Middle East/Arab world in 2012

Written by  //  December 20, 2012  //  Geopolitics, Middle East & Arab World  //  Comments Off on Middle East/Arab world in 2012

The fallacy of the phrase, ‘the Muslim world’

Western media reinforces stereotypes by reducing a complex set of causes to the rage into an amorphous mass.
(Al Jazeera) The media should instead pay more attention to individual states, conflicts and leaders, since dictatorship and factionalism have been as essential in shaping politics in Muslim-majority regions as has religion. The current crisis demonstrates how corrupt parties use religion as an incitement to violence and a means to political gain. The Western media should not play party to their prejudices.

20 December
Cleo Paskal: Expert — West Helping Wahabbi Winter Spread to Syria
(HuffPost) One problem facing the NATO powers is their reliance on the intelligence agencies of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other allied Arab states. Many of these have become infested with Wahabbis, who are expert at conveying a distorted version of ground realities upward to their superiors. In particular, these Wahabbi nests within the Saudi, Qatari and other NATO-allied intelligence services sponsor individuals whom they know to be hostile to the core security interests of the West, but for whom they seek backing. Just as in Afghanistan and Libya, the West is funding elements that will very soon work against them.
Unfortunately, the Saudi, and especially the Qatari royal families, are assisting their own destruction by helping Wahabbi groups within their societies, and outside, to gain traction. Ultimately, such groups will seek to do away with the ruling families and at best – from the point of view of the West – establish a Muslim Brotherhood-style soft-authoritarian religious state within Qatar and Saudi Arabia. In such a task — now that the Brotherhood has succeeded in taking over the reigns of office in Egypt — the Wahabbi elements of the Egyptian diaspora within the GCC countries are working overtime to convince local populations to eventually follow the same route to state power through street protests.
4 December

Thomas Friedman: Iron Empires, Iron Fists, Iron Domes How could it be that I could go to synagogue in Turkey on Saturday while on Friday, just across the Orontes River in Syria, I had visited with Sunni Free Syrian Army rebels embroiled in a civil war in which Syrian Alawites and Sunnis are killing each other on the basis of their ID cards, Kurds are creating their own enclave, Christians are hiding and the Jews are long gone?
What is this telling us? For me, it raises the question of whether there are just three governing options in the Middle East today: Iron Empires, Iron Fists or Iron Domes?
When Britain and France carved up the Ottoman Empire in the Arab East, they forged the various Ottoman provinces into states — with names like Iraq, Jordan and Syria — that did not correspond to the ethnographic map. So Sunnis, Shiites, Alawites, Christians, Druze, Turkmen, Kurds and Jews found themselves trapped together inside national boundaries that were drawn to suit the interests of the British and French. Those colonial powers kept everyone in check. But once they withdrew, and these countries became independent, the contests for power began, and minorities were exposed.
27 November 2012

17 November
Where Are the Middle East’s Revolutions Heading?
One-and-a-half years after the start of the Arab Spring, Islamists have taken power in some countries, Gulf rulers are suppressing dissent with cash and Syria is descending into civil war. The Arab revolutions are at a turning point, but the horrors unleashed by Damascus could inspire moderation elsewhere
The hope that the Arab world would become democratic as quickly as Eastern Europe did 20 years ago has not been fulfilled. But fears that the countries of North Africa and the Middle East — from Morocco in the west to Oman in the east — would sink into chaos one after another have also not materialized.
Instead, the picture is more confusing than ever.
A YEAR and a half after the optimism of the Arab spring, the Middle East is in frightening turmoil. Syria is close to sliding into a full-scale civil war whose outcome is unknowable, though its bloodstained president, Bashar Assad, looks likely sooner or later to fall. Libya, mercifully shorn of its crazy tyrant, is being periodically rocked by the still-untamed militias that ousted him; its general election, scheduled for this month, has been pushed back until next. Yemen, having shed its ruling bully of 33 years, has become al-Qaeda’s favourite haunt. Tunisia, which had been gliding most smoothly from despotism to democracy, has seen riots by religious extremists (see article). Sudan’s vile government and Oman’s more amiable one have also both been rattled by protests. And in Saudi Arabia a long-lingering succession crisis is back starkly in the spotlight with the death of its crown prince (see article Widespread Muslim Scepticism of U.S. as Democracy Advocate
(IPS) – Despite continuous assurances that the United States favours democratic rule during the 18-month-old “Arab Spring”, majorities or pluralities in six predominantly Muslim countries see Washington as an obstacle to their democratic aspirations, according to a new survey released here Tuesday.
Indeed, Saudi Arabia is generally seen as a stronger advocate of democracy than the U.S. in all six nations, although not as strong as Turkey, according to the poll by the Pew Global Attitudes Project.
The survey, which covered Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Tunisia and Turkey, also found a strong desire in all six countries not only for democratic government, but also for specific concepts associated with democratic governance, including free elections, freedom of religion, free speech, and equal rights for women.
Fouad Ajami: The Arab Spring at One, A Year of Living Dangerously
(Foreign Affairs) Terrible rulers, sullen populations, a terrorist fringe — the Arabs’ exceptionalism was becoming not just a human disaster but a moral one. Then, a frustrated Tunisian fruit vendor summoned his fellows to a new history, and millions heeded his call. The third Arab awakening came in the nick of time, and it may still usher in freedom


Gaza a dangerous crisis for turbulent Middle East
(BBC) This crisis is especially dangerous because the Middle East is more turbulent and less stable than at any time since the 1950s.
Convulsive changes
The old certainties and some of the old faces have gone.
Just look round the borders of Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
Syria is deep in a civil war. Lebanon has so many connections with Syria that it can’t help but be involved.
In Jordan, demonstrators are chanting the slogan they used in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria and all the other places – the people want the fall of the regime.
And Egypt no longer has President Hosni Mubarak, the man that the Americans and the Israelis relied on at moments like this, to uphold the status quo.
19 October
Why Wissam al-Hassan matters for the Middle East
(WaPost) Hassan was an important figure in the country’s security establishment, and his death could have significant implications in Lebanon and beyond.
A Beirut horror story
(Foreign Policy) In Lebanon, each security branch is a fiefdom of a different political party. Hassan wasn’t just a non-partisan official, but widely recognized as the central ally of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Future Movement, the country’s most important Sunni party. As FP contributor Elias Muhanna writes, Hassan had “long been the target of…ire” from Lebanon’s pro-Assad political alliance. Hassan had been riding high: His branch had just arrested Michel Samaha, one of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s staunchest allies in Beirut, on charges of plotting attacks against Christian areas on orders of the Syrian regime.
For Hariri and his anti-Assad allies, then, this looks like payback: They struck a blow against one of Assad’s men, so the Syrian regime took revenge by killing the man who orchestrated the arrest. The backlash is already brewing: Lebanese press outlets have reported scattered clashes and blocked roads in areas of Beirut and the northern city of Tripoli that are typically flashpoints for violence.
11 October
Gareth Smyth: LEBANON – Too close for comfort
Syria’s civil war could yet have ugly repercussions for its southern neighbour, Lebanon
(Emerging Markets) The clearest sign of the overflow of the 19-month Syrian conflict into Lebanon has been the refugees fleeing the violence. … But for Lebanon, the challenge is as much political as it is humanitarian.
The government fears the domestic consequences of fighting in Syria. This was highlighted by this summer’s sectarian clashes in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second-largest city, between Sunni Muslims and an Allawi minority that reflected the ethnic balance in Syria, where the regime of president Bashar al-Assad is mainly Allawi-led.
Anti-American protests break out in Yemen and Kashmir
Security forces in Yemen fired water cannons at demonstrators outside the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa as protests over a film considered insulting to Islam spread to Asia. In Kashmir, an estimated 15,000 gathered today to protest the film. Smaller, peaceful protests took place in Jakarta, Indonesia, and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. In Egypt, President Mohammed Morsi in a televised address urged calm and condemned the killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya. Chicago Tribune/Reuters (free registration) (9/14), USA TODAY/The Associated Press (9/14)
12 September
Libya’s Militia Menace — The Challenge After the Elections
(Foreign Affairs) By any standard, Libya’s July 7 elections were a remarkable achievement. They defied expectations of widespread violence and an Islamist landslide. The victorious Mahmoud Jibril, head of the National Forces Alliance, has already made signs of reaching out to rival political factions across the country, most notably the federalists in the east. Headlines around the world proclaimed the country’s first free vote in six decades a success.
Even so, observers should have no illusions about the momentous challenges ahead — especially that of rebuilding and formalizing the country’s security services. In the absence of an effective police force and army, the country’s transitional government has pursued a contradictory policy. On the one hand, recognizing that armed militias could destabilize the state, it has enacted some programs to disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate the country’s countless revolutionary “brigades.”
24 July
The Prince and the Revolution
Saudi Arabia is bringing back its most talented operator to manage the Arab Spring. But can Bandar stem the rot in Riyadh?
(Foreign Policy) On July 19, on the eve of the Saudi weekend and the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, the Saudi government orchestrated its equivalent of Washington’s Friday afternoon news dump: Prince Bandar bin Sultan, son of the late crown prince and defense minister, Sultan, was appointed the new intelligence chief. … At the very least, his appointment is a reflection of King Abdullah’s concerns about developments in the Middle East, particularly Syria, and the limited talent pool in the House of Saud to meet the challenges. Frankly, it suggests panic in Riyadh.
22 July
Reem Nasr: Ramadan 2012: Muslims Observe Holiday in the Wake of the Arab Spring
(PolicyMic) Ramadan this year is bound to be different. In light of the political and social changes facing the Muslim-majority countries of the Arab Spring, this fast will mean so much more. Many greet the holy month with armed struggle against brutal regimes as in Syria, demonstrations in Sudan, or a continuous political crisis — like Egypt and Iraq.
20 July
Dr. Charles Cogan: Islam May Be the Answer, Democracy Is the Solution
(HuffPost) The Arab world has changed in the last 40 years with the access of people to TV, the Internet and social networks. The once-derided “Western-style democracy,” often referred to as “ballot-box democracy,” has now been embraced: most strikingly, an election has placed in the leading position in Egypt, the Presidency, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Autocratic, military-run regimes have been discredited. The people want to be treated with dignity, and to have a say in their future. Democracy is the durable element that has come out of the Arab Spring. It is a place where all can meet on a common ground, without religious-based rancors.
16 June
Saudi crown prince dies; successor uncertain
Crown Prince Nayef was the interior minister responsible for cracking down on al-Qaeda after September 11.
(CSM) Nayef’s death unexpectedly reopens the question of succession in this crucial U.S. ally and oil powerhouse for the second time in less than a year. The 88-year-old King Abdullah has now outlived two designated successors, despite ailments of his own. Now a new crown prince must be chosen from among his brothers and half-brothers, all the sons of Saudi Arabia’s founder, Abdul-Aziz.
The figure believed most likely to be tapped as the new heir is Prince Salman, the current defense minister who previously served for decades in the powerful post of governor of Riyadh, the capital. The crown prince will be chosen by the Allegiance Council, an assembly of Abdul-Aziz’s sons and some of his grandchildren.
3 June
Mubarak verdict adds to tension before Egypt vote
(Reuters) In the first trial of a leader toppled in last year’s Arab spring uprisings, Mubarak was found guilty and handed a life sentence. His sons were found innocent of corruption charges and senior policemen were acquitted.
Protesters return to Tahrir Square
(Al Jazeera) Thousands rally in Cairo over acquittals of Mubarak-era officials, as Egyptian prosecutor says he will appeal verdicts.
The Egyptian Election and the Arab Spring
(Stratfor) This is not how the West, nor many Egyptians, thought the Arab Spring would turn out in Egypt. Their mistake was overestimating the significance of the democratic secularists, how representative the anti-Mubarak demonstrators were of Egypt as a whole, and the degree to which those demonstrators were committed to Western-style democracy rather than a democracy that represented Islamist values.
What was most underestimated was the extent to which the military regime had support, even if Mubarak did not. Shafiq, the former prime minister in that regime, could very well win. The regime may not have generated passionate support or even been respected in many ways, but it served the interests of any number of people. Egypt is a cosmopolitan country, and one that has many people who still take seriously the idea of an Arab, rather than Islamist, state.
31 May
Egyptians Protest Choice Between Right and Right
By Mel Frykberg
(IPS) – Like the delayed after-effects of an earthquake below the ocean before the subsequent tsunami hits adjacent coastlines, Egyptian anger finally exploded this week after several days of stunned silence following the controversial results of Egypt’s first-round of presidential elections.
7 May
Robert Fisk: Arab Spring has washed the region’s appalling racism out of the news
The Long View: Migrant workers from the subcontinent often live eight to a room in slums – even in oil-rich Kuwait
… Arab societies are dependent on servants. Twenty-five per cent of Lebanese families have a live-in migrant worker, according to Professor Ray Jureidini of the Lebanese American University in Beirut. They are essential not only for the social lives of their employers (housework and caring for children) but for the broader Lebanese economy.
Yet in the Arab Gulf, the treatment of migrant labour – male as well as female – has long been a scandal. Men from the subcontinent often live eight to a room in slums – even in the billionaires’ paradise of Kuwait – and are consistently harassed, treated as third-class citizens, and arrested on the meanest of charges.
7 February
NGO Prosecution Puts U.S.-Egyptian Ties at Risk
The criminal prosecution of some 43 NGO activists, including 19 U.S. nationals, on charges that they failed to register with the authorities and carried out illegal political activities has drawn unprecedented criticism from both the administration of President Barack Obama and powerful lawmakers from both parties on Capitol Hill.
At stake are at least the 1.3 billion dollars in annual military aid that the U.S. has provided the Egyptian army since the U.S.-mediated Camp David Accord with Israel was signed in 1979. That aid has served as the anchor for one of Washington’s most important bilateral relationships in the Arab world. Call the Generals’ Bluff
Egypt’s military-run government says I’m a fugitive from the law. I say it’s time American taxpayers stop funding repression.
2 February
Egypt’s politicised football hooligans
Prior to the fall of Mubarak, some hooligans were political, battling the state. Now they just fight each other.
26 January
Tunisia: A revolutionary model
(Al Jazeera TV) A year after the Jasmine Revolution, can the country’s new government fix the vast social injustices that triggered it?
One year ago, Tunisia overthrew decades of oppression and dictatorship. Its revolution rocked the Middle East and inspired the ‘Arab Spring’. Now, Tunisia has adopted an interim constitution, held free and fair elections, and is becoming a modern democratic state. But does the recent electoral success of the Islamists herald a return to narrow, sectarian rule or consensual leadership?
25 January
Egypt’s military lifts emergency law – with one big loophole
(CSM) Egypt’s military ruler announced yesterday that he would lift Egypt’s hated emergency law – except in cases of “thuggery,” which rights activists say leaves a loophole for police to continue to use exceptional powers to arrest and detain civilians without cause.
20 January
Conrad Black: There’s hope amid the chaos in the Muslim world
(National Post) Conrad Black offers a hard look at the state of the Muslim world, however concludes that “… the fringes of the Muslim world — Indonesia, Malaysia and Morocco — are flourishing. Indonesia is emerging as stronger than any of the artificial “BRIC” construct. (Brazil and China are labouring, the Putin regime in Russia is under siege, and the anti-corruption drive in India has stalled.) Malaysia has miraculously acquitted the opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, of a spurious sodomy charge, and may actually be becoming a serious, functioning democracy. And Morocco appears to have managed a capable reconciliation of a strong monarchy with democratic reforms while preserving religious tolerance, as the only Arab country with a significant, flourishing Jewish community.”

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