Posts Tagged Arab League
Brookings’ Shadi Hamid has made a good point here – there was an Arab democratic upsurge in 2005, although it was quickly stifled as Islamist groups were elected into power.
In 2011, the Middle East witnessed the second ‘Arab Spring.’ The first—now somewhat forgotten—took place in 2005. President George W. Bush had announced in November 2003 a “forward strategy for freedom in the Middle East.” In a speech to the National Endowment for Democracy, he declared: “Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe—because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty.”
The Bush administration cited democracy promotion among the reasons for its invading Iraq and toppling dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003. As dubious, cynical and inconsistent as they may have been, Bush’s policies helped produce an otherwise unlikely outcome. The year 2005 saw the largest outpouring of pro-democracy activism the region had ever seen up until then. On January 31, 2005, Iraqis braved terrorist threats to cast meaningful ballots for the first time. In Bahrain, fifty thousand Bahrainis—one-eighth of the population—rallied for constitutional reform. And there was, of course, the Cedar Revolution, which led to a removal of Syrian troops from Lebanese territory. The Iraq war frightened Arab regimes into thinking that President Bush was serious about his democratizing mission.
However, after a succession of Islamist election victories in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories, the United States backed off from its aggressive pro-democracy posture. With a deteriorating security situation in Iraq, a rising Iran, and a smoldering Israeli–Palestinian conflict, Arab democracy came to seem an unaffordable luxury. This was not a time for unsettling friendly Arab autocrats. Their Islamist competitors, known for their inflammatory anti-Americanism, were, at best, an unknown quantity. American policymakers shared an instinctive distrust of Islamists and made little effort to understand how they had changed. At worst, Americans feared, the Islamists would use their newfound power to roll back U.S. influence in the region.
So here’s a question: why is Libya so different from Iraq? Why is it ok for the US to intervene when Muammar Gaddafi is slaughtering his own people, but not when Saddam Hussein is doing it (which he had done many times, by the way)? Some peopled will talk about Arab League support, but surely intervening to save civilians from a despotic ruler isn’t reliant on assention from a group of other dictators, who would not hesitate to do the same to their own people if they deemed it necessary.
So again, did the Iraq war actually help the Middle East move toward democracy?
I did have one issue with what Hamid was saying:
There was no need to follow a sequence—economic reform first, democracy later—or meet a long list of prerequisites. Arabs, it turns out, did not have to wait for democracy. More importantly, they didn’t want to. The hundreds of millions of dollars in civil society aid had been rendered beside the point. America’s caution, hedging of bets, and fetish for gradualism—previously the hallmarks of hard-headed realpolitik—proved both foolhardy and naïve. Of course, Americans always said they knew this: freedom and democracy was not the province of one people or culture, but a universal right.
Everyone is getting way ahead if themselves here. Look at the lesson outlined above from 2005 – democracy requires more than overthrowing the dictators. As I’ve said before, the Arab states have a long way to go before they can be called “democratic”.
I’ve been concentrating on other endeavours over the past three-or-so weeks, however with the aeroplane-based wifi that American Airlines seems to provide, I now have time to comment on the dramatic events that seem to be changing the face of the Middle East as I type. As everyone will be aware, this began with mass popular protests in Tunisia resulting in the as yet relatively benign ousting of long-time dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali. The reality here is that in the greater Arab world, Tunisia is one of the least volatile countries. As outlined by John Thorne in The National, Tunisia has an extensive recent history of forced secularisation, allowing for a minimalist Islamist presence:
Islam came to Tunisia in the 7th century with Arab armies sweeping across North Africa, and cities such as Tunis and Kairouan became centres of Islamic learning. French colonialism from 1881 injected secularist ideas into Tunisian society.
That set the stage for the policies of Habib Bourguiba, who ruled Tunisia after independence in 1956 and believed that Islamic tradition impeded the building of a modern state.
During Bourguiba’s three-decade rule, a new family code was enacted that gave women equality with men in key areas, the hijab was restricted, and Islamic schools and courts were shut down.
The lack of extreme sentiment in Tunisia is what allowed the revolution to maintain such a positive and peaceful atmosphere (at least so far). This is VERY different from the situation in other Arab countries.
The events grabbing the most headlines, of course, are the protests in Egypt – which look likely to end the 30-year reign of dictator Hosni Mubarak. What a lot of people, particularly the Obama administration, fail to grab is that Egypt is not Tunisia. At all.
It is understandable that, after realising that Arab dictators are not absolutely invulnerable and that mass popular actions can topple autocratic regimes, the people of Egypt decided to give this a shot. Mubarak’s ailing health had been the topic of headlines anyway, and widespread speculation that he was grooming his son Gamal for office had led to a lot of discontent amongst Egypt’s masses. The problem is that Mubarak for years has been a stalwart of Western policy in the region and has led one of the two most powerful Arab countries into clamping-down on extremists and minimising conflict in the region. We may not be so lucky with his successor, who could be:
The New Yorker‘s Joshua Hammer did some excellent coverage last year of this year’s planned presidential elections in Egypt, which explains the different parties and their positions.
Gamal Mubarak is widely seen as a symbol of nepotism and privilege. “A lot of Egyptians don’t like the perception that there is a dynastic process here,” the Western diplomat said. “This is a republic.”
Hammer goes on to explain that while a gifted economist, Gamal Mubarak’s “trickle-down” policies have led to an increasing rich-poor divide in Egypt and the view that he is only interested in furthering his own privileged class.
The other major contender is formar International Atomic Energy Agency president and Nobel Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei – who has been sending mixed signals about his candidacy. While his achievements, particularly with the dismantling of Libya’s nuclear program, are undeniable, he does look less than ideal on a number of levels. In particular, he displayed a reluctance to aggressively pursue Iran over its nuclear program; his departure last year from the IAEA allowed the US to dramatically step-up its attempts at imposing sanctions on Iran. Also, extremely worryingly, he had this to say about Israel and the Palestinian resistance:
Palestinian violence [is] the only path open to the Palestinian people, because “the Israeli occupation only understands the language of violence.”
(As I have previously observed, the Palestinian resistance has a far, far superior path open – state building.)
These attitudes certainly raise certain doubts regarding ElBaradei’s foreign policy plans. Despite being a seasoned diplomat, it appears that he has a tendency to appease extremists and that he is not too friendly towards Israel. This means that the Egypt-Israel peace treaty could be in jeopardy. This treaty, formed several years after the last war between Israel and it’s more powerful neighbours, began the era of relative peace between Israel and the Arab world and continues to be possibly the single most stabilising factor in the Arab/Israeli conflict – there is apparently an Arab saying that goes “you cannot make war without Egypt”. It’s dissolution would be extremely dangerous and could lead to an unprecedented war in the region.
ElBaradei has been a little evasive on the issue, saying:
…again, the whole issue of peace in the Middle East is an issue which everybody – nobody wants to go to war, Fareed. Nobody was – not want not to have peace in the region, but as you know, the (inaudible) the credibility is not really whether you are supported by a dictator here. It’s whether you have a fair-handed policy, vis-a-vis the Palestinians. And that is really the question. The criteria is not the reaction of the Egyptians. And you’ll get the same reaction under Mubarak, under a democracy. The people feel they are unfairly treated. There is a double standard vis-a-vis the Palestinian issue, and that will continue.
But if you want to have Egypt and the rest of the Arab world have into policy as recognition of Israel, well, you need to review your policy. And however, you know, whatever, what – whatever is going to happen, you know, I am confident that dialogue, negotiation between democracies is much more effective than dialogue between dictators who are in no way representing their people.
Also, as noted here, he may not even last long as a leader as he does not seem to possess the strength that is required of Egyptian rulers, who had a habit of being assassinated before the ruthless policies of Mubarak came into effect.
Speaking of these assassinations, the big elephant in this room is, of course, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. For those of you who don’t know, Egypt was the cradle of the Brotherhood – the movement that began modern Islamism as we know it. Their brand of politicised Islam eventually led to Al Qaeda and all of the other Islamic terrorist groups and individuals we know today; however, they also now exist as an arguably non-violent political group (very arguable – they did assassinate the last two Egyptian presidents) with the goal of transforming Muslim states into Islamist ones. As Hammer notes:
Parliamentary elections were also held in 2005, and one opposition group performed significantly better than expected: the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist party that supports Sharia law and has engendered such violent offshoots as Egyptian Islamic Jihad. (The Brotherhood renounced violence in 1970.) Although the organization has been officially banned since 1954, independent candidates who openly supported the Muslim Brotherhood’s positions were allowed to run for Parliament, and won eighty-eight seats—a fifth of the total. Many Brotherhood candidates portrayed the Mubarak regime as corrupt. The ruling party still controlled three hundred and eleven out of four hundred and fifty-four seats, but the strong showing of the Islamists was a shock.
This shows that the Brotherhood has a large popular support base and regardless of who takes over in Egypt, will wield considerable power. As noted here, the brotherhood, which is the parent organisation of Hamas, is already unequivocally calling for an end to the peace treaty with Israel. There is also a considerable concern for Egypt’s minority Christian group, which has been under attack in recent months.
The key question is: how much power will they have and how will this affect Egypt’s policies? Whichever way you look at it, the outcome is grim. The Muslim Brothers are a powerful force and every regime in the Middle East is struggling to contain them. If ElBaradei or anyone else takes over, it is unlikely that they will be strong enough to crush them and so will have to appease them in some way – most likely by cooling relations with Israel and America and turning the strongest Western ally in the Middle East into something a little less reliable. The problem is that by trying to nudge Mubarak out of power, Obama has guaranteed that Mubarak will not be as friendly as he once was if he does cling to power. I am very concerned for the future here…
Complete naivete or the only solution?
It doesn’t seem to say on the site, but Google tells me that Omar M. Dajani is a law professor at the University of The Pacific (yeah, I hadn’t heard of it either) and a former PLO negotiator and Ezzedine C. Fishere is an aide to the Egyptian Foreign Minister.
Either way, what they are proposing is interesting to think about. Basically, they want:
- A US-led regional security apparatus, involving Israel coordinating with Turkey, Jordan and others in order to combat terrorism and Iran.
- A “multinational peace-implementation force” – basically, an extension of the above organisation, focusing on building-up Palestinian infrastructure and kind of taking over the job from the Israelis, so that the IDF can withdraw from the West Bank.
- Integrating Hamas into the agreement, under the assumption that legitimising them in this way would force them to become more moderate due to the accountability that it would bring and since they aren’t going anywhere regardless.
- 1967 borders with land swaps and an immediate withdrawal.
I’m not entirely convinced that their model is viable at this point in time. They have kind of glossed over a huge amount of conflict between all of the sides here. I don’t think that the Arab public would accept a US-led force such as they propose, or working with Israel on a level high enough that the Israelis would be satisfied that their security was guaranteed.
Hell, I’m not even convinced that Jordan and Turkey could work closely together without fireworks. The Middle-East is not a friendly place, I’m very skeptical about anyone ever working towards the “common good”.
That said, the idea of a regional solution may not be too far off. Abbas definitely knows that he can’t make any major moves without the involvement of the Arab League. Dajani and Fisher may be a little too ambitious, but it could definitely be a good idea to involve the Arab League in the peace process more formally, if they would agree to it of course.