Posted by Joshua on Friday, October 23rd, 2009
Khalid Oweis and Ibrahim Hamidi both take on the subject of Syria’s vicissitudes about signing the the Association Agreement. There is the indignity of the Dutch add-on language about human rights, but that is surely not the main cause of Syria’s anxiety. Syria is already facing a very tough environment for its industry with liberalization and free trade agreements with the Gulf and Turkey. A number of industries are under the gun. Also, Europe is the West. This makes opening up its doors to European banks, products, and investors much scarier for Syria; it has many political ramifications.
Syria has just come out of the Bush years and is still suffering from residual shell shock caused by Washington’s efforts to destabilize Damascus. Opening up its doors to increased economic dependency and vulnerability is not attractive.
There are other reasons for rejecting the Association Agreement, some internal. The Association Agreement is seen as Dardari’s baby by Syrian officialdom. Those who butter their bread with Finance Minister Mohammad Hussein (Dardari’s rival) are all for scuttling the Association Agreement simply to weaken him. They argue that the agreement sells Syrian independence down the drain. This may be nonsense — I don’t really know — but it sounds convincing if one is Syrian and plays on all the right nationalist strings. The President is probably caught between his two ministers and does not want to rush to judgement in order to manage the delicate domestic balancing act with perspicacity and tip-toeing equanimity. (See further comment below.)
EU still important for Syria, Assad says
Reuters By Khaled Yacoub Oweis
DAMASCUS, Oct 22 (Reuters) – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad sought to ease tension with the European Union on Thursday after an economic and political deal between the two sides faltered.
Diplomats in Damascus said the Syrian government has indefinitely postponed signing the deal, known as the association agreement, which was due to be signed in Brussels next week and took almost 7 years of protracted negotiations.
“As long as Europe is interested in peace, which is my priority, I have to have cooperation with Europe, whether it is the European Union or certain other (European) countries,” Assad said after a meeting with Finland’s President Tarja Halonen.
The deal has a political side, calling for respect for human rights and allowing the issue to be raised in bilateral talks as Syrian authorities intensify a campaign of arrests against dissidents and independent figures opposed to the Baath Party, which has ruled Syria since taking power in a 1963 coup.
Syrian officials have not publicly commented on the reasons for not signing the deal, beyond saying that they needed more time to study the agreement, although the draft text was finalised and initialled in a ceremony in Damascus last December.
Assad did not mention the association agreement directly. He said a drive by Syria to strengthen relations with its northern neighbour Turkey in the last several years would not come at the expense of Europe.
“It is self evident that you have to start with your region, but this does not mean that you substitute it with the rest of the world. Europe is our neighbour with more communication means that there is no longer a distant area.”
The agreement qualifies Syria for more aid from the EU, beyond the 500 million euros ($748.6 million) it has received since 1979, and opens its market further to European goods.
Syria’s trade deficit hit a record of $4 billion last year, partly due to more imports from Turkey, which mediated peace talks between Syria and Israel that were suspended last year.
HUMAN RIGHTS DIMENSION
The agreement encountered opposition from the Netherlands, which voiced concerns about Syria’s human rights record and its the rising number of political prisoners. Other European countries argued that it would strengthen the hand of what they termed as reformers within the Syrian government.
Deputy Prime Minister Abdallah al-Dardari, a proponent of economic reform close to Assad, had spearheaded Syria’s efforts to sign the agreement….
اتفاق الشراكة الأوروبية تحت مجهر خبراء سوريين
الثلاثاء, 20 أكتوبر 2009
إبراهيم حميدي *
عندما كان مسؤولون اوروبيون يسألون محاوريهم السوريين في الأشهر الاخيرة عن الموقف من توقيع اتفاق الشراكة، كان الجواب السوري موحداً، ومفاده: عندما تصل الدول الاوروبية الى إجماع في شأن توقيع الاتفاق، ستدرس دمشق الموقف وفق المعطيات، باعتبارها طرفاً مقابلاً لـ «الطرف» الاوروبي.لكن فهم الديبلوماسيين الأوروبيين لهذا الكلام كان مختلفاً. إذ فسر بعضهم التصريحات السورية على انها «موقف تفاوضي» للضغط، وأن دمشق «جاهزة للتوقيع بمجرد اتخاذ الأوروبيين قراراً في ذلك».
أظهرت الأيام ان هذا التفسير كان خاطئاً ويتضمن في بعض جوانبه تمنيات اكثر منه قراءة فعلية للموقف. إذ ان وزير الخارجية السويدي كارل بيلدت بعث في 14 الشهر الجاري برسالة الى نظيره السوري وليد المعلم يبلغه فيها قرار الاتحاد أثناء الاجتماع الذي عقد في بروكسيل في بداية الشهر الجاري بتوقيع الاتفاق في شكل رسمي في 26 الجاري. وتضمنت رسالة بيلدت دعوة للمعلم لحضور مراسم التوقيع في لوكسمبورغ مع وزراء 27 دولة اوروبية.
أول تعليق من المعلم جاء في المؤتمر الصحافي مع نظيره الاسباني ميخيل انخيل موراتينوس لدى تأكيده انه تلقى رسالة بيلدت، قائلاً ان بلاده تبلغت القرار الأوروبي وهي تريد دراسة الاتفاق في شكل مفصل قبل اتخاذ قرار في ذلك باعتبار ان الاتفاق جرى تأشيره في البداية في نهاية 2004 قبل ان يجمده الاوروبيون لأسباب سياسية.
المرحلة الاولى من التجميد تولاها الرئيس الفرنسي السابق جاك شيراك مستخدماً الاتفاق «أداة ضغط سياسية». وعندما تحولت إدارة الرئيس نيكولا ساركوزي الى الدفع باتجاه التوقيع، على خلفية القناعة بضرورة الحوار مع سورية لما لها من دور أساسي في الشرق الأوسط، تولت هولندا التجميد، وأثار أموراً تعتبرها دمشق شؤوناً داخلية. وأوضحت مصادر ديبلوماسية أوروبية ان وزير الخارجية الهولندي مكسيم فيرهاغن استخدم موضوع حقوق الانسان لأسباب انتخابية باعتبار أنه يريد تسلم رئاسة الحكومة، إذ انه في الوقت الذي كان فيه يعارض توقيع الاتفاق ثم يصل الى الموافقة تحت ضغط دول اوروبية اخرى ثم يسرب ديبلوماسيوه بياناً يلوح باحتمال تجميد الاتفاق لاحقاً بعد توقيعه، كان ممثل وزارة الخارجية الهولندية في جنيف يصوت ضد تقرير القاضي ريتشارد غولدستون في مجلس حقوق الانسان الخاص بالجرائم الاسرائيلية في غزة، الأمر الذي أفقد الموقف الهولندي صدقيته. وقالت المصادر الديبلوماسية: «ان الموقف الانساني يجب أن يكون متكاملاً لايتجزأ، وألا يكون الاستخدام سياسياً». كما نقلت «الوكالة السورية للأنباء» (سانا) عن مصدر سوري قوله في اطار التعليق على التصويت على تقرير غولدستون ومعارضة بعض الدول من دون تسمية اي منها: «ان ازدواجية المواقف لدى هذه الدول تجاه مسائل عدة وفي مقدمها حقوق الإنسان أمر يفقدها الصدقية والموضوعية اللتين ينبغي توافرهما في التعامل مع ما تطرحه بخصوص قضايا حقوق الإنسان».
غير ان موضوع الاهتمام الأساسي للحكومة السورية في الشراكة، كان مدى انعكاسه على عملية الإصلاح. إذ بعث الوزير المعلم في 19 الجاري رسالة الى نظيره السويدي يبلغه ان دمشق في حاجة الى بعض الوقت لدرس بنود اتفاق الشراكة ومدى انعكاسها على عملية الاصلاح والتحديث الجارية في البلاد، كما اجتمع مع سفراء الترويكا الاوروبية لبحث هذا الأمر، بحسب قول مصادر ديبلوماسية اوروبية.
ولم تكن المرة الاولى التي يقرأ فيها الأوروبيون خطأ موقف دمشق. ذلك انه بعد قرار أوروبا تجميد الاتفاق الموقع عليه بالأحرف الأولى في نهاية 2004، كان موقف دمشق ان سورية لا تستعجل توقيع الاتفاق وهي مستمرة في عملية الاصلاح، بل ان بعض الاصلاحات تجاوز بنود اتفاق الشراكة، على اساس عملية الاصلاح الاقتصادية والتشريعية الواسعة التي انطلقت بعد انتخاب الرئيس بشار الأسد قبل تسع سنوات واستمرت على رغم قرار الاتحاد الاوروبي تجميد الشراكة.
وبين 2004 و2009 «مرت مياه كثيرة من تحت الجسر» بحسب التعبير الديبلوماسي، لذلك يعكف خبراء سوريون حالياً على درس نص اتفاق الشراكة ومدى انسجام بنوده مع المصلحة الوطنية، خصوصاً في ضوء التغيير الكبير في الواقع الاقتصادي السوري، ذلك ان الكثير من البنود التي كان منصوصاً عليها في الاتفاق أنجزت، أو ان بعضها تجاوز متطلبات الشراكة، خصوصاً ما يتعلق بإصلاح النظام الضريبي وبتحرير التجارة وتشريعات الاستثمار، مع وجود اعتقاد أن 90 في المئة من الاصلاحات قد أنجز سلفاً.
وتشير الأرقام الاقتصادية الى ان العام المقبل سيشهد قفزة في مؤشرات الموازنة التي تقدر بنحو 780 بليون ليرة سورية (الدولار الاميركي 46 ليرة) سواء لجهة زياردة الموازنة الاستثمارية بنسبة 20 في المئة او خفض عجز الموازنة الى ستة في المئة، اضافة الى ارتفاع الايرادات غير النفطية الى 70 في المئة والصادرات غير النفطية الى 55 في المئة.
كما ستتناول الدراسات التغييرات الحاصلة في الاقتصاد الاوروبي لجهة انضمام دول جديدة مثل بلغاريا ورومانيا أو آثار الازمة المالية العالمية على اقتصاد هذه الدول، في وقت حصلت تغييرات جذرية في الاقتصاد السوري من جهة ومع الدول المجاورة من جهة اخرى، مثل توقيع اتفاق تجارة حرة مع تركيا وتحرير التجارة مع الدول العربية وتعزيز علاقة سورية مع دول شرقية وآسيوية.
ويتوقع أن تتناول الدراسات المكثفة والمعمقة آثار كل ذلك على الوضع الاقتصادي السوري وموازنة الايجابيات والسلبيات في بنود الشراكة، الأمر الذي يتطلب اكثر من الفترة المحددة بنحو اسبوعين لتوقيع الشراكة لبحث الآثار الاجتماعية والاقتصادية على السوريين. ويشير خبراء الى ان التأشير الثاني على الاتفاق في نهاية العام الماضي تناول فقط مسألتين: الأولى، إضافة اسمي بلغاريا ورومانيا الى نص الاتفاق. الثاني، إقرار تعديل الدول الاوروبية القاضي بنقل قرار أمورالتجارة الخارجية من السيادة الوطنية الاوروبية الى المفوضية، من دون بحث البنود الأخرى، التي تخضع حالياً للدراسة.
وفيما تجرى الدراسات المعمقة والشاملة على الاتفاق، مع الإفادة من تجارب دول عربية اخرى مثل تونس والجزائر والمغرب، سواء لجهة نص الاتفاق المتشابه في معظمه بين جميع الدول في جنوب البحر الابيض المتوسط، او لجهة ادارة الشراكة مع الجانب الاوروبي، مع تنويه سوري بمواقف الدول التي كانت تدفع باتجاه إنجاز الشراكة، من غير المتوقع ان تتأثر العلاقات الفنية والسياسية والاستثمارية بين دمشق والدول الاوروبية (ثنائياً) غير المرتبطة مباشرة أو قانونياً مع الاتحاد الاوروبي. كما ان التعاون الفني مع المفوضية الاوروبية سيستمر ولن يتوقف خلال الفترة المقبلة، وهذه قناعة المحللين.
* صحافي من اسرة «الحياة»
This is why Syria protects Lebanese Resistance – Translated by Mideastwire.com
Al-Quds al-Arabi, On October 19
interview by Bassam al-Badarin with Lebanese MP Walid Soukkariyya, a Sunni elected on Hzzbullah’s list.
“The importance of Lebanese MP is not restricted to the fact that he is the only Sunni to have won a seat in the parliament on Hizbollah list, but is also based on his long experience as a retired officer who served for many years in the Lebanese army, and mainly on the borders with Israel…
“Soukkariyya trusts that Israel can’t accept peace for objective reasons, mainly since peace would prevent it from organizing the pre-emptive strikes it has been famous for and that aimed to end the resistance and induce clashes. In addition to that, if Israel agrees on peace knowing its small dimensions with its current frontiers, it will become a toy in the hands of the US. Hence, the Israelis want peace but after they accomplish the Greater Israel [project] for the current size of the violating Israeli state can’t guarantee its security…
“[He] pointed out that the latest agreement between Syria and the KSA would help in preventing normalization with Israel, and said that Syria’s rush to support the resistance in Lebanon and manage its work at some points is still an inevitable defense strategy for the Syrians, while normalization, initiatives, negotiations and even peace remain tactical matters.
“In this sense and for understandable reasons, Syria can’t engage directly as a resistance, but opens its borders to whoever wants to adopt resistance. Here, it is noticeable how Syria opened its borders with Iraq for al-Qa’idah fighters with whom it clashes ideologically, and how it supports Hezbollah considered as the only resistance in Lebanon…
“Al-Quds al-Arabi asked why did the Israelis failed [in their war on Lebanon], Soukkariyya answered: “Iran is far from the war scene and the US is close to it and sent long-distance bombs. The Israelis were surprised with a fierce ideological fighter and underground missiles planted in scattered strongholds that can’t be discovered by the Israeli intelligence which completely failed in that [regard].”
“Second, this time, Hizbollah is emotionally ready for the fight, and the resistance prepared its forces and weapons for this kind of war, and gathered about 40,000 missiles ready to hit Israel. After the failure in the July war, a parallel plan was set to change the political equation, but the victory of the resistance sent the Americans to Annapolis, and it was important to get ready for the Gaza war. The givens show that the resistance is the right path [to follow], this is why the Sunni- Shiite sedition occurred springing out from Iraq and spreading to Lebanon where resistance is restricted to Shiites…
“Q. What would happen if Iran is no longer present on the scene?
“A. I think that by then, we would enter the Zionist era with a new geography of the region and the division of many states to guarantee the security of Israel. Concerning Iranian expansionist ambitions, 70 million Iranians can’t contain 300 million Arabs, and Iran only works for its own interests [, so it would not do so]. As for Sunnis in Iraq, they insist on Saddam’s return, so I think the situation of both Sunni and Shiites in Iraq is bad for each party which thinks of its own interests not of the national unity.
“When asked about the Syrian management of the resistance in Lebanon, Soukkariyya took a pen and paper and drew a military map expressing his point of view as a professional military man who served on the southern borders of his country. He said “Syria can’t leave Lebanon for reasons that are not related to politics but to the military front and the security. The Syrian military front extends from Al-Sheikh mountain to the Jordanian borders then to the Lebanese borders and the sea. Therefore, Damascus supports the resistance because it does not want to clash with the enemy directly and because supporting the resistance is the only way to protect Syria… Militarily speaking, Damascus has no choice but to secure the delay or the prevention of the Israeli army from entering Syrian grounds. After the Syrian military retreated from Lebanon, the Bekaa valley became open. Thus, the resistance would delay the entrance of the Israeli forces… -
Who are Syria’s real friends?
As its relations with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran blossom, is Syria still keen for a rapprochement with the west?
Ian Black in the Guardian
Bashar al-Assad has every reason to be pleased with himself: barely a week goes by without some western VIP dropping in to see him. The other day it was the Spanish prime minister José Luis Zapatero. Even better, Syria’s deputy foreign minister was in Washington earlier this month after several senior Americans came to Damascus – living proof that there is a thaw in relations with the Obama administration, even if it has not yet gone as far as the president would like.
But a couple of things suggest that the Syrian leader is not as keen as some had thought for a rapprochement with the west – or that he has already reached his own limits. Last week the security authorities arrested Haitham Maleh, a leading lawyer and human rights activist, underlining the ease with which opposition figures are thrown into prison. That brought instant condemnation from the British Foreign Office and international human rights organisations.
The other is that after years of negotiations, the Syrians have just asked to postpone a long-awaited association agreement with the EU, which was supposed to be signed in Luxembourg on 26 October. The EU delay may simply be about trying to obtain better terms: low-tariff or duty-free access to European markets should certainly help boost Syrian exports, though some manufacturers reportedly fear the higher standards it will require. The second thoughts could also be because, at the insistence of the Netherlands, the EU text also included an explicit reference to respect for human rights. Whatever the objections, the sudden postponement still strikes an ill-tempered note that jars with the current make-nice mood in Damascus.
It’s a sensitive subject as talks on the EU agreement were frozen in 2004 under pressure from the Bush White House, angry over Syria facilitating the transit of foreign fighters across the border into Iraq. Jacques Chirac, then French president, resented Assad’s hostility to his old friend Rafiq al-Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister who was later murdered in Beirut (many assume by Syrian agents, despite denials from Damascus). The Hariri killing sent Syria straight back into the cold.
Maleh’s sudden arrest – apparently because of an interview deemed to contravene the country’s draconian emergency laws – is a depressingly familiar phenomenon: Syria’s securocrats seem to operate on auto-pilot, oblivious to any effect their moves may have on the wish to be part of the wider world. “Syria is busy welcoming foreign diplomats and talking about peace and development,” said Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch. “But to its internal critics, it only unfurls the prison mat.” In the past external pressure has been counter-productive: when George Bush made a statement demanding Syria respect human rights, more of the usual suspects were rounded up the next day. Obama should, in theory, be able to be more effective. It is not enough for the US to focus solely on securing Syrian co-operation over Iraq, where there has been real progress.
Officials in Damascus generally exude confidence about things going their way. Relations with Turkey are blossoming as Turkey snubs Israel over the Gaza war. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Assad’s chief Arab adversary, has been mending fences too. The UN’s Hariri tribunal is going nowhere slowly. Above all, Syria wants an end to the bilateral US sanctions imposed because of its support for Hamas in the Palestinian territories and Hezbollah in Lebanon: Washington calls them terrorists; Syria legitimate resistance to Israel. That standoff does not look like ending any time soon. Nor is there any sign that Assad will, as the US would dearly like, drop his odd-man-out alliance with Iran. “Foreign relations are not a zero-sum game,” said Syria’s deputy prime minister, Abdullah Dardari. “Or at least they shouldn’t be.”…..
Embassy of the Syrian Arab Republic, Washington D.C.
In response to Secretary Clinton’s remarks today at the United States Institute of Peace, we would like to stress that first, Syria is a signatory to the NPT and has abided by all its obligations under this treaty, regardless of the false accusations leveled by some circles. Second, while we verifiably have no nuclear weapons, Israel boasts the largest nuclear weapons arsenal per capita in the world and obstinately refuses to sign the NPT while the US turns a blind eye.
Still, we commend Secretary Clinton’s, and indeed the Obama administration’s, commitment to bolstering the NPT and working on achieving a world free of nuclear weapons. In this spirit, and in accordance with the administration’s vision, we call on the US to adopt the tabled UN resolution introduced by Syria in 2003 that declares the Middle East, in its entirety, a region free of weapons of mass destruction. As a region mired by tension, this step would set a great example for the world and would act as a building block for the administration’s broader vision of a world free of WMDs. We also call on the administration to follow its own commitment and vision by exerting pressure on its ally Israel to join the ranks of the world and sign the NPT. Pushing to bolster the NPT while allowing a major ally to avoid it, is a double standard that will undermine the US’s nonproliferation efforts in our region in particular, and the world as a whole.
“… On Tuesday, Rice met Peres and vowed that the US would “continue to stand by Israel as a loyal friend in the fight against the Goldstone report,” according to a statement from Peres’s office on Wednesday…… Israel called the endorsement by the UN Human Rights Council a “diplomatic farce” and said it harmed Middle East peace efforts, but the Palestinians welcomed the resolution which they said should result in follow-up action from the UN Security Council. Goldstone himself rejected the Israeli argument, saying there was currently no peace process to save…”
David Rohde on the “why do they hate us?” question
A new poll shows substantial support for bombing and invading Iran.
Oct. 19, 2009 |
Yesterday I wrote about the first installment of the account by The New York Times’ David Rohde of his seven months as a hostage held by the Taliban, and specifically how — as he put it — some of “Washington’s antiterrorism policies had galvanized the Taliban.” His second installment is now available, describing his first several weeks of captivity after being moved to Pakistan, and it includes this:
For the next several nights, a stream of Haqqani commanders overflowing with hatred for the United States and Israel visited us, unleashing blistering critiques that would continue throughout our captivity.
Some of their comments were factual. They said large numbers of civilians had been killed in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Palestinian territories in aerial bombings. Muslim prisoners had been physically abused and sexually humiliated in Iraq. Scores of men had been detained in Cuba and Afghanistan for up to seven years without charges.
To Americans, these episodes were aberrations. To my captors, they were proof that the United States was a hypocritical and duplicitous power that flouted international law.
When I told them I was an innocent civilian who should be released, they responded that the United States had held and tortured Muslims in secret detention centers for years. Commanders said they themselves had been imprisoned, their families ignorant of their fate. Why, they asked, should they treat me differently?…
[Landis comment: The following article about Middle East security states becoming more institutionalized and modern seems very accurate. My only gripe is that the main source of legitimacy for authoritarianism in the region may be something this author does not discuss, but Brian Whitaker does, which is culture (article copied below). Patriarchal and authoritarian societies produce dynasties. Dynastic rule is familiar in societies with a high degree of tribal and clan heritage. Also, as half-cooked polities, Middle East nation states may not be ready for democracy. The Iraq experience has scared many Middle Easterners from wanting to risk democracy. Many are insecure about their ability to contain the destructive potential of constitutional freedoms in deeply divided societies. The Syrian opposition has had the wind taken out of its sails - not simply because most of its leaders have been arrested or intimidated, but because the Syrian people are not listening right now. They are not confident that they can get to democracy should the government be overthrown or founder.]
MIDDLE EAST: Presidential security states take shape
Wednesday, October 14 2009
SUBJECT: The advent of the Arab presidential security state.
SIGNIFICANCE: Talk of a third wave of democratisation or of a global move towards greater political and economic openness obscures the fact that, in most of the Middle East, developments are moving in the opposite direction — towards the intensification of presidential power and its support by a growing security apparatus.
ANALYSIS: The majority of Arab regimes which used to be styled ‘authoritarian’ are now mutating into something much more durable and powerful and can no longer be seen as transiting towards liberal forms. Instead they are being reworked to concentrate ever more power in life-time presidencies even while paying lip service to electoral democracy
· This is the case in Yemen and Syria as well as all across Arab North Africa.
· Much the same analysis can be applied to the major Arab monarchies such as Jordan and Morocco.
· The Libyan system is similar, especially as regards the inheritance of family power, but is yet more authoritarian.
· Only Lebanon and, for the time being, Iraq, remain immune.
Presidential security state. The basic features of these emerging systems are:
· presidencies that mimic the monarchies in being hereditary and for life (‘republican monarchies’);
· support from a small elite with a vested interest in preserving the existing distribution of power;
· strong backing from the military and from a growing security system (police, intelligence and under-cover forces);
· legitimacy derived from presidential elections that are supposed to express the will of the people, with little respect for constitutions which, thanks to docile parliaments, can be changed more or less at will; and
· support from the United States, Europe and Russia for their role in combating terrorism and facilitating the flow of oil, which involves little criticism of their human rights records, treatment of local oppositions and manipulation of elections.
Presidential power. These systems concentrate power in the hands of the president, who rules by weakening civil society organisations and the legislative and judicial branches, while balancing the various instruments of coercion under his control. They are highly personal and so dependent on the individual relationships and political skills and resources of the president. They also depend on having a family member as a plausible successor whom powerful persons within the elite believe can manage the transition of power while preserving existing political and economic relationships.
Presidents have to be adept at balancing two unequal forces — the military and the internal security apparatus:
· Whereas the military is a unified institution with a clear view of its own political role, the security apparatus is larger, more diffuse, more closely involved with society, omnipresent inside and outside government, and with immediate power to identify and punish persons taken to be a threat to regime.
· Despite its ubiquitous presence, the security apparatus’s lack of broader legitimacy, fragmentation into numerous components and structural subordination to the military militate against it assuming ultimate and direct political power…..
Middle East exceptionalism. The reasons why the Middle East seems to be bucking a world trend towards greater political pluralism include:
· the comparatively large size of the military and its dominant role in post-colonial Arab republics;
· the role of oil and strategic rents in providing patronage to incumbent elites and, in the case of the former, incentives for external actors to accommodate those elites; and
· the legacy of Western interference and confrontation with Arab nationalism and Islamism, which discredit Western systems and preferences.
Given the spread of republican monarchies across North Africa and into the Levant and the south-western corner of the Arabian Peninsula, it seems less likely that either Islam or direct confrontation with Israel have played a decisive role in creating or sustaining the system.
Another explanation of the system’s origins and persistence is the modelling effect in the region. Republican monarchies have learned not only from one another, but from the actual monarchies, the resilience of which has confounded predictions of some 30-40 years ago. In both republics and monarchies the frailty of political infrastructure requires simplification of leadership succession and family inheritance to become the standard type.
Another factor is the support provided to these governments by Western powers in order to combat terrorism or other threats to Western interests, including illegal migration, sometimes reinforced by well-meaning attempts to promote democracy. These typically end up strengthening executive branch institutions or encouraging a quasi-capitalism in political economies monopolised by a small number of business families allied to the regime, thereby reinforcing the regime itself rather than forces seeking to reform or replace it.
CONCLUSION: The trend in the Arab republican states is towards a new form of presidential hereditary system in which security considerations dominate, dissent is fiercely controlled, economic monopolies flourish and electoral results are determined in advance.
Hezbollah versus Israel, UPI
“Hezbollah declared a major victory for its resistance movement against Israel following the discovery of Israeli spy devices in south Lebanon. Hezbollah said it “managed to uncover a spy device” in south Lebanon that it claimed Israel planted following the 34-day conflict with militants in the Shiite resistance movement in 2006.
“The spying gear was planted on a telecommunication cable that was placed after the 2006 July war,” Hezbollah said in statements on its al-Manar news network. “Right after the device was discovered, the Israeli enemy remotely destroyed the gear.”
Hezbollah said it was upset with language issued by the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon saying the devices were “apparently” placed by Israeli forces. Hezbollah lawmakers said that suggested UNIFIL was taking sides on the issue….”
Arab winds of change
Who is driving real change in the Arab countries? Not politicians, but feminists, gay people and bloggers
* Brian Whitaker
“Women, bloggers and gays lead change in the Arab world.” That is the headline of an article by Octavia Nasr for CNN’s blog AC360°. “Several new lines are being drawn in the Middle East’s desert sand simultaneously,” she writes. “If they continue to be drawn at this rate longer and thicker, it’s hard to foresee any governments, censors or jails being able to stop them.”
Though Nasr sounds a bit overexcited about the existence of a feminist mag in Arabic in which “no one dares to advertise” and a few other developments which are interesting straws in the wind but scarcely signs of an imminent revolution, I think she has a point. If asked where change is likely to come from in the Arab countries, I would not put much faith in “reformist” politicians and opposition parties – they’re mostly no-hopers – but I would definitely put feminists, gay men, lesbians and bloggers very high on my list.
It’s important not to exaggerate what they are actually achieving at the moment, but let’s consider their potential as challengers of the status quo and drivers of change. The “Arab problem” is mostly perceived in terms of the regimes: the lack of democracy, authoritarian rulers who trample over people’s rights, and so on. That was the perception of the Bush administration in particular and it led to the simplistic idea that regime change was the solution.
It’s now very clear (as I explain in my new book, What’s Really Wrong With the Middle East) that this was a mistake. You can overthrow dictators, you can force countries to have elections and you can even insist on voting procedures that are reasonably fair, but that doesn’t bring freedom unless it forms part of a much bigger social transformation.
What has emerged in Iraq, for example, is not so much a model for the rest of the Middle East (as originally intended by Bush and the neocons) but a model of it. As the smoke drifts away, Iraq is emerging as a fairly typical Arab state with most of their usual negative characteristics – a government with authoritarian aspirations, institutionalised corruption and nepotism, pervasive social discrimination and a rentier economy that produces little besides oil – plus, for good measure, resurgent tribalism and sectarianism.
Arab regimes, by and large, are products of the societies they govern and it is often the society, as much as the government itself, that stands in the way of progress. In Kuwait, for instance, it was not the hereditary emir who resisted granting votes to women, but reactionary elements in the elected parliament – and there are plenty of similar examples.
Khaled Diab, an Egyptian who contributes regularly to Cif, summed it up pithily when he told me: “Egypt has a million Mubaraks.” In other words, the Mubarak way of doing things is not confined to the country’s president; it is found throughout Egyptian society, in business and in families too. The Arab family as traditionally conceived – patriarchal and authoritarian, suppressing individuality and imposing conformity, protecting its members so long as they comply with its wishes – is a microcosm of the Arab state.
Changing the power structures within families (and in many parts of the Arab world this is already happening) will also gradually change the way people view other power structures that replicate those of the traditional family, whether in schools and universities, the workplace, or in government. This is where women come in. In an Arab context, demanding the same rights as men is a first step towards change. Asserting their rights doesn’t mean that all women have to be activists for feminism. Even something as simple as going out to work – if enough people do it – can start to make a difference.
Contrary to popular opinion, most human rights abuses in the Arab countries are perpetrated by society rather than regimes. Yes, ordinary people are oppressed by their rulers, but they are also participants themselves in a system of oppression that includes systematic denial of rights on a grand scale.
In these highly stratified societies, people are discriminated for and against largely according to accidents of birth: by gender, by family, by tribe, by sect. Women, as the largest disadvantaged group, can play a major role in overcoming this and helping smaller disadvantaged groups to do the same. Once the equality principle is accepted for women it becomes easier to apply it to others.
Discrimination against gay people has only begun to be challenged in the Arab countries during the last few years. In a patriarchal system, where masculinity is highly prized, any deviation from the sexual “norms” and expected gender roles is not only subversive but is regarded as extremely threatening. The vigilante killings in Iraq are the nastiest example – not just of men who are thought to be gay, but others who simply don’t dress and behave “as men should”.
The third group driving change are the bloggers. A recent survey found 35,000 people blogging in Arabic, plus countless others who use Facebook, Twitter, etc, to communicate over the internet. There has been much debate about the extent to which this is reshaping public discourse and undermining censorship, but that is not really the main significance of blogging and the internet in the Middle East. The traditional “ideal” of an Arab society is one that is strictly ordered, where everyone knows their place and nobody speaks out of turn. Basically, you do what is required of you and no more. You keep your head down, don’t make waves and let those who supposedly know better get on with running things.
The point about bloggers is that they want none of that. They are engaged, they are alive, and they’ll speak out of turn as much as they like. Put all these elements together and you can see how, sooner or later, the edifice could start to crumble.
Hard sell for Arab films
By Raja Abdulrahim
Filmmakers find that in their communities it’s tough to get support for the stories they want to tell.
Iran bought submarines from N. Korea, helped Syria
Yonhap News:, 2009-10-22
By Hwang Doo-hyong WASHINGTON, Oct. 22 (Yonhap) — Iran has purchased several midget submarines from North Korea and has helped Syria get missiles and other forms of weapons of mass destruction from the North, a report has said.
“Iran purportedly has acted as an intermediary with North Korea to supply Syria with various forms of WMD and missile technology,” said a Congressional Research Service report, “Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses.” The report, issued Oct. 5, described the Obama administration’s recent engagement with Syria as “means to wean Syria away from its alliance with Iran.”
However, the report predicted that such an effort will not likely succeed, saying, “Iran is a major investor in the Syrian economy, which attracts very little Western investment, and some believe the Iran-Syria alliance is not easily severed.”
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Wednesday singled out North Korea and Iran as nonproliferation policy failures, describing “the range and intensity of current nuclear proliferation challenges” as “alarming.”
“The international community failed to prevent North Korea from developing nuclear weapons. We are now engaged in diplomatic efforts to roll back this development,” she said. “Iran continues to ignore resolutions from the United Nations Security Council demanding that it suspend its enrichment activities and live up to those international obligations. Thwarting the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran is critical to shoring up the nonproliferation regime.”
The CRS report also said that Iran “is said to possess several midget submarines, possibly purchased assembled or in kit form from North Korea.”
It noted, “Iran claimed on Nov. 29, 2007, to have produced a new small sub equipped with sonar-evading technology.”
Iran is believed to be one of the biggest buyers of North Korean arms, with annual purchases of up to US$2 billion.