Inter Press Service » Arabs Rise for Rights http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Thu, 17 Apr 2014 07:38:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 OP-ED: Egyptian-Saudi Coalition in Defence of Autocracy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/op-ed-egyptian-saudi-coalition-defence-autocracy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-egyptian-saudi-coalition-defence-autocracy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/op-ed-egyptian-saudi-coalition-defence-autocracy/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 15:28:37 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133684 The Bahraini Arabic language newspaper al-Wasat reported on Wednesday Apr. 9 that a Cairo court began to consider a case brought by an Egyptian lawyer against Qatar accusing it of being soft on terrorism. The “terrorism” charge is of course a euphemism for supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab […]

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By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Apr 15 2014 (IPS)

The Bahraini Arabic language newspaper al-Wasat reported on Wednesday Apr. 9 that a Cairo court began to consider a case brought by an Egyptian lawyer against Qatar accusing it of being soft on terrorism.

The “terrorism” charge is of course a euphemism for supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have designated a “terrorist” organisation and are vowed to dismantle.It’s becoming very clear that dictatorial policies are producing more instability, less security, and greater appeal to terrorism.

The two new partners and the UAE also loathe Qatar for hosting and funding Al-Jazeera satellite TV. The continued incarceration of the Al-Jazeera journalists and dozens of other journalists on trumped up charges is no coincidence.

The court case is symptomatic of the current Saudi-Egyptian relationship in their counter-revolution against the 2011 pro-democracy upheavals that toppled Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and his fellow autocrats in Tunisia, Yemen, and Libya.

The pro-autocracy partnership between the Egyptian military junta and the Saudi ruling family goes beyond their opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood and the perceived threat of terrorism. It emanates from the autocrats’ visceral opposition to democracy and human rights, including minority and women’s rights.

What should be most critical to them as they contemplate the future of their coalition of counter-revolutionaries, however, is the growing Western conviction that dictators can no longer provide stability.

The Egyptian Field Marshall and the Saudi potentate also abhor the key demands of the Arab uprisings and reject their peoples’ calls for freedom, dignity, justice, and genuine economic and political reform.

They are equally terrified of the coming end of the authoritarian paradigm, which could bring about their demise or at least force them to share power with their people. The Saudis and their Gulf Arab allies, especially Bahrain and the UAE, are willing to trample on their people’s rights in order to safeguard family tribal rule.

The Saudi-Egyptian partnership is also directed at the Obama administration primarily because of Washington’s diplomatic engagement with Iran.

According to media and Human Rights Watch reports, at least 15,000 secular and Islamist activists are currently being held in Egyptian prisons, without having been charged or convicted. This number includes hundreds of MB leaders and activists and thousands of its supporters.

Many of them, including teenagers, have also been tortured and abused physically and psychologically. These mass arrests and summary trials and convictions of Islamists and liberals alike belie the Saudi-Egyptian claim that theirs is a campaign against terrorism.

A brief history of Egyptian-Saudi relations

Egyptian-Saudi relations in the past 60 years have been erratic, depending on leadership, ideology, and regional and world events. During the Nasser era in the 1950s and ‘60s, relations were very tense because of Saudi fears of Nasser’s Arab nationalist ideology.

The Saudis saw Nasser a nationalist firebrand arousing Arab masses against colonialism and Arab monarchies. He supported national liberation movements and wars of independence against the French in North Africa and the British in the Arab littoral of the Persian Gulf.

The Saudi monarchy viewed Nasser’s call for Arab unity “from the roaring ocean to the rebellious Gulf” as a threat to their survival and declared a war on “secular” Arab nationalism and “atheist” Communism.

They perceived Nasser’s war in Yemen against the tribal monarchy as an existential threat at their door and began to fund and arm the royalists in Yemen against the Egyptian military campaign.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia were the two opposite poles of the “Arab cold war” during the 1950s and ‘60s. Nasser represented emerging Arab republicanism while Saudi Arabia epitomised traditional monarchies. Nasser turned to the Soviet Union; Saudi Arabia turned to the United States.

In the late 1960s, Saudi Arabia declared the proselytisation of its brand of Islam as a cardinal principle of its foreign policy for the purpose of fighting Arab nationalism and Communism.

It’s ironic that Saudi Arabia is currently supporting and funding the military junta in Egypt at a time when the military-turned-civilian presidential shoe-in Sisi is resurrecting the Nasserist brand of politics.

In the next three to five years, the most intriguing analytic question will be whether this partnership would endure and how long the post-2011 generation of Arabs would tolerate a coalition of secular autocracy and a religious theocracy.

Saudi Arabia supported Egyptian President Sadat’s war against Israel in 1973 but broke with him later in that decade after he visited Jerusalem and signed a peace treaty with Israel.

By the early 1980s, however, the two countries re-established close relations because of their common interest in supporting Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war and in pushing for the Saudi-articulated Arab Peace Initiative.

The Saudi King viewed President Hosni Mubarak warmly and was dismayed by his fall. He was particularly incensed by Washington’s seeming precipitous abandonment of Mubarak in January 2011.

The Saudi monarchy applauded General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s removal of President Muhammad Morsi and pumped billions of dollars into the Egyptian treasury. They also indicated they would make up any deficit in case U.S. aid to Egypt is halted.

The Saudis have endorsed Sisi’s decision to run for president of Egypt and adopted similar harsh policies against the Muslim Brotherhood and all political dissent. Several factors seem to push Saudi Arabia closer to Egypt.

The Saudis are concerned about their growing loss of influence and prestige in the region, especially their failure in thwarting the interim nuclear agreement between the P5+1 and Iran. Their policy in Syria is in shambles.

Initially, they encouraged jihadists to go to Syria to fight the Assad regime, but now they cannot control the pro-Al-Qaeda radical Salafi jihadists fighting the Damascus tyrant.

The Saudis also failed in transforming the Gulf Cooperation Council into a more unified structure. Other than Bahrain, almost every other state has balked at the Saudi suggestion, viewing it a power grab.

In an absurd form of retaliation against Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain recalled their ambassadors from that country. The Saudis are engaged in tribal vendettas against their fellow tribal ruling families, which is out of place in a 21st century globalised and well-connected world.

The oil wealth and the regime’s inspired religious fatwas by establishment clerics have a diminishing impact on the younger generation connected to the global new social media.

Despite the heavy-handed crackdown, protests, demonstrations, and confrontations with the security forces are a daily occurrence in Egypt. It’s becoming very clear that dictatorial policies are producing more instability, less security, and greater appeal to terrorism.

It won’t be long before Western governments conclude that autocracy is bad for their moral sensibilities, destructive for business, and threatening for their presence in the region. The Saudi-Egyptian coalition of autocrats will soon be in the crosshairs.

In order to endure, such a coalition must be based on respect for their peoples, a genuine commitment to human rights, and a serious effort to address the “deficits” of liberty, education, and women’s rights that have afflicted Arab society for decades.

Emile Nakhleh, a former Senior Intelligence Service Officer, is a Research Professor at the University of New Mexico, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of “A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America’s Relations with the Muslim World.”

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OP-ED: Egypt’s Death Sentences Test U.S. Resolve http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/op-ed-egypts-death-sentences-test-u-s-resolve/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-egypts-death-sentences-test-u-s-resolve http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/op-ed-egypts-death-sentences-test-u-s-resolve/#comments Fri, 28 Mar 2014 18:56:26 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133285 The summary mass trial and sentencing of 529 Egyptians to death this week is yet another example of Egypt’s descent into lawlessness and blatant miscarriage of justice. The rushed decision showed no respect for the most basic standards of due process under the military dictatorship. The Egyptian court spent less than a minute on each […]

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U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel participates in an arrival honours ceremony with then Egyptian defence minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo, Egypt, Apr. 24, 2013. Credit: public domain

U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel participates in an arrival honours ceremony with then Egyptian defence minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo, Egypt, Apr. 24, 2013. Credit: public domain

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Mar 28 2014 (IPS)

The summary mass trial and sentencing of 529 Egyptians to death this week is yet another example of Egypt’s descent into lawlessness and blatant miscarriage of justice.

The rushed decision showed no respect for the most basic standards of due process under the military dictatorship.Sisi, much like Vladimir Putin and his land grab in Ukraine, feels empowered to defy the U.S. because he perceives it as unwilling or unable to confront him.

The Egyptian court spent less than a minute on each of the 529 defendants before sentencing them. Defence lawyers were barred from challenging state “evidence” and defendants were not allowed to speak. Yet, the Sisi government and the pliant Egyptian media did not question the sentences.

The U.S. State Department issued a statement in Secretary of State John Kerry’s name condemning the sentences. Kerry said he is “deeply troubled” and called on the Egyptian interim government to “remedy the situation.”

The decision, according to the statement, “simply defies logic” and fails to satisfy “even the most basic standards of justice.” Amnesty International deemed the death sentences “grotesque.” Most Western countries have expressed “deep concern” over the sham trial and convictions and the hope the decision would be overturned on appeal.

In his heady rush to seek the presidency, however, Field Marshall turned civilian Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is not paying much attention to Washington’s warnings or to international condemnations of the Minya judge who dispensed the ruling.

Sisi sees the Barack Obama administration moving away from values of good governance and the rule of law in Egypt to a myopic doctrine of national interest, which includes coddling Arab dictators and tribal ruling potentates.

Since the Arab upheavals of 2011, President Obama has identified U.S. values of tolerance, justice, fairness, and democracy as a guiding principle of post “Arab Spring” relations with Arab countries. These values, the U.S. president frequently said, “define who we are” as a people and as a nation.

Sisi, on the other hand, much like Vladimir Putin and his land grab in Ukraine, feels empowered to defy the U.S. because he perceives it as unwilling or unable to confront him or to shun him or cut military aid to Egypt. He counts on Washington’s inaction against him despite rising lawlessness by state institutions because of Egypt’s pivotal standing in the region.

By ignoring the Egyptian constitution and its traditional claim of judicial independence, the Egyptian judiciary seemed to kowtow to the military-run interim government.

The mass death sentences coupled with Sisi’s announcement of his candidacy for the presidency seem to bring the coup that toppled President Mohamed Morsi full circle. For Sisi, the January 25 Revolution is history, and the demands for democracy are now subsumed under the rubric of fighting “terrorism”, which he equates with the Muslim Brotherhood.

It’s symbolic that Sisi made the announcement on Egyptian television in military uniform even though he had just resigned as minister of defence and as a member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). He told the Egyptian public he would continue the struggle “against terrorism” and would fight to “regain Egypt” and restore its “dignity and stature.”

Sisi must have taken a page from the American Tea Party book about “taking back America” and from Putin about taking back Crimea. As if someone has stolen America from the Tea Party, or Ukraine from Russia, or Egypt from Sisi.

In fact, it was Sisi and the military junta that stole Egypt from the January 25 Revolution in a military coup. It was Sisi’s regime that has put over 15,000 Egyptians – Islamists and secularists – in jail through illegal arrests, sham trials, and without due process for challenging the coup.

Sisi envisions his presidency to rest on a three-legged stool of pliant media, submissive public, and adulation of him as a rising “selfie” star. In the name of “serving the nation,” Egyptians are being brainwashed not to question the personality cult of Sisi’s budding populist dictatorship.

In addition to frightening the public into submission, Sisi has also shuffled SCAF by sidelining potential challengers like General Ahmed Wasfi and promoting supporters like General Sidqi Sobhi. He sees these actions as an insurance policy against a possible coup that could topple him, much like he did against Morsi.

Although much has been written about Egypt in recent days, the death sentences and Sisi’s presidency have created two serious concerns, which Washington and other Western capitals must confront.

First, these actions likely will result in a growing radicalisation of some elements within the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups in Egypt. Radicalisation usually begets violence and terrorism.

It would be a nightmare scenario for any Egyptian government if the new radicals join forces with Salafi jihadists in Sinai. Such coordination, which could create an opening for al-Qa’ida in Egypt, would wreak havoc on the country and on Western interests and personnel there.

Second, continued instability, lawlessness, and repression in Egypt under a Sisi presidency would begin to attract Islamist jihadists from Syria to Egypt.

Unlike their counterparts from Afghanistan, the new jihadists are honed by combat experience and trained in the use of all kinds of weapons. A jihadist base in Egypt would certainly spread to neighbouring countries, including the Gulf tribal monarchies.

To stem this nightmarish tide, the United States and its Western allies must urge Gulf monarchies to start serious dialogue with their peoples toward inclusion and tolerance.

They also must convince Sisi that no stable political system would emerge in Egypt without including secularists and Islamists in the process. An adoring public, a pliant media, a sycophantic government, and an unfettered and corrupt military are a formula for disaster for the Egypt and the region.

Emile Nakhleh is a former Senior Intelligence Service Officer, a Research Professor at the University of New Mexico, and author of “A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America’s Relations with the Muslim World.”

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Increased Instability Predicted for Egypt http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/increased-instability-predicted-egypt/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=increased-instability-predicted-egypt http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/increased-instability-predicted-egypt/#comments Wed, 26 Mar 2014 00:02:50 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133224 International human rights groups have strongly denounced Monday’s sentencing by an Egyptian court of 529 Islamists to death for a riot in which one policeman was killed. Egypt specialists here say the sentences, which are widely seen as the latest in a series of steps taken by the authorities to crush the Muslim Brotherhood, as […]

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The killing of Muslim Brotherhood supporters has only strengthened resolve within the party to resist the current regime. Credit: Khaled Moussa al-Omrani/IPS

The killing of Muslim Brotherhood supporters has only strengthened resolve within the party to resist the current regime. Credit: Khaled Moussa al-Omrani/IPS

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Mar 26 2014 (IPS)

International human rights groups have strongly denounced Monday’s sentencing by an Egyptian court of 529 Islamists to death for a riot in which one policeman was killed.

Egypt specialists here say the sentences, which are widely seen as the latest in a series of steps taken by the authorities to crush the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as other dissident forces opposed to the military-backed government, are certain to fuel increased radicalisation in the Arab world’s most populous nation.“What all this repression creates is a very deep well of anger.” -- Michelle Dunne

“What all this repression creates is a very deep well of anger,” said Michelle Dunne, an Egypt specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and co-chair of the Working Group on Egypt, a coalition of neo-conservative and liberal internationalist Middle East analysts who have informally advised the administration of President Barack Obama since the dawn of the Arab spring in late 2010.

“Where these kinds of actions are taking Egypt is very worrisome. …We now have an ally that might be headed toward serious and persistent instability,” according to Dunne, who noted that another court sentenced a group of 17 university students for rioting just a few days ago. Although no one was killed or seriously injured in that incident, each of the students received 14 years in prison.

Indeed, while the administration of President Barack Obama, which Monday described the mass death sentences as “defy(ing) logic,” had hoped to fully normalise military ties that were partially suspended after the July coup against President Mohamed Morsi, the latest court actions – along with the designation by the military-backed government of the Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation – would appear to make that much less likely.

The death sentences, which Amnesty International and the New York Times described as “grotesque” and “preposterous”, respectively, followed a one-day trial before three judges in Minya in which most of the defendants were absent or had no or very limited legal representation. As noted by Human Rights Watch (HRW), the prosecution failed to put forward evidence implicating any individual defendant.

“The Minya court’s sentencing more than 500 people to death for the killing of a police officer highlights the fact that no Egyptian court has even questioned a single police officer for the killing of well over 1,000 largely peaceful protesters since Jul. 3 [when the military ousted Morsi],” said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s Middle East director.

“This trial is just one of dozens of mass trials taking place every day across Egypt, riddled with serious due process violations and resulting in outrageous sentences that represent serious miscarriages of justice,” she noted.

The defendants were all indicted for alleged participation in a riot in Minya, a Brotherhood stronghold in central Egypt, last August, some six weeks after a military coup against the country’s democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi. The riot, which followed two massacres of hundreds of peaceful Brotherhood protestors in Cairo, resulted in the destruction of several churches and police stations and the death of one police officer.

Analysts here said the mass sentencing, the largest in modern Egyptian history, may have been motivated by a desire on the specific court’s part to retaliate against Morsi’s efforts to gain greater control over the judiciary or by its acquiescence to instructions by the police or interior ministry to make an example of the case as part of a broader strategy to intimidate the opposition. Both the verdicts and the sentences are subject to appeal.

If, indeed, the intent of the verdicts and other repressive measures is to restore stability to Egypt, the strategy does not appear to be working, according to Dunne, who Monday released a new report documenting both the growing repression and the rise in violence directed against the government.

“Egyptians have suffered through the most intense human rights abuses and terrorism in their recent history in the eight months since the military ousted then president Mohamed Morsi,” according to the report, “Egypt’s Unprecedented Instability by the Numbers.”

Citing statistics by Egyptian rights groups and other sources, the report found that a total of 3,143 people have been killed as a result of political violence between Jul. 3 last year and the end of January. Of the total, at least 2,528 civilians and 60 police were killed in political protests and clashes, and another 281 others are estimated to have been killed in terrorist attacks.

Some 16,400 people have been arrested during political events, while another 2,590 political leaders – the vast majority associated with the Brotherhood – have been rounded up and remain in detention, the report said.

All of these tallies, according to the report, show that current level of repression actually exceeds the scale reached under former President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who tried to crush the Brotherhood in the 1950s and 1960s by rounding up hundreds of members and executing a dozen of their leaders, and in the aftermath of the assassination of former President Anwar Sadat in 1981.

The report also found, the rate of terrorist incidents – and the deaths they’ve inflicted — in the seven months that followed the Jul. 3 coup have also surpassed the rates reached between 1993 and 1995, when more than 300 people, including police, extremists, civilians and tourists fell victim annually to the war between the security forces and Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya (The Islamic Group) of which the current Al Qaeda chief, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, was a top leader.

“(M)ilitants have shown that they are capable of inflicting far more damage should they choose to do so,” according to the Carnegie report, which noted that insurgents have “shown increasing sophistication” in carrying out attacks against police officers, soldiers, and high-level government officials but have not yet shown interest in inflicting mass casualties.

The latest developments appear to have put the Obama administration, which suspended joint exercises with Egypt immediately after the coup and subsequently suspended delivery of some weapons systems, including attack helicopters and tanks, to coax the military into pursuing a less repressive policy toward the Brotherhood, in particular.

Saudi Arabia, with which Obama hopes to patch up relations badly strained by his failure both to support former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at the outset of the Arab Spring and to intervene more aggressively on the side of rebels in Syria when he visits Riyadh later this week, has strongly backed the military’s crackdown against the Brotherhood and are expected to press their guest to do likewise.

The Saudis have not only provided billions of dollars in budgetary support for the regime; they have also offered to make up for any weapons withheld by Washington by buying comparable systems from other arms suppliers, including Russia, on Egypt’s behalf.

“The U.S. and Saudi Arabia have a basic disagreement about what’s going on in Egypt,” according to Dunne. “The Saudis would say whatever heavy-handed measures the authorities are taking is necessary to defeat terrorism. Most U.S. officials says these tactics are causing terrorism and potentially driving Egypt toward persistent instability.”

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com.

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OP-ED: A New World Order? Think Again http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/op-ed-new-world-order-think/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-new-world-order-think http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/op-ed-new-world-order-think/#comments Fri, 21 Mar 2014 12:37:32 +0000 James A. Russell http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133143 Russia’s storming of the Ukrainian naval base in Crimea just as Iran and world powers wrapped up another round of negotiations in Vienna earlier this week represent seemingly contradictory bookends to a world that some believe is spinning out of control. It’s hard not to argue that the world seems a bit trigger-happy these days. […]

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Some argue that the conflicts in Syria, the Congo and Libya are part of a more general slide into a Hobbesian, or failed state, the kind of world in which the weak perish and the strong survive. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Some argue that the conflicts in Syria, the Congo and Libya are part of a more general slide into a Hobbesian, or failed state, the kind of world in which the weak perish and the strong survive. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By James A. Russell
WASHINGTON, Mar 21 2014 (IPS)

Russia’s storming of the Ukrainian naval base in Crimea just as Iran and world powers wrapped up another round of negotiations in Vienna earlier this week represent seemingly contradictory bookends to a world that some believe is spinning out of control.

It’s hard not to argue that the world seems a bit trigger-happy these days.The chaos in places like Syria, the Congo, Libya, and Afghanistan has actually been the norm of international politics over much of the last century - not the exception.

Vladimir Putin’s Russian mafia thugs armed with weapons bought with oil money calmly annex the Crimea. Chinese warships ominously circle obscure shoals in the Western Pacific as Japan and other countries look on nervously. Israel and Hezbollah appear eager to settle scores and start another war in Lebanon. Syria and Libya continue their descent into a medieval-like state of nature as the world looks on not quite knowing what to do.

Noted U.S. foreign policy experts like Senator John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Condoleezza Rice have greeted these developments with howls of protest and with a call to arms to reassert the United States’ global leadership to tame the anarchic (and anti-U.S.) world.

They appear to believe that we should somehow use force or the threat of force as an instrument to restore order. Never mind that these commentators have exercised uniformly bad judgment on nearly all the major foreign policy issues of the last decade.

The protests of these commentators notwithstanding, however, it is worth discussing what all these events really mean; whether they are somehow linked and perhaps suggest a structural shift in international politics towards a more warlike system.

For the United States, these developments come as the Obama administration sensibly tries to take the country’s military off a permanent war-footing and slow the growth in the defence budget — a budget that will still see the United States spend more on its military than most of the rest of the world combined.

The first issue is whether the events in Crimea are emblematic of a global system in which developed states may reconsider the basic calculus that going to war with each other doesn’t pay.

Vladimir Putin may have correctly calculated that the West doesn’t care enough about Crimea to militarily stop Russia, but would the same calculus apply if he tried to seize Moldova, Poland, or some part of Eastern Europe?

Similarly, would the Central Committee in Beijing risk a wider war in the Pacific over the bits of rocks in the South China Sea that are claimed by various countries?

While we can’t know the answer to these questions, the political leadership of both Russia and China clearly would face significant political, economic, and military costs in choosing to exercise force in a dispute in which the world’s developed states could not or would not back down.

These considerations remain a powerful deterrent to a resumption of war between the developed states, events in Crimea notwithstanding – although miscalculations by foolhardy leaders like Putin are always a possibility.

The second kind of inter-state dispute are those between countries/actors that have deep-seated, historic disputes.

Clearly, the most dangerous of these situations is the relationship between India and Pakistan — two nuclear-armed states that have been exchanging fire directly  and indirectly for much of the last half century.

Similarly, the situation in the Middle East stemming from Israel’s still unfinished wars of independence remains a constant source of regional instability.

Maybe one day, Israel and its neighbours will finally decide on a set of agreeable borders, but until they do we can all expect them to resort to occasional violence until the issue is settled.

Try as we might, there’s not much the international community can do about these enduring disputes until the parties themselves seek peaceful solutions that address their grievances.

The third kind of war is like those in Syria, the Congo, and Libya that some argue is part of a more general slide into a Hobbesian, or failed state, kind of world in which the weak perish and the strong survive.

Here again, however, we have to wonder what if anything is new with these wars. As much as we might not like it, internal political evolution in developing states usually entails violence until winners in the contests for political authority emerge.

The West’s own evolution in Europe took hundreds of years of bloodshed until established political systems took shape that settled disputes peacefully.

The chaos in places like Syria, the Congo, Libya, and Afghanistan has actually been the norm of international politics over much of the last century – not the exception.

This returns us to the other bookend cited at the outset of this piece — the reconvened negotiations in Vienna between Iran and the international community.

These meetings point to perhaps the most significant change in the international system over the last century in which global institutions have emerged as mechanisms to control state behaviour through an incentive structure that discourages war and encourages generally accepted behavioural norms.

These institutions, such as the United Nations, and its supporting regulatory structures like the International Atomic Energy Agency, have helped establish new behavioural norms that impose serious costs on states that do not observe the rules.

While we cannot be certain why Iran seeks a negotiated solution with the international community over its nuclear programme, it is clear that the international community has imposed significant economic costs on Iran over the last eight years of sanctions.

That same set of global institutions and regulatory regimes supported by the United States will almost certainly enact sanctions that will impose significant costs on Russia as a result of its illegal seizure of the Crimea.

Those costs will build up over time, just as they have for Iran and other states like North Korea that find themselves outside of the general global political and economic system.

Russia will discover the same lesson learned by Iran – it’s an expensive and arguably unsustainable proposition to be the object of international obloquy.

For those arguing for a more militarised U.S. response to these disparate events, it’s worth returning to George F. Kennan’s basic argument for a patient, defensive global posture.

Kennan argued that inherent U.S. and Western strength would see it through the Cold War and triumph over its weaker foes in Moscow.

As Kennan correctly noted: we were strong, they were weaker. Time was on our side, not theirs.

The same holds true today. Putin’s Russia is a paper tiger that is awash in oil money but with huge structural problems.

Russia’s corrupt, mafia-like dictatorship will weaken over time as it is excluded from the system of global political and economic interaction.

The world’s networked political and economic institutions only reinforce the strength of the West and those other members of the international community that choose to play by the accepted rules for peaceful global interaction.

In places like Syria, we need to recognise that these wars are part of the durable disorder of global politics that cannot necessarily be managed by us or anyone else despite the awful plight of the poor innocent civilians and children – who always bear the ultimate costs of these tragic conflicts.

We need to calm down and recognise that the international system is not becoming unglued; it is simply exhibiting immutable characteristics that have been with us for much of recorded history.

We should, however, be more confident of the ability of the system (with U.S. leadership) to police itself and avoid rash decisions that will only make these situations worse.

James A. Russell is an Associate Professor in the Department of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA, where he is teaching courses on Middle East security affairs, nuclear proliferation, terrorism, and national security strategy.

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Split over Ukraine Could Undermine Peace in Syria http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/split-ukraine-undermine-peace-syria/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=split-ukraine-undermine-peace-syria http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/split-ukraine-undermine-peace-syria/#comments Thu, 13 Mar 2014 21:57:20 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132834 As the protracted Syrian conflict enters its fourth year, there seems to be little or no hope of a resolution to the devastating crisis. The death toll has now been estimated at more than 140,000, up from over 100,000 last March, claiming the lives of both rebel and security forces. And according to U.N. figures […]

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Calm and composed, Omar heads a family of seven in his tent at a refugee camp in Jordan, including his elderly mother, Samah. He used to be an Arabic language teacher back in Syria. Credit: EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection

Calm and composed, Omar heads a family of seven in his tent at a refugee camp in Jordan, including his elderly mother, Samah. He used to be an Arabic language teacher back in Syria. Credit: EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 13 2014 (IPS)

As the protracted Syrian conflict enters its fourth year, there seems to be little or no hope of a resolution to the devastating crisis.

The death toll has now been estimated at more than 140,000, up from over 100,000 last March, claiming the lives of both rebel and security forces.

And according to U.N. figures released Tuesday, about 5.5 million children have been reduced to the status of refugees, the economy is in free fall, half of the total population of 22 million are living below poverty levels, about 2.5 million have lost their jobs and unemployment is estimated at 44 percent.

Still, the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) remains paralysed and unable to act – and will continue to remain so, since the United States and Russia are now bickering over a new divisive issue: the spreading crisis in Ukraine.

A peace conference in Geneva last month, presided over by Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi, ended in shambles.

Three out of the eight children gathered in Omar’s tent said they were continuing their education. One reason for not attending school is the distance, they say, especially for those living in the outskirts of the village like Omar. Credit: EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection

Three out of the eight children gathered in Omar’s tent said they were continuing their education. One reason for not attending school is the distance, they say, especially for those living in the outskirts of the village like Omar. Credit: EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection

With Ukraine taking centre-stage, says one Third World diplomat, Syria has slipped from the negotiating table.

“The three years of deadly devastation in Syria may soon be a thing of the past – and perhaps forgotten,” he predicted, particularly if the big power confrontation over Ukraine continues to escalate.

Jose Luis Diaz, head of Amnesty International’s U.N. office, told IPS one measure of how outrageous the situation in Syria — and of the complicity of some countries in that tragedy — is that the most the UNSC has been able to achieve in three years is to call on the parties, and principally the Syrian government, to abide by the most basic responsibility.

And that responsibility, he said, “is not letting people die of hunger and lack of medical care.”

After taking a tough stand against Western-inspired moves to punish the government of President Bashar al Assad, Russia and China last month supported a Security Council resolution, adopted unanimously, calling for humanitarian access to Syria.

“We hope Russia and China are taking seriously the UNSC’s intention to ensure its recent resolution on humanitarian access is respected, including if necessary by agreeing further steps against parties that don’t comply,” Diaz added.

Mohammad, one of the Jordanians living in the village, has been trying to assist the incoming refugees. He says that most of the aid goes to the camp, with those living with host communities receiving a minimum, which however does include food vouchers distributed by the World Food Programme (WFP). Credit: EC/ECHO/A. Al Sukhni

Mohammad, one of the Jordanians living in the village, has been trying to assist the incoming refugees. He says that most of the aid goes to the camp, with those living with host communities receiving a minimum, which however does include food vouchers distributed by the World Food Programme (WFP). Credit: EC/ECHO/A. Al Sukhni

In a hard-hitting statement Wednesday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said three years ago, the Syrian people stood up in peaceful protest to demand their universal rights and freedoms.

“In response came brutal force, escalating bloodshed and the devastation of civil war,” he said.

Ban appealed to all warring parties to reflect upon the long and growing list of horrors taking place in Syria every day.

The secretary-general said he “deeply regrets the inability of the international community, the region and the Syrians themselves to put a stop to this appalling conflict.”

Ban specifically appealed to both the United States and Russia to help re-energise the virtually defunct peace process in Geneva.

Diaz of Amnesty International told IPS, “Just as important is that the UNSC follows through on its various statements, including in the latest resolution, that those responsible for violations of human rights and international humanitarian law will face justice.

“We continue to believe the Council should refer the situation in Syria to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC).”

In a statement released Thursday, the New York-based Global Centre for Responsibility to Protect (R2P), said, “Syrians cannot wait any longer.”

The Centre urged the UNSC to demand full implementation, by all parties in Syria, of resolution 2139 (demanding humanitarian access), including the cessation of attacks on civilians, lifting of sieges and facilitation of immediate humanitarian access to all areas of the country.

The Centre also asked the UNSC to authorise targeted sanctions against any government and non-state actors who continue to act in defiance of resolution 2139 and are responsible for mass atrocity crimes; impose an arms embargo on Syria; and refer the Syrian situation to the ICC for investigation, and hold accountable those responsible for mass atrocity crimes.

Additionally, it called for increased efforts to find a political solution to the conflict, including by engaging with all relevant regional powers.

Conscious of the deadlock in the UNSC, the Centre said: “Given the detrimental effects of UNSC division and inaction on Syria, we urge the permanent members of the Council (the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia) to commit to refrain from using the veto, in any case where crimes against humanity, war crimes, ethnic cleansing or genocide, are occurring.”

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What’s Going on in the Gulf? Unsurprisingly, It’s Probably About Iran http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/whats-going-gulf-unsurprisingly-probably-iran/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=whats-going-gulf-unsurprisingly-probably-iran http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/whats-going-gulf-unsurprisingly-probably-iran/#comments Mon, 10 Mar 2014 18:42:20 +0000 Derek Davison http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132625 Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain all recalled their ambassadors from Qatar on Wednesday, citing Qatar’s alleged support for organisations and individuals that threaten “the security and stability of the Gulf states” and for “hostile media.” This came right on the heels of a U.A.E. court sentencing Qatari doctor Mahmoud al-Jaidah to seven […]

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By Derek Davison
WASHINGTON, Mar 10 2014 (IPS)

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain all recalled their ambassadors from Qatar on Wednesday, citing Qatar’s alleged support for organisations and individuals that threaten “the security and stability of the Gulf states” and for “hostile media.”

This came right on the heels of a U.A.E. court sentencing Qatari doctor Mahmoud al-Jaidah to seven years in prison on Monday, for the crime of aiding a banned opposition group called al-Islah, which the U.A.E. government alleges has operational ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.

This was a coordinated move, led by the Saudis, to punish Qatar for supporting Muslim Brotherhood interests around the Middle East (and also for assuming a more prominent role in pan-Arab politics in general), but beyond that it reflects the Saudis’ deep and ongoing concern about an Iranian resurgence in the Gulf.

The North Dome-South Pars Field, straddling Qatari and Iranian waters. Source: Wikipedia

The North Dome-South Pars Field, straddling Qatari and Iranian waters. Source: Wikipedia

From the Saudi perspective the Qataris have been punching above their proper weight, and making nice with the wrong people.

Qatar’s ties to the Muslim Brotherhood are clearly the public justification for this row; it is no mystery why Saudi Arabia followed up Wednesday’s diplomatic swipe at Qatar with a decision on Friday to declare the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation.

The Saudis, while they share certain conservative Islamic principles with the Brotherhood, are more than a bit put off by the group’s opposition to dynastic rule. Despite that feature of Brotherhood’s ideology, though, the very dynastic Qatari monarchy has been a strong supporter of Brotherhood-allied movements throughout the Middle East and North Africa, in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt (especially), and Syria.

Their rationale for doing so has been two-fold: one, they feel that supporting the Brotherhood abroad should insulate them from the Brotherhood at home, and two, Qatar has been predicting that the Brotherhood would be the main beneficiary of the Arab Spring.

Had they been right in their prediction, Qatar’s regional influence would have been significantly increased as a result, but by the looks of things, they were wrong. The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party is now outlawed in Egypt, its Ennahda Party in Tunisia has voluntarily agreed to give up power, and it has lost most of its influence within the Syrian opposition.

Last November’s reorganisation of Syrian opposition groups from the Qatar-financed Syrian Islamic Liberation Front to the Saudi-backed Islamic Front can be seen as evidence of the Brotherhood’s, and thus Qatar’s, loss of stature.

A related complaint that these countries have with Qatar is with the country’s Al Jazeera television news network (the “hostile media”).

Al Jazeera has continued to provide media access to Muslim Brotherhood figures in Egypt even as that organization was outlawed by the interim Egyptian government, to the extent that several Al Jazeera journalists are currently on trial in Egypt for aiding the Brotherhood.

These countries are also angry about the fact that Al Jazeera continues to give airtime to Brotherhood-affiliated cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Qaradawi is actually wanted for extradition to Egypt over his comments about the coup that removed the Brotherhood from power there, and he recently lambasted, on Al Jazeera’s airwaves, the U.A.E., for “fighting everything Islamic.”

The reported pressure being placed on Saudi and Emirati journalists working in Qatar to quit their jobs and return home undoubtedly has something to do with the overall irritation with Qatari media.

However, there is another factor at play here: Qatar’s close – too close for Saudi comfort – ties with Iran (the real “organisation” that threatens Gulf – i.e., Saudi – security), which has to do largely with natural gas. Qatar shares its windfall natural gas reserves with Iran, in what’s known as the North Dome/South Pars Field in the Persian Gulf.

The International Energy Agency estimates that it is the largest natural gas field on the planet. Qatar has been extracting gas from its side of the field considerably faster than Iran has been, for a couple of reasons.

For one thing, the North Dome side of the field (the part in Qatari waters) was discovered in the early 1970s, whereas the South Pars side was only discovered about 20 years later, so Qatar had a lot of time to get a head start on developing the field.

For another thing, the North Dome field is pretty much the only game left in Qatar, whose Dukhan oil field is clearly on the decline. Qatar has a huge incentive, then, to develop as much of the North Dome as they can as fast as they can in order to fund their numerous development projects.

There is a potential conflict here, though. Natural gas, like any other gas, tends to flow toward areas of low pressure. So when one end of a gas field is being drained of its gas faster than the other end, some of the gas in the less exploited end may flow to the more exploited end.

This is fine when an entire field is controlled by one country, but in this case, one can easily envision a scenario in which, several years from now, the Iranian government is accusing Qatar of siphoning off its gas.

What this means is that Qatar has a strong incentive to maintain friendly relations with Iran, and on this they have considerable disagreement with their Saudi neighbors.

To Saudi Arabia, Iran is a potential regional rival and must be countered at every turn; their opposition to easing international sanctions against Iran, for example, is not so much about the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon as it is about fear of Iran escaping from the economic cage in which those sanctions have trapped it.

The proxy war taking place between Saudi and Iranian interests in Syria is the most obvious example of the rivalry between the two nations, and the Saudi move against Qatar can be seen as another front in that proxy war.

Qatar, although it has backed the Syrian opposition, sees things differently where Iran is concerned; in January, Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohammad Al-Attiyah publicly called for an “inclusive” approach to Iran, which he argued “has a crucial role” in ending the crisis in Syria.

There is enough historic tension between the Qataris and the Saudis for this kind of disagreement over foreign affairs to provide the basis for a wider fracturing of relations.

For its part, Bahrain has every reason to go along with a Saudi diplomatic move against a suspected regional ally of Iran; after all, it was Saudi intervention that saved Bahrain’s ruling al-Khalifa family from a Shiʿa-led rebellion in 2011, a rebellion that Bahrain accuses Iran of fomenting.

Look, though, at the two GCC members that did not pull their ambassadors from Qatar: Kuwait, where the Brotherhood’s Hadas Party is out of favour, but whose relations with Iran are “excellent”; and Oman, where Sultan Qaboos has been critical of the Brotherhood, but who is close enough to Iran to have served as a go-between for back-channel U.S.-Iran negotiations.

If the issue were really Qatar’s support for the Brotherhood, and not its relationship with Iran, both of these countries may well have joined the others in recalling their ambassadors.

The one country for which this explanation does not make sense is the U.A.E., whose relations with Iran are improving after the two countries recently reached an accord over the disposition of three disputed Gulf islands. In this case, it may really be that Qatar’s support for the Brotherhood, and especially the Jaidah case and Qaradawi’s criticisms, motivated their action.

Qatar’s failed bet on the Muslim Brotherhood made this the right time for the Saudis to move against them, but Saudi fears about an Iranian resurgence may well have been the real reason for their action.

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Arab NGOs Warn IMF Against Sharp Cuts to Subsidies http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/arab-ngos-warn-imf-sharp-cuts-subsidies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=arab-ngos-warn-imf-sharp-cuts-subsidies http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/arab-ngos-warn-imf-sharp-cuts-subsidies/#comments Fri, 28 Feb 2014 16:06:56 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132294 Civil society activists from five Arab countries are urging the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to ease pressure on their governments to reduce food and fuel subsidies until stronger social-protection schemes and other basic reforms are implemented. In a new report, the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND) and the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social […]

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By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Feb 28 2014 (IPS)

Civil society activists from five Arab countries are urging the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to ease pressure on their governments to reduce food and fuel subsidies until stronger social-protection schemes and other basic reforms are implemented.

In a new report, the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND) and the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) argue that social safety nets in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, and Yemen are inadequate – or, in some cases, too corrupt — to compensate for the loss of critical subsidies on which the poor and even the middle class depend."The pressure should be on the global community that is pushing these austerity measures without considering the actual context or impact on low-income people." -- Leila Hilal

Indeed, in the absence of stronger safety nets, even the gradual removal of subsidies for key commodities may contribute to continuing unrest across the region as the three-year-old “Arab Awakening” plays out, according to the 20-page report.

“In the near term, the unwinding of subsidies cannot serve as the panacea for the serious budgetary and fiscal difficulties facing most Arab states,” according to the report, which was released here Thursday by the Middle East Task Force of the New America Foundation (NAF), a non-partisan think tank.

“By continuing to press Arab governments to remove subsidies, the IMF has inadequately responded to the sweeping social and political changes stemming from the 2011 uprisings and subsequent period of unrest,” it said.

The report also called on the IMF to urge national governments to take other measures, notably instituting progressive tax systems and cutting the military budget, in order to increase revenues and cut spending. Governments must also be encouraged to consult more with civil-society organisation (CSOs), labour unions, and local authorities regarding economic-reform programmes, according to the report.

Jo Marie Griesgraber, who directs New Rules for Global Finance Coalition, welcomed the report, saying it was the latest indication of growing interest by grassroots groups both in the Arab world and in other countries in transition, such as Ukraine and Burma, in the IMF and of their understanding that national economic problems need to be addressed at the global level.

At the same time, she noted that the authors may be overstating the leverage the IMF enjoys over national governments with which it is required under its charter to negotiate agreements.

Bakeries struggled to produce bread in the face of Egypt's 2011 wheat shortage. Credit: Emad Mekay/IPS

Bakeries struggled to produce bread in the face of Egypt’s 2011 wheat shortage. Credit: Emad Mekay/IPS

“I’m sure, if given a choice, the IMF would prefer that reducing subsidies would not be the first policy option they would want to implement to reduce deficits,” she told IPS. “It’s a government policy, and the government is going to agree to cut subsidies to the poor before it agrees to cut military expenditures.”

“The IMF can’t do everything; you need the World Bank; you need regional banks; you need an international court to throw corrupt officials in jail; you need a national political commitment for people to pay taxes,” she said. “The IMF is too limited in what it alone can do, although it serves as a convenient scapegoat for governments.”

Leila Hilal, NAF’s Middle East task force director, agreed that states “are engaging the IMF bilaterally without consulting the affected populations.”

With the recent uprisings, she told IPS in an interview from Jordan, “people feel that their voices are more valuable, that they have more agency, and that there’s much more at stake in terms of policy, and they want to be heard.

“So the idea is that the pressure should be on the global community that is pushing these austerity measures without considering the actual context or impact on low-income people,” she said.

While the mass demonstrations, violence, and political upheavals across the Arab world continue to capture the headlines, relatively little attention has been paid to the underlying economic problems that many analysts believe lie at the root of the continuing regional turbulence.

The Washington-based IMF, which is dominated by the wealthy Western nations, has long been involved in the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region, particularly in the five low- and middle-income countries that are the subject of the report.

The lender of last resort for failing economies, it provides short-term loans that are subject to recipient governments’ compliance with conditions designed to reduce, if not eliminate their fiscal deficits.

Over much of its history, it acquired a controversial reputation for pushing severe austerity on governments as part of “structural adjustment” programmes which hit the poor and most vulnerable sectors of society the hardest, often as a result of cuts to food and fuel subsidies, as well as social services, including health and education.

The IMF said it was unable to comment before deadline.

Cuts in subsidies have been particularly controversial because of their immediate impact on the population. In 1977, for example, a cut in bread subsidies in Egypt provoked widespread unrest, as did Jordan’s attempts cut subsidies in 1989 and again in 1996. When the IMF sent a mission to Egypt in April last year, it was greeted with protests by civil-society groups, labour unions, and political parties anticipating that the agency would demand similar cuts as a condition for much-needed loans.

In much of the region, food and fuel subsidies make up a large percentage of government spending; in 2012, for example, they accounted for 10 percent of the Egyptian budget.

As the report itself notes, the Fund – as well as its development sister agency, the World Bank — has become increasingly sensitive to these criticisms and sought to persuade governments with which it negotiates the loan conditions to mitigate the impact on the poor by reducing subsidies more gradually and, with the Bank’s help,  strengthening social-safety nets for the most vulnerable.

But the report, which was based on interviews with more than a dozen prominent civil-society activists from the five countries, as well as analyses of IMF staff reports and other IMF documents, argues that these efforts are sometimes based on faulty assumptions.

“Theoretically, the IMF proposes the expansion of social safety nets as a way to offset the negative impact of subsidy removal on the poor,” it said. “In practice, however, social protection schemes are underdeveloped and often nonexistent in Arab countries, and are thus incapable of cushioning the poor against rising prices. In many instances, corruption and the absence of transparency mechanisms further complicate the task of distribution social welfare benefits.”

“Subsidy reform should only occur upon the establishment of sustainable and comprehensive social protection schemes, and can only proceed with broad support from a variety of stakeholders,” according to the report.

“Our analysis highlights the need for the IMF and the G8 countries to adapt their advice to the changing political and socio-economic conditions in the Arab region,” said NAF’s Abdulla Zaid, one of four the report’s co-authors. “The Fund’s one-size-fits-all advice prioritising fiscal austerity measures over social and economic rights fails to account for the harmful impact subsidy removal would have on low and middle-income individuals, and thus, stability.”

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OP-ED: Washington’s Anemic Resolve on Egypt’s Human Rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/op-ed-washingtons-anemic-resolve-egypts-human-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-washingtons-anemic-resolve-egypts-human-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/op-ed-washingtons-anemic-resolve-egypts-human-rights/#comments Thu, 27 Feb 2014 19:32:13 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132213 The unexpected resignation of Hazem al-Biblawi, Egypt’s interim prime minister, and his government this week and the appointment of Ibrahim Mehlib, a Mubarak-era industrialist, as a new prime minister seem to pave the way for Field Marshal Abdul Fattah al-Sisi’s anticipated presidential bid. These intriguing government shuffles, however, fail to hide the reality of the […]

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Egypt's military rulers have set security solutions over political ones. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

Egypt's military rulers have set security solutions over political ones. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Feb 27 2014 (IPS)

The unexpected resignation of Hazem al-Biblawi, Egypt’s interim prime minister, and his government this week and the appointment of Ibrahim Mehlib, a Mubarak-era industrialist, as a new prime minister seem to pave the way for Field Marshal Abdul Fattah al-Sisi’s anticipated presidential bid.

These intriguing government shuffles, however, fail to hide the reality of the military junta’s repression and massive human rights violations.Washington has a huge reservoir of “soft power” in the region, which it could and should use to bring about democratic transitions.

The politically motivated indictments, trials, and convictions of regime critics, including journalists, academics, entertainers, comedians, and ideologically diverse political activists have cut across large segments of Egyptian society. The regime’s initial claim that repressive measures were necessary to uproot the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters and decapitate its leadership is no longer believable.

The military junta is determined to live its “fascist moment,” in the words of Professor Augustus Richard Norton of Boston University, and to maintain its grip on power come what may. Sisi doesn’t seem worried about a potential loss of U.S. military or economic aid because he expects Saudi Arabia and Russia to fill the gap.

Perhaps the real reason that underpins his lack of concern about losing U.S. aid is the belief that the Obama administration would not certify to Congress that the junta has not made any progress toward democracy. Washington would not want to lose Egypt, which means military aid will continue; hence, no certification.

While Sisi presents his leadership style to many Egyptians as a combination of the late President Gamal Abdel Nasser and Russia’s current ruler Vladimir Putin, many in the region and in Washington are asking one key question: Does the Obama administration have the will and credibility to halt Egypt’s deepening dictatorship and promote human rights and freedom of expression?

This is a fair question since President Barack Obama has invoked U.S. democratic values in supporting the revolution that toppled Mubarak, in urging the Bahraini regime to engage the opposition in meaningful dialogue, and in calling for an end to the Assad regime in Syria. Additionally, most observers believe the international community cannot act decisively on behalf of human rights in any of these countries without U.S. leadership.

I have argued in the past two years in this space and elsewhere that Washington has a huge reservoir of “soft power” in the region, which it could and should use to bring about democratic transitions. Democratiation would reflect U.S. values and serve U.S. interests. Other regional experts advocated a similar approach.

The Obama administration has lost much of its credibility in the region, particularly in Egypt. It worked closely with the Mubarak regime and then abandoned him in favour of the revolution in January 2011.

Washington supported Mohamed Morsi’s presidency because he was the first ever freely elected president of Egypt. Yet the Obama administration failed to condemn his removal in a military coup led by Sisi. In fact, the administration went through all kinds of rhetorical hoops and gymnastics in order to avoid calling the military coup by its real name — a coup.

Washington has also remained silent in the face of ongoing state persecution of journalists and nationally known academics. Some academics have spent time in Washington, D.C. and other U.S. cities in the past three years consulting with U.S. officials about the prospects of democracy in Egypt.

Sadly, they are no longer walking in Washington’s halls of power but languishing in Egyptian jails.

Several factors could explain Washington’s apparent paralysis when it comes to Egypt. First, according to media reports, much uncertainly seems to characterise the administration’s policy debates on the Middle East but particularly on Egypt. The constant attempt to resolve the Values versus Interests dichotomy has left the national security community within the administration rudderless, creating an impression of impotence, confusion, and a lack of direction.

Second, the administration’s vacillation on Syria — whether to pursue a diplomatic or a military solution to the conflict — has rendered the United States a “paper tiger” in the eyes of Arab publics. Most of the world had expected Obama to strike Syria, but instead he took the case to the U.S. Congress with the promise that Syria would destroy its chemical weapons.

Syria’s delivery of the weapons for destruction has stalled, and the Geneva talks have failed. The Assad regime was playing for time, and Washington is left holding an empty bag.

The statements and rationalisations that Secretary of State John Kerry made in his TV interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell on Feb. 26 were a pallid display of the administration’s pendulous position on Syria and by extension on Egypt. When Mitchell pushed Kerry about the human tragedy in Syria and the regime’s use of its air force to drop “barrel” bombs on the population, he demurred and said that all options are on the table.

The pro-democracy convictions Kerry expressed in the interview in support of the anti-regime uprising in Ukraine were totally absent when he spoke on Syria and other “Arab Spring” countries.

Third, Obama’s upcoming visit to Saudi Arabia must have been preceded by intense efforts at appeasing the Saudis and allaying their doubts about U.S. resolve on Syria. A palatable visit from the Saudi perspective would be for the U.S. president to support the Sisi coup and keep U.S. military aid flowing to the Egyptian military.

The Saudis also would urge Obama to ease up on the Al Khalifa regime in Bahrain and be wary of Iran’s perceived charm offensive.

The pessimistic assessment of the administration’s policy oscillation could be reversed if Washington compels Syria to ground its air force and if it publicly and unequivocally demands that Sisi chart a clear pathway to democracy.

Supporting democracy in Ukraine reflects U.S. values and serves Washington’s national strategic interests. This should be the default position toward Egypt as well.

Emile Nakhleh is a former Senior U.S. Intelligence Officer, a Research Professor at the University and author of “A Necessary Engagement:  Reinventing America’s Relations with the Muslim World”.

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U.S., EU Out-Manoeuvred by Syria http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/u-s-eu-manoeuvred-syria/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-eu-manoeuvred-syria http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/u-s-eu-manoeuvred-syria/#comments Tue, 25 Feb 2014 22:59:07 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132079 An inflow of Russian-made weapons. Political and military support from Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. Sharp dissension among fractious rebel groups. And the unyielding loyalty of the armed forces. These are four primary reasons why Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has succeeded in tenaciously holding onto power while battling a mostly Western-inspired insurgency since […]

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Bashar Ja'afari (centre), Permanent Representative of the Syrian Arab Republic to the U.N., listening during a Feb. 25 briefing on the humanitarian situation in Syria. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Bashar Ja'afari (centre), Permanent Representative of the Syrian Arab Republic to the U.N., listening during a Feb. 25 briefing on the humanitarian situation in Syria. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 25 2014 (IPS)

An inflow of Russian-made weapons. Political and military support from Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. Sharp dissension among fractious rebel groups. And the unyielding loyalty of the armed forces.

These are four primary reasons why Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has succeeded in tenaciously holding onto power while battling a mostly Western-inspired insurgency since March 2011, according to Middle Eastern diplomats and military analysts."Send money to refugees, decry the violence, and do nothing but kowtow to the Russians on Syria. This is not a policy." -- Paul Sullivan

“The United States and the Western powers have been virtually out-manoeuvred by Assad,” reckons one Arab diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Geneva peace talks ended in abject failure last week and unless there is a dramatic change on the ground, Assad will continue to survive, he predicted.

Dr. Paul Sullivan, professor of economics at the National Defence University (NDU) and adjunct professor of Security Studies at Georgetown University, told IPS Assad will go only when his military and intelligence turn on him.

Considering most of the leadership are part of his Alawite sect, this is unlikely at the leadership level, said Sullivan, pointing out that most of the lower-level officers and foot soldiers, however, are Sunnis.

This is where the time-bomb for Assad is ticking, said Sullivan, who is also adjunct senior fellow, Future Global Resource Threats, at the Federation of American Scientists.

He said that weapons, money and help are coming from Iran, Hezbollah and even across the border from Iraq, to the Assad regime.

A resident of Aleppo in the midst of buildings damaged by an airstrike from President Bashar al-Assad’s forces. Credit: Zak Brophy/IPS

A resident of Aleppo in the midst of buildings damaged by an airstrike from President Bashar al-Assad’s forces. Credit: Zak Brophy/IPS

Russian arms exports to Syria are a lot less now than prior to the conflict.

“The opposition movements are split, argumentative and mostly dysfunctional in their attempts to oust Assad,” said Sullivan. “This is more to Assad’s advantage than the arms imports. The opposition are their own worst enemies.”

He said Assad does not need a divide-and-conquer strategy. “The opposition is doing that for him,” he said.

The wide-ranging opposition groups – including the Supreme Military Council, the Free Syrian Army and its splinter group the Syrian Revolutionary Front, the Nusra Front, the Syrian National Coalition, the Islamic Front, and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham – are mostly in disarray.

After Assad’s father, Hafez al Assad, took power in 1971, Syria was linked to the then Soviet Union by a Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation.

Under this treaty, the country’s armed forces were equipped with Russian heavy weapons, including MiG and Sukhoi fighter planes, Mil helicopters, frigates, fast patrol boats, a wide variety of surface-to-surface and air-to-surface missiles, battle tanks, armoured personnel carriers, rocket launchers, howitzers and mortars.

William D. Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Centre for International Policy (CIP), told IPS cutting off the flow of arms from Russia could reduce the savagery of Assad’s war effort, saving lives in the process. For that reason alone, it is worth pushing for, he said.

“But given Assad’s accumulated arsenal and dogged determination to cling to power, it may or may not significantly shorten the war,” Hartung added.

Both the United States and the United Nations have sharply criticised the Assad regime for its air attacks on civilians, and specifically, the use of “barrel bombs” in civilian neighbourhoods.

Women walk past destroyed shops in Al Qusayr, Syria. Credit: Sam Tarling/IPS

Women walk past destroyed shops in Al Qusayr, Syria. Credit: Sam Tarling/IPS

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said early this month he was “deeply concerned” about the continued armed escalation, “most deplorably the ongoing aerial attacks and the use of barrel bombs to brutal, devastating effect in populated areas.”

But Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin has a different perspective on the attacks: “Everybody’s speaking about barrel bombs, dropped in cities. Sounds pretty horrific.”

He was quoted as saying last week that if civilians are suffering to the scale which is being described, “that of course is a very dramatic thing.”

“But we have to be clear on something: this is not something that’s per se prohibited by international law,” he added, virtually justifying the use of barrel bombs by the Syrians.

Pieter Wezeman, senior researcher in the Arms Transfers Programme at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), told IPS, “As far as I know, the barrel bombs are improvised local production. Not something I would expect Russia to deliver.”

Wezeman said all information indicates Russia has been in the past five years, and still is, the main supplier of arms to the Syrian regime.

He pointed out Russia has opposed a U.N. arms embargo on Syria, and Russian officials have regularly stated about the continued supplies of arms to Syria.

“It is however unclear what Russia has been delivering the past year and why Syria has chosen to use improvised bombs and not standard ones purchased from Russia or may be Iran,” he added.

Sullivan described Syria as “a ruined country”. If Assad falls, he told IPS, there is likely to be no united and organised opposition ready to take his place.

“This could lead to great chaos and more conflict in the country,” he noted.

Syria is, sadly, trapped in the worst of all conflict cycles – when there is no way out, given the way the leaders of the relevant parties act and act with each other, Sullivan said.

He said the United States, the European Union and others have approached this situation in “an invertebrate nature”.

Russia has out-manoeuvred the West in so many ways, but those leaders are so clueless they do not even see it, he said.

“Send money to refugees, decry the violence, and do nothing but kowtow to the Russians on Syria. This is not a policy. It is an embarrassment,” Sullivan declared.

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Press Freedom Goes on Trial in Egypt http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/press-freedom-goes-trial-egypt/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=press-freedom-goes-trial-egypt http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/press-freedom-goes-trial-egypt/#comments Mon, 24 Feb 2014 18:37:37 +0000 Jonathan Rozen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131989 On Dec. 29, 2013, just over a month before the third anniversary of the start of the Egyptian revolution that ended the 30-year rule of Hosni Mubarak, three high-profile journalists for Al Jazeera English were arrested in their hotel suite in Cairo. Despite international condemnation, the Egyptian government has moved ahead with a trial, now […]

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Graffiti in Cairo showing police brutality. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

Graffiti in Cairo showing police brutality. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

By Jonathan Rozen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 24 2014 (IPS)

On Dec. 29, 2013, just over a month before the third anniversary of the start of the Egyptian revolution that ended the 30-year rule of Hosni Mubarak, three high-profile journalists for Al Jazeera English were arrested in their hotel suite in Cairo.

Despite international condemnation, the Egyptian government has moved ahead with a trial, now set to resume Mar. 5. Altogether, nine Al Jazeera journalists and 11 others have been charged with conspiring with terrorists, undermining national unity and social peace and broadcasting false information, for their coverage of the Muslim Brotherhood.“They are basically trying to go after high-profile people and use that as a way to intimidate others." -- Joe Stork

A history of control

Media censorship in Egypt is not new, but advocates say the political transitions of the past three years have brought additional challenges for free expression.

“A combination of legal and illegal ways are used by the government to punish, intimidate and threaten independent and critical voices, including journalists,” Sherif Mansour, director of the Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Division, told IPS.

Source: CPJ

Source: CPJ

Since 2011, when the political turmoil in Egypt began, advocates say there have not been large differences in media censorship between each of the political transitions. While the targets of silencing efforts have shifted depending on who is in power, the legal apparatus that is used to censor undesirable voices has remained the same.

“The press law or penal code form the Mubarak era has not been replaced,” Soazig Drollet, head of the MENA division at Reporters Without Borders (RSF), told IPS.

“All the regimes since the uprising in 2011 have used their power to repress media for their own sake…we saw it with the supreme council of Armed Forces in 2011, we saw it with the Muslim Brotherhood in 2012, and now we see it with [Field Marshall Abdul Fattah al-] Sisi,” she said. “There is the same will to control the media and not respect the principles of pluralism.”

Under the current military government, a combination of legal and extra-legal methods are used to pressure and censor the media. Presently, the primary focus of these efforts has been directed against any discussion of the former ruling party, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Since their fall from power in 2013, the Muslim Brotherhood has been labelled a terrorist organisation by the current leadership and their existence completely discredited.

“If you support the Muslim Brothers…you are in trouble,” Nader Gohar, chairman of the Cairo News Company (CNC), an Egyptian news station with a main office in Tahrir Square, told IPS.

While the Al Jazeera case represents just a fraction of the journalists imprisoned by the military regime, it also indicates a new logic behind its repressive tactics.

“They are basically trying to go after high-profile people and use that as a way to intimidate others who might have some critical thoughts,” Joe Stork, deputy director for MENA at Human Rights Watch, told IPS. “The Al Jazeera journalists fall into this category.”

Many governments have increasingly used “anti-terror” charges, like the ones against the Al Jazeera journalists, as a justification for censorship, something that has contributed to the degradation of global press freedom, said Joel Simon, executive director of CPJ.

In January 2014, a new provisional constitution was passed in Egypt.

“Parts of the constitution look a little bit better [for media freedom] than the one by the Muslim Brotherhood,” Drollet told IPS. But “if you really look at the text carefully, they say many things that are really concerning…mainly when it comes to this possibility of censorship when there is wartime and a state of emergency.”

But the constitution is not the only factor in assessing the legal apparatus surrounding Egyptian media freedom.

“The problem isn’t so much the constitution, the problem is the actual laws that are used,” said Stork. “We’re talking now not about the constitution, but about the penal code.”

In 2013, for the first time, CPJ ranked Egypt among the top 10 jailers of journalists in the world, while RSF ranked Egypt in the lowest section of its press freedom index, at 158th out of 179 countries.

Self-censorship

For Gohar and the Cairo News Company, the current military regime has not been as bad as the conditions under the Muslim Brotherhood. That is, as long as they avoid covering the Muslim Brothers in a positive light.

“When we started to have the Muslim Brothers’ [government], they were a threat, they have a kind of militia who bothered us,” he said. “They were like a censorship beside the regular government censorship.”

Nevertheless, the current regime has also affected the way the CNC operates. Since the fall of President Mohamed Morsi, the military government and the Ministry of Communication have not permitted the renewal of the CNC’s press certification.

“It’s kind of like a precaution, like, lets wait and see,” said Gohar. “The officials don’t want to give permission, in case we do something wrong.”

Media licences have been heavily restricted for almost three years, since the revolution in 2011, essentially forcing many media outlets to break the law to continue operations.

The authorities want to see what is going to be published, explained Gohar. “If someone is not behaving, they can stop them easily.”

Self-censorship is “always the first consequence when you have a crackdown on news media and journalists,” Delphine Halgand, U.S. director for RSF, told IPS. “Arrests, imprisonment, charges and an increase in prosecution are having a major deterrent effect on journalists.”

A polarised population

The increasingly polarised and politicised population has also had an impact on media freedom in Egypt. Currently, a vast majority strongly supports the military government and al-Sisi, who is expected to win the presidency by a landslide.

For Egyptian journalists, this means that repercussions for criticism of the government will just as likely come from the people as from the government.

“You will be treated like a traitor,” said Gohar. “This is new, that there is harassment from the public toward the media.”

While the United Nations has expressed its concern over the “increasingly severe clampdown and physical attacks” on media in Egypt, human rights organisation say that publicising the lack of media freedom is likely the best way to apply pressure on the Egyptian government to relax censorship and release imprisoned journalists.

“They really have gone too far,” said Drollet, referring to the military government’s policy. “They have lost any credibility. They are not even hiding that they just want to have one kind of media exist in Egypt.”

The hashtag FreeAJStaff (#FreeAJStaff), often accompanied with a picture of the tweet’s author with a piece of tape over their mouth, is just one of these efforts to increase awareness about the situation, specifically pertaining to the Al Jazeera journalists, in Egypt.

“I would say the situation today is worse that it was,” declared Stork, “this is pretty serious.”

“The media should just tell the facts, to say what is going on the ground with factual events, with objectivity and independence,” said Drollet. “How can a democracy emerge and exist in such a situation?”

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OP-ED: Egypt’s Revolution Teeters as Sisi Seeks the Presidency http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/egypts-revolution-teeters-sisi-seeks-presidency/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=egypts-revolution-teeters-sisi-seeks-presidency http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/egypts-revolution-teeters-sisi-seeks-presidency/#comments Tue, 04 Feb 2014 19:08:19 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131186 Abdul Fattah al-Sisi is set to run for president and is expected to win handily. The ruling junta and the interim government have taken several steps to make this happen. Interim President Adly Mansour recently promoted Sisi to Field Marshal, the highest rank in the Egyptian military, despite his lack of military combat. Egypt’s Supreme […]

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By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Feb 4 2014 (IPS)

Abdul Fattah al-Sisi is set to run for president and is expected to win handily. The ruling junta and the interim government have taken several steps to make this happen.

Interim President Adly Mansour recently promoted Sisi to Field Marshal, the highest rank in the Egyptian military, despite his lack of military combat. Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) followed Mansour’s action by giving the newly minted Field Marshal a “mandate” to run for president in response to the “desire of the masses.” Sisi’s response: It was his “duty” and an “obligation” to do so.The Field Marshal is hoping the Egyptian “Street,” which rejected Nasser’s resignation after the disastrous defeat of the 1967 war, would crown him as another modern-day Pharaoh of Egypt.

To guarantee his victory at the polls and to shield him from parliamentary oversight, Mansour altered the so-called road map to allow for the presidential election to precede the parliamentary poll. Not to be outdone, Interim Prime Minister Biblawi announced a reshuffle of his cabinet, including the ministry of defence currently headed by Field Marshal Sisi.

Sisi’s high stakes political game comes barely 18 months after former President Morsi appointed him minister of defence and despite his previous statements that the military should shun politics and return to the barracks. While he was publicly declaring allegiance to Morsi and civilian control, he proceeded to conspire against the freely elected leadership and torpedo civilian rule.

Once Sisi “retires” from the military and the cabinet, he would be free to seek the presidency as a “civilian” person. He would then present himself to the Egyptian masses as the “Savior” and “Indispensable Man”—much like other military-turned-civilian dictators who preceded him. He seems to forget that shedding the military uniform and donning a business suit just doesn’t cut it anymore. The era of military dictatorships has passed.

The recent announcement by the two potential challengers Abdul Min’im Abu al-Futuh and Hamadayn Sabahi that they would not run for the presidency is seen to bolster Sisi’s presidential ambitions.

Sisi wants to resurrect the tradition of strongman rule despite its rejection by the January 25 Revolution. According to media reports, Sisi looks to former President Gamal Abdul Nasser as a role model and would like to emulate his rule. But he is too young to remember the period when Nasser’s wars cemented his cult personality.

Gen. Abdul Fattah al-Sisi. Credit: Secretary of Defence/cc by 2.0

Gen. Abdul Fattah al-Sisi. Credit: Secretary of Defence/cc by 2.0

Sisi was two years old when the Suez war occurred, seven at the start of the Yemen war, 13 during the 1967 war, and only 19 at the time of the 1973 October War. He graduated from the military academy in 1977 and pursued his political/military career in the halls of power, especially through Military Intelligence.

He is reputed to see previous leaders, including Sadat, in his recurring “visions” while asleep. These visions, some media reports speculate, have led him to believe he is destined to lead Egypt and to recapture its glorious past. This task requires a cult personality, which he and Egypt’s pliant state media have been feverishly nurturing.

The Field Marshal is hoping the Egyptian “Street,” which rejected Nasser’s resignation after the disastrous defeat of the 1967 war, would crown him as another modern-day Pharaoh of Egypt. Jihan El-Tahri, an Egyptian born world-renowned movie producer, has titled her forthcoming film on Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak “Egypt’s Modern Pharaohs.” Sisi seems to be following in their footsteps.

The high stakes political game is set to begin in Egypt with Sisi’s expected announcement confirming his intention to run for president. Popular hysteria will carry him forward, but Sisi must realise this kind of mass adulation is short-lived and could turn against him fairly quickly.

Politically active and aware Egyptians will soon realise that Sisi’s presidency would result in three disastrous realities for Egypt: first, a return to military dictatorship; second, an emasculation of the January 25 Revolution; and third, a re-institution of the economically powerful plutocracy.

As Sisi’s presidency begins, Egypt will be suffering from high unemployment, a tanking economy, an anemic tourism industry, low foreign currency reserves, a poor human rights record, growing communal violence and even terrorism, but above all high popular expectations. The January 25 Revolution empowered Egyptian youth to search for dignity, freedom, social justice, and employment.

Like Morsi before him, Sisi will not be able to turn the country around, especially as human rights of secularists and Islamists are violated and illegal arrests, sham trials, and harsh sentences continue unabated. Sisi’s presidency is dangerous for Egypt and harmful to U,S, interests and security in the region.

Sisi’s Egypt and the U.S.

The (Washington-based) Working Group on Egypt sent a letter on Jan. 29 to President Obama expressing “deep concern” about U.S. policy toward Egypt. The letter added, “In fact, the brutal tactics now regularly used by the Egyptian government against civilians, the suppression of dissent, the crushing not only of the Muslim Brotherhood but of non-Islamist political actors, and economic regression are likely to erode the popularity of Egypt’s rulers in short order.”

Furthermore, the letter urges President Obama to demand that Egyptian officials take four concrete steps before U.S. aid is given to Egypt:

• “End the broad security and media campaign against those who peacefully oppose the actions of the interim government and the military, release the thousands of opposition group members, supporters, and activists now detained on questionable charges and with disregard for their due-process rights, and allow all citizens not implicated in violence to participate fully in political life;

• End the use of live ammunition to disperse protesters, which has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of unarmed demonstrators, and respect basic rights to freedom of peaceful assembly;

• Cease repression of other peaceful dissidents and drop investigations and lawsuits launched against youth activists, former members of parliament, journalists, and academics for peaceful activity protected by international human rights treaties to which Egypt is a signatory;

• Stop media campaigns against the United States and American organizations, which are contributing to an unprecedented level of anti-American sentiments as well as endangering Americans and other foreigners, not only in Egypt but in neighbouring countries where Egyptian media are present.”

If the interim government fails to take action on these issues, U.S. assistance to Egypt should be suspended. The letter further argues that a “trade-off between democracy and stability is false.”

A Sisi presidency, should it come to pass, will have to address the endemic economic and severe human rights problems facing Egypt. If Sisi fails to do so in his first year in office and continues massive, indiscriminate human rights violations, it would not be unthinkable for Egyptians to hit the streets demanding his resignation.

If that happens, he could find himself on trial next to his two predecessors in the same soundproof glass cage.

Emile Nakhleh is a former Senior U.S. Intelligence Service Officer, a Research Professor at the University of New Mexico and author of “A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America’s Relations with the Muslim World”.

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Poll Shows Diminishing Support for Two-State Solution http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/poll-shows-diminishing-support-two-state-solution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=poll-shows-diminishing-support-two-state-solution http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/poll-shows-diminishing-support-two-state-solution/#comments Sat, 01 Feb 2014 12:46:52 +0000 Mitchell Plitnick http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131080 Twenty years of the Oslo peace process between Israelis and Palestinians have made a solution more difficult to attain, rather than easier. That was the conclusion of a poll of Israelis and Palestinians released on Friday. The poll, conducted by Zogby Research Services, showed that barely one-third of Israelis (34 percent) and Palestinians (36 percent) […]

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Um Abed plants an olive tree in support of Palestinian farmers. Credit: Eva Bartlett/IPS

Um Abed plants an olive tree in support of Palestinian farmers. Credit: Eva Bartlett/IPS

By Mitchell Plitnick
WASHINGTON, Feb 1 2014 (IPS)

Twenty years of the Oslo peace process between Israelis and Palestinians have made a solution more difficult to attain, rather than easier. That was the conclusion of a poll of Israelis and Palestinians released on Friday.

The poll, conducted by Zogby Research Services, showed that barely one-third of Israelis (34 percent) and Palestinians (36 percent) still believe that a two-state solution is feasible. And, while the two-state solution remains the most popular option among both peoples, that support is much stronger among Israelis (74 percent) than among Palestinians (47 percent)."With all the cynicism and scepticism that has built up on both sides, we are seeing this wave of opposition to anything that is seen as ‘normalisation'." -- Lara Friedman

Lead pollster and President of both Zogby Research Services and the Arab American Institute, Jim Zogby, sees these results as very troubling and as boding ill for the potential for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to salvage the two-state solution. For Zogby, it comes back to the basic inequality between Israelis and Palestinians and that the process is not framed to accommodate this reality.

“The way the two-state solution has been framed in the dominant narrative, it is defined by Israeli needs, not Palestinian needs,” Zogby told IPS. “If I had added details to the question of a two-state solution such as the 1967 borders [as the basis for territorial negotiations] and a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, Israelis would have been less supportive.

“Israelis always poll in favour of negotiations, but are less favourable regarding specific outcomes,” Zogby continued. “Palestinians support outcomes more but support negotiations less because they don’t trust the process. But when you’re in the dominant position, as Israel is, your attitudes are framed by the fact that you’re in control.”

The poll was released just as rumours swirled around Kerry’s efforts, which are expected to produce a framework proposal that Kerry will present to the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships in the next few weeks. While few observers have expressed much hope about the potential for success, Kerry has pressed both sides to work to agree to use his plan as a framework for ongoing talks, despite the reservations they are sure to have.

Whether either or both sides will agree to that remains unclear, however.

Khaled Elgindy, a fellow at the Saban Centre for Middle East Policy, believes the Zogby poll supports Kerry’s view, widely shared, that if current efforts fail, the two-state solution is in serious jeopardy.

“The poll is consistent with my sense that a Palestinian consensus in the West Bank and Gaza Strip around a two-state solution is beginning to collapse,” Elgindy said in Washington, at the presentation of the poll. “On the Israeli side, [this is reflected by] the views of young Israelis being much more antipathetic to a negotiated settlement. Both of those trends do not bode well for a negotiated TS agreement.

“The framework agreement that is being discussed is so vague as not be an agreement. If we are this far into the process and the two-state solution really hangs in the balance, it’s not a time to be vague. I think it’s clear that if we cannot say [there will be] a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, if we cannot draw a map instead of talking about percentages of land, if we cannot define these issues, then it’s more of the same because these issues don’t get easier, they get harder.”

The poll showed that, in contrast to Palestinians whose views are generally similar across the generations, younger Israelis have harder line positions than older ones. This is one reason why so many like Elgindy believe that the opportunity for a two-state solution is almost at an end. Zogby believes there are several reasons for this split between younger and older Israelis.

“The disproportionately large number of children born to Orthodox and settler families in part accounts for the shift,” Zogby told IPS. “Israel is the only country where we poll that younger people’s attitudes are less progressive than older. The birth rate among the different groupings in part accounts for that.

“The other thing is that the dominant narrative in Israel is that they might reflect back and say I was hopeful, that’s not the way the press and dominant media tells the story so it may not be the way that it is viewed. Palestinians may look back and see it in a more positive light. Even though events may not have moved in a more positive direction, the narrative may have been that it was more hopeful. Neither side sees it positively, but there is a difference in how they reflect on it. The youth gap in Israel reflects this because they pick up on how the story is told because they haven’t experienced it directly.”

Lara Friedman, the director of policy and government relations for Americans for Peace Now, agrees. “It isn’t surprising that you have on the Israeli side a growing demographic bump in folks who are ideologically opposed to this,” Friedman said in response to the poll.

“The generation of Israelis who came to the Palestinians in the era of the peace process were much better equipped. We’ve lost those connections in the generation since Oslo. The generation that came to Oslo knew Palestinians. Israelis shopped in Ramallah, there was no separation barrier, and people knew each other. It’s very different today. With all the cynicism and scepticism that has built up on both sides, we are seeing this wave of opposition to anything that is seen as ‘normalisation.’”

Both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have stated that they would put any agreement to a referendum among their respective peoples. When asked if they held out hope, only 11 percent of Palestinians and 39 percent of Israelis said they did.

But, when asked if they would support an agreement if their respective leaders endorsed it, 55 percent of Israelis and 49 percent of Palestinians said they would do so, while only 19 percent of Israelis and 28 percent of Palestinians said they would not.

Those results seem to imply that Friedman was correct when she said, “I believe that when there is a deal and people are presented with the possibility of ending this…I think opinions shift very quickly.”

But Kerry’s proposed framework would only map out future discussions. Palestinians have been insistent that they have had enough of endless discussions with no change on the ground aside from the ever-expanding Israeli settlements.

That is why Friedman, an ardent supporter of the two-state solution, also says that “…many of us believe that we need to get to a deal and do it. Leaving more time, constructive ambiguity and ‘confidence-building’ was the death of confidence [between the two sides]. Confidence can be built after the divorce — that is the lesson of the last 20 years.”

But it doesn’t seem that getting to a deal quickly is Kerry’s intent in the short term. And it certainly seems like time has just about run out.

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Starving for Access in Syria’s Yarmouk Camp http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/starving-access-syrias-yarmouk-camp/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=starving-access-syrias-yarmouk-camp http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/starving-access-syrias-yarmouk-camp/#comments Fri, 31 Jan 2014 19:32:50 +0000 Jonathan Rozen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131053 The refugee camp of Yarmouk represents one of the most severe examples of the humanitarian crisis in Syria, with foreign aid agencies unable to enter the opposition-controlled area that been effectively besieged since December 2012. Responsibility for the plight of the primarily Palestinian Yarmouk population has been almost exclusively directed toward the Syrian government, whose […]

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By Jonathan Rozen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 31 2014 (IPS)

The refugee camp of Yarmouk represents one of the most severe examples of the humanitarian crisis in Syria, with foreign aid agencies unable to enter the opposition-controlled area that been effectively besieged since December 2012.

UNRWA food distribution Jan. 31, 2014 in the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, Damascus.  Credit: UNRWA

UNRWA food distribution Jan. 31, 2014 in the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, Damascus. Credit: UNRWA

Responsibility for the plight of the primarily Palestinian Yarmouk population has been almost exclusively directed toward the Syrian government, whose forces control the periphery of the camp.

Approximately 18,000 residents are besieged within Yarmouk as fighting continues around and sporadically within in the area.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which has been operating in Syria since 1950, is presently the only significant organisation directly providing the civilians of Yarmouk with aid.

The biggest issue has been a lack of cooperation from the parties of the conflict to permit safe access to the camp.

While stressing that UNRWA appreciates that the Syrian government this week permitted some aid to enter the camp, Christopher Gunness, UNRWA spokesperson, told IPS that, “The large crowds of desperate people waiting to receive food parcels attest to the massive needs that have yet to be met.”

Between Jan. 17 and Jan. 21, UNRWA was only able to bring a few hundred aid parcels into the camp. On Thursday, Jan. 30, however, Gunness said that UNRWA had managed to enter Yarmouk and successfully distribute 1,026 food parcels. Aid distribution continued on Friday, and the Syrian government has expressed its intent to facilitate an accelerated distribution process."What is needed at this stage is not simply negotiating for weeks to get a few parcels in, what is needed is a paradigm shift." -- Nadim Houry

Nevertheless, there are still tens of thousands of people whom this aid did not reach. It is virtually a “drop in the ocean compared with need,” explained Gunness.

“As each food parcel contains food for an average family for only 10 days, it is imperative that continuous access to Yarmouk is authorised and supported, so that UNRWA can alleviate the deep and prolonged suffering caused by lack of food,” he said.

The people of Yarmouk face what Gunness describes as “unimaginable human suffering”. Children are experiencing various symptoms of malnutrition, such as rickets and anaemia, women have died in childbirth because of a lack of medial care, there is no clean water nor electricity, and aid deliveries have slowed to a trickle. At present, reports indicate that at least 49 people have died of malnutrition and government snipers have targeted people foraging for food in nearby areas.

Getting aid in is on a “convoy to convoy, day to day basis” says Gunness. Presently, Yarmouk can only be accessed via two main routes, both of which are strictly controlled through a series of tight checkpoints. In addition, fighting in close proximity to aid convoys has thwarted successive efforts to deliver humanitarian assistance. In one case, gunfire hit a bulldozer that was clearing debris for the convoy.

On Jan. 17, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Navi Pillay issued a report describing the humanitarian situation in Yarmouk. In this report, which OHCHR reaffirmed to IPS as still applicable on Jan. 28, Pillay described the situation as “desperate” and indicated that government forces and affiliated militias appear to be imposing “collective punishment on the civilians in Yarmouk”, adding that such actions which impede “humanitarian assistance to civilians in desperate need may amount to a war crime”, and is certainly against international law.

“Aid access is a priority, but what is needed at this stage is not simply negotiating for weeks to get a few parcels in, what is needed is a paradigm shift … that this is not something you negotiate on, this is a right under international law, Nadim Houry, Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) deputy director for its Middle East and North Africa division, told IPS. “What is needed right now is to establish modalities for repeated and efficient humanitarian aid.”

Looking forward, talks between the Syrian government and the Syrian opposition have the potential to open Yarmouk to more comprehensive incoming aid and the exit of civilians. Though a deal has not been reached at the Geneva II talks, both sides have discussed relief for besieged areas, notably the Old City of Homs.

The head international mediator for the U.N., Special Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, has optimistically called these discussions a positive step forward, necessary for further agreement.

“We want the Geneva II talks to make the issue a priority and to demand that the regime end government sieges imposed on opposition held towns. Humanitarian organisations must have unfettered access to these areas,” Geoffrey Mock, Syria country specialist for Amnesty International USA (AIUSA), told IPS.

“Humanitarian access has really been quite limited,” Houry said. “[HRW workers] have been able to get in [the country], but not the unrestricted access we had asked for.”

This kind of restriction has also been experienced by AIUSA, which has only been able to support the Syrian civilians through their presence in neighbouring countries.

The Syrian mission to the United Nations did not respond to an IPS request for comment on the humanitarian and human rights situation in Yarmouk, as well as the inability for humanitarian groups to enter the country.

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OP-ED: The Arab World Has Changed, So Should Washington http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/op-ed-arab-world-changed-washington/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-arab-world-changed-washington http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/op-ed-arab-world-changed-washington/#comments Fri, 24 Jan 2014 15:57:40 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=130738 As the Egyptian revolution against Hosni Mubarak celebrates its third anniversary, the military junta under General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is resurrecting dictatorship under the veneer of “constitutional” legitimacy and on the pretense of fighting “terrorism.” Syria is still ablaze. Yemen has yet to sever the tentacles of the Saleh regime, and Libya remains in the […]

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At Cairo's Tahrir Square. Credit: Mohammed Omer/IPS

At Cairo's Tahrir Square. Credit: Mohammed Omer/IPS

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Jan 24 2014 (IPS)

As the Egyptian revolution against Hosni Mubarak celebrates its third anniversary, the military junta under General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is resurrecting dictatorship under the veneer of “constitutional” legitimacy and on the pretense of fighting “terrorism.”

Syria is still ablaze. Yemen has yet to sever the tentacles of the Saleh regime, and Libya remains in the chaotic throes of tribal fissures and militia violence. Tunisia is the only “Arab Spring” country that is transitioning to democracy wisely and pragmatically.Although dictators fell, most of the old regimes remained intact. The re-emergence of the Mubarak-era dictatorship under General Sisi is the most vivid example.

The uprisings in the past three years have rattled Arab dictators and forced Washington to reassess its relations with the region. Arab autocrats have fought the uprisings and resisted all efforts to redesign the decades-old social contract with their people. Four fell.

Those who are still in power continue to inflict destruction on their countries and repress their citizens.

Yet, some policymakers, talking heads, and academics in Washington and other Western capitals are myopically advocating reconciling with existing regimes, including the Syrian tyrant. Self-proclaimed regional experts are advising these policymakers that Gulf monarchies, for example, are stable and secure and should be embraced.

Likewise, some of these experts are calling on Washington to engage the Egyptian military junta because, they argue, Egypt is the centrepiece of U.S. policy and interests in the region. They maintain these interests should trump American values, which were trumpeted by President Barack Obama in his initial support of the anti-Mubarak revolt.

This “expert” advice reflects a shortsighted, shallow knowledge of the region and is devoid of any strategic analysis of future relations between Arab peoples and their rulers. If followed, it would harm long-term U.S. interests in the region.

Let us remember that three years ago, many of these experts missed the Arab Spring all together, as was pointed out in the 2011 Stimson Institute’s Seismic Shift report.

Many academics and journalists paid scant attention to endemic grievances in Arab societies and focused instead on the “deep state” narrative, which they bought from the regimes hook, line, and sinker.

A few distinguished U.S. journalists, such as the late Anthony Shadid of the New York Times, were aware of what was boiling below the surface in places like Egypt despite the glossy mask of stability that Mubarak and his fellow autocrats presented to the outside world.

It is unfortunately understandable that some policymakers and academics are leaning toward accepting this narrative now because they are becoming disgusted with the bloody tumult across the region and the rise of radicalism and terrorism.

Some academics similarly are trumpeting the “stability” narrative, especially in the Gulf. These “access academics” — who forego serious analysis of regimes’ repressive policies in order to be allowed into those countries and meet with officials — are repeating the same analysis they offered before the revolutions of 2011.

In the Gulf monarchies, as the British academic Christopher Davidson of Durham University has pointed out in his book “After the Sheiks,” the absence of legitimacy, continued repression, and sectarianism will hasten the collapse of these tribal regimes.

Professor Davidson maintains some academics, retired generals and sitting and former diplomats are peddling the “stability” fiction for potential access and economic gain.

Promising business deals, lucrative post-retirement jobs, country visits, and Gulf investment in European and American university buildings are even influencing the type of research, analysis, and academic conferences that are being conducted on the present and future of Gulf monarchies.

Fortunately, some scholars such as Toby Matthiesen of Cambridge University are seriously assessing the long-term destructive nature of bloody sectarianism across the region, which for the most part is being pushed by regimes.

Several factors are driving this pernicious phenomenon. First, although dictators fell, most of the old regimes remained intact. The re-emergence of the Mubarak-era dictatorship under General Sisi is the most vivid example.

The military junta’s harsh sentencing of Ahmad Maher, Ahmad Duma, and Muhammad Adel — key activists in the January 2011 revolution — and the espionage charges against two of Egypt’s most prominent intellectuals, Emad Shahin and Amr Hamzawy, signal that the deep security state is alive and well in Egypt.

The military’s harsh crackdown against all opposition–secular and Islamist–belies its claim that Egypt is on the road to democracy.

The recent branding of the Muslim Brotherhood as a “terrorist” organisation moves Egypt away from political reconciliation, the new “constitution” notwithstanding. In fact, the recently ratified document enshrines the power of the military as an institution impervious to any form of accountability.

The politically motivated capital crime charges against the deposed President Mohamed Morsi and other Muslim Brotherhood leaders underpin the vengeful anti-democratic policies of General Sisi.

Despite flagrant human rights violations and sham trials, the Obama administration is tragically maintaining its military aid to the Egyptian military.

Furthermore, the U.S. State Department has withdrawn the name of Robert Ford as ambassador designate to Egypt from consideration in response to objections from the Egyptian military, according to media reports.

Second, the authoritarian regimes that are still in power are employing comprehensive hard and soft power tools, violently and viciously, in order to keep their rule. Bashar al-Assad has rendered his country a wasteland, killing over 130,000 Syrians and forcing millions to become refugees in an attempt to defeat the opposition.

Much like Egypt’s Sisi, he is feverishly trying to convince Washington and other Western capitals that he is the most effective force against terrorism and (Saudi) Wahhabi extremism. His foreign minister has repeatedly stated that if Western leaders hope to keep Salafi jihadists from overrunning Syria, Assad is their man.

It would be tragic if Washington falls for this ruse. It was Assad who worked closely with radical Salafis first in Iraq and then in Syria. He had hoped Salafis would discredit the moderate, secular opposition — a self-fulfilling prophecy he is happy to see come to pass.

Third, as these regimes fail to defeat their popular revolts and reject meaningful dialogue with the opposition, radical elements and Salafi jihadists begin to fill the power vacuum in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere. The ensuing stalemate is already producing more turbulence, anemic economies, debilitating uncertainty, and diminishing personal security.

No winner will emerge in the foreseeable future, which hopefully would force Washington to make hard choices. Simply put, these choices involve drawing a morally palatable balance between values and interests. If Washington hopes to be on the right side of history, interests should never be allowed to trump values of good governance, certainly not in the wake of the Arab uprisings of 2011.

Emile Nakhleh is a former Senior Intelligence Service Officer, a Research Professor at the University of New Mexico, and author of “A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America’s Relations with the Muslim World.”

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Thorny Path Toward Syrian Peace Process http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/thorny-path-toward-syrian-peace-process/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=thorny-path-toward-syrian-peace-process http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/thorny-path-toward-syrian-peace-process/#comments Sat, 18 Jan 2014 06:06:42 +0000 Gustavo Capdevila http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=130412 The future of the complex armed conflict in Syria, which involves religious and ethnic factors as well as pressures from neighbouring countries and the strategic interests of global powers, will begin to take shape next week at a conference known as “Geneva 2.” On Jan. 24 it will become apparent whether the warring parties in […]

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The Syrian independence flag flies over a large gathering of protesters in Idlib. Credit: Freedom House/cc by 2.0

The Syrian independence flag flies over a large gathering of protesters in Idlib. Credit: Freedom House/cc by 2.0

By Gustavo Capdevila
GENEVA, Jan 18 2014 (IPS)

The future of the complex armed conflict in Syria, which involves religious and ethnic factors as well as pressures from neighbouring countries and the strategic interests of global powers, will begin to take shape next week at a conference known as “Geneva 2.”

On Jan. 24 it will become apparent whether the warring parties in Syria will accept a negotiated solution to the three-year conflict that has already ended the lives of over 100,000 people and displaced 2.3 million from their homes, while some 9.3 million people are in extreme need of humanitarian aid.“Geneva 2 will not end the war. It can’t.” -- David Harland, the executive director of HD Centre

Representatives of the government of President Bashar al-Assad and delegations from the rebel forces that have been fighting against it since March 2011 are due to meet on that date in the Swiss city of Geneva.

So far, neither side has given a clear indication of its willingness to participate in the talks, in what are apparently delaying tactics aimed at strengthening their bargaining positions.

Prospects for the negotiations appeared to shift in recent weeks as infighting broke out among opposition forces.

A source who is well-informed about the internal situation in Syria told IPS that some opposition groups want freedom in order to combat other forces that are also opposed to Assad.

At the moment, “the more moderate groups are succeeding in military operations against the more radical Al Qaeda groups,” which are completely opposed to a ceasefire, the source said.

The Geneva 2 conference, organised by the United Nations, will open formally on Wednesday Jan. 22 in Montreux, on the northeastern shore of Lake Geneva, at the opposite end of the lake from Geneva itself.

The Montreux meeting will be attended by governments from 30 countries and delegates from international organisations, as well as U.N. representatives headed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Participants are likely to deliver exhortations for peace and to be largely critical of the Assad regime.

In the last few weeks the United States and Russia have intensified efforts to guide the negotiations towards two primary goals at this first stage: achieving a ceasefire and opening up corridors for aid to reach those most in need.

David Harland, the executive director of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD Centre), a prívate organisation based in Geneva, said the best solution for the difficult humanitarian situation is to deliver aid with the cooperation of the government and all parties.

“At the moment it’s not happening,” he said. “A lot of convoys have been blocked.”

Most convoys have been blocked because they have not received approval from the Damascus government, or because of fighting, or by criminal gangs or extremists, Harland said.

“It’s now very hard to carry out humanitarian operations in areas controlled by the opposition,” he said.

In the run-up to the conference, it is Harland’s view that a ceasefire may be very possible in areas where the opposition forces are surrounded, as in the Houla region and the city of Homs, in the western province of the same name.

A ceasefire will also be possible in areas where the government is holding out in enclaves within territory controlled by the opposition, as in Dar’a and Dayr az Zawr, in the northeast, and Idlib, in the north, he said.

While maintaining a low public profile, the HD Centre successfully offers mediation services and specialises in armed conflicts. In Syria, Harland, a former diplomat from New Zealand, has held meetings with Assad and with leaders of the armed opposition.

On the basis of these, Harland believes that “Geneva 2 will not end the war. It can’t,” he underlined.

The Geneva process has assumed that the U.S. and Russia have enough common ground on Syria to move things forward.

So far, over a period when over 100,000 people have died, this has not been the case, he said.

The problem is that the Geneva process has not found a way to give much voice to Syrians active in the opposition on the ground. “This will have to change if the peace process is to gain traction,” Harland said.

Geneva 2 will be a success “if it opens the door to a new type of peace process,” he said.

A successful peace process would have to be informed by the Syrian people themselves, but implemented with help from the outside.

“It would have to be a minuet: consultations with the Syrians on the ground, and then decisions taken by the U.N. Security Council on the basis of those decisions,” he said.

With respect to inviting Iran to attend the Montreux meeting, a move which Moscow backs but Washington opposes, Harland said Iran’s participation “could be very useful.”

“I think that we need a mechanism where all of the players who are shaping the reality inside Syria are present at the discussions and are held accountable,” he said.

In Harland’s view, the Syrian conflict resembles the 1992-1995 Bosnian War which resulted from the dismemberment of the former Yugoslavia.

Both Bosnia and Syria exhibited internal political issues and internal ethnic religious issues, he said.

Then there is a second circle of regional players which are supporting one ethnic religious community or another.

And finally, a third circle of global powers, mainly the U.S. and Russia, but not excluding China.

In this scenario, he said, the particular difficulty facing Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, who is coordinating the negotiations in his capacity as United Nations and Arab League Special Envoy to Syria, “is that some alignment of all three circles is necessary before there can be any serious prospect for peace.”

That is, there must be some basic accord among the Syrian parties, some basic accord among the regional parties and some basic accord among the U.S. and Russia and the other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.

Harland acknowledged that the pacification of Bosnia came about after intense bombing of Serbian targets by North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) air squadrons.

“In the case of Syria, I think it’s extremely unlikely that there would be a decisive external intervention,” he said.

For one thing, there is a difference of scale: Bosnia is a country of four million people that is very close to Europe and the West, both geographically and in term of interests.  Syria has six times that population, and is rather further away, Harland said.

Another difference is that the relative power of the United States in 2013 is “less than it was in 1995, when the U.S. intervened militarily in Bosnia,” Harland concluded.

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Syrian Crisis Threatens Development in Arab World http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/syrian-crisis-threatens-development-arab-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=syrian-crisis-threatens-development-arab-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/syrian-crisis-threatens-development-arab-world/#comments Fri, 17 Jan 2014 00:25:04 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=130365 The widespread sectarian violence and ongoing military conflicts in several political hotspots, including Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, have not only claimed thousands of human lives and devastated fragile economies but also undermined the U.N.’s longstanding plans to eradicate hunger and extreme poverty worldwide. The U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), the world body’s lead agency monitoring human […]

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At the Kawrgosik Refugee Camp near Erbil, in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, more than 200,000 refugees from Syria are being hosted by the regional government. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

At the Kawrgosik Refugee Camp near Erbil, in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, more than 200,000 refugees from Syria are being hosted by the regional government. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 17 2014 (IPS)

The widespread sectarian violence and ongoing military conflicts in several political hotspots, including Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, have not only claimed thousands of human lives and devastated fragile economies but also undermined the U.N.’s longstanding plans to eradicate hunger and extreme poverty worldwide.

The U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), the world body’s lead agency monitoring human development, points out that the political turmoil, including in countries such as Libya, Tunisia and Egypt, is threatening to derail the U.N.’s highly-touted Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), specifically in the Arab world.

“The crisis in Syria is a crisis for development across the Arab region,” warns Sima Bahous, chairman of the U.N. Development Group (UNDG) in the Arab States Region.

While suffering a major setback in human development, including in education, literacy, health care and life expectancy, Syria has also been singled out as one of the countries responsible for triggering the spreading economic chaos in the region.

Citing a new UNDP report, Yasmine Sherif, special adviser on strategic partnerships & resource mobilisation at UNDP’s Regional Bureau for the Arab States (RBAS), told IPS the conflict in Syria has rolled back human development achievements by 35 years, leaving more than 50 percent of the population (12.6 million people) living in poverty, 9.3 million in need of humanitarian and development assistance and 6.5 million displaced from their homes.

According to the report, released in September, the crisis has also forced some 2.3 million people to flee Syria into neighbouring countries.

Most of them (about 80 percent) do not live in refugee camps but amidst host communities, severely impacting municipal and social services, such as health, education, sanitation, housing and socioeconomic infrastructure, as well as social cohesion in those communities.

Sherif said UNDP is implementing a resilience‑based development approach (livelihoods, vocational skills training, rapid employment, basic rehabilitation) for crisis-affected communities in Syria and host communities in neighbouring countries.

UNDP’s total requirement amounts to 166 million dollars in the subregion, of which 138 million dollars refers to the U.N. Rapid Response Plan and the Syria Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan ‑ both prepared by the U.N. system for Wednesday’s pledging conference in Kuwait which raised more than 2.4 billion dollars, along with 400 million dollars from non-governmental organisations (NGOs)..

Asked how these funds will be disbursed, Sherif told IPS U.N. agencies identify priorities – for instance UNDP identifies priorities together with beneficiaries – and then donors pledge against those priorities. But sometimes, she said, donors themselves suggest priorities. “What is presented by UNDP and other agencies in Kuwait is based on identified needs and priorities in-country,” she added.

The agencies seeking funding also include the World Food Programme (WFP), the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) and the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

Secretary-General Bank Ki-moon, who chaired the pledging conference, said the nearly three-year-old conflict has “set Syria back for years, even decades.”

The negative fallout is also “damaging stability and reversing development across the region,” he warned.

The spillover of the refugee crisis – with over 6.5 million people described as “internally displaced” – is causing “great hardship and raising tensions throughout the region”, according to Ban.

And indirectly, the Syrian conflict has triggered secretarian violence in two neigbouring countries: Iraq and Lebanon.

According to a joint World Bank-United Nations study cited by Ban, the conflict has cut economic growth in Lebanon by nearly three percent annually, leading to total losses of up to 7.5 billion dollars.

In Jordan, the cost of hosting Syrian refugees could exceed 1.5 billion dollars, while the high costs have also impacted on Turkey and Iraq.

Bahous, who is also director of UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Arab States, points out that the impact of the Syrian crisis “goes far beyond even the tragic and terrible widespread death and destruction in that country: it is also slowing the region’s progress on development.”

The UNDP report also said that economic activity has been slowed in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen – all three countries which are undergoing complex political transitions.

The New York-based agency also said that while the Arab region had made progress towards many of the MDGs, including hunger and poverty alleviation, progress has been thwarted due to the “widespread impact of the ongoing conflict in Syria.”

According to U.N. Under Secretary-General Valerie Amos, who heads emergency operations, the WFP needs about 100 million dollars to provide more than four million Syrians with food – for just one month.

And the UNFPA needs about 10 million dollars to reach 2.8 million people with life-saving reproductive health care services in nine provinces in Syria.

Amos also told donors Wednesday nearly every Syrian is affected by the crisis, with a 45-percent drop in gross domestic product (GDP) and a currency that has lost 80 percent of its value.

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Kuwait Tops Humanitarian Aid to Syria at Pledging Conference http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/kuwait-tops-humanitarian-aid-syria-pledging-conference/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kuwait-tops-humanitarian-aid-syria-pledging-conference http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/kuwait-tops-humanitarian-aid-syria-pledging-conference/#comments Wed, 15 Jan 2014 22:17:54 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=130278 As Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon grimly predicted a worsening of the monumental humanitarian disaster in war-torn Syria, the international community Wednesday pledged over 2.4 billion dollars in new funds to help the displaced and devastated in the politically-troubled Arab nation. At the second international humanitarian pledging conference for Syria, held at the glittering, heavily-chandeliered royal palace, […]

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Garbage piles up in the streets of Homs, Syria. Credit: Freedom House/cc by 2.0

Garbage piles up in the streets of Homs, Syria. Credit: Freedom House/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
KUWAIT CITY, Jan 15 2014 (IPS)

As Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon grimly predicted a worsening of the monumental humanitarian disaster in war-torn Syria, the international community Wednesday pledged over 2.4 billion dollars in new funds to help the displaced and devastated in the politically-troubled Arab nation.

At the second international humanitarian pledging conference for Syria, held at the glittering, heavily-chandeliered royal palace, the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, led the donor community with a contribution of 500 million dollars, topping the 380 million dollars pledged by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar, two other oil-blessed Middle East monarchies, pledged 60 million dollars each, while Germany contributed about 109 million dollars – but all of them lagged behind Kuwait.

Additionally, over 400 million dollars were pledged by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and charitable institutions at a meeting held Tuesday, also in Kuwait city, under the auspices of the Kuwaiti government, taking the estimated total to over 2.8 billion dollars.

The exact figure will be announced shortly, said Ban, who expressed satisfaction with the numbers – and counting.

Still, the total fell short of the 6.5 billion dollars, described as the largest ever for a humanitarian emergency, which the United Nations requested for 2014.

Asked about the shortfall, Under-Secretary-General Valerie Amos, who heads the U.N.’s emergency operations, told reporters the 6.5 billion dollar figure was not the U.N.’s target at the pledging conference.

“That was the amount needed for the whole year,” she added, describing the outcome of the conference as “very successful.”

The pledging conference was characterised by a doomsday portrayal of Syria where 9.3 million Syrians, almost half the country’s population, are urgently in need of humanitarian aid.

The new statistics unfurled were staggering: more than two million children out of schools; two out of every five hospitals no longer functioning and nearly half the ambulance fleet stolen, burned or damaged beyond repair; about half the country’s doctors, in some areas, forced to flee; and the nightmare of polio threatening to make an unwelcome come back.

“Some parts of the country have just one hour’s electricity each day. And many people cannot be sure their drinking water is safe,” the secretary-general told donors.

He said any political recovery will need to be built on sustained humanitarian aid and long-term development assistance.

The first pledging conference held in January last year, also in Kuwait City, raised over 1.5 billion dollars from 43 donors, including 300 million dollars from Kuwait. About 90 percent of the pledges were delivered, Amos said at the news briefing Wednesday.

These funds helped provide safe drinking water for 10 million people in Syria last year, and enabled healthcare organisations to service more than three and half million people, and vaccinate over a million children, according to the United Nations.

Amos told donors that when she visited Syria nearly two years ago, only about one million people were in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.

That figure, she pointed out, now stands at 9.3 million – “around the population of Chad, Sweden or Bolivia.” And nearly six million people are internally displaced in Syria.

“The very fabric of society has unraveled, and sectarianism has taken hold with numerous examples of communities targeted because of their religion,” Amos said.

She was particularly troubled by the persistent reports of people running out of food in some of the besieged communities.

After announcing the 380-million-dollar U.S. contribution, Kerry told donors: “We are under no illusion that our job, or any of our jobs here, are to just write a cheque.”

He accused the Syrian regime of using starvation as a weapon of war and refusing aid workers access to people caught in the crossfire.

“If the regime can allow access to U.N. and international weapons inspectors, surely it can do the same for neutral international humanitarian assistance,” he added.

Since the conflict began in March 2011, the United States has been the largest single contributor, providing over 1.7 billion dollars in humanitarian aid.

Asked roughly what percentage of donor funding for humanitarian assistance is earmarked by the donors themselves, Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told IPS: “We cannot give a percentage.”

He said some funding is earmarked to specific emergencies or humanitarian situations, and some earmarked to specific sectors or types of activities.

“And some donors prefer to give money more flexibly so the humanitarian partners can decide where it is most needed,” he added.

Asked if “tied” aid would not apply to Wednesday’s pledging conference – primarily because all of the funding is meant for Syria, Laerke said: “Yes, all funding from this conference is meant for humanitarian action in Syria or neighbouring countries”.

These countries, including Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt, are now home to over three million Syrian refugees who have fled the country.

Asked about the time lag between pledges and delivery, he said: “ There is often a time lag in reporting about when and how money was given or spent. It is ultimately up to the pledging donor to ensure that pledges are delivered.”

Ban said all of the affected families in Syria know that humanitarian aid can save lives – but it cannot resolve this crisis.

The United Nations is one of the sponsors of an international conference on Syria, set to begin Jan. 22, which aims to bring the Syrian government and opposition to the negotiating table.

“I hope this will launch a political process, establish a transitional governing body with full executive power, and most importantly, end the violence,” he declared.

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U.N. to Seek Billions for Syria at Kuwait Conference http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/u-n-seek-billions-syria-kuwait-conference/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-seek-billions-syria-kuwait-conference http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/u-n-seek-billions-syria-kuwait-conference/#comments Fri, 10 Jan 2014 22:16:23 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=130075 When Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon chairs a U.N. pledging conference next week for urgently needed aid to Syria, he is expected to warn the donor community that the humanitarian crisis in the politically-troubled Arab nation is threatening to reach biblical proportions. Since the conflict erupted in March 2011, more than 100,000 people have been killed, over […]

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Residents of Douma, a suburb about 10 km northeast of the centre of Damascus, inspect the site of an airstrike. Douma has been a major flashpoint and has witnessed numerous demonstrations against the Syrian government and armed clashes against the Syrian Army and security forces. Photo taken on Jan. 8, 2014. Credit: Freedom House/cc by 2.0

Residents of Douma, a suburb about 10 km northeast of the centre of Damascus, inspect the site of an airstrike. Douma has been a major flashpoint and has witnessed numerous demonstrations against the Syrian government and armed clashes against the Syrian Army and security forces. Photo taken on Jan. 8, 2014. Credit: Freedom House/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 10 2014 (IPS)

When Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon chairs a U.N. pledging conference next week for urgently needed aid to Syria, he is expected to warn the donor community that the humanitarian crisis in the politically-troubled Arab nation is threatening to reach biblical proportions.

Since the conflict erupted in March 2011, more than 100,000 people have been killed, over eight million driven from their homes and more than two million have sought refuge in neighbouring countries – and these numbers are growing."The numbers are staggering; the suffering is massive." Jens Laerke of OCHA

The figures are alarmingly higher compared to the combined figures for refugees and displaced persons, running into thousands, in two other political hotspots in Africa: South Sudan and the Central African Republic.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates about 4.1 million Syrian refugees, including over two million children, will need assistance by the end of 2014.

“The numbers are staggering; the suffering is massive,” Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told IPS.

The pledging conference, scheduled to take place Jan. 15 in Kuwait City, is to be hosted by the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, and has been described “a very important humanitarian pledging event”.

The first Kuwaiti pledging conference for Syria, which took place in January 2013, also in Kuwait City, raised about 1.5 billion dollars in humanitarian aid.

The United Nations last month estimated the funding needs for Syria at about 6.5 billion dollars in 2014 – “the biggest amount ever requested for a single humanitarian emergency,” Laerke said.

Of the 6.5 billion dollars, 2.3 billion has been earmarked for assistance inside Syria and 4.2 billion dollars for refugee response in neighbouring countries.

The 2014 appeals represent the support plans of more than 100 partner organisations, including U.N. agencies and national and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs), which are working together to address the needs of Syrians.

Asked whether there was a target for next week’s pledging conference, Laerke told IPS: “I do not at the time of writing have a target.

“What I can say is that we, as also expressed by the secretary-general, call on member states to participate in the conference and to remain generous,” he said.

Among those affected in the Syrian crisis are children caught up in the crossfire between the warring parties.

Yoka Brandt, deputy executive director of the children’s agency UNICEF, told IPS, “Kuwait is a chance to give a voice to the millions of children now affected by the Syrian conflict and for the world community to respond.”

She said tangible support will not only save children’s lives today but also help provide for a more secure future through crucial investments in education and protection of children.

Laerke said it is critical to bear in mind that half of all those affected are children. ”We must ensure that a generation is not lost,” he stressed.

At the moment, another harsh winter is increasing the suffering among communities already tested by two and a half years of deprivation. Families need shelter, warm clothes, heating materials and hot food to survive, Laerke added.

A joint appeal by U.N. agencies last week called for one billion dollars in funding to save Syria’s children from becoming a “lost generation.”

“The future of these children is slipping away, but there is still a chance to save them,” said Antonio Guterres, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees.

Meanwhile, one of the biggest problems facing the United Nations is gaining access to the needy amidst the continued fighting inside Syria.

Valerie Amos, the U.N.’s emergency relief coordinator, who has pointed out that all the warring parties were responsible for the current constraints, said: “We continue to stress the need for a political solution to the crisis.”

She described the funding needs as “unprecedented” for a humanitarian crisis.

“The key constraint is access,” U.N. spokesperson Martin Nesirky told reporters last month.

“And the key requirement is always for aid to be delivered in an impartial manner, and that is what the United Nations will continue to do,” he said.

Nesirky also said the secretary-general has “the greatest of faith in the work being done by our humanitarian workers in the field at great risk, and he also has the greatest of respect for the work that’s being done to try to improve access.”

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OP-ED: Arms and Athletes in Bahrain – Al Khalifa’s Deadly Game http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/op-ed-arms-athletes-bahrain-al-khalifas-deadly-game/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-arms-athletes-bahrain-al-khalifas-deadly-game http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/op-ed-arms-athletes-bahrain-al-khalifas-deadly-game/#comments Tue, 07 Jan 2014 00:19:21 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129913 A few days ago, Bahraini officials announced that they had “foiled an attempt to smuggle explosives and arms, some made in Iran and Syria, into the country by boat.” Around the same time, the government also contended it had defused a car bomb and seized weapons in different locations in the country. The Al Khalifa […]

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Bahrain’s new government takes oath in front of His Majesty King Hamad in November 2010. Credit: Bahrain Ministry of Foreign Affairs/cc by 2.0

Bahrain’s new government takes oath in front of His Majesty King Hamad in November 2010. Credit: Bahrain Ministry of Foreign Affairs/cc by 2.0

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Jan 7 2014 (IPS)

A few days ago, Bahraini officials announced that they had “foiled an attempt to smuggle explosives and arms, some made in Iran and Syria, into the country by boat.” Around the same time, the government also contended it had defused a car bomb and seized weapons in different locations in the country.

The Al Khalifa regime maintains it is fighting terrorism, which it unabashedly equates with pro-reform activists. The regime accuses Iran of plotting and driving acts of “terrorism” on the island. Regardless of Iran’s perceived involvement in the smuggling of weapons, it is important to put this latest episode in context.If regimes are willing to tear their countries apart in order to stay in power, as the Al Khalifa ruling family seems to be doing, domestic terrorism is an assured outcome.

First, although Iran might benefit from continued instability in Bahrain, since Bahrain became independent in 1971, Iran has not engaged in any activity to remove the Sunni Al Khalifa from power. In 1970-71, the Shah of Iran accepted the United Nations’ special plebiscite in Bahrain, which resulted in granting the country independence. Successive Iranian governments under the Ayatollahs since the fall of the Shah have not questioned Bahrain’s independence.

Furthermore, over the years most Bahraini Shia looked for Iraqi and other Arab, not Iranian, grand Ayatollahs as sources of emulation or marja’ taqlid. The Shia al-Wefaq political party, which some elements within Al Khalifa ruling family have accused of being a conduit for Iran, has consistently supported genuine reform through peaceful means.

Al-Wefaq leaders, some of whom have studied and lived in Iran in recent decades, have endorsed the government’s call for dialogue with the opposition and have endorsed the Crown Prince’s initiative for reform and dialogue. Al Khalifa’s response to al-Wefaq’s peaceful position has been to arrest its two most prominent leaders, Sheikh Ali Salman and Khalil al-Marzooq.

Second, regardless of the public relations campaign the Bahraini regime is waging against Iran, it continues its arrests and sham trials and convictions of Bahraini citizens. This includes doctors and health providers, young and old peaceful protesters, and more recently athletes. Their only “sin” is that they are members of the Shia majority in a country ruled by a Sunni minority regime.

In a recent article, James Dorsey of Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies detailed the large number of Shia athletes, players and champions – soccer, handball, tennis, jiu-jitsu, gymnastics, beach volleyball, and car racing – who have been arrested and given lengthy jail sentences. Many of these players, who hail from Diraz and other neighbouring Shia villages, were hastily tried and convicted for expressing pro-reform views.

Third, in a recent interview with the Kuwaiti newspaper al-Qabas, Professor M. Cherif Bassiouni, who headed the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), expressed his disappointment at the government’s failure to implement some of the key recommendations in the report. As a reminder, King Hamad had created BICI and formally and publicly received and accepted its final report.

No one within the regime has been held accountable for the unlawful acts and crimes detailed in the BICI report. According to Bassiouni, the government’s inaction on the recommendation has raised serious doubts within “civil society institutions and human rights organisations” about the regime’s commitment to genuine reform.

Fourth, the Bahraini regime, like its Saudi counterpart, is stoking a deadly sectarian war in the Gulf and elsewhere in the region. The ruling family is very concerned that should Iran conclude a deal with the international community on its nuclear programme, Al Khalifa would become marginalised as a Gulf player.

The regime is particularly worried that as a small island country with miniscule oil production, Bahrain might become a marginal player in regional and international politics. It behooves the Al Khalifa regime to know that if it fails to work with its people to bring stability to the country, it would lose its standing in Washington and other Western capitals.

As the Bahraini majority loses confidence in the regime, it would not be unthinkable for Saudi Arabia and other regional and international powers, including the United States, to consider Al Khalifa a liability.

The key mission of the Bahrain-based U.S Fifth Fleet is not to protect the repressive Al Khalifa regime. It serves regional stability, strategic waterways, and other global U.S. interests. Its commitment to Al Khalifa or to the Bahrain port is neither central nor irrevocable.

As the Bahraini regime continues its campaign against Iran, it should remember that by refusing to engage the largely peaceful opposition for meaningful reform, it has created an environment for Sunni extremism and anti-Shia radicalism.

The recent history of intolerant religious proselytisation instructs us that such an environment invariably leads to terrorism. This is a domestic phenomenon regardless of whether the intercepted arms came from Iran or not. One also should recognise that growing frustration among dissidents would drive some of the youth to become more radicalised and turn to violence.

If regimes are willing to tear their countries apart in order to stay in power, as the Al Khalifa ruling family seems to be doing, domestic terrorism is an assured outcome. Today, we see this phenomenon in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere. The Islamic State in Syria and the Levant (ISIL) did not emerge in a vacuum. Radical, intolerant, Sunni jihadism, which Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have been pushing in Syria, and before that in Iraq, is the kernel from which terrorism sprouts. Eventually it would come home to roost.

As I wrote previously, the Al Khalifa regime’s survival remains possible only if the ruling family stops playing its repressive apartheid game and engages its people with an eye toward power sharing and genuine reform.

King Hamad still has an opportunity to implement the BICI recommendations comprehensively and transparently. He could assemble a group of distinguished Bahrainis, Sunni and Shia, and task them with writing a new constitution that would include a nationally elected parliament with full legislative powers and checks and balances over the executive branch. This should be done soon because the King and the ruling family are running out of time.

Emile Nakhleh, a former Senior Intelligence Service Officer, is a Research Professor at the University of New Mexico and author of “A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America’s Relations with the Muslim World” and “Bahrain: Political Development in a Modernizing Society.”

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Many More Snakes Than Ladders for U.S. Policy in 2014 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/many-snakes-ladders-u-s-policy-2014/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=many-snakes-ladders-u-s-policy-2014 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/many-snakes-ladders-u-s-policy-2014/#comments Fri, 03 Jan 2014 14:55:40 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129867 If U.S. President Barack Obama conceived his foreign policy prospects for 2014 as a popular child’s board game, the snakes he will have to jump over significantly outnumber the ladders that can propel him to success. As they have since he took office five years ago, the most dangerous “snakes” lie in the Middle East, […]

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President Barack Obama, with Vice President Joe Biden, attends a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Dec. 12, 2013. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama, with Vice President Joe Biden, attends a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Dec. 12, 2013. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Jan 3 2014 (IPS)

If U.S. President Barack Obama conceived his foreign policy prospects for 2014 as a popular child’s board game, the snakes he will have to jump over significantly outnumber the ladders that can propel him to success.

As they have since he took office five years ago, the most dangerous “snakes” lie in the Middle East, the region from which Obama has been trying desperately to climb out of the many holes dug by George W. Bush so that he could focus Washington’s attention more on Asia and, specifically, dealing with the rise of China.Navigating the increasingly rocky shoals of interstate relations in Asia is also likely to become more slippery in the New Year.

And while he successfully avoided (with the improbable help of Russian President Vladimir Putin) direct military engagement in Syria in 2013, the spill-over from the civil war there into Iraq and Lebanon – not to mention growing instability and violence in Egypt and the possibility and implications of a breakdown in nuclear negotiations with Iran – poses major new risks in 2014.

But navigating the increasingly rocky shoals of interstate relations in Asia is also likely to become more slippery in the New Year.

In contrast to the Middle East, where sectarian conflict between Shia and Sunni Muslims increasingly transcends national borders, nationalism appears all too alive and well in Asia.

Beijing’s increasingly assertive territorial claims, which have generally worked to Washington’s advantage as less powerful nations have sought a counter-balance to China’s growing power, have nonetheless also increased the risk of an incident that could, if unchecked, escalate into a conflict involving U.S. forces.

In addition, they have also triggered a backlash that, among other things, appears to have emboldened Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to accelerate his country’s move away from its post-World War II pacifism.

Abe’s defence of Japanese actions in World War II – as demonstrated most provocatively by his recent visit to the notorious Yasukuni shrine – has in turn angered South Korea. As a result, Washington’s efforts to coordinate policy on both China and an increasingly unpredictable nuclear-armed North Korea with its two closest allies in Northeast Asia have come to naught.

Of course, if Obama can patch up relations between Tokyo and Seoul and make progress in gaining Chinese agreement on “rules of the road” in contested zones, his standing would rise. But, given the nationalist passions that are roiling the region, that task will not be easy, and the downside risks there are steadily growing.

The overriding importance accorded by the administration to both the Greater Middle East and Asia means that Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa are likely to continue to get relatively much less attention from Washington during 2014, as they have for the past five years.

However, specific crises – most recently, the violence and possibility of civil war in South Sudan – can rise to the top of the foreign policy agenda.

But Obama has little to gain from the situation – even if his diplomats succeed in helping prevent the worst. On the other hand, if the world’s youngest nation self-destructs, the president stands to lose, not only because of his personal investment in helping to gain Juba’s independence, but also because he would be compared unfavourably with Bush, one of whose few foreign-policy achievements was the negotiation of the 2005 peace agreement between Sudan and the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) that laid the groundwork for independence.

While the greatest number of overseas “snakes” facing Obama in 2014 remain in the broader Middle East, it’s also the region where a couple of “ladders” – both singled out by Obama himself in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly in September – could ensure his place in history as a successful foreign policy president.

The most spectacular would be the successful conclusion of a comprehensive nuclear accord with Iran in the context of the P5+1 (U.S., Britain, France, China, and Russia plus Germany) negotiations that could effectively reverse recent advances made by Tehran in building a break-out capacity and still permit it to enrich uranium at low levels.

Negotiating such an agreement would not only go far in ending 35 years of hostility between the two nations. It could also facilitate their cooperation in both tamping down the Sunni-Shia conflict that threatens the entire region and stabilising Afghanistan, from which virtually all U.S. combat troops are supposed to withdraw by the end of 2014.

While its strategic significance would not rise to that of Richard Nixon’s rapprochement with China in the early 1970s, an Iran accord could presage major realignments stretching from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean and deep into Central Asia.

To achieve it, however, Obama faces formidable opposition, primarily from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israel lobby that wields considerable influence in Congress, as well as from Saudi Arabia and some other Gulf states which fear Tehran will regain the regional primacy it enjoyed under the Shah in the 1970s. Like the Israel lobby here, hard-liners in Iran also oppose an accord.

If these forces succeed, the consequences, as Obama himself has warned, could very likely include yet another U.S. military intervention in the Middle East.

That in turn would not only put paid to Obama’s hopes of reducing Washington’s military presence in the region and “pivoting” toward Asia. Lacking U.N. Security Council authorisation, such an action would also almost certainly provoke a major international crisis that could shatter cooperation with Russia and China on a host of issues, as well as strain U.S. relations with its NATO allies.

For Obama, war with Iran – even more than the escalating Sunni-Shia conflict in Syria and its neighbours — is probably the most dangerous “snake” on the 2014 board.

The other obvious “ladder” that could earn Obama a favourable place in the annals of foreign policy is negotiating a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the elusive holy grail of U.S. Mideast policy for more than a generation.

While most analysts express doubt over whether this goal is possible – and is most unlikely to be achieved in 2014 in any case – the energy with which Secretary of State John Kerry has pursued the effort has impressed some sceptics, and the fact that he is now offering bridging proposals for a permanent status agreement marks a potentially significant advance.

Still, the balance of opinion here is that such an accord is a bridge too far, especially so if Obama succeeds in getting a nuclear agreement with Iran.

Meanwhile, however, the “snakes” in the region that threaten Obama are considerably more numerous, ranging from an escalating cycle of violence between the military regime in Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood or more radical forces, to the resurgence of sectarian violence in Iraq to 2006-07 levels; from the intensification of the war in Syria or its export to Lebanon, to the strengthening of Al Qaeda-linked forces across the region from Yemen to North Africa and the Sahel, to name a few.

And, with 2014 the year in which NATO is to withdraw all but a small remnant from Afghanistan, the site of Washington’s longest war, a rapid collapse of security could prove similarly deadly, recalling the Vietnam debacle nearly 40 years ago.

Any and all of these distinctly possible events will no doubt be used by Obama’s political foes here to paint him as a failed foreign policy president.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com.

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