driven out of Turkey in October by AKP government-led protests, resulting in threats against his life. The latter Sudanese leader, who was indicted for genocide by the International Criminal Court in July, was gracefully hosted by the AKP government in Istanbul. While Kusturica's views are hardly laudable, the actions of the Turkish government and the non-reaction of the Turkish public to Bashir's visit are indicative of the unfortunate moral double standard that has taken hold in Turkey. This trend underlines the new Turkish outrage that takes issue with Westerners and non-Muslims whose views are considered offensive. Another similar case was the treatment of Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul, who was invited to a writers' conference that was held in November in Istanbul. However, as the date approached, pro-government media began a public character assassination campaign, targeting Naipaul as a "Muslim hater." The proof: Naipaul's Nobel Prize-winning novels! In the end, the conference committee uninvited Naipaul to the Istanbul event. As the Naipaul case shows, Turkey's new moral sensitivities target not just individuals but also ideas considered offensive to Muslims. Perhaps it is only a passing phenomenon; but if long lasting, this is an alarming trend for it points to a new and irate Turkish attitude toward the West and its ideas. Part of the explanation for this phenomenon lies in the nature of Turkish society. In general, there are three ways contemporary societies relate to the outside world. First, there are "open societies with open minds," i.e. technologically and politically connected societies that are open to new ideas coming from the outside even if such ideas might be unorthodox. Second, there are "closed societies with closed minds" -- as hypothetical as this prototype might be -- such as dictatorships that block outside influence and create closed-circuit epistemological environments. Finally, there are "open societies with closed
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minds," such as Turkey; these societies, though functionally integrated into a globalized world, are unwelcoming to people and ideas coming from the outside. Add to this mixture Turkey's new activist foreign policy that stimulates solidarity with a politically defined "Muslim world," and you arrive at the current state of Turkey's societal relationship with Western values. When the AKP launched its foreign policy soon after 2002, with efforts to increase Turkish involvement in Middle East conflicts, many saw it as a positive development. This initiative was predicted to serve as an important bridge between the West and the Muslim world, and the AKP could finally realize its merit as a regional leader and its ability to enrich both Turkey's Western and Muslim identities. Unfortunately these predictions proved premature. The last decade has shown that the AKP's policies do not envision a Turkey that guides Muslim nations into the West. Rather, the party has shown that its goal is to frequently rally Muslim nations and causes against the West. This has led to a chasm between Turkey's two identities, with most Turks taking issue with the West. Coupled with the closed-circuit nature of Turkish society, this attitude is rapidly restructuring the Turks' relationship with the West, as well as stimulating anti-Western tendencies. Barring a radical change, a singular focus on anti-Muslim sentiment will continue to be a defining characteristic of Turkish public discourse for the foreseeable future, much to the detriment of Turkish society as a whole. *********************

China Reacts to Middle East Unrest
By: Douglas H. Paal. Source: Carnegie Endowment Date: Feb 28, 2011
Douglas H. Paal is vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Beijing is very far from Tunis, Cairo, Manama, and Tripoli, but watching Chinese behavior you would think they were right next door. The Chinese Communist Party leadership has reacted to the Middle East turmoil as if it could arouse its own people to similar protests and possibly produce similar consequences. In times like this, the United States would do well to adhere to its policy of principled support for the rights of people everywhere to freedom of assembly, speech, and choice of government. But, as in the Middle East, a little self-restraint in behavior and modesty about desired outcomes will serve American interests in the longer term. Ever vigilant of the internet and social media, the authorities in Beijing worked hard from the beginning of the Egyptian protests to contain the spread of information to their own people about the popular challenge to the Mubarak government. While this was essentially an impossible task when it comes to China’s intelligentsia who know how to obtain information around the “great firewall,” it probably had the practical effect of keeping the laboring masses from knowing the details of the latest examples of how to challenge unpopular authorities.
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As California professor and human rights advocate Perry Link disclosed in a New York Review of Books blog, the day after Mubarak’s fall, members of the Chinese Politburo convened an urgent, informal meeting to review the situation. Six days later, an independent Chinese news outlet, Boxun, revealed the results of the meeting: “ – Halt all independent reports, commentaries, and discussions (including internet threads), whether in the print media or internet, on the situation in Egypt and similar places; – Strengthen work in filtering and managing blogs, micro-blogs, and discussion forums; – Assure that media in all locations uniformly adhere to the standard texts of the New China News Agency in any report or commentary on the Middle East.” The next day, the Boxun blog that revealed this information was itself shut down. On the same day, Beijing summoned leaders of the provincial and central governments to a special meeting at the Central Party School, where Party Chairman and State President Hu Jintao addressed the audience on the need to strengthen information management and public guidance. Then on Sunday February 20, the Politburo member responsible for security, Zhou Yongkang, told officials in a publicly reported speech to "strive to defuse conflicts and disputes while they are still embryonic." Clearly, Beijing is taking no chances that Middle East unrest might infect China. That same day, however, internet activists succeeded in promoting ostensibly legal “strolling” past identified spots in twelve cities in China, including the McDonald’s at Wangfujing in Beijing, presumably to demonstrate solidarity with Middle East protestors in defying authority. Coincidentally, the U.S. ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, went with his family to the McDonald’s just as hundreds of security officials, reporters, curiosity seekers, and possibly some protestors gathered there, only to make a hasty retreat when questioned by bystanders. What does China fear? In discussions with well-regarded senior Chinese observers, they identified conditions in China that echo those in the troubled Middle East. China also has significant problems with corruption, large numbers of educated youth who cannot find jobs that meet their expectations, rising inflation, a related scarcity of available housing, and a closed political system. But, they pointed out that China also has something the other countries lack: a strong and determined Communist Party leadership. As the precautionary steps outlined above show, Beijing is not about to permit another episode like that of Tiananmen Square in 1989. Both Communist and imperial China have a strong tradition of leadership divisions promoting social unrest. It was the clear and public division among the leaders in 1989 over how to handle inflation, corruption, and the student protestors that encouraged millions to join the Tiananmen protests. Hence, Beijing is forcefully and openly pressing for conformity among the leaders and demonstrating unity against social disorder. With a major leadership reshuffle due next year, Beijing will impose high costs on anyone who tries to influence the outcome through procedures not controlled by the Party. With their nerves on edge, China’s leaders will be tempted to see everything through the filter of their concern for social stability. Ambassador Huntsman stumbling onto the scene of a potential protest could, for example, have had unforeseen effects. Beijing so far has reacted coolly, saying officially only
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that the facts of the incident are unclear. But anti-foreign bloggers (who are free to criticize outsiders) have raised suspicions that Huntsman was trying to foment trouble through his appearance at McDonald’s. A decision to take a more active posture to support potential protests in China has not been made by the Obama administration, though some circles in the United States would wish for a more proactive approach. Ambassador Huntsman, however, has been personally engaged in trying to attend, unsuccessfully, the court trials of people in whom the United States has an interest. And he recently visited the family of an imprisoned dissident, which certainly would not please the Beijing authorities. Huntsman and American policy are walking the fine line of a principled position promoting reform and increased freedom while prudently refraining from actually inciting protest or taking sides in China’s internal affairs. If Beijing were to judge that the United States is undermining its stability, the restoration of cooperation and reduction in friction that accompanied the recent state visit by President Hu could easily be tossed aside, with little prospect for an upside. *********************

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