Saturday, December 31, 2011

Contrasting Revolutionary Seasons: 2011 in Retrospect

We have had the Arab Spring; the Summer of Europe’s Indignation; Autumn was Occupied across the globe; and now, perhaps, there is the onset of a long Russian Winter. Regime change swayed to the same rhythms as the seasons.” – Howard Chua-Eoan, Time, December 26, 2011

Unbeknownst to those us of feasting or fasting this time last year, a revolutionary year was about to commence, one which would change the world entire. The Arab Spring – more than any other of 2011’s momentous seasons – galvanised and reinvigorated those in the free world who thought people power toppling pharaohs in the Middle East impossible, or had lost faith in the notion of universal values.

Based upon the manner in which revolutionary fervour swept across a whole region in a concentrated or collapsed period of time, the Arab Spring drew instantaneous comparison with 1989, or Europe’s Autumn of Nations. Then, following the opening up of the Soviet Union and Gorbachev’s decision not to reinforce Warsaw Pact nations under threat of collapse, six little Stalins were overthrown from the streets upward in the space of a few months, and (save for Romania) with little bloodshed to boot.

On the one hand, the immediate differences between the Autumn of Nations and the Arab Spring are manifest – enough perhaps to make the comparison between the two a little false. In the first instance, the nations of Eastern Europe fell as dominos with ease and in swift succession precisely because the Warsaw Pact states – connected by ideology and a neo-Stalinist system of governance – were interdependent upon each other, and dependent on one patron, for their existential security.

The Arab states, conversely, whilst appearing to be a bloc, are fractured along religious, political, and nationalistic lines, and are divided by a mutual suspicion and loathing amongst the strongmen who run (or indeed ran) those countries. Hegemons only exist in pockets, such as Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf. As such, notions of pan-Arab unity are but notions; thus, the dislodging of Gaddafi in Libya or Mubarak in Egypt did not necessarily mean that the Houses of Saud or al-Khalifa must fall in turn (as it turns out).

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Monday, December 5, 2011 Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Arab Spring is Dying

Government troops have fought their way back into Ajdabiya, just two weeks after rebels recaptured the city, under the protection of allied intervention. In swift fashion, the opposition swept across the eastern shoreline, to a position around 100km east of Sirte. However, in the absence of sustained Western assistance and a comprehensible military command structure, pro-Gaddafi forces have pushed them back to Ajdabiya. Should government troops again take said city, then they will have clear sight of the rebel capital, Benghazi.

The Arab Spring is dying, and the West is partly at fault. There is little military leaders can do with regard to the condition of the rebel army. They are, for the most part, little more than teenagers with Kalashnikovs, speeding about in converted Toyota pick-up trucks, playing at war. Geraldo Rivera was right to suggest that “if you give these people weapons more powerful than they have right now, they will be a grave danger to themselves and others.” But the allies must recognise too that our lousy and pathetic piecemeal approach to intervention has contributed to a succession of rebel defeats.

What is more, the slow death of the revolution in Libya has emboldened similarly autocratic regimes in other parts of the Middle East who face their own internal crises. In Syria, tanks have been deployed by the Ba’athist regime in order to crush absolutely ferment in cities such as Baniyas, Homs, and Latakia in the Alawi heartland. Reports have also emerged of the ISF using live ammunition and tear gas to scatter thousands of mourners in Deraa, the epicentre of Syria’s anti-regime movement. The al-Assad family has, it appears, doubled-down on absolutism and repression as Cyrenaica falls.

The future of the Jasmine Revolution depends on success in battle for the rebels in Libya, or, at a minimum, Gaddafi’s ousting via other means. At this time, the Western laissez-faire military approach to the civil war – a bomb here; some light relief there – is not aiding the rebels. Rather, they are quickly marching toward defeat, and the kind of butchery in Benghazi we were supposed to be intervening to prevent. A rejuvenation of our intervention will save the revolution from extinction, and should stop the Mediterranean turning into a sea of blood.

(Photograph: Finbarr O’Reilly/Reuters)

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Fall of Tripoli

The international community have been valiant in their efforts as far to rescue their respective citizenries from Libya, the hostile desertscape whose sand-strewn dunes will soon be dyed a deepest crimson with the blood of martyrs. Just in the most recent hours, more than 150 oil workers were ‘dramatically rescued’ as “two RAF Hercules aircraft – backed by the SAS – pulled off a high-risk evacuation of British and other citizens.” This follows the chartering of ferries, aircraft and military vessels by European governments to rescue the marooned around the clock.

But what of those left behind? the brave and embattled Libyans. Previously, I have called on either the United Nations or, if they prove to be as sloth-like and impotent as ever, an arranged coalition such as NATO to “seriously consider the possibility of using pre-emptive hard power against the Libyan administration – up to and including the use of targeted air strikes – in order to hasten Gaffadi’s demise,” and prevent a ‘Tiananmen in Tripoli’.

In piecemeal, leading lights in global politics are taking steps to suffocate the regime. The United States has frozen “all Libyan assets in the US that belong to Gaddafi, his government and four of his children,” in addition to a suspension of defence trade and a call for his resignation. Further, Britain and France have circulated a draft resolution at the United Nations that would “impose an arms embargo on Libya and refer reported violence to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.”

Yet, as Zvi Bar’el has noted, “freezing Gaddafi’s accounts, enforcing a weapons embargo and not granting visas to his officials will not deter him from continuing his war against his civilians.” Gaffadi is in preparation for his war to end all wars, and sanctions which seek to undermine his legitimacy will not stop this from happening.

Already, several witnesses in Tripoli said forces loyal to Gaddafi had shot people from ambulances and used antiaircraft guns against crowds. Witnesses to the violence also said the government had removed dead bodies from hospitals to try to obscure the death toll.

As far, the United Nations route to a definitive solution is proving futile, as slugs and slimeballs like Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan continue to oppose even sanctions. Moreover, if we continue to mount gallant military operations in order to rescue own our people, whilst the Libyans are left to defend themselves from Gaffadi’s ruthless mercenaries, we risk creating another ‘fall of Saigon moment,’ complete with similar scenes of abandonment and betrayal.

I can only restate my original proposal, and stress it firmly once again. Gaffadi must be removed, he must be removed with haste, and if necessary he must be removed with force.

(Photograph: Lefteris Pitarakis/AP)

"Tiananmen in Tripoli," February 22, 2011, 9:56PM

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Egyptian Revolution

The revolt has become a revolution: Hosni Mubarak has resigned as Egypt’s head of state, after almost thirty years in office. Power has officially transferred to the military – a neutral institution who should serve the people to bring them the stability and democracy they so badly crave.

Today’s events are remarkable and unexpected. They represent a victory not for peace activists like ElBaradei, or the organised oppositionist movements like the Muslim Brotherhood, but the people who have rallied day after day and given themselves up for the betterment of Egypt and her Arab brethren.

The hundred of thousands assembled today (in what must now be called Liberation Square) will see freedom bud and blossom in the Nile’s fertile soil for the first time in the nation’s history. “The people have brought down the regime.”

In some respects too, Mubarak’s resignation is a vindication of American foreign policy, and in particular Hillary Clinton’s doctrine of smart power. It is a triumph for the careful line President Obama and Sec. Clinton’s State Department have walked between outright condemnation and covert pressure.

So Mubarak did not quite outlast the Pharaohs, having walked out of his Cairo palace as opposed to being carried feet first. For now the armed forces are in control, and tonight the people will hedonistically celebrate their release from bondage.

But tomorrow, as the sun rises over Liberation Square, the difficult work begins. The people must – to use President Obama’s language - pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and begin again the work of remaking Egypt.

(Photograph: Washington Post)

For more on Egypt, see "The Egypt Files."

Thursday, February 3, 2011


"A Quick Egyptian Coda," January 28, 2011, 11:39PM

"Hosni Mubarak announced tonight that he had sacked the government, except himself, and will appoint another. (I am sure, however, that he would prefer to follow the advice of Brecht, and dissolve the people instead.) This moment will hopefully be the tipping point, past which there can be no return. Mubarak must and will go, and I support the Egyptian protest movement wholeheartedly in their endeavours.”

"Mubarak’s Dying Shuffle," January 29, 2011, 5:33PM

"I cannot help but draw historical parallels to the fall of the Berlin Wall. …The main difference though between the Velvet Revolutions of Eastern Europe, and today’s demonstrations in the Arab world, is both the speed of development and the use of violence. In East Germany, a month elapsed between their cabinet reshuffle and the government’s demise. In Egypt, we seem to be talking about days.”

"On Egypt, A Concern for Israel," January 29, 2011, 10:13PM

Reports from Al Jazeera and CNN state that Mubarak may be welcome to a stay in exile at the Egyptian embassy in Tel Aviv, after being rejected by the Saudis. Such a move would be suicidal for the Israelis: not only would it hand the Islamist movement ready-made propaganda material, but it would undermine relations with any future democratic Egyptian government.”

"The Desert Blooms," January 30, 2011, 3:15PM

"Statements of internal solidarity shall do much to stabilise conditions on the ground, creating a sense that out of this chaos, order shall be returned. More importantly perhaps, the Muslim Brotherhood’s demonstration of support for the Nobel Laureate ElBaradei should do much to provide reassurance to the West, and to Israel in particular, that this democratic revolution will not be hijacked by Islamic fundamentalists, as was the case in Iran after the Shah’s deposition."

"So, What If Mubarak Doesn’t Step Aside?" January 31, 2011, 7:12PM

"Media has been quick to declare the similarity between Egypt 2011 and Iran in 1979: a populist uprising throwing off the shackles of oppression, disposing and deporting their leader in the process. But, what if the Egyptian Revolt turn into not the Iranian Revolution of 1979, but the aborted Green Revolution of 2009? …Then, as now, the United States failed to throw the full might of its political strength behind the people."

"A Final Thought for Israel," January 31, 2011, 11:24PM

"A new government is inevitable: it would do Israel the world of good to stop enabling Mubarak now. There was little need, for example, for the Netanyahu administration to allow Egypt to move troops into the Sinai – a demilitarised zone since 1979. …Israel needs to embody the principles the State was founded on: of a democratic homeland for a disenfranchised and subjugated people. This would require moving away from Mubarak. Netanyahu: Make it so.”

"All Change, Please: Syria (Part 1)," February 1, 2011, 7:09PM

"If totalitarianism is a cliché, then Bashir al-Assad comes straight out of central casting. His black-mustachio’ed face does indeed gaze down at you from every street corner. The al-Assad’s have done nothing for the people of Syria, save keeping the state insular, away from the world’s glare. …Opposition has been, up until this moment, non-existent. …Now, a tiny lotus flower grows in the mud.”

"All Change, Please: Israel/Jordan (Part 2)," February 1, 2011, 8:19PM

"And the world falls into place. …Ynet News today reports a change in policy, since Benjamin Netanyahu now argues that Israel will “encourage the promotion of values of freedom and democracy in the Middle East.” This comes with a necessary caveat: a warning with regard to the dangers of Islamism. …Netanyahu did ‘make it so’.”

"All Change, Please: Egypt (Part 3)," February 1, 2011, 9:40PM

"Everybody, particular Media, has been guilty over the past few days of being caught up in the glorious mania of mass revolt - what some have termed ‘revolution porn’. On reflection, it would perhaps be best of Egypt, for Israel and for the region as a whole, if the move from autocracy to democracy were handled with grace."

(Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

All Change, Please: Egypt (Part 3)

Almost, folks, almost. Hosni Mubarak has stated categorically on Egyptian state television that he will not seek another term as President, a position he has held for thirty years. The BBC reports that Mubarak “promised constitutional reform, but said he wanted to stay until the end of his current presidential term. The announcement came as tens of thousands rallied in central Cairo urging him to step down immediately.”

Earlier I had pontificated over the notion that Mubarak might try to remain in office. Thankfully, this appears to be something we no longer need worry about, lest he to the most miraculous about turn in all of human history. This will not be, as I had feared, akin to the Green Revolution in Iran.

Moreover, if this transition is handled correctly, it will not morph into the Islamic Revolution, either. Provided that the people support the given timeframe (the next president election is due in September), five opposition movements, including the key Muslim Brotherhood, have already "mandated Mohammed ElBaradei to negotiate over the formation of a temporary “national salvation government.”

The revolutionary movement is clearly the great force behind Mubarak’s decision to step aside. But it would be churlish not to thank the United States, however late and undignified their manner of arrival at the party. The New York Times reports that President Obama urged Mubarak not to run, “effectively withdrawing American support for its closest Arab ally”. Israel too made its peace with the protesters, stating its support for “the promotion of values of freedom and democracy in the Middle East ”.

Everybody, particular Media, has been guilty over the past few days of being caught up in the glorious mania of mass revolt - what some have termed ‘revolution porn’. On reflection, it would perhaps be best of Egypt, for Israel and for the region as a whole, if the move from autocracy to democracy were handled with grace.

So Mubarak remains in office. But now, thanks to their own brave endeavours, the Egyptian people can count down the months, weeks and days, and look forward to the day when he is no longer their ruler. Behold the hills of tomorrow! behold the limitless skies!

All Change, Please: Israel/Jordan (Part 2)

And the world falls into place. Yesterday, I wrote that, since a new government in Egypt is inevitable, it would do Israel a world of good to stop enabling Hosni Mubarak. “Israel needs to embody the principles the State was founded on: of a democratic homeland for a disenfranchised and subjugated people. This would require moving away from Mubarak. Netanyahu: Make it so.”

Ynet News today reports a change in policy, since Benjamin Netanyahu now argues that Israel will “encourage the promotion of values of freedom and democracy in the Middle East.” This comes with a necessary caveat: a warning with regard to the dangers of Islamism. But critically this is the first time the Israeli government has publically distanced itself from Mubarak. Netanyahu did ‘make it so’.

On Saturday, in an extensive commentary on Jordan, I proposed that the best situation for Jordan would be “a grand transfer of power from King Abdullah and his puppet parliament to the citizenry.” This would be a transition to democracy under the hand of monarchy, as opposed to a full-scale, bloody revolution: “The Hashemites have been good friends to the West, and it would not be in our best interest to see them removed from the scene altogether.”

And behold: “King Abdullah II of Jordan sacked his government on Tuesday as he sought to appease street protests and avoid his country becoming the next Egypt or Tunisia." The Hashemites are wise to heed the demand of the Arab street, and hopefully the sacking of Samir Rifai and “a pledge to embark on an immediate programme of democratic reform” will be more than enough to keep Jordan a stable nation with a Western face.

Monday, January 31, 2011