28east

Politics, religion, and culture where East meets West

Posts Tagged ‘Arab Spring

Turkey has “direct” responsibility for Syrian crisis

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Embattled Assad says he needs time to ‘win’ war of attrition
Today’s Zaman; August 29th, 2012

“What is taking place (in Syria) is neither a revolution, nor a spring. It is a conspiracy,” he said, alluding to the Arab Spring revolutions that have topped authoritarian regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.

Assad paid tribute to his supporters at home, saying they stood steadfastly behind him, and also praised the armed forces.

But he criticized the leaders of onetime ally Turkey.

“The state of Turkey bears direct responsibility for the blood being shed in Syria.”

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Written by M. James

August 30, 2012 at 3:20 am

All aboard in Syria

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We have seen the term “civil war” slowly gain more currency in reference to the deteriorating Syrian uprising—how about “proxy war?”

Syrian army being aided by Iranian forces
Saeed Kamali Dehghan; The Guardian; May 28th, 2012

A senior commander in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards has admitted that Iranian forces are operating in Syria in support of Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Ismail Gha’ani, the deputy head of Iran’s Quds force, the arm of the Revolutionary Guards tasked with overseas operations, said in an interview with the semi-official Isna news agency: “If the Islamic republic was not present in Syria, the massacre of people would have happened on a much larger scale.”

“This is the first time that an IRGC senior officer has admitted that the Quds force is operating in Syria,” said Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-Israeli Middle East expert.

Read more.

Written by M. James

May 28, 2012 at 10:11 pm

Posted in News, Politics

Tagged with , , ,

Kissinger on the Arab Spring

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Realpolitik.

A new doctrine of intervention?
Henry A. Kissinger; The Washington Post; Mar. 30, 2012

Not the least significant aspect of the Arab Spring is the redefinition of heretofore prevalent principles of foreign policy. As the United States is withdrawing from military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan undertaken on the basis (however disputed) of American national security, it is reengaging in several other states in the region (albeit uncertainly) in the name of humanitarian intervention. Will democratic reconstruction replace national interest as the lodestar of Middle East policy? Is democratic reconstruction what the Arab Spring in fact represents?

The evolving consensus is that the United States is morally obliged to align with revolutionary movements in the Middle East as a kind of compensation for Cold War policies — invariably described as “misguided” — in which it cooperated with non-democratic governments in the region for security objectives. Then, it is alleged, supporting fragile governments in the name of international stability generated long-term instability. Even granting that some of those policies were continued beyond their utility, the Cold War structure lasted 30 years and induced decisive strategic transformations, such as Egypt’s abandonment of its alliance with the Soviet Union and the signing of the Camp David accords. The pattern now emerging, if it fails to establish an appropriate relationship to its proclaimed goals, risks being inherently unstable from inception, which could submerge the values it proclaimed.

The Arab Spring is widely presented as a regional, youth-led revolution on behalf of liberal democratic principles. Yet Libya is not ruled by such forces; it hardly continues as a state. Neither is Egypt, whose electoral majority (possibly permanent) is overwhelmingly Islamist. Nor do democrats seem to predominate in the Syrian opposition. The Arab League consensus on Syria is not shaped by countries previously distinguished by the practice or advocacy of democracy. Rather, it largely reflects the millennium-old conflict between Shiite and Sunni and an attempt to reclaim Sunni dominance from a Shiite minority. It is also precisely why so many minority groups, such as Druzes, Kurds and Christians, are uneasy about regime change in Syria. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by M. James

April 6, 2012 at 12:20 am

The beginning of the end in Syria

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Eight days ago, an Arab diplomat—on condition of anonymity—claimed that Saudi Arabia is now sending “military equipment” to the Free Syrian Army via Jordan. I posited that this, an overt statement of support for the Syrian opposition by ethnic Arabs, would catalyze NATO into action. With what could pass as a mandate from an Arab country, NATO is finally justified to intervene on humanitarian grounds.

Today, the U.S. and Turkey made an official announcement, agreeing to provide “nonlethal” assistance to the Syrian opposition. Officially, that means anything short of guns. Practically, that means U.S. intelligence, advice, and telecommunications.

Fully weaponized and coached, only incompetence stands between a united Syrian opposition and regime change in Damascus. But the incompetence and disunity of the Syrian opposition have long been causes for delay—and the U.S. and Turkey haven’t taken any real policy risks by (overt) support in Syria until this announcement.

Which leads us to believe that the only new development, overt Saudi intervention, is the ticket to guaranteed regime change—and is the reason that NATO is finally willing to stick its neck out. With an Arab mandate, an incompetent opposition will be no obstacle. If the Free Syrian Army can’t pull itself together within the next few months; no-fly zones, Turkish buffer zones, and humanitarian war will all—finally—be justified.

Though the form the opposition will take from now on is still impossible to discern, we can expect that this is the beginning of the end of Bashar al-Assad’s Syria.

Written by M. James

March 25, 2012 at 11:11 pm

The Saudi dilemma

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Below is crucial analysis for understanding the ideological difficulties faced by Saudi Salafism (Wahhabism) within the context of the Arab Spring. I urge readers to access this article in its entirety before Stratfor re-erects its paywall.

Saudi Arabia and the Muslim Brotherhood: Unexpected Adversaries
Stratfor; Mar. 5, 2012

The Muslim Brotherhood has factored prominently into nearly every case of Arab unrest. The strength of the MB branches varies greatly from country to country, but even after decades of political repression, the MB and its affiliates have been able to maintain the largest and most organized civil society networks. When power vacuums are created in autocratic states, the MB networks are typically best positioned to convert public support for their social services into votes. This dynamic was most clearly illustrated in Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing emerged as the single-largest party in the parliament. More liberal incarnations of the MB in Tunisia and Morocco also made significant political gains in 2011.

The unrest in Syria represents yet another complication for the Saudi regime. Saudi Arabia is certainly enticed by the prospect of undercutting Iran’s leverage in the Levant, but it also cannot ignore the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood as a powerful force in the opposition movement. The Sunni armed resistance operating under the label of the Free Syrian Army takes care to publicly distance itself from any Islamist ideology in the hopes of attracting Western support, but local anecdotes and the limited polling that has been done by journalists embedded among Sunni protesters has so far revealed strong support for the MB should the political struggle come to a vote.

Saudi Arabia is thus caught between a geopolitical imperative to contain Iran and a domestic strategic imperative to contain Islamism as a political force. This dilemma has put Saudi Arabia directly at odds with Turkey, the rising regional counterweight to Iran and Saudi Arabia’s co-collaborator in backing the Syrian Sunni opposition against the al Assad regime. Turkey’s own liberal Islamism, shaped by Sufi Islamic culture, Ottoman religious values and Kemalist secularism, is distinct from the MB’s conservative model of Arab Islamism and allows far more room for secularist practices, but the two strands share a basic ideological principle in using Islam as a path toward governance. Whereas Turkey is actively trying to mold the MB in Syria according to its own moderate Islamist vision, Saudi Arabia would like nothing more than to see the MB marginalized in the Syrian opposition.

Written by M. James

March 5, 2012 at 8:39 pm

Arab Spring: Democracy against dictatorship?

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Some statistics, trustworthy or not, that confirm fears of ambivalence toward democracy among Libyans—and others:

What if the ‘people’ don’t want democracy?
Sarmila Bose; Al-Jazeera; Feb. 20, 2012

A survey has revealed that the people of Libya may not be keen on democracy after all. The “Arab Spring” has been celebrated in the Western world as a struggle of democracy against dictatorship. Often the implicit assumption was that what the revolutionaries who were trying to overthrow their authoritarian regimes wanted was a Western-style parliamentary democracy. So when only 15 per cent of those surveyed in Libya say they want democracy established in a year, compared with 40 per cent who profess a preference for a “strong leader”, it’s a bit of a let-down for Western cheerleaders of the upheavals in the Arab world. Moreover, apparently only about a third of those polled wanted democracy even in five years’ time.

Most crucial are the figures for those described as “weak democrats” – respondents who expressed support for democracy, but did not reject various non-democratic forms of government. On average in the five South Asian countries [India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka], 52 per cent of respondents were “weak democrats”, indicating a worryingly high proportion of ambivalence about democracy, as these are people who could go either way at any crucial moment of decision about regime type. Even in India, 43 per cent of respondents fell in the “weak democrats” category, not that far off from Pakistan, where the proportion was 49 per cent.

Libya’s recent history is very different from the diverse political experience of South Asia, and Libyans being asked about their political preferences have emerged from a long spell of dictatorship with no direct experience of electoral politics. It is true that they do not know “how democracy works”, but what is interesting is that their ambivalence and inconsistent responses to democracy is shared by many others who do know “how democracy works”, or, indeed, how it doesn’t.

Written by M. James

February 20, 2012 at 11:37 am

Posted in Culture, Politics

Tagged with , ,

Iskandar on Turkey, Bahrain

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Though the following article is nothing spectacular, it haphazardly touches on some worthwhile points. First, there’s the pressure on Turkey to intervene in Syria, which I noted in a prior post (“Taşpınar prods Turkey”). Second, there’s the assertion that secularism—rather than democracy—is the reason the Turkish model is incompatible with Arab states. Finally, there’s the criticism of Al-Jazeera for not covering the protests in Bahrain—a valid criticism that AJE has apparently taken note of (I, II, III).

Turkey pushed over Syria
İpek Yezdani; Hürriyet; Feb. 20, 2012

Adel Iskandar, an Arab media scholar, says it is in the interest of a lot of countries to push Turkey to intervene in Syrian crisis, which rocks the country for nearly 1 year, a move that could be injurious to Turkey

Turkey is in a very difficult situation vis-à-vis Syria since many Western countries are pushing it to intervene in its southern neighbor, a prominent Arab media scholar has said, adding that such an attack would not benefit Ankara.

“A lot of countries are refraining from getting involved in Syria militarily, and it is in the interest of a lot of countries to push Turkey to intervene Syria. But the reality is, is that it might not be in Turkey’s best interest,” Adel Iskandar, a lecturer at Georgetown University, recently told the Hürriyet Daily News.

“The Syria case is a true tragedy in every sense of the term because the Syrian people are caught between two unfavorable situations: On one side, there is the authoritarian, bloody-minded regime of Bashar al-Assad and, on the other, there is the threat of foreign intervention which they don’t trust but they might need out of necessity,” Iskander told the Daily News on the sidelines of a conference he gave at Istanbul’s Bilgi University.

A military intervention against Syria would not be “as easy as Libya,” he said. “Al-Assad still has some supporters. They will fight to the last minute. And this would lead to a full-fledged war between Syrians themselves. Turkey finds itself at the center of all of this. An attempt to stabilize Syria might destabilize Syria more.”

Turkish model unique

Iskandar also noted the importance of differences between Turkey and the Arab Spring countries.
“Holding up Turkey as an example to the Arab world is an oversimplification and not useful to anyone,” Iskandar said.

“The Turkish experiment is extremely unique, and its long history starts with the post-Ottoman area and [Mustafa Kemal] Atatürk. Each country has to devise its own way toward democracy. [The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)] is not the Muslim Brotherhood or the Salafis. And you are not going to be able to turn the Muslim Brotherhood or the Salafis into the AK Party in one night,” Iskandar said.

Iskandar said holding up Turkey as a model for the Arab Spring countries honored neither the Arab world nor Turkey. “Turkey is not an entirely Middle Eastern country. It is a cosmopolitan nation, it has its own particularities. And these particularities are completely different from Libya, for instance,” Iskandar said.
Iskandar drew attention to the fact that the “Turkish model is framed on the notion that secularism is an important part of the state structure.”

“However, the majority of the Arab world doesn’t have secularism in politics. Even [toppled Egyptian leader] Hosni Mubarak was not secular. The term ‘secular’ in the Arab world is considered an extremely negative term. You can’t call yourself ‘secular’ in the Arab world. Besides, people want religion to be a part of politics. It is in the opposite direction to Turkey’s state traditions. It has to be seen through a historical lens,” Iskandar said.

‘Al-Jazeera neglected Bahrain completely’

Iskandar, who has written one of the most prominent books on Qatar’s Al-Jazeera news network, also discussed how the channel has covered the ongoing Arab Spring.

“To a large extent, Al-Jazeera did the job they should be doing by covering the story that unfolded. At the end of the day, Al-Jazeera has made its bread and butter from political protests. So it was natural for Al-Jazeera to cover the protests,” he said.

However, Iskandar said there were some uprisings that the channel had completely neglected.

“Like in Bahrain. [In terms of the] percentage of the protestors, the Bahraini movement is the largest movement in the Arab Spring. However, the saddest situation is that while the Bahraini and Syrian revolts started at the same time of the year; one year after that Syrian is getting 99 percent of the coverage while Bahrain is only getting 0.01 percent of the coverage. This is going to hurt the network and its credibility in the eyes of the public,” Iskandar said.

Written by M. James

February 20, 2012 at 1:32 am