Category Archives: Libya

The Arabs Between Turbulent Revolutions and Stable Tyranny

By Dr. Hamad Al-Majid, Asharq al Awsat 18/0/2013

God fights against oppression and tyranny but they still remain, despite their enduring connotations of hardship, corruption, injustice, tragedy, and brutality. Like alcohol, oppression and tyranny are primarily a great source of sin, but that is not to say they have no advantages. One of the biggest virtues of tyranny is its accompanying security and economic stability, and this is exactly what the states of Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Libya, Iraq, and Somalia have lost. It is important to point out here that the latter two, Iraq and Somalia, are completely different cases to the Arab Spring revolutions, as change did not come about as a result of a mass popular movement. The regime in Iraq was overthrown by a superpower that attacked it, and as for Somalia, Siad Barre’s rule was reliant upon a contract structured around tribal and ideological complexities. But the common factor that brings Iraq and Somalia together with the rest of the Arab revolutions is the “forced” change of a strong and stable regime, regardless of who actually carried it out. The Saddam, Mubarak, Assad, Ben Ali, Saleh, Barre, and Gaddafi regimes were all controlled by leaders who held onto power with an iron fist. It is true that they suppressed their people, squandered their wealth, and ravaged, destroyed, and killed, but in return they ensured a stable country and a strong central government.

So far, in all of the Arab Spring states without exception, there does not appear to be anything on the horizon to warm the hearts of the masses. Some tyrannical figures were executed and others overthrown, and the revolutionaries breathed in the air of freedom and finally expressed their opinions, but nevertheless the Arab Spring, in some cases, left behind massive destruction, tens of thousands injured or dead, and millions displaced, as in Syria. At best it left behind weak central governments, fragile security, teetering economies, and disturbances in the street out of the state’s control, as in Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen. As for Libya, the government’s control does not extend beyond the capital Tripoli, while the rest of the country remains under the control of battalions affiliated to tribes or armed groups motivated by different ideologies.

I am certainly aware that the most notorious consequences of revolutions—whether ancient or modern, Arab or non-Arab—are what we are witnessing now in the countries of the Arab Spring, from fragile security, political unrest, to economic stagnation. The post-revolution situation in these countries is like a patient after an operation to replace his heart or to remove a large tumor from his brain; a long period of recovery is needed. However, the most important observation in this regard remains that the price paid was too high and too dangerous. The Arab revolutions, in terms of their danger, were exactly like a high-risk medical procedure; either it leads to complete success, death, or the patient remains in a critical condition. In the Arab Spring states, no country has been restored to full health but none are resting with the dead either.

The key issue is that the majority of people in the Arab states where revolutions did not break out still consider the Arab Spring as an inspiration for change. They have become intoxicated with the overthrow of tyrannical leaders, energized by the roars of the masses in their million-man marches, but still they completely overlook the critical conditions created by these revolutions. Theses sentiments, coupled with the state of congestion caused by corruption, poor management, and declining popular participation in decision-making, create a favorable climate for infection. As a result, a number of Arab states are no longer safe from the fire of revolutions, regardless of whether they feel immune themselves. Here it would be wrong to rely on changing the convictions of people, for this is nearly impossible. It is more realistic for governments to strive to keep pace with the changes with genuine reforms and an honest and effective fight against corruption.

Dr. Hamad Al-Majid is a journalist and former member of the official Saudi National Organization for Human Rights. Al-Majid is a graduate of Imam Muhammad Bin Saud Islamic University in Riyadh and holds an M.A. from California and a Doctorate from the University of Hull in the United Kingdom.

Post-revolt Arab Transitions: Driven by Distrust and Inexperience

Post-revolt Middle Eastern and North African countries are struggling to manage the transition from autocratic to more transparent, accountable societies. Increasingly prejudice, distrust and inexperience are proving to be greater obstacles, argues James M. Dorsey.

Post-revolt Arab nations are experiencing tumultuous times. The assassination of a prominent Tunisian opposition leader has sparked mass protests against Islamists held responsible for his death. Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali has called for the replacement of the Islamist-dominated Cabinet by a government of technocrats that would lead the country to elections, to the chagrin of his Ennahada party that fears loss of power.

Egypt has been wracked by violent street protests that have left more than 60 people dead in three Suez Canal and Red Sea cities, forcing President Mohamed Morsi to declare emergency rule and bring the military back into the streets and soccer stadiums to maintain law and order.

Underlying Fault Lines

Underlying the volatility in Egypt and Tunisia as well as difficult transitions in Libya and Yemen is the increasing lack of confidence between Islamists and non-Islamist forces. That fault line is fuelled by an ever deeper secularist suspicion that the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists who by and large have emerged from the revolts as the largest, most organised political force, are bent on creating Islamist states and enforcing Islamic law. This mistrust drives the weakening of the civilian and armed opposition to President Bashar Al Assad in the continuing civil war in Syria.

For their part, Islamists, including moderates, are not certain where the allegiances of non-Islamists lie and whether significant segments of the secularists would opt for a less free society in cooperation with institutions like the judiciary, the police and security forces in a bid to halt what they see as an Islamist power grab.

To be sure, the militancy and violence of more radical Islamists in Tunisia in recent months as well as Morsi’s imperious style of government, his failed attempt to acquire absolute power, his unilaterally pushing through of a controversial constitution, his failed attempt to fire a state prosecutor and increased reliance on the despised police and security forces, have done little to assuage anti-Islamist fears.

Similarly, Syrian opposition forces with Islamists in the lead have failed to convince the country’s key minorities who could have made a difference in reducing the regime’s power base, that there would be a place for them and that their rights would be secured in a post-Assad Syria.

Yet, lost in the mixture of misperception and prejudice is the recognition that Islamists came to power virtually unprepared for government, having a history of a pressured existence either underground, a legal nether land or exile. The Muslim Brotherhood, two years after the overthrow of Mubarak and seven months after Morsi’s election as president, remains nominally an illegal organisation in Egypt. As a result, this reinforces a sense that he and the Brotherhood fail to truly understand the concept of democracy and are more focused on fending off threats and settling old scores.

A Mental Transition

Morsi, like his counterparts in other post-revolt Arab nations, (apart from Libya that suffers the consequences of Muammar Gaddafi’s refusal to build institutions), have inherited states dominated by police and security forces and populated by institutions moulded by the former autocratic regimes with their own vested interests. It takes a degree of political savvy, mastering of electoral politics, backroom horse trading, give-and-take and an ability to manage public expectations rather than the bunker mentality in which Islamist leaders operated in the past. With few exceptions, they have yet to demonstrate that they can make that mental transition.

In retrospect, Morsi’s deft alliance late last year with the second echelon of Egypt’s military command that allowed him to sideline long-serving commanders who unsuccessfully sought to grab power in the period between his election and his assumption of office, seems more an exception than an indication of his ability to manoeuvre the minefield that constitutes Egyptian transition politics.

Jebali’s call for an interim technocratic government in a bid to avert a second popular revolt in Tunisia comes closest to Morsi’s rare display of political deftness in his handling of the military. It contrasts starkly with Morsi’s surprising reluctance to tackle reform of the police and security forces who for many years targeted the Muslim Brotherhood, his seeming willingness to maintain Mubarak-era structures and his increased reliance on them despite the existence of reformists within all of those institutions.

Relative calm has returned to the streets of Egyptian cities, giving Morsi at best a month to build bridges in advance of the country’s next flashpoint when a court in Cairo pronounces verdict in the case of the remaining 52 defendants accused of responsibility for the deaths of 74 soccer fans a year ago in a politically-loaded brawl in Port Said.

Flashpoint Offers Leverage

To do so, Morsi would have to convincingly reach out to his detractors in a bid to convince them that he has put the bunker mentality behind him, wants his government to be inclusive rather than exclusive and that he is serious about reform of key state institutions and is focusing on a turnaround of the country’s economy.

As much as the Port Said case constitutes a flash point – the court’s sentencing last month of the first batch of 21 defendants to death sparked the most violent protests – it also gives Morsi leverage. In the absence of a justification of the court’s ruling, a leaked summary of the prosecution’s case put the blame for the brawl as much on the police as it did on spectators in the stadium.

The prosecutor’s case, coupled with human rights reports that document that the police and security forces are a law unto themselves, provide Morsi with the ammunition to start the difficult process of reforming law enforcement. It is a move that would prove immensely popular and would help restore political calm needed to embark on a road of economic recovery.

A convincing move to amend the constitution in ways that removes fears of an Islamist takeover would further serve to bridge the widening gap in Egyptian politics. It is too early to write Morsi off as a failed leader. The ball is in his court, though time is running out.

James M. Dorsey is Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, co-director of the University of Wuerzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog.

This Is Not a Revolution

The New-york review of books|

November 8, 2012
Hussein Agha
and Robert Malley|

All lies and jest
Still, a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest

—Paul Simon

Darkness descends upon the Arab world. Waste, death, and destruction attend a fight for a better life. Outsiders compete for influence and settle accounts. The peaceful demonstrations with which this began, the lofty values that inspired them, become distant memories. Elections are festive occasions where political visions are an afterthought. The only consistent program is religious and is stirred by the past. A scramble for power is unleashed, without clear rules, values, or endpoint. It will not stop with regime change or survival. History does not move forward. It slips sideways.

Games occur within games: battles against autocratic regimes, a Sunni–Shiite confessional clash, a regional power struggle, a newly minted cold war. Nations divide, minorities awaken, sensing a chance to step out of the state’s confining restrictions. The picture is blurred. These are but fleeting fragments of a landscape still coming into its own, with only scrappy hints of an ultimate destination. The changes that are now believed to be essential are liable to be disregarded as mere anecdotes on an extended journey.

New or newly invigorated actors rush to the fore: the ill-defined “street,” prompt to mobilize, just as quick to disband; young protesters, central activists during the uprising, roadkill in its wake. The Muslim Brothers yesterday dismissed by the West as dangerous extremists are now embraced and feted as sensible, businesslike pragmatists. The more traditionalist Salafis, once allergic to all forms of politics, are now eager to compete in elections. There are shadowy armed groups and militias of dubious allegiance and unknown benefactors as well as gangs, criminals, highwaymen, and kidnappers.

Alliances are topsy-turvy, defy logic, are unfamiliar and shifting. Theocratic regimes back secularists; tyrannies promote democracy; the US forms partnerships with Islamists; Islamists support Western military intervention. Arab nationalists side with regimes they have long combated; liberals side with Islamists with whom they then come to blows. Saudi Arabia backs secularists against the Muslim Brothers and Salafis against secularists. The US is allied with Iraq, which is allied with Iran, which supports the Syrian regime, which the US hopes to help topple. The US is also allied with Qatar, which subsidizes Hamas, and with Saudi Arabia, which funds the Salafis who inspire jihadists who kill Americans wherever they can.

In record time, Turkey evolved from having zero problems with its neighbors to nothing but problems with them. It has alienated Iran, angered Iraq, and had a row with Israel. It virtually is at war with Syria. Iraqi Kurds are now Ankara’s allies, even as it wages war against its own Kurds and even as its policies in Iraq and Syria embolden secessionist tendencies in Turkey itself.

For years, Iran opposed Arab regimes, cultivating ties with Islamists with whose religious outlook it felt it could make common cause. As soon as they take power, the Islamists seek to reassure their former Saudi and Western foes and distance themselves from Tehran despite Iran’s courting. The Iranian regime will feel obliged to diversify its alliances, reach out to non-Islamists who feel abandoned by the nascent order and appalled by the budding partnership between Islamists and the US. Iran has experience in such matters: for the past three decades, it has allied itself with secular Syria even as Damascus suppressed its Islamists.

When goals converge, motivations differ. The US cooperated with Gulf Arab monarchies and sheikhdoms in deposing Qaddafi yesterday and in opposing Assad today. It says it must be on the right side of history. Yet those regimes do not respect at home the rights they piously pursue abroad. Their purpose is neither democracy nor open societies. They are engaged in a struggle for regional domination. What, other than treasure, can proponents of a self-styled democratic uprising find in countries whose own system of governance is anathema to the democratic project they allegedly promote?

The new system of alliances hinges on too many false assumptions and masks too many deep incongruities. It is not healthy because it cannot be real. Something is wrong. Something is unnatural. It cannot end well.

A media war that started in Egypt reaches its zenith in Syria. Each side shows only its own, amplifies the numbers, disregards the rest. In Bahrain, the opposite is true. No matter how many opponents of the regime turn up, few take notice. It does not register on the attention scale. Not long ago, footage from Libya glorified motley fighters with colorful bandanas and triumphant spiel. The real battles, bloody and often from the skies, raged elsewhere. Casualties were invisible.

Throngs gather in Tahrir Square. The camera zooms in on protesters. What about the unseen millions who stayed at home? Did they rejoice at Mubarak’s overthrow or quietly lament his departure? How do Egyptians feel about the current disorder, unrest, economic collapse, and political uncertainty? In the elections that ensued, 50 percent did not vote. Of those who did, half voted for the representative of the old order. Who will look after those who lie on the other side of the right side of history?

Most Syrians fight neither to defend the regime nor to support the opposition. They are at the receiving end of this vicious confrontation, their wishes unnoticed, their voices unheard, their fates forgotten. The camera becomes an integral part of the unrest, a tool of mobilization, propaganda, and incitement. The military imbalance favors the old regimes but is often more than compensated for by the media imbalance that favors the new forces. The former Libyan regime had Qaddafi’s bizarre rhetoric; Assad’s Syria relies on its discredited state-run media. It’s hardly a contest. In the battle for public sympathy, in the age of news-laundering, the old orders never stood a chance.

In Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Syria, and Bahrain, no unifying figure of stature has emerged with the capacity to shape a new path. There is scant leadership. Where there is leadership, it tends to be by committee. Where there are committees, they emerge mysteriously to assume authority no one has granted them. More often than not, legitimacy is bestowed from abroad: the West provides respectability and exposure; Gulf Arab states supply resources and support; international organizations offer validity and succor.

Those in charge often lack the strength that comes from a clear and loyal domestic constituency; they need foreign approval and so they must be cautious, adjust their positions to what outsiders accept. Past revolutionary leaders were not driven by such considerations. For better or for worse, they were stubbornly independent and took pride in rebuffing foreign interference.

Not unlike the rulers they helped depose, Islamists placate the West. Not unlike those they replaced, who used the Islamists as scarecrows to keep the West by their side, the Muslim Brotherhood waves the specter of what might come next should it fail now: the Salafis who, for their part and not unlike the Brothers of yore, are torn between fealty to their traditions and the taste of power.

It’s a game of musical chairs. In Egypt, Salafis play the part once played by the Muslim Brotherhood; the Brotherhood plays the part once played by the Mubarak regime. In Palestine, Islamic Jihad is the new Hamas, firing rockets to embarrass Gaza’s rulers; Hamas, the new Fatah, claiming to be a resistance movement while clamping down on those who dare resist; Fatah, a version of the old Arab autocracies it once lambasted. How far off is the day when Salafis present themselves to the world as the preferable alternative to jihadists?

Egyptian politics are wedged between the triumphant mainstream Muslim Brotherhood, more hard-line Salafis, anxious non-Islamists, and remnants of the old order. As the victorious Brotherhood tries to reach an arrangement with the rest, the political future is a blur. The speed and elegance with which the new president, Mohamed Morsi, retired or sidelined the old military leaders and the quiet with which this daring move was greeted suggest that the Islamists’ confidence has grown, that they are willing to move at a faster pace.

Tunisia is a mixed tale. The transition has been largely peaceful; the an-Nahda party, which won the elections last October, offers a pragmatic, moderate face of Islamism. But its efforts to consolidate power are a source of nervousness. Mistrust between secularists and Islamists is growing; socioeconomic protests at times become violent. Salafis lurk in the wings, assailing symbols of modern society, free speech, and gender equality.

In Yemen, former president Saleh is out of power but not offstage. One war brews in the north, another in the south. Jihadists flex their muscles. The young revolutionaries who dreamed of a complete change can only watch as different factions of the same old elite rearrange the deck. Saudis, Iranians, and Qataris sponsor their own factions. Minor clashes could escalate into major confrontations. Meanwhile, US drones eliminate al-Qaeda operatives and whoever happens to be in their vicinity.

Day by day, the civil war in Syria takes on an uglier, more sectarian hue. The country has become an arena for a regional proxy war. The opposition is an eclectic assortment of Muslim Brothers, Salafis, peaceful protesters, armed militants, Kurds, soldiers who have defected, tribal elements, and foreign fighters. There is little that either the regime or the opposition won’t contemplate in their desperation to triumph. The state, society, and an ancient culture collapse. The conflict engulfs the region.

The battle in Syria also is a battle for Iraq. Sunni Arab states have not accepted the loss of Baghdad to Shiites and, in their eyes, to Safavid Iranians. A Sunni takeover in Syria will revive their colleagues’ fortunes in Iraq. Militant Iraqi Sunnis are emboldened and al-Qaeda is revitalized. A war for Iraq’s reconquest will be joined by its neighbors. The region cares about Syria. It obsesses about Iraq.

Islamists in the region await the outcome in Syria. They do not wish to bite off more than they can chew. If patience is the Islamist first principle, consolidation of gains is the second. Should Syria fall, Jordan could be next. Its peculiar demography—a Palestinian majority ruled over by a trans-Jordanian minority—has been a boon to the regime: the two communities bear deep grievances against the Hashemite rulers yet distrust each other more. That could change in the face of the unifying power of Islam for which ethnicity, in theory at least, is of little consequence.

Weaker entities may follow. In northern Lebanon, Islamist and Salafi groups actively support the Syrian opposition, with whom they may have more in common than with Lebanese Shiites and Christians. From the outset a fragile contraption, Lebanon is pulled in competing directions: some would look to a new Sunni-dominated Syria with envy, perhaps a yearning to join. Others would look to it with fright and despair.

In Bahrain, a Sunni monarchy intent on retaining power and privilege violently suppresses the majority Shiites. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states come to their ally’s rescue. The West, so loud elsewhere, is mute. When Libya holds elections, Islamists do not fare well; their opponents believe they finally achieved their one victory in a country that has no tradition of political openness, lacks a state, and is sated with armed militias that regularly engage in deadly clashes. An octogenarian leadership in Saudi Arabia struggles with a looming transition, lives in fear of Iran and its own population, doles out cash to fend off dissatisfaction. How long can all this last?

Mohamed Morsi; drawing by John Springs

In some countries, regimes will be toppled, in others they will survive. Forces that have been defeated are unlikely to have been crushed. They will regroup and try to fight back. The balance of power is not clear-cut. Victory does not necessarily strengthen the victor.

Those in power occupy the state, but it is an asset that might prove of limited value. Inherently weak and with meager legitimacy, Arab states tend to be viewed by their citizens with suspicion, extraneous bodies superimposed on more deeply rooted, familiar social structures with long, continuous histories. They enjoy neither the acceptability nor the authority of their counterparts elsewhere. Where uprisings occur, the ability of these states to function weakens further as their coercive power erodes.

To be in the seat of power need not mean to exercise power. In Lebanon, the pro-West March 14 coalition, invigorated while in opposition, was deflated after it formed the cabinet in 2005. Hezbollah has never been more on the defensive or enjoyed less moral authority than since it became the major force behind the government. Those out of power face fewer constraints. They have the luxury to denounce their rulers’ failings, the freedom that comes with the absence of responsibility. In a porous, polarized Middle East, they enjoy access to readily available outside support.

To be in charge, to operate along formal, official, state channels, can encumber as much as empower. Syria’s military withdrawal from Lebanon in 2005 did not curb its influence; Damascus simply exerted it more surreptitiously, without public glare and accountability. Tomorrow, a similar pattern might hold in Syria itself. The regime’s collapse would be a significant blow to Iran and Hezbollah, but one can wonder how devastating. The day after such a long and violent conflict is more likely to witness chaos than stability, a scramble for power rather than a strong central government. Defeated and excluded political forces will seek help from any source and solicit foreign patrons regardless of their identity. To exploit disorder is a practice in which Iran and Hezbollah are far better versed than their foes. Without a Syrian regime whose interests they need to take into account and whose constraints they need to abide by, they might be able to act more freely.

The Muslim Brotherhood prevails. The newly elected Egyptian president comes from their ranks. They rule in Tunisia. They control Gaza. They have gained in Morocco. In Syria and Jordan too, their time might come.

The Muslim Brotherhood prevails: those are weighty and, not long ago, unthinkable, unutterable words. The Brothers survived eighty years in the underground and the trenches, hounded, tortured, and killed, forced to compromise and bide their time. The fight between Islamism and Arab nationalism has been long, tortuous, and bloody. Might the end be near?

World War I and the ensuing European imperial ascent halted four centuries of Islamic Ottoman rule. With fits and starts, the next century would be that of Arab nationalism. To many, this was an alien, unnatural, inauthentic Western import—a deviation that begged to be rectified. Forced to adjust their views, the Islamists acknowledged the confines of the nation-state and irreligious rule. But their targets remained the nationalist leaders and their disfigured successors.

Last year, they helped topple the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt, the pale successors of the original nationalists. The Islamists had more worthy and dangerous adversaries in mind. They struck at Ben Ali and Mubarak, but the founding fathers—Habib Bourguiba and Gamal Abdel Nasser—were in their sights. They reckon they have corrected history. They have revived the era of musulmans sans frontières.

What will all this mean? The Islamists are loath either to share power achieved at high cost or to squander gains so patiently acquired. They must balance among their own restive rank-and-file, a nervous larger society, and an undecided international community. The temptation to strike fast pulls in one direction; the desire to reassure tugs in another. In general, they will prefer to eschew coercion, awaken the people to their dormant Islamic nature rather than foist it upon them. They will try to do it all: rule, enact social transformations incrementally, and be true to themselves without becoming a menace to others.

The Islamists propose a bargain. In exchange for economic aid and political support, they will not threaten what they believe are core Western interests: regional stability, Israel, the fight against terror, energy flow. No danger to Western security. No commercial war. The showdown with the Jewish state can wait. The focus will be on the slow, steady shaping of Islamic societies. The US and Europe may voice concern, even indignation at such a domestic makeover. But they’ll get over it. Just as they got over the austere fundamentalism of Saudi Arabia. Bartering—as in, we’ll take care of your needs, let us take care of ours—Islamists feel, will do the trick. Looking at history, who can blame them?

Mubarak was toppled in part because he was viewed as excessively subservient to the West, yet the Islamists who succeed him might offer the West a sweeter because more sustainable deal. They think they can get away with what he could not. Stripped of his nationalist mantle, Mubarak had little to fall back on; he was a naked autocrat. The Muslim Brothers by comparison have a much broader program—moral, social, cultural. Islamists feel they can still follow their convictions, even if they are not faithfully anti-Western. They can moderate, dilute, defer.

Unlike the close allies of the West they have replaced, Islamists are heard calling for NATO military intervention in Libya yesterday, Syria today, wherever they entertain the hope to take over tomorrow. One can use the distant infidels, who will not stay around for long, to jettison local infidels, who have hounded them for decades. Rejection of foreign interference, once a centerpiece of the post-independence outlook, is no longer the order of the day. It is castigated as counterrevolutionary.

What the US sought to obtain over decades through meddling and imposition, it might now obtain via acquiescence: Arab regimes that will not challenge Western interests. Little wonder that many in the region are persuaded that America was complicit in the Islamists’ rise, a quiet partner in what has been happening.

Everywhere, Israel faces the rise of Islam, of militancy, of radicalism. Former allies are gone; erstwhile foes reign supreme. But the Islamists have different and broader objectives. They wish to promote their Islamic project, which means consolidating their rule where they can, refraining from alienating the West, and avoiding perilous and precocious clashes with Israel. In this scheme, the presence of a Jewish state is and will remain intolerable, but it is probably the last piece of a larger puzzle that may never be fully assembled.

The quest to establish an independent, sovereign Palestinian state was never at the heart of the Islamist project. Hamas, the Palestinian chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood, harbors grander, less territorially confined but also less immediately achievable designs. Despite Hamas’s circumlocutions and notwithstanding its political evolution, it never truly deviated from its original view—the Jewish state is illegitimate and all the land of historic Palestine is inherently Islamic. If the current balance of power is not in your favor, wait and do what you can to take care of the disparity. The rest is tactics.

The Palestinian question has been the preserve of the Palestinian national movement. As of the late 1980s, its declared goal became a sovereign state in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. Alternatives, whether interim or temporary, have been flatly rejected. The Islamists’ plan may be more ambitious and grandiose but more flexible and elastic. For them, a diminutive, amputated state, hemmed in by Israel, dependent on its goodwill, predicated on its recognition, and entailing an end to the conflict, is not worth fighting for.

They can live with a range of transient arrangements: an interim agreement; a long-term truce, or hudna; a possible West Bank confederation with Jordan, with Gaza moving toward Egypt. All will advance the further Islamization of Palestinian society. All permit Hamas to turn to its social, cultural, and religious agenda, its true calling. All allow Hamas to maintain the conflict with Israel without having to wage it. None violates Hamas’s core tenets. It can put its ultimate goal on hold. Someday, the time for Palestine, for Jerusalem may come. Not now.

In the age of Arab Islamism, Israel may find Hamas’s purported intransigence more malleable than Fatah’s ostensible moderation. Israel fears the Islamic awakening. But the more immediate threat could be to the Palestinian national movement. There is no energy left in the independence project; associated with the old politics and long-worn-out leaderships, it has expended itself. Fatah and the PLO will have no place in the new world. The two-state solution is no one’s primary concern. It might expire not because of violence, settlements, or America’s inexpert role. It might perish of indifference…..

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On Syria and way beyond, an interview with Guenter Meyer

On Syria and way beyond
By Lars Schall

One of Europe’s most outstanding experts on the Middle East, Professor Guenter Meyer, addresses in this exclusive in-depth interview for Asia Times Online the Syrian civil war and its international dimensions.

Professor Dr Guenter Meyer has for almost 40 years carried out empirical research on the social, economic and political development in Arab countries and has published more than 150 books and articles, especially on Syria, Egypt, Yemen and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries. He directs the Center for Research on the Arab World at the Johannes Gutenberg

University in Mainz, Germany, which is one of the world’s leading information centers for the dissemination of news and research on the Middle East. Professor Meyer is chairman of the German Middle East Studies Association (DAVO), president of the European Association for Middle Eastern Studies (EURAMES), and chairman of the International Advisory Council of the World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies (WOCMES).

Lars Schall: Professor Meyer, since our perceptions are framed by the media, how do you feel about the coverage of the conflict in Syria in the Western media?

Guenter Meyer: My perceptions are not only framed by the media, but also by my own experience in Syria and by contact with Syrians, other Arab experts and political activists of the Arab spring. The information I receive from these sources and also from Arab news media covers a much wider range of views and assessments than the rather one-sided reporting in the majority of the Western media.

LS: What kind of things do you have to criticize in particular?

GM: Until recently mainstream reporting in most Western media was clearly biased. It focused mainly on the distinction between the “bad” Syrian regime, which has to be toppled, and the “good” opposition, which has to be supported because it is fighting against a corrupt, authoritarian and brutal government. This perception has changed gradually during the past few months. More and more media are reporting about the conflicting interests of the highly fragmented oppositional groups as well as about the atrocities of the rebel groups and their crimes committed against the civilian population, especially against Alawites but also against Christians.

The influx of Salafis, jihadis and followers of al-Qaeda and the expectation that radical Sunni Islamists will control Syria after the fall of Bashar al-Assad are disturbing themes that are now also reported in Western media. After a long delay, the news coverage of the development in Syria does no longer focus only on spreading the political view of the “Friends of Syria”, but has started to provide a more comprehensive picture about the highly complex situation in Syria.

Nevertheless, there is still a bias when it comes to the reporting of massacres. The majority of Western media – and also Western governments – tend to take the information offered by oppositional sources for granted that government forces, in particular the Shabiha militia, are responsible for the cruel killings of civilians, many of them women and children. At the same time, evidences of a systematic “massacre marketing strategy” [1] by the rebels are rejected as propaganda of the Assad regime. It is obvious that in many cases, especially in the massacres with the highest number of victims at Houla [2] and Daraya [3] oppositional forces committed brutal crimes against civilians in order just to blame the government for these massacres. Through this strategy they try to manipulate public opinion and influence political decision making against the Syrian regime.

LS: Would you say that those who want to explore the interests that collide in the conflict in Syria would do well to examine the geopolitical importance of Syria for the Eurasian energy chessboard? I mean, ultimately Syria is a main transport hub for future oil and gas pipelines, right?

GM: Whenever you try to analyze political conflicts in the Middle East and get to the bottom you are likely to find oil or gas. The present conflict has been linked to Syria’s role as transit country for Iranian gas export. Last year, a contract was signed between Iran, Iraq and Syria to build a natural gas pipeline by 2016 from Iran’s giant South Pars field to the Syrian Mediterranean coast in order to supply Lebanon and Europa with gas. As a result Turkey would loose her highly profitable and political important position as the dominant transit country for gas from Russia and the Caspian Basin. [4]

Could this expected competition have been a reason for the Turkish government to give up its good relations with the Syrian regime and support the opposition? This is rather unlikely. During the last few years, Iran has signed numerous Memoranda of Understanding and contracts with foreign governments and companies to exploit Iranian gas and oil fields and to build pipelines. None of these schemes has been executed, as a result of the US embargo against Iran. Therefore, it has to be supposed that the contract to build a pipeline to Syria was signed mainly for domestic political reasons of the Iranian government. One has also to question the economic viability of this project. Why should gas from Southern Iran be exported to Europe when the highest demand for Iranian gas comes from neighboring Pakistan and India?

There is another project that would make much more sense. In 2009, Qatar had proposed to build a pipeline from the emirate’s giant gas fields via Syria to Turkey to be connected with other pipelines to Europe. [5] Based on this scheme, Assad loyalists had claimed that the unrest in Syria is not an uprising but a Qatari-instigated aggression designed to dominate the country and ensure Qatari access to the Mediterranean Sea for its gas export. However, this argument can be regarded as a conspiracy theory. [6]

LS: Are the discovered energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean and Levantine Basin also of interest here?

GM: The untapped natural gas finds are extremely important for Israel, which will no longer have to rely on the insecure supply of gas from Egypt. The discovered gas reserves are so huge that Israel can not only achieve energy independence but will also benefit from lucrative export deals. Further gas and even oil reserves are expected to be discovered in the offshore areas of Syria and Lebanon. [7] Nevertheless, the newly discovered resources have no direct impact on the present crisis in Syria.

LS: When it comes to the Western powers, are they especially intended to weaken the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah axis?

GM: There are numerous statements from the US government which stress the geostrategic importance of the ousting of the Syrian regime so that both Iran and Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon will loose their most important ally. The Iranian and Syrian supply of military equipment to Hezbollah will no longer be possible. The weakening of the military force of this Shiite organization means that its impact on the power structure of Lebanon and especially its ability to attack Israel will dramatically decline. [8] The fall of Bashar Al-Assad will also weaken the influence of Russia and China in the Middle East and strengthen the role of the US and Saudi Arabia in this region.

LS: Are we currently experiencing a “Balkanisation of Syria” or a “Balkanisation of the Middle East” in general?

GM: During the last decades Syria has been a secular state with a strong focus on pan-Arabism. Now the ethnic and religious frictions have become a dominant factor and threaten the unity of the Syrian state. The worst case scenario would indeed be a “Balkanization” for Syria, which means that the country is split into a northeastern Kurdish state providing a safe haven for the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] and a nightmare for Turkey, an Alawite state in the western mountains and the coastal area, a tiny Druze enclave in the south, and a Sunni state in central Syria. Only the last one would probably have sufficient economic potential to exist on the long run.

Other experts suggest a “Lebanonization” scenario that pins down the Syrian army and weakens the central government in Damascus. [9] The model of an “Iraqization” of Syria might also have chances to become reality, with several autonomous or semi-autonomous regions. Similar demands are also raised in the oil-rich east of Libya, where large parts of the population no longer want to be dominated by the center of the political power in Tripolitania, the western region of Libya.

LS: Do we see in Syria a similar situation as earlier in Libya or is it very different?

GM: The situation in Libya was completely different. Gaddafi’s military forces were far too weak to resist the combined military power of NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] which was authorized by the UN Security Council to intervene in Libya. Large parts of the population and almost the entire east of Libya opposed the authoritarian regime so that foreign advisers were able to move freely in this part of the country, support the oppositional fighter groups with heavy weapons and train them how to use the sophisticated military equipment.

Bashar Al-Assad, on the other hand, can rely on the excellently trained and best-equipped Republican Guards and the 4th Armored Division – elite troops who are almost entirely Alawites. The Syrian air force and in particular the air defense force are equipped with the latest Russian military technology. A recent analysis by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology came to the conclusion that the Syrian air defense is five times more sophisticated than [former Libyan leader Muammar] Gaddafi’s. [10]

A military offensive by foreign troops to oust Bashar al-Assad would be an extremely risky and expensive operation. In addition, there is no chance that Russia and China will accept a UN resolution for a military intervention in Syria. Under these circumstances, the US, France and the UK have so far only resorted to training opposition fighters on Turkish territory close to the northwestern border of Syria and to supplying them with communication means and other non-lethal equipment. At the same time, Iran is using civilian aircraft to fly military personnel and large quantities of weapons across Iraqi airspace to help Syria crush the uprising, according to a Western intelligence report seen by Reuters. The Iraqi government, however, denies that such flights are taking place.

LS:We know that forces of al-Qaeda are fighting on Syrian soil. Ed Husain, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote about this:

By and large, Free Syrian Army (FSA) battalions are tired, divided, chaotic, and ineffective. Feeling abandoned by the West, rebel forces are increasingly demoralized … Al-Qaeda fighters, however, may help improve morale. The influx of jihadis brings discipline, religious fervor, battle experience from Iraq, funding from Sunni sympathizers in the Gulf, and most importantly, deadly results. In short, the FSA needs al-Qaeda now. [11]

That’s quite a statement after more than 10 years of the so called “War on Terror”, isn’t it?

GM: Indeed! There are many similar reports – among others from the Eastern Euphrates valley near the Iraqi border – where opposition fighters had for several months tried in vain to take over garrisons from the Syrian army. At last, they asked an al-Qaeda group for support. As a result of their attacks the army withdrew from this base within a few days.

The al-Qaeda fighters and jihadis are not only from Arab countries, especially from Iraq, Libya, the Arabian Peninsula, but also from Pakistan and include even radical Islamists from European countries. Their number is rapidly growing. This is the major reason why the US government has been so reluctant to supply the opposition fighters with surface-to-air missiles, which might end up in the hands of al-Qaeda or Hezbollah. It has only recently been reported that the Free Syrian Army acquired 14 Stinger missiles. So far, however, it has not been confirmed that these weapons were used to attack Syrian fighter planes and helicopter gunships [12].

LS: What kind of importance has it that al-Qaeda is a Sunni terrorist organization?

GM: About 70% of the Syrian population are Sunnis. Many of them regard the ruling Alawites not as real Muslims. The same applies to al-Qaeda, which demands that all Muslims should unite in order to eradicate the Alawite “infidels”. However, this does not mean that al-Qaeda and other foreign jihadis are supported by all Syrian Sunnis. Quite the contrary. The vast majority is rejecting both the extremist views and the intervention of radical foreign Islamists.

LS: It is said that Syria’s ruler, Bashar al-Assad, could use chemical weapons. What is your view on that?

GM: The regime has assured that it will never use chemical or biological weapons. This statement can be regarded as reliable because the use of weapons of mass destruction or even the movement of such weapons would mean “crossing the red line”, as President Obama threatened. A massive military intervention against the Syrian government would be the consequence [13]

However, there are detailed reports that NATO powers in coordination with Saudi Arabia are preparing a fake attack with chemical weapons in southern Syria for which the Assad regime will be blamed in order to justify a massive international invasion. [14]

LS: Do we observe in the Syrian conflict certain developments like under a microscope: the US can no longer afford financially some certain types of adventures and has reached the limits of its influence, while the Russians and the Chinese don’t want to be told what to do in the Middle East?

GM: The financial aspect is very important from the perspective of the US government, but there is also President Obama’s promise “to bring our boys back home”. A new American involvement in another war is extremely unpopular, especially during the present presidential election campaign. Concerning Russia and China, they have important geostrategic interests in Syria. There is no compelling reason why they should give up this comfortable and influential position.

LS: With regard to the external influences, it was written recently that European and Arab states pay high government officials, if they turn away from Assad. [15] Your thoughts on this?

GM: This applies not only to leading representatives of the Syrian regime, but especially to members of the Syrian army. Qatar and Saudi Arabia have publicly announced that they will spend at least US$300 million to pay the salaries of the oppositional fighters and also financial incentives to motivate soldiers from all ranks to defect from the military forces and to join the oppositional troops. Under these circumstances, it is really astounding that only so few officers, generals and leading members of the regime have defected until now. This underlines how stable the power of the government, the military and the security services still is.

LS: How would a European attitude look like be considered worthy of support?

GM: Let me start by explaining why the present European attitude is not worthy of support. The leading governments of the EU have discarded a political solution of the Syrian conflict and opted instead for the – at least indirect – support for a military ousting of the Assad regime. They are co-operating in particular with the Syrian National Council (SNC), which is dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and which consists mainly of Syrians who have lived for a long time in Western countries, especially in the US. These people want to rule post-Assad Syria, but they are by no means accepted by the majority of the population living in Syria.

In Berlin, for example, the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik) in cooperation with the US Institute of Peace arranged the facilities for members of the Syrian opposition and international experts to meet in order to plan for “The Day After”. [16] The result is an agenda to create a new political system in Syria according to Western democratic standards and values after the fall of the present regime.

This plan was designed without any knowledge about the future distribution of power among the various forces that might be involved in the toppling of the government, and with only a little participation of the numerous oppositional groups inside Syria. It is not surprising that such a plan was rejected by members of the inner Syrian opposition as an “academic exercise” with no relevance at a time when the outcome of the Syrian crisis is still completely open. The same applies to various government-sponsored committees planning the Syrian future in Paris, Rome, Istanbul and Cairo.

The frequent demands that the extremely heterogeneous opposition should unite have turned out to be futile. This applies also to the latest attempt of the French President Francois Hollande, who also offered to recognize a new Syrian government-in-exile. The proposal was immediately rejected by the US government as untimely due to the lack of unity among the opposition groups.

Much more relevant for the present development of the crisis is the proposal to establish a safe haven for Syrian refugees. This was first demanded by the Turkish government and was recently supported by the French president. At present, more than 80,000 Syrians have arrived in refugee camps in Turkey; 100,000 have been declared by the Erdogan government as the maximum number of refugees to be accepted on Turkish territory. Additional refugees have to be accommodated in a safe buffer zone on the Syrian side of the border with Turkey. The same has been proposed along the Jordanian border.

At first sight such a demand might appear to be rather harmless and unproblematic, involving only a limited military intervention. However, the establishment of a safe buffer zone in Syria can only be achieved by a full-scale war of NATO and allied troops from Arab countries against the strong Syrian armed forces. To protect the refugees in the safe haven, a no-fly zone has to be established, which can only be controlled after NATO has gained air superiority over the total Syrian territory.

This would involve the destruction of the Syrian air force with about 400 fighter planes and the huge arsenal of highly sophisticated anti-air craft missiles. The size, expenditure and duration of such an intervention would be tremendous as the MIT analysis showed. [10].

One has also to keep in mind that in legal terms such an attack could be carried out under the rather controversial international norm of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). But its application has to be approved by a resolution of the UN Security Council, where a veto from Russia and China can be taken for granted.

Coming back to the question about the position which should be supported: the most sensible position and the only one that would allow a peaceful solution is still the [Kofi] Annan plan [proposed by the former United Nations secretary general] involving not only the opposition and their supporters, but also the governments in Damascus and Teheran in the negotiation about the future development of Syria. However, there is no chance that this proposal will be accepted by the opposition in exile and its supporters in the US, the Arab League, Turkey and the EU.

LS: What do you think about the helping hand that the Bundesnachrichtendienst [BND – Germany’s foreign intelligence agency] is giving to the rebels?

GM: The German newspaper Bild had revealed that members of the BND stationed on ships near the Syrian and Lebanese coast and at the NATO base near Adana collect intelligence on the movement of Syrian government troops and share this information with the forces of the Free Syrian Army. [17] The same applies to agents of the British intelligence service based in Cyprus and also to the activities of US intelligence agents and spy satellites.

more …

Which country will be next?

Sunday, July 22 2012 –

Conflicting reports from and about Syria indicate that perhaps the Syria chapter of the so-called Arab Spring – or should I say “the Greater Middle East and North Africa Project”? – is approaching a close as well. Whatever opened in Libya, Egypt or Tunisia with the closure of the “spring” may soon open in Syria as well.

Barack Obama, the American president who has proved to be a “Black Bush,” and may indeed be worse than the original white one, the other day voiced his praise for the Muslim fighters for democracy in the Middle East and elsewhere. His words reminded me, and perhaps many others, of the Rambo series: fighting hand-in-hand with the Muslim Taliban and other Muslim guerillas against the Soviet infidel occupiers in Afghanistan. The Soviet Union is long gone, and Americans are now fighting the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other Muslim guerilla groups in Afghanistan in a war that has begun to turn into a second Vietnam.

Yesterday was the time of the “Green Belt Policy” devised by the great strategist Zbigniev Brzezinski, the aim of which was to shield and contain the advancing communists. Today, many people have fathered a bastard called the Greater Middle East and North Africa Project. It is still ambiguous. Some say its goal is to change the political map and produce a more secure living area for the Jewish state; some claim is it a project to domesticate the rough Muslims into a milder version of Islam, allowing some sort of democratic governance, thanks to a friendly Muslim cleric now living in Pennsylvania. Those goals might be valid, but it is obvious that the real aim of the project is to convert these large regions into an open market and capitalize on their vast natural riches. That’s what must be seen after the mask is removed: the mask that says the aim is to bring democracy to those countries, grieving under dictatorial, oppressive regimes.

Guess who is the co-chair of the project, which has been under implementation for quite a long time through exploitation of governmental woes, poverty, oppression and gross violation of human rights? Turkey, where critics of the Islamist government are either physically imprisoned or imprisoned in their brains, scared to speak or write. Who is financing it? The Saudis and the Qataris. Are they more democratic than, let’s say, Syria?

In some parts of the region, disorganized, unarmed and civilian opposition groups were armed to the teeth and organized as much as possible; “advisors” helped them to develop strategies, and they began “rebelling” against oppressive regimes. In some other parts of the same region, neighbors and regional organizations helped with international approval to silence people demanding rights, at gunpoint or under the turrets of tanks.

The operation is continuing: On a December day in 2010, Mohammed Buazizi converted his body into a torch to herald the “coming of spring.” Tunisia plunged into unprecedented chaos; 23-year-old Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s regime collapsed within days. Since then, Iraq has become further destabilized, Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi has become history, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt has been toppled, and now Bashar al-Assad of Syria appears to be on the way out.

Which country will be next? Saudi Arabia? Turkey? Which country, indeed?

Qatar attempts to rehabilitate Sunni islam

It’s been a while that the Qatari have appointed themselves the “rehabilitators” of the misjudged Sunnis in the region. They have been offering a hand to all the Sunni extremists with the hope that they would moderate them and bring them into the mainstream of the consumption society. This is similar to the approach of Turkey in taming religious extremism. While it has apparently been successful in Turkey, any false move or a faltering economy may bring extremism back in the front.
The attempt of the Qataris is laudable in view of the harm that Saudi Arabia has done to the Sunnis by creating monsters like Al Qaeda and salafi fanatics in all the countries they put their hands on. Afghanistan and Pakistan are example of the Saudi Wahhabi negative influences.
Will the Qatari succeed? They have been helped tremendously by Al Jazeera spread in all Arab homes. Yet, Al Jazeera is increasingly criticized for dishonest reporting. In addition the Qataris have made several mistakes in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Syria by supporting too obviously religious groups against minorities or secular groups. They are looked upon increasingly suspiciously by Arab seculars who suspect that they have another hidden agenda close to Saudi Arabia’s religious proselytism and to the USA’s dedication in protecting Israel. These agenda may appear disguised into calls for democratic practices that neither the Qataris nor the Saudis are practicing or intend to practice in the short term.

It’s an long term experimentation, heavily supported by the USA that want to see the end of Moslem terrorists that not only threatens them at home and in the region but also threatens their increasingly isolated ally in the region, Israel.
As long as the question of Israel is not solved, the efforts of the Qatari will be stained with suspicion. So it’s a complex game where it is not easy to win.
Bronco on


The new Crescenters: Turkey and Qatar


Qatar and Turkey are the new Crescenters ( in opposition to crusaders) of the Arab world. They are working to move the whole Arab world into becoming Sunni Islamic republic. They plan to  “moderate” these countries by injecting massive funds in economical investment.
For that, they have the full support of the USA and the western countries tired of fighting against extremists isla, supporting hopeless dictators and facing increased immigration of moslems to their countries.
As for Iran with which Turkey and Qatar enjoy good relationship, they consider that with a few adjustments, ultimately Iran would become another moderate Islamic republic.
Syria, Lebanon and Iraq  are most difficult countries to tackle because they are not homogeneous so the move to a ‘moderate’ Sunni or Shia islamic republic is not as straighforward as Egypt, Libya, Yemen or Tunisia where the religious or ethnic minorities are either unexistant or weak.
At first, Turkey and Qatar thought that Syria that has a majority of sunni will easily replace the alawite regime by a sunni islamic republic. After 10  months, that plan failed because the regime had the support of Iran who refuses to have its allies in Lebanon isolated.
The different strategies are the following 1) Let Lebanon, Syria and Iraq stay under the umbrella of Iran with the hope that Iran will move to a moderate Islamic republic, 2)Let these countries in limbo to find their own balance or 3) Use a military option make the necessary changes.
It seems that the solution 2) is the one being considered by Turkey and Qatar after many attempts to use solution 3)

Turkey’s “common history and a common future” with Arab countries?

BURAK BEKDİL > Cigars of the Pharaoh (I)

I borrowed the title from an episode in “Tintin’s Adventures.” It’s up to the reader to decide whether Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan should play the role of Tintin and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu that of Captain Haddock, or vice versa. Or, in a more realistic world, whether any of the Turkish heroes should play any of the roles of the Noble Sheik and Rastapopoulos. To be on the safer side of “independent Turkish judiciary,” I should not comment.

No matter who is who in “Cigars of the Pharaoh,” the Pharaoh’s land today shines like a safe haven for the spurned lover that is Turkey. Once Turkey’s fake “hudna” with Syria and Iran (and probably with Lebanon and Jordan as well) ended up where it should have ended up, the broken-hearted Turks have rushed to the land of the Pharaoh to find solace in the brotherly arms of another Arab nation.
This may be the beginning of another hudna – another brief period of peace and alliance between centuries-long rivalry, bitter memories of Ottoman colonialism, future rivalry and the fact that the Turks are too little Arab, too little Muslim and too western of a Trojan Horse for Egypt’s future rulers. Some analysts style the potential love affair as the coupling of the most unlikely of couples while the optimists, as always, find the best virtue in literally everything the Justice and Development Party (AKP) does or hopes to do.

Judging by the dominant rhetoric only, there is good reason to be optimistic. In an October interview with the New York Times, President Abdullah Gül declared that the emerging strategic alliance between Turkey and Egypt “will be an axis of democracy of the two biggest nations in our region, from the north to the south, from the Black Sea down to the Nile Valley in Sudan.”

But it may be a bad omen that Foreign Minister Davutoğlu has spoken of “a common history and a common future that Turkey and Egypt share.” In his earlier speeches, Professor Davutoğlu had spoken of “a very long, common history Turkey and Iran shared,” (the same Iran which, ignoring Mr. Davutoğlu’s protest note, threatened to bomb the NATO radar on Turkish soil twice within weeks. Never mind if other mullahs “corrected” the threats; it’s sheer taqiyya.)

Mr. Davutoğlu had also asserted that “a common destiny, a common history and a common future” were the slogan of Turkey and Syria. It is nice that we Turks do not share “a common present day” with our Syrian brothers who kill and are killed by the dictator of Damascus, Ankara’s best friend until a few months earlier.

In other remarks, Mr. Davutoğlu had spoken of “a common history, a common destiny and a common future as well as cooperation between Turkey and Greece.” The cooperation between Turkey and Greece is perfectly visible in the Aegean skies where dogfights between fighter pilots from both shores with a common history and common destiny are a daily event. And the common future may mean sending more fighter aircraft and battleships to the shores of Cyprus to guard “common exploration for hydrocarbons in the eastern Mediterranean.”

Mr. Davutoğlu had also spoken of a common history and a common future in Benghazi where, after Colonel Moammar Gadhafi, rival Libyans are now at each other’s throat in the name of democracy.
At times like this, the Turks have set out on a new adventure in Arabia in search of a new love affair with a common history, common destiny and common future: Destination Egypt! Will the great-grandchildren of the Pharaoh become a subservient nation to the neo-Ottomans after they were so to the Ottomans for centuries? Oh, what an exciting adventure…

(To be continued next Wednesday)

No Arab Spring, says US intelligence analyst

Barçın Yinanç
ISTANBUL- Hürriyet Daily News
Friday, October 7, 2011

The Arab Spring did not take place, according to a US-based intelligence analyst, who said there has been no regime change in the Middle East except Libya. ‘Not every bid of unrest is a revolution and every revolution is not democratic,’ says George Friedman, adding that Turkey is the leader in the region and old powers don’t like rising powers, and that though the US currently needs Turkey because it leads the region, in the long run Turkey will become more powerful and relations will sour

The Arab Spring did not happen, according to George Friedman, the head of global intelligence firm STRATFOR Institute, because there has been no regime change in the Middle East. Turkey is the leader of the Islamic world but it is still not a mature power, said the author of “The Next 100 years,” in which he predicted that Turkey will rise to be a great power. “Turkey is still very cautious and it is testing its strength,” he told the Daily News during a recent interview in Istanbul.

Q: You recently said Turkey was a power but not a mature one. How so?

A: A mature power has institutions for managing international systems. The U.S., at the outset of World War II, did not have intelligence service [and] very few trained diplomats. Turkey is more advanced than that, but it does not have a diplomatic corps that is matched to Turkey’s responsibilities in the world. It does not have Portuguese speakers, experts on Mexico; it takes a while to develop this. It takes a while to develop intelligence services. The foreign minister said Turkey has opened 21 embassies in Africa, but who mans them? Who are the Africa experts?

Q: You are warning Turkey that it is not rewarding to be a big power.

A: America is the major power. We are not loved, we are resented. It is the fate of countries that take leading roles. They will disappoint some countries, anger other countries. Turkey is not yet experienced with the sense of injustice of trying to do good but being claimed to have done badly.

Q: Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu would have objected to the comparison with the U.S. and said Turkey was out there with the best of intentions. Why shouldn’t we be liked?

A: You will be liked. But it is easy to be liked when Turkey refrains from acting. But when Turkey has to act it does not act because it decides (when) to be an aggressive power. It will be facing a crisis along its southern border, then the crisis will spill over to Turkey; that is just an example.

Q: In the next 100 years, will the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) “zero problem” policy be sustained?

A: It is a transitionary moment. I have always said that Turkey will be a great power; I did not say Turkey is already a great power. AKP has two policies: One is to be a major power in the Islamic world and simultaneously to avoid engagement. This is precisely the foreign policy it should have now. But 10 to 20 years from now, it will not be able to maintain that. Because as you send out your businessmen, you would have to have political influence to guarantee their security, their interests, etc. Soldiers are one way to interfere in a country; businessman can interfere, too. So the process will draw you into engagement. There will be a moment where Turkey’s interests will seriously diverge from those of another country and that will be the time Turkey will have to decide to act or suffer the harm. It will not happen because Turks decide to be aggressive; it will happen because they will be pursuing their interests. And that will lead to criticism; don’t forget that when you act, you make mistakes.

Q: Everyone is criticizing Turkey now for its problems.

A: Problems are not determined by whether Turkey wants to have them; it has to do with the dynamics of the region. These problems arise not because Turkey is creating them. Turkey has a policy of not creating problems.

Q: Looking at your writings, it seems that you are not changing your projections due to Arab Spring.

A: No, because the Arab spring did not happen. No regime fell except Libya and that’s because of NATO. In Egypt, one general is replaced by four generals. In Syria, Bashar al–Assad is still in power. There is tremendous excitement but there is very little action, very little outcome. Not every bit of unrest is a revolution. Every revolution does not succeed. Every revolution is not democratic, and the democratic ones can elect (rulers like) Ayatollah Khomeini. There is talk about massive democratic uprising; first of all it was not massive in Egypt – most of the country was not affected. Second, those who rose up did not have a common idea of what should come next. Third, they did not overthrow the regime. They got rid of Mubarak and that was what the army wanted, too.

Q: You have previously claimed that Turkey should leave its EU bid and lead the Islamic world. You maintain that autocratic regimes will continue in the region but Turkey has opted for democratic change.

A: Unless Turkey wishes to invade countries and impose regimes on it, it will work with the regimes that are there. Turkey would have to be insane to join the EU. It is the leader of the Islamic world. It has the largest Muslim economy, it has by far the largest military force, and its economy is so dynamic that it is creating a vortex in the region. The best thing that happened to Turkey is the fact it was not admitted to the EU.

Q: How does Turkey’s present situation fall into the realities of the Arab Spring and the call by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for secularism, for instance?

A: It told us more about Erdoğan and the AKP than the effect it made in North Africa. That he choose to make that statement was important. But there is a huge gap between voicing an opinion and taking an action and responsibility. Turkey is in a position of transitioning from the time when it was a weak power, and all it had was its opinion to offer to a time when its opinion matters because it is followed by the expectation to act.

Q: You also argue that old powers don’t like rising powers. Can we assume therefore that the U.S. doesn’t like Turkey?

A: In the long run there will be bad feelings. But in the short run, the U.S. needs Turkey as a stabilizing force in the Middle East. It no longer wants to play a role for the time being. Turkey also wants stability in the region but does not have the power yet to create that stability, it will reach out to the U.S and we will redefine the relations. But down the road as Turkey becomes more powerful, the U.S. will become more frightened and the relationship will change again.

Q: On strained relations between Israel and Turkey, is it a prelude Turkish-U.S. contention?

A: With Turkey taking on its current position, its relationship with Israel has become a liability. The level of visibility cuts against other interests. But lately we’ve seen signs that Turkey is having closer relations with the U.S. Israel is close to the U.S. therefore Turkish-Israeli relations will be more constrained.

Q: You don’t foresee a conflict between Turkey and Israel?

A: I don’t think it is possible. Turkey does not have the military to project force against Israel. It does not want to be in Syria, let alone engage Israel. And Israel does not want to engage Turkey. You are not in a situation of divorce or hostility. You are in a situation which certain relationships continue, but in which public diplomacy shifts to where Turkey can take advantage of other relationships.

Q: Is Turkey punching above its weight?

A: This government is careful not to do that. One of the reasons it doesn’t engage is because it manages its strength. Turkey is testing its strength. You see that in the case of its policy toward Libya and Syria.

Who is George Friedman?

Dr. George Friedman is the founder and chief executive officer of Stratfor, a global intelligence and forecasting company. He is the author of several books, including New York Times bestsellers, such as “The Next Decade” and “The Next 100 Years,” in which he predicts that Turkey will be a great power; as such, he has advised global players to learn Turkish.

A very popular keynote speaker, Friedman is in high demand at conferences and industry-specific events for private organizations and government agencies. He was recently in Istanbul to moderate the energy simulation of Turkish Industry and Business Association (TÜSİAD) that was also attended by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu.

“We have taught the same courses,” he said about Davutoğlu, adding that the latter was one of the most interesting of the many foreign ministers that he has met.

Friedman lives in Austin, Texas.

Dystocia of gov’t creates perennial problems in Libya

2011-10-03 by Xinhua writers Zheng Kaijun, Zhu Xiaolong

TRIPOLI, Oct. 3,2011 (Xinhua) — As Libya’s new rulers have given themselves the leeway on setting up an interim government which should have been due according to earlier promises, the war-torn country may risk itself falling into a place of lasting chaos.


Mahmoud Jibril, head of the ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) executive board, confirmed late last week that the formation of a transitional government would be postponed till the entire Libya is without redoubts of fallen leader Muammar Gaddafi, while the current executive office was to remain in operation as the caretaker administration despite some minor changes.

Earlier in September, the NTC has set time bars three times for the birth of a new government. But what awaited Libyans were its repeated failures to keep its words, which reflected the fierce power struggle as well as the abortion of mutual trust among the future rulers of Libya.

NTC Chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil had admitted on an earlier occasion that each tribe and town was eager to have a share in the new government, as the country had been extremely thirsty of power after over four decades of iron-handed rule.

For instance, the position of prime minister is a center of debate. Jibril, a hot option for the post, has been facing allegations on his incompetency as a government head due to the continuity of chaos in post-battle towns.

The current NTC executive chief was therefore compelled to say that he was not the reason for the delayed government, while he also noted surprisingly that he would not be “related to the transitional government,” although he failed to elaborate.

In the meantime, the dragging on of battles in a couple of Gaddafi’s remaining strongholds has been a distraction for the green-hand NTC leadership.

“The new rulers look unable to lay the foundation for reconstruction, which is a must for orderly management in the future,” Abdelfattah Elsonoty, an Egyptian political analyst on Arab issues, told Xinhua.

“Compared with the military conflicts, the political war might go on for even longer time,” Elsonoty said.


With no political stability, the recovery of Libya’s mauled economy will also be in jeopardy.

The rebuilding of post-war economy is a massive task which could take years, said Khalifa Shakreen, director of the International Cooperation Office in Tripoli-based Al-Fatah University. “Economic reconstruction needs a solid government, this is the insuperable premise,” he said.

“After the interim government, the Libyan people will elect their real government,” Shakreen said, adding that therefore the interim office would only be kind of filling the vacancy, while it could be hard for the “temporary” officials to focus on the details of economic and social aspects.

At a press conference last week, Jibril has vowed to raise the salaries for the Libyans and provide subsidies for the families of the war victims and those who were still fighting at the front lines. But how and when these money can be fulfilled remain a big question mark.

Moreover, a key trouble is the many Libyans who are left unemployed due to the civil war, which has forced foreign investors to leave. Although Libya’s oil attraction is expected to bring back foreign cashes soon, only time can tell whether the money will be in the pocket of the people or of the fledgling rulers.


Besides the big words of political and economy, more are concerned with the livelihood of the ordinary.

“The most pressing task is to feed the people,” said local political analyst Saleh Sharif. “If you are still starved, you will not be interested in freedom or democracy.”

Sherif’s observation was shared by many Libyan citizens like Mohamed Shtewi. According to the computer engineer before the turmoil, it is too early to grade the current ruling authorities, as many basic living problems are yet to be solved in a proper way.

Among the issues is the treatment of the injured. The lack of fund and interior coordination has put many who were wounded in the prolonged fighting on the fringe of live.

Rallies were held in Tripoli since early September to demand the authorities’ attention to the difficulties thousands of anti- Gaddafi war “heroes” now face. One of the demonstrators, Abdurrzag Shish, was severely wounded in his left leg in April. He told Xinhua that he himself paid for medical treatment in Tunisia, as Libya’s medical condition was outdated.

Even more perilous is the proliferation of weapons across the country. Analysts warn that the pulling back of guns could be a long-term task. If the process is delayed, “tranquility” will only be literal.