Posted by Joshua on Friday, January 2nd, 2009
“We can burn tires. We can demonstrate,” he continued. “But concretely, there is nothing we can do.” [.firstname.lastname@example.org]
How Not to Make Peace in the Middle East
By Hussein Agha, Robert Malley
New York Review of Books, Volume 56, Number 1 · January 15, 2009
… With so much having gone so wrong for so long, basic issues should first be addressed. Among them are the reasons for recurring failures, the effectiveness of US mediation, the wisdom and realism of seeking a comprehensive, across-the-board settlement of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, or even the centrality of that conflict to US interests and the benefits that would accrue to America from its resolution. One also might ponder reasons behind America’s chronic ineffectiveness in persuading lesser powers (Arafat, Hamas, Syria, or Hezbollah) to acquiesce in its demands, a pattern that suggests incapacity to identify local political forces, understand their interests, or comprehend their appeal….
Moubayed: Ex-President Carter to Syria’s Forward Magazine: I’m carrying Assad’s good greetings to Obama
Former American President Jimmy Carter said that Syria and the United States can expect there are “better times ahead” for their bilateral relations. In the first-ever interview for an American president with a Syrian media outlet, Carter told Forward Magazine, Syria’s first English monthly, Carter hinted that the near future will see the return of the US ambassador to Damascus, filling a post that has been vacant since relations plumeted in 2005. Such a move will coincide with re-opening of the American school in Damascus, Carter added, in addition to reopening the American Language Center, both of which were closed by the Syrian government after US warplanes raided the Syrian town of Abu Kamal last October killing 8 civilians. Speaking to Sami Moubayed, Forward’s editor in chief, Carter confirmed that he “will be carrying some good greetings to the leaders of the new administration, through my meeting with President Assad.”
During his visit to Syria, the fifth since 1983, Carter met with President Bashar al-Assad, who he described as “popular among his people.” They discussed Syrian-American relations, in addition to regional developments in the Middle East, including the peace talks between Syria and Israel. Speaking of the involvement of the upcoming administration in Washington, Carter asserted that Obama cannot “put enough pressure on either Syria or Israel to yield on their basic principles.” He added, “My hope and my belief are that there are enough compatabilities between the two parties to reach a final agreement.”
Ehsani writes in the last comment section
The recent events in Gaza must serve as a reality check on the state of affairs in the region. While the discussion of possible peace has taken center stage recently, I have personally been far more skeptical.
Israel is too powerful to concede an inch.
Hamas is too weak to concede an
inch. They have nothing to lose. They are already too poor and too hopeless to worry about further losses and concessions. When you are already pushed so far over the edge, you stop worrying about even death.
Syria’s leadership has little room for error. One mistake and it is all over. It is fully aware that it is surrounded by enemies that are waiting for a slip up that would ensure its quick and bloody demise. Conceding an inch is simply out of question. The status quo has worked for nearly forty years. Why change?
Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are too dependent on the U.S. for economic and political survival. In return, they are rewarded the title of “moderates and allies”.
The United States will never be an impartial participant in this conflict. The Presidency of Mr. Obama is unlikely to bring any fundamental changes to the way the country deals in the region. Israel will continue to receive all the support it needs to ensure that it offers as little concessions as possible.
In the meantime, the demographics in the region are frightening. Syria’s population doubles every 30 years. When 200,000 jobs need to be created a year today to absorb the growing labor force, think of what is come by 2030. This scenario is likely to play out in country after country in the region. Yemen, for example, will be home close to 100 million people over the next forty years based on current demographic trends.
Such demographic trends need an urgent response. Regrettably, there is none coming. Standards of living are most likely going to fall sharply with time. Economic growth needs to be at least double in every country in the region. In reality, We will be lucky if we can maintain the current trends. There is just too much corruption, nepotism, state control, absence of property rights and a lack of a functioning judicial system to allow for faster economic growth.
While feels the need to paint a more optimistic picture at the start of this new year, the reality is that the region faces enormous challenges going forward. Rather than peace and prosperity, I predict further ethnic and religious tensions coupled with falling standards of living and economic stagnation in a sea of dictatorships.
Participants of this forum will of course be spared. We can at least opine, argue, dream and participate in cyberspace from the comforts of our computer desks.
The water resources of the Barada basin which sustain the people and agriculture of Damascus have decreased some 25% from their level 5 years ago. Over the past 30 years, the population of Syria has doubled. They are pumping from the deep aquifer which needs thousands of years to replenish itself.
DRY AQUIFERS IN ARAB COUNTRIES AND THE LOOMING FOOD CRISIS
Elie Elhadj, in MERIA, Volume 12, No. 3 – September 2008.
In this article, the inefficient investment that Saudi Arabia and Syria undertook in irrigation and agricultural development in the recent decades and Egypt’s perilous course in hydropolitics will be discussed. …
Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Egypt represent useful case studies to ponder. The three countries demonstrate that in spite of the profound differences among Arab monarchies and republics in types of governance, ideologies, political agendas, natural resources, and climate conditions, they nonetheless share in common national decisionmaking processes that produced financially wasteful and environmentally damaging strategies. These case studies approximate sociopolitical models found in other Arab monarchies and republics…..
The Syrian Government: A Bad Farmer
Unlike Saudi Arabia, agriculture in Syria has for millennia supported large population centers and produced thriving civilizations along rivers and coastal areas. Of Syria’s landmass (185,000 sq. km), 25 percent is arable.
Spending by the Syrian government on irrigation and agricultural development has been substantial but inefficient. Beginning in 1960, the eight five-year plans that followed invested about $20 billion on the agricultural sector (at the official foreign exchange rates of that period). Three-quarters of the investment was made between 1988 and 2000. However, the results have not been brilliant; 550,000 hectares, or 45 percent of the country’s total irrigated surface, were added during this period, of which the government contributed 138,000 hectares and the private sector developed the rest. Ninety percent of the 138,000 hectares (124,000 hectares) was in the salt-affected and drainage-poor Euphrates Basin–gypsum in the soil caused the irrigation networks to collapse. In the Euphrates Basin 43 percent of the land was identified by the World Bank as having drainage problems or potential to develop problems in the future.
The government started in 1968 building the Tabqa Dam on the Euphrates River. Made in the Syrian national discourse as one of the government’s proudest achievements, the Tabqa Dam failed to achieve its targets. The plan was for the dam to increase by 2000 the irrigated surface in the Euphrates Basin by 640,000 hectares. By 2000, only 124,000 hectares, or 19 percent of the target had been achieved.
Land reclamation cost was high, estimated at $25,700 per hectare. At such costs, it would be practically impossible to make a reasonable rate of return on the investment. A 10 percent return translates to $2,570 per hectare, over and above the cost of production.
The Tabqa Dam wastes a huge volume of water to evaporation, estimated at 1.6 billion m3 annually. While this volume could theoretically satisfy the drinking and household water needs of Syria’s 19 million inhabitants, most cities have been suffering severe water shortages for years, including the capital Damascus, which suffers daily water shut-offs during the blazing summer months lasting over fifteen hours.
The loss of water to evaporation is all the more significant in light of Turkey’s 50 percent cut in the flow of the Euphrates River into Syria and Iraq, which resulted from the construction of the huge GAP project in eastern Turkey. Turkey reduced the flow to Syria and Iraq to 500 m3 per second in accordance with a protocol for the distribution of the river’s waters signed on July 17, 1987. Turkey started construction of the Keban Dam in 1966, two years before Tabqa’s start of construction.
The non-financial returns from the government’s emphasis on investment in agriculture were poor as well. Under Syria’s vulnerable economic circumstances and despite the government’s commitment to the welfare of the agricultural sector, the migration from rural communities to urban centers continued. The ratio of rural to total population has declined since 1961, from 63 percent to 48 percent in 2000. Reliance on capricious rainfall was not reduced either. In 1989, wheat production was 1 million tons; in 1995, it jumped to 4.2 million tons; in 1999, it dropped to 2.7 million tons; and in 2007, it increased to 4.5 million tons. Estimates for 2008 are for a harvest of around 2.5 million tons.
Over-extraction of groundwater has deteriorated Syria’s environment seriously. Irrigation extractions beyond the volume of renewable water have led to negative balances in five out the country’s seven basins, thus reducing the quantity and degrading the quality of the remaining water reserves.
Like Saudi Arabia, food independence is impossible for a country like Syria to achieve. Syria’s population of about 19 million requires about 19 billion m3 of water annually to grow its food needs. Yet as the above table shows, Syria can provide only 15 billion m3 from irrigation and rain combined. The gap will get bigger as Syria’s population grows.
The World Bank concluded that Syria’s government “will need to recognize that achieving food security with respect to wheat and other cereals in the short-term as well as the encouragement of water-intensive cotton appear to be undermining Syria’s security over the long-term by depleting available groundwater resources.” Of Syria’s 13 billion m3 in irrigation water use, almost a third (4 billion m3) is used in cotton irrigation. In spite of these difficulties, a Ministry of Irrigation Strategy report revealed Syria’s commitment to increasing the irrigated surface between 2000 and 2020 by 493,000 hectares in five of the country’s seven basins; 181,000 hectares of which in the Euphrates Basin.
Eventually, with continued water over-extraction, irrigated lands will be abandoned, investments written off, and food production halted. Coupled with Syria’s narrow GDP diversification and dearth in foreign currency sources from exports, food imports would become increasingly difficult to afford. Whenever this happens, the negative impact on rural communities and societal order could be shattering.
A country like Syria would be better off beginning to focus its efforts on investment in export industries in order to generate sufficient foreign currencies to buy food in the future instead of continuing to invest in white elephant irrigation schemes.
Lessons from Saudi Arabia and Syria’s Experience
From the above, it may be concluded that money and water can make a desert bloom until either the money or the water runs out. Food self-sufficiency in arid and semi-arid countries like Saudi Arabia and Syria is more of a romantic dream than a reasoned strategy. The above table shows that slogans and political economics aside, food self-sufficiency in Arab countries is impossible to attain or sustain. Growing populations and insufficient water resources make such a strategy unrealistic…..
Robert Fisk: The rotten state of Egypt is too powerless and corrupt to act
Thursday, 1 January 2009
President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt a country where ‘the idea of service has simply ceased to exist’
There was a day when we worried about the “Arab masses” – the millions of “ordinary” Arabs on the streets of Cairo, Kuwait, Amman, Beirut – and their reaction to the constant bloodbaths in the Middle East. Could Anwar Sadat restrain the anger of his people? And now – after three decades of Hosni Mubarak – can Mubarak (or “La Vache Qui Rit”, as he is still called in Cairo) restrain the anger of his people? The answer, of course, is that Egyptians and Kuwaitis and Jordanians will be allowed to shout in the streets of their capitals – but then they will be shut down, with the help of the tens of thousands of secret policemen and government militiamen who serve the princes and kings and elderly rulers of the Arab world.
Egyptians demand that Mubarak open the Rafah crossing-point into Gaza, break off diplomatic relations with Israel, even send weapons to Hamas. And there is a kind of perverse beauty in listening to the response of the Egyptian government: why not complain about the three gates which the Israelis refuse to open? And anyway, the Rafah crossing-point is politically controlled by the four powers that produced the “road map” for peace, including Britain and the US. Why blame Mubarak?
To admit that Egypt can’t even open its sovereign border without permission from Washington tells you all you need to know about the powerlessness of the satraps that run the Middle East for us.
Open the Rafah gate – or break off relations with Israel – and Egypt’s economic foundations crumble. Any Arab leader who took that kind of step will find that the West’s economic and military support is withdrawn. Without subventions, Egypt is bankrupt. Of course, it works both ways. Individual Arab leaders are no longer going to make emotional gestures for anyone. When Sadat flew to Jerusalem – “I am tired of the dwarves,” he said of his fellow Arab leaders – he paid the price with his own blood at the Cairo reviewing-stand where one of his own soldiers called him a “Pharaoh” before shooting him dead.
The true disgrace of Egypt, however, is not in its response to the slaughter in Gaza. It is the corruption that has become embedded in an Egyptian society where the idea of service – health, education, genuine security for ordinary people – has simply ceased to exist. It’s a land where the first duty of the police is to protect the regime, where protesters are beaten up by the security police, where young women objecting to Mubarak’s endless regime – likely to be passed on caliph-like to his son Gamal, whatever we may be told – are sexually molested by plain-clothes agents, where prisoners in the Tora-Tora complex are forced to rape each other by their guards.
There has developed in Egypt a kind of religious facade in which the meaning of Islam has become effaced by its physical representation. Egyptian civil “servants” and government officials are often scrupulous in their religious observances – yet they tolerate and connive in rigged elections, violations of the law and prison torture. A young American doctor described to me recently how in a Cairo hospital busy doctors merely blocked doors with plastic chairs to prevent access to patients. In November, the Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry al-Youm reported how doctors abandoned their patients to attend prayers during Ramadan.
And amid all this, Egyptians have to live amid daily slaughter by their own shabby infrastructure. Alaa al-Aswani wrote eloquently in the Cairo paper Al-Dastour that the regime’s “martyrs” outnumber all the dead of Egypt’s wars against Israel – victims of railway accidents, ferry sinkings, the collapse of city buildings, sickness, cancers and pesticide poisonings – all victims, as Aswani says, “of the corruption and abuse of power”. Opening the Rafah border-crossing for wounded Palestinians – the Palestinian medical staff being pushed back into their Gaza prison once the bloodied survivors of air raids have been dumped on Egyptian territory – is not going to change the midden in which Egyptians themselves live.
Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, the Hizbollah secretary general in Lebanon, felt able to call on Egyptians to “rise in their millions” to open the border with Gaza, but they will not do so. Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the feeble Egyptian Foreign Minister, could only taunt the Hizbollah leaders by accusing them of trying to provoke “an anarchy similar to the one they created in their own country.”
But he is well-protected. So is President Mubarak.
Egypt’s malaise is in many ways as dark as that of the Palestinians. Its impotence in the face of Gaza’s suffering is a symbol of its own political sickness.
Syria sticks by Hamas but still seeks peace with Israel
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Dec 31, 2008
DAMASCUS (Reuters) – Syria does not want to put pressure on Hamas in its conflict with Israel, diplomats said on Wednesday, although the Israeli assault on Gaza has harmed prospects for a Syrian-Israeli peace deal.
“Everyone wants this to end. The question is, how? Egypt and Saudi Arabia want Hamas to stop firing rockets, but given the ferocity of the Israeli response Syria will not be party to any solution that punishes Hamas,” one of the diplomats said in the Syrian capital.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad set out his viewpoint at talks this week with U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, a staunchly pro-Israeli republican law maker who regularly visits Damascus, where Hamas’s exiled leaders are based.
A source familiar with the meeting said Assad told Specter Israel’s offensive jeopardized the chances of peace in the long run. The way to deal with Hamas, Assad told Specter, was to stop asking Syria to pressure the group and push for a just peace between Israel and the Palestinians, the source said….
Another European diplomat said championing Arab resistance served Syria well. “The Syrians see Arab governments like Egypt as getting undermined as a result of this, not them,” the diplomat said.
Syria has said the Israeli attacks have ruled out a resumption of indirect talks with Israel any time soon, although Specter said after meeting Assad that the Syrian president was still interested in pursuing peace with Israel….
Syrian officials have dismissed Israeli demands to cut support for Hamas and Lebanon’s Shi’ite movement Hezbollah and distance itself from Iran as a pre-requisite for peace.
But they say Syria’s external posture could change if a deal with Israel was achieved. …
Behind closed doors, U.S. seeks Israel exit strategy
By Paul Richter
Washington is worried that a prolonged campaign in the Gaza Strip could bolster the Palestinian Hamas movement. It wants Israel to set a timetable.
Regional impact of the war on Gaza, 01 Jan,
Gaza attack strengthens Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood By Joseph Mayton, The Media Line, January 1, 2008 Rarely do Egyptian demonstrations see thousands of people take to the streets. But, put together anti-Israeli and anti-government sentiments spearheaded by the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, and the result is the country’s largest street action since the first anniversary of the American invasion […]
Moderate Arab States Feel Popular Anger By ROBERT F. WORTH
….The polarization appears to have ended a thaw that had taken place in the past year, Mr. Masri said. Syria had been reaching out to the West and holding indirect peace talks with Israel. Lebanon’s political factions had reached a peace deal. Syria and Saudi Arabia had made gestures toward resolving their feud. ….
Revive la resistance
By Nathan Field, January 02. 2009
To its detractors, Egypt’s government appears to be working with the US and Israel against the Palestinians. Israel’s assault on Gaza may cripple Hamas, but it will embolden those in Arab politics who would rather fight than talk….. In Egypt, huge protests have erupted with an intensity not seen in recent years.
But Israel’s air strikes, taking Hamas as their putative target, have highlighted a rift in the Arab world that has been evident since Hamas defeated Fatah in the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections…..
Israel’s siege has two fundamental goals. One is to ensure that the Palestinians there are seen merely as a humanitarian problem, beggars who have no political identity and therefore can have no political claims. The second is to foist Gaza onto Egypt. That is why the Israelis tolerate the hundreds of tunnels between Gaza and Egypt around which an informal but increasingly regulated commercial sector has begun to form. The overwhelming majority of Gazans are impoverished and officially 49.1 per cent are unemployed. In fact the prospect of steady employment is rapidly disappearing for the majority of the population.