Egypt: Bloody End To Democracy

By Ian Howarthbloody pyramid

The events that have been unfolding in Egypt over the last 24 hours have only added to the evidence that the 3rd July coup was in fact nothing more than a counter-revolutionary move by the Conservative old guard.  The removal from power of Hozni Murbarak in 2011 also saw the removal of the army from power in Egypt.  The election of Mohamed Morsi last year marked the first time since 1952 that a General had not been the Head of State.

On July 3rd the army took back what it believes is its own and not the birth-right of every Egyptian. The seizure of power led by General Abdul Fatah al-Sisi was the first step in re-establishing the armies’ brutal grip on the nation.  However, it has encountered far more opposition than it expected and in order to achieve its objectives has had to resort to extreme violence against the Muslim Brotherhood civilian protesters.

While it is true to say that Egypt is a country divided, it is the very fact that it is divided that makes this violent oppression of the Muslim Brotherhood so apaulling.  President Morsi was the democratically elected president of Egypt.  This is a point that we must not forget.  The constitutionally elected President of Egypt was removed from power in a military coup. The early hopes expressed by many that this coup was aimed at restoring a measure of secular balance to the states institutions have evaporated in the light of the use of deadly force against unarmed protesters. The violent suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood is the default position for the Egyptian military, who have spent the past five decades harassing, torturing and imprisoning its members.

The Army is seeking one thing and one thing only, the return of the powers and privileges that it enjoyed under the Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak regimes.  It will use any means necessary at securing these privileges and will crush any opposition.  General Abdul Fatah al-Sisi the leader of the coup is a virtual Murbarak clone, having completed the General Command and Staff Course at Aldershot in the UK, and the War Course at the US Army War College he is a product of the conflicted relationships that lie between western capitals and their declared desire to see a democratic Egypt.

The shockingly slow response of the US State Department and many other Western Powers in condemning the coup back in July demonstrates this hypocrisy. US interests are far better served by a compliant military dictatorship than a turbulent new democracy with an Islamist President.  The United States is the only foreign player that matters, and probably the only force left that could turn the tide back in favour of Democratic government in Egypt.  The US military grant to the Egyptian Army is worth $1.3 billion a year.  How can the leader of the free world continue to fund a military that murders its own people, will the cold interests of the US in the middle east trump the chance for a democratic future for Egypt.  The events of the past two months seem to suggest that the Obama Administration has no interest at all in saving Egyptian democracy, as such the violence will continue and Egyptian society will be subdued and silenced once again.

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US Foreign Policy and Israel

By Ian Howarth

The United Sates has to play a difficult balancing act with its policy in the Middle East, on the one hand it supports the state of Israel and guarantee’s its national integrity, and on the other is its reliance on Oil, and Arab demands for action on the question of Palestine.  This balancing act has over the decades since Israeli independence not always been successful, with the USA at times finding itself forced by Israeli unilateral actions into opposing Arab states and suffering economic catastrophes as a result.  The nature of the complex relationship between the State of Israel and the United States can be examined through four key issues that present US policy-makers with significant obstacles when trying to influence Israeli policy.President Barack Obama meets Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the United Nations in New York

1, American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)

2, Congress and American Politics

3, US Financial and Military Aid

4, Democracy and Shared Values

The American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC):

There has been much written and discussed about the power and influence of what is sometimes called the ‘Jewish Lobby’ in Washington and as such its role in formulating US policy towards Israel.  Despite the numerically small number of Jewish Americans (although the 6 million living in the United Sates is the largest population outside of Israel, with the largest concentration in New York) AIPAC has been very successful in lobbying the United States Congress and in maintaining a strong level of support for the State of Israel amongst the American public.

The question of Israeli-Arab relations becomes a key debate in almost all electoral processes within the United States, with candidates that present positions contrary to those of AIPAC receiving strong condemnation and ridicule in the press, as well as suffering from difficulties in raising the all-important cash that keeps the US political system ticking.

In every American presidential election campaign since 1948 all the major candidates seeking nominations from both the Republican and the Democratic Parties have stated that they are true friends of the Jewish people and would be staunch allies of Israel in office.  In return for the favourable positions taken by US Presidents towards Israel, AIPAC donates vast quantities of money to their campaigns, and to ensure a guaranteed pro-Israeli president it backs both horses in the race ensuring itself a voice in the next administration.

AIPAC has been and remains the most powerful of Washington lobby groups, guaranteeing positions for its supporters within the key cabinet departments with direct policy control over Middle Eastern affairs.  Despite the obviously sinister undertones of the concepts of powerful back room lobbies forcing policy decisions on the back of a cheque book, AIPAC is not an illegal organisation, nor does it act illegally but works entirely within the tenets of the American political system.

The key difference between itself and all the other lobby groups is that it has been so successful, and more importantly its successes lie in a distinct and controversial area of American policy with the rest of the world.  Whereas the energy and tobacco lobbies have less of a public profile, yet have in their own measure the same types of influence on the Oval Office in their policy areas.  AIPAC has maintained itself in a strong position within American politics by remaining consistent, and outside of issues of domestic controversy, focusing its efforts on maintaining the worlds superpower as Israel’s friend. It hasn’t mistakenly aligned itself to one candidate over another and as such lost influence in an unfavourable outcome.  It constantly bombards American public opinion with pro –Israeli positions, and gains the endorsement of almost all major American politicians whether they are Republican or Democrat, and flirts with celebrity and Hollywood, fashion and academia, all of which in effect has meant that Israel as a concept has become as American as Apple Pie.

Congress and American Politics:

It is the Senate that holds the keys to American foreign policy, any treaty the President signs on behalf of the United States must be endorsed by the US Senate, if not the treaty is null and void, e.g. Kyoto, and the League of Nations.  The Senate with the House of Representatives hold sway over almost every aspect of US domestic policy, and any presidential initiative on health, social welfare or education must pass the House of Representatives, and any appointments to the Presidential Cabinet, the Joint Chief’s, and the Supreme Court must pass Senate Committee Approval.

The United States system of government is premised on the ‘Balance of Power’ so that effectively no one person can do anything without the support of significant factions within each and every stage of the American government.   Therefore if an American President were to announce a radical change in direction regarding US policy towards Israel, it would require majorities in all the key positions of power within the United States.

Furthermore the biggest stick with which the President could beat an Israeli Government into touch with, is in fact not under his direct control, but that of Congress. The ‘$5 billion’ (Said 1995: XXIV) a year in loans and armaments that the United States grants the Israeli government at such favourable rates that they almost meet the criteria of grants.  Therefore the composition of the Congress is essential in setting US policy in the Middle East, and as such AIPAC is at its most effective in this arena, supporting almost every candidate to the House and the Senate, and opposing those who they don’t.  This has meant that there has been a pro-Israeli majority in both Houses since Israel’s independence.

AIPAC can therefore ensure that if the Presidency were to take what they would deem to be an anti-Israeli position they could pull the financial strings in congress and disrupt the full spectrum of presidential initiatives currently in the House, meaning that the AIPAC could in effect bring down for example a new Health Bill if the White House was unresponsive to its position.  This is really hardball politics, and although it seems underhanded it’s how all politics is effectively done in America.  It is therefore arguable that the American system of government is systemically adverse to major policy changes, or reforms, as the majorities required to bring about such change are so large.

US Financial and Military Aid:

The amount of financial assistance the United States provides Israel with both financially and militarily is significant, amounting to around ‘$5 billion dollars a year’. (Said 1995: XXIV)  The terms of this assistance are such that it is effectively a grant, with no set repayment schedule, and no tough enforcement of interest re-payments, with Israel having the latitude to defer payments on its loans for as long as it deems necessary in the name of national security.  Aside from this yearly dose of cash Israel also benefits from effectively being a military outpost of the United States in time of conflict.  For example during the Yom Kippur War (October 1973), the United States under US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s direction ‘moved the carrier USS Independence and three destroyers to within 500 miles of the Israeli coast’ (Paterson & Merrill 1982: 682) in order to provide air defence should Israel come under attack. 

Furthermore during the same conflict while Kissinger directed the United States within the United Nations to push for a cease-fire, with itself as the mediator negotiating with Egypt, it conducted a secret re-enforcement of Israeli forces, with American tanks, planes, and sophisticated weapons.  The ‘US Congress passed emergency legislation that provided Israel with $2.2 billion dollars to pay for these weapons’ (Paterson & Merrill 1989: 683).  This amount marked a watershed in US-Israeli relations in both terms of cash amount, and the qualitative cost of the new weapons with the ‘Pentagon estimating that $850 million’ (Paterson & Merrill 1989: 683) was sufficient to cover the cost of the weapons.  ‘Spokesmen for the [Nixon] administration were unable to tell Congress exactly how $1 billion of the total $2.2 billion would be used, though Congress, in its zeal to demonstrate support for Israel, was apparently not disturbed by this lack of information.  Moreover $1.5 billion of the total $2.2. billion was to be an outright grant, entailing no repayment.  Kissinger is said to have argued for even more-at $3 billion and all in outright grants…’ (Patterson & Merril1989: 683)

The financial and military assistance provided by the United States is therefore a major consideration in any discussion amongst American foreign policy makers as it provides the potential for enormous leverage over Israeli policy. While at the same time it equally ties the United States to the fundamentals of maintaining Israel’s security.

Democracy and Shared Values:

Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and in many American eyes that is all that counts when it comes to dictating US support for Israel. Although in essence this is true, Israel is not a Liberal Democracy.  Arab Israelis live in a form of political segregation with limitations on their rights of representation, as a result of Zionist fears of Arabs seizing the state from within.  There is a total lack of Palestinian representation within the Israeli political system; this is despite its forty six year occupation of the Palestinian territories.  Israel has made no attempt to integrate any part of Palestinian society with its own, preferring to force Palestinians off their land replacing them with Israeli settlers as a means of integrating the West Bank and Gaza into Israel proper.

The position Israel holds as the closest thing to a democracy in the region has been an essential factor in US relations with Israel, even when US Presidents have taken a harsher tone with Israel in the end they are forced by the stark conflict between Arab absolutism and terrorism and Israeli democracy.  America after all is the land of the free, and the leader of the free world, and to take a position that failed to recognise the legitimacy of the Israeli states democracy in the face of the Arab world’s monarchs and dictators would be to invite a domestic political crisis.

Ultimately Israel has benefited far more than the USA in this relationship, the ties that bind the USA to Israel are so great that it is inconceivable for a US President to force an Israeli Prime-Minister into a position that they don’t support.  This is despite the fact that Israel’s national security is wholly dependent on the financial and military aid and guarantees of the United States.

This statement is proven in my opinion by Israel’s pre-emptive actions against Lebanon, Iraq, and in the 1968 War, when Israel pre-emptively attacked Egypt, and Syria, seizing the Sinai, and the Golan Heights with limited prior consultation with the USA. This action despite the US’s objection to the policy was ultimately fully endorsed by the United States, who provided critical international diplomatic cover in the UN Security Council.  It was the use of the United States’ veto at the Security Council that gave Israel the necessary time to encircle the Egyptian Third Army in the Sinai, before the enforcement of the cease fire.

In fact the Israeli army continued with hostilities against the Egyptians for forty-eight hours after the cease fire came into force.  This action was completed covertly under the cover of Secretary of State Kissinger’s claim that the Israeli forces were merely taking up defensive positions, when in fact they were securing the complete encirclement of the Third Army, an action led by Ariel Sharon as a senior Israeli tank commander, Sharon wanted to annihilate the 3rd Army.  However Kissinger managed to bring about his only piece of decisive intervention in the Israeli plans by persuading Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir that such an action would cripple Nasser’s military regime and lead to the collapse of Egypt into civil strife.  This would have created a situation that would be highly hazardous on Israel’s borders, and ultimately prevent Israel’s ambition of a negotiated peace with Egypt, that recognised the state of Israel, and fractured the Arab alliance set against them.  This US involvement on the side of Israel in the 1968 War was to its strategic disadvantage leading to the first OPEC Oil embargo, and a worldwide economic recession.  Israel on the other hand secured the military defeat of Egypt and Syria, and made substantial territorial gains.

Case Study: The Oslo Peace Process 1993 – 2000

The Oslo Peace process is in my opinion the best example of the difficulties faced by the United States in influencing Israeli policy in the Middle East and in particular in effecting a just settlement for the Palestinian people.  President Clinton was at first not a particularly promising prospect for the world when it came to American involvement in international affairs.  One of his very first actions as President was a unilateral US withdrawal from Somalia, an action that left the country in an arguably worst state than that which the action had aimed to remedy.  There was also dithering over Bosnia, Rwanda and Haiti. Therefore when months of secret negotiations between two Israeli academics and members of the PLO were revealed and given US support in 1993, and the land for peace agenda was agreed by Arafat, and Rabin in the signing of the accord in the Rose Garden before the worlds press, with ‘that’ handshake, it was something of a dramatic breakthrough in American Israeli relations, with America apparently actively pushing Israeli into finding a peaceful solution to the Palestinian question.

However this was from the start a farce, Oslo took ‘the peace steam-roller… [Into]… a new, and much more destructive phase.  Far from bringing peace, it brought greater suffering for Palestinians, and assured harm to the long term interests of the Israelis as a people.’ (Said 1995: 146-147)   The entire proposition of the Oslo peace process that of land for peace was flawed in its inception; the land that Israel wished to trade with the PLO was not it’s to trade.  In essence for Israel to trade the land required the tacit acceptance of the Palestinians and the PLO of the Occupation, a condition that has never been conceded by any national liberation movement to a military occupation.

This is effectively what occurred with the signing of the Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles on the White House Lawn on that September afternoon, it was the first steps in the creation of what Christopher Hutchens in his foreword to Edward Said’s book ‘Peace and Its Discontents’ refers to as a ‘refugee state’, wholly dependent on Israel for security and access to world trade. Palestine was not to become a state for the Palestinians, its fractured borders, potted with Israeli settlements, it would be a decapitated territory joined together by a narrow ‘international road’ linking the Gaza strip with what’s left of the West Bank.  This would have created an unsustainable political entity crippled by economic weakness, lacking any sense of unified identity, and ultimately unable to act as a sovereign power in the defining areas of defence and security with the Israeli Defence Force being the only military entity allowed to operate within the area. This was not a Palestinian State, it was a humiliation and ultimately was destined to only increase the sense of hopelessness and bloodshed, and Oslo in its deceit was the foundation stone of the second intifada, and the eventual rise of Hamas to power in the Gaza Strip.

Oslo was about the ambitions of two men, Rabin and his dream of secure Israeli borders with the subjugation of Palestinian and Arab hostility through a botched and uneven peace, and Arafat a man who cared more about being called Mr President than the suffering of his own people.  This was only compounded by the grand standing ambitions of America’s first diplomat.  Clinton saw Oslo as a route out of the Israeli-Palestinian quagmire that could be accepted by Arab States.  The goal being  Arab Oil, by removing the instability the Palestinian issue provided within Americas strategic and contradictory interests within the region, that of Israel’s guarantor and Americas reliance on Arab Oil.

The reason why I have highlighted Oslo as an example of Israeli influence over US policy rather than vice versa, is that the simple solution to Americas contradictory positions within the region is the pro-active engagement with Israel on the status of the ‘occupied territories’ from the position of UN Resolutions 242, and 337 ‘which state that no state can hold on to territory taken by force’, such an approach would secure Arab Oil, yet maintain Israeli security.  However it would not fulfil Zionist territorial ambition and the desire amongst some sectors of Israel’s political establishment to see the Palestinians utterly defeated before any peace, as if 46 years of occupation hasn’t been enough.

However the United States shunted the UN aside and began negotiations from the basis of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as Israeli property with which to negotiate and to also negotiate the existence of Israeli settlements, vast hilltop fortresses that occupy strategic advantages, and dominate the land around, no state could countenance such a situation.  Yet Arafat in his own self-obsessed egotism signed away a key position in 1993, a position set out in ‘The Palestinian National Covenant’ (1968) ‘The Palestinian Arab people possesses the legal right to its homeland, and when the liberation of its homeland is complete it will exercise self-determination solely according to its own will and choice.’ (Paterson & Merrill 1989: 641)   Two equal states with mutual respect for each other, was about to be sacrificed for what the Zionists have determined to be the most achievable outcome of a Greater Israel and a dependent gutted and broken Palestine.

The failure of the Camp David talks in 2000 have often been described as the result of Yasser Arafat’s intractability, however in the context of what I have just described his failure to reach agreement with prime minister Barak was due to his realisation that the peace process was no longer washing with his public, he sensed the coming storm and decided not to be at sea when it came.  The rapid descent into violence and it’s ferocity as well as actions taken by the right wing anti-agreement parties within Israel suggest that organisations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad were already planning their response to Israel and Americas ‘best offer for peace’ some time before that doomed meeting in the woods of Maryland.

Arafat realised far too late that his bid for power was about to be revealed as just that, and that the sham of a state he was about to agree too wouldn’t last such a revelation, furthermore he also realised that if he tried to pull it off it would be the end of him politically, and would probably cost him his life.  Therefore ever the pragmatist he changed streams and retreated to his bombed out headquarters leading the battle for Palestinian liberation, as though the 1990’s never happened and he had simply moved the venue from Beirut to Ramallah.

The power of Israel over the policies of the United States can be overstated, Israel does not dictate US relations with Europe, nor have a veto on US economic concerns in the Middle East, but when it comes to a choice between Israel and the Arabs, the United States will always choose Israel.  This is not because she is consciously biased or because of some sinister anti-Arab plot, but for a number of reasons, the political structure of America being one, and also because Israel is in many ways a child of America, and the only banner of American style values in the region.  As long as this is true and as long as it is plausible that an Arab army will threaten Israel the United States will continue to defend Israeli interests in the Middle East.

Bibliography:

Hyland, William G. (1999) ‘Clintons World; Remaking American Foreign Policy’ Hyland, Westport Connecticut, USA, chp12, p156-158

Paterson, Thomas G. Merrill, Dennis. (1989) ‘Major Problems in American Foreign Relations, Volume II: Since 1914’ (4th Edt.) Heath, Lexington Missouri, p641,642,643,644,682,683

Said, Edward W. (1995) ‘Peace & Its Discontents; Gaza – Jericho 1993 – 1995’ Vintage, London, pXVI-XVII & p144,145,146

Egypt Meet Your New Boss, Same as the Old Dictator

By Ian Howarth

Yesterday I asked whether what we were witnessing in Egypt was a democratic coup or a return of the old guard.  The removal of Egypt’s first democratically elected president in a military coup was clearly an anti-democratic action, but it could have possibly led to a more plural political settlement within an equally democratic structure.EGYPT-POLITICS-UNREST-ARMY

The events of today seem to suggest that this hoped for good outcome from a bad action is drifting further and further away.  The activities and statements of the new government in Cairo seem much more to be aimed at the reestablishment of the old order in Egypt.  The imposition of press controls, the arrest of hundreds of senior Muslim Brotherhood members and the talk of the need for a democratic process that

Egypt has been ruled by the military through sham democratic processes for most of its modern history.   Abdul Nasser, Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak were all military dictators who hung up their uniforms and called themselves President so as to cloth themselves in constitutional legitimacy.  Mohamed Morsi for all his failings as a politician was freely and fairly elected the President of Egypt.  His presidency reflected the true will of the people.  However much he may have lost popular support, tanks should never be used to bring about change in a democratic system.  If the military government in Egypt seeks to manage an election so that only candidates to its own liking are allowed to contest the presidency then Egypt will no longer be a democracy.  It would be no different in its basic operation to the process of vetting presidential candidates in the Iranian electoral process by the Assembly of Experts headed by the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.reflects the ‘true will of the people’, all seem to point to the creation of a military controlled sham democracy. Adly Mansour who was until this morning the President of the Supreme Court was sworn in today as the interim president.  His rise to power has been rapid, having only been appointed to the Supreme Court in May.  This attempt at constitutionality seems to be little more than an attempt at legitimising a military coup. I would imagine that the vast majority of the real decisions in Egypt tonight continue to be made in the Defence Ministry and not the Presidential Palace.

While ‘managed democracy’ as it is sometimes called by the cronies that benefit from this corrupt system may offer a more stable Egypt; this will be stability bought at the cost of freedom through an oppressive, security state.  It was this oppressive system that was overthrown in January 2011.  I sincerely hope that we are not seeing its rebirth today.

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Egypt: Democratic Coup or the Return of the Old Guard?

By Ian Howarth

Today’s military coup d’état in Egypt is not an unexpected development.  Throughout history revolutions have been followed by counter revolutions, and then even counter, counter revolutions.  The removal of Egypt’s first democratically elected president by a military coup is something to mourn.  It does not set the stage for a stable political future, especially if whoever ends up sat in the Presidential Palace has constantly to maintain the army on side to ensure their continued governance. egypt

However, there may be room for hope in today’s events.  Mohamed Morsi had abused his position, and acted on several occasions in an authoritarian manner.  He was not a model of democratic virtue and failed to realise that if you wish to make change in a democracy you need to take the people with you.  His continuing distortion of the political system to the advantage of the Muslim Brotherhood quickly alienated vast sections of the Egyptian electorate from across society.  This is why the crowds gathered on the streets of Cairo over the past four days are by some estimates even greater than those that drove Hosni Mubarak from power just over two years ago.

If the military hold true to their word that there actions were in support of the will of the people and follow through on free, fair and open elections within the next 12 months then we could see the emergence of a liberal and legitimate government.  Morsi won last year’s presidential election with 51.7% of the vote versus 48.3% for the independent liberal candidate Ahmed Shafik.  While in a developed democracy this would be a healthy majority, in a state in revolutionary transition it is not the mandate for unilateral action that Morsi took it for.  Almost half the voting public of Egypt sought a liberal independent President.  The perceived authoritarian and Islamist actions and attitudes taken by President Morsi in the short time of his presidency assured that this block of voters were not won over to his cause.  While at the same time a significant number of people who may have reluctantly voted for him also lost faith.

The greatest danger in today’s actions for Egypt is the return of the military to power.  The unconstitutional actions taken by the military threaten all future civilian leaders of the country.  It is possible that the ancient regime overthrown in 2011 could be in the process of re-establishing itself.  We should not forget that Hosni Mubarak rose to power through the military and that the state he ruled was effectively a military dictatorship.  The removal of Mubarak and then the election of a civilian president with no ties to the military saw a severe reduction in its authority and power.  It is just possible that the actions by the generals today were much more about reasserting their perceived traditional power within Egyptian politics and much less about supporting a popular uprising against an unpopular president.

We can all only hope that despite the undemocratic and illegitimate actions of today that democracy may yet be given another chance to flourish in Egypt.  One thing that is certain is that Egypt remains a highly volatile and unstable state in the process of revolutionary change.  It is likely that there will be many more twists and turns to this story before Egypt’s democratic future can be assured

Peace and Stability in the Middle East and North Africa and the Internal Challenges Facing the Region

By Ian Howarth

The region that makes up the Middle East and North African is one of the most politically and strategically sensitive in the world.  The reasons for this geopolitical sensitivity are broad and many.  Firstly the regions vast oil reserves and the vital trade route through the Suez Canal gives it a distinct importance in foreign policy calculations.  The recent and continuing effects of the ‘War on Terror’ and the ‘Arab Spring’ have brought massive political changes to Libya, Iraq, Tunisia and Egypt, countries that had until recently had reliable dictators,  are no longer so open to Washington’s charms.  The brutal civil war in Syria and the tensions this has revealed between Russia and the western powers as well as the continuing confrontation between the Security Council and Iran over the development of nuclear weapons possibly lay the seeds for future conflicts.  Finally, there are the explosive issues that surround the Palestinian/Israeli conflict and the impact that this has on the wider Arab world.Arab dictators

The three key issues that I have identified and believe face all the nations of the region are managing access to water, terrorism and democratisation or liberalisation.  Access to sufficient water is a basic need for any nation and in one of the driest regions on earth, the control of, and ability to access this resource is vital to national security.  Democratisation is potentially destabilising due to the dangers of popular uprisings and violent counter democratic reactions from the military or the fragmentation of states into religious, ethnic, or tribal loyalties that could lead to bloody civil wars. All of these terrible outcomes have been seen in some form and continue to be in some cases since 2003.

While I recognise the dangers of stereotyping the connections between Islam and terrorism, it is undeniable that the radicalisation of Islam by extremist groups who see violence as a legitimate form of political expression is a serious threat to peace in this region.  Terrorist incidents are on the rise with significant occurrences in Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Iraq, with many foiled attempts in Jordan.  The importance of access to fresh water in this region is hard to exaggerate.  In the Sudan there have been frequent droughts that have led to the deaths of many thousands of people, and in Turkey, Iraq, Israel, Jordan and Syria the damming of major rivers is becoming an increasingly heated issue.   The problem of water supplies in the middle east and the potential that it holds for conflict can be seen by simply considering Garret Hardin’s model on the effects of over-exploitation of a shared environmental resource, the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’. (Baylis & Smith, 2001: 395)

This hypothetical model demonstrates how independently rational actions taken by a multitude of individuals, in this case states, can lead to a collectively irrational result which is catastrophic for all involved.  In the case of water within the Middle East in particular this hypothesis could be said to be already occurring, the deserts of the region are amongst the driest places on earth and therefore the water that is present in this environment is finite. However, the nations of the region are failing to cooperate and are seeking national solutions to a regional problem ultimately at the expense of all.

President Anwar Sadat said after signing the 1979 peace treaty with Israel ‘that his country would never go war again, except to protect its water resources.  King Hussein of Jordan identified water as the only reason that might lead him to war with the Jewish State’ (BBC News Website 2003).  All across the Middle East and North Africa the issue’s surrounding water are growing in importance, between ‘1955 and 1990 the list of ‘water scarce’ countries in this region grew from three to eight with a further seven expected to be added within the next 20 years’.

The growth in demand for water in the region is in part due to one of the highest birth rates in the world, population growth that is entirely dependent on water either from the three great river systems, the Nile, Euphrates and the Tigris, or from vast underground aquifers that are rapidly becoming depleted.  Nine nations alone rely on the water of the Nile, and the arguments over access to the water of the Euphrates between Syria and Turkey are growing more heated as the Turkish government embarks on an extensive programme of damming up stream, to support urban and agricultural growth in its dry south eastern region.

This issue of water and the right of nations up stream to damn rivers at the detriment of those states that lie down stream is causing increasing disputes.  This is a situation that will only get worse over the coming decades as populations continue to grow.  The support structures of these societies, food production, sanitation, and access to drinking water, will face collapse if the issue is left to the internal decisions of the separate states, each seeking the maximisation of the resource.  This could potentially lead to the rivers down-stream drying up with all the terrible consequences this would result in for the stability of the nations affected.  The solution probably lies in some form of water based OPEC, monitoring supply and demand and responding on a regional level, but whether the states of the region respond to this problem in sufficient time is doubtful.

The distribution of water in the region is currently a second or even third order concern amongst most external observers.   However, without water there’s no life, and as the availability of water to those living downstream becomes increasingly scarce the prospect of armed conflict over access to water resources will increase.  The ‘former United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali warned bluntly that the next general war in the area will be over water.’ (BBC News Website 2003)  Many other commentators have also stated that the wars of the 21st century won’t be fought over oil, but water.  This is a problem that faces the whole world but will be at its most critical in the driest places on earth, in the Middle East and North Africa.

The nations of the Middle East and North Africa share one distinct yet dubious quality in common, not one of them is a liberal democracy, and before the cry goes up for Israel, not all citizens of Israel are as equal as each other.  By that I mean that Arab Israelis face restrictions that their Jewish or even Christian compatriots don’t, and the people of Palestine lack any true voice whatsoever in the policies of their occupier or the Palestinian Authority.  The failure of democratic government to take root in this region is the result of a myriad of causes, foreign intervention, the politics of oil, colonial mismanagement, and the traditions of tribal society to name a few.  Since the withdrawal of the colonial powers there have been many false dawns in the region, Nasser’s Egypt, the Shah’s Iran, and Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority.

Why you might justly ask would you consider liberalisation and democratisation as a threat to the stability of the region?  Well the answer is really quite simple until recently most of the nations of the Middle East and North Africa are either one of two things, an absolute monarchy or an authoritarian dictatorship following the Arab Spring we also have transitional and unstable democracies.  Both the previous types are represented in the region at their worst and their most benign.  In order to bring about democracy in any one of these states would require some form of political, economic, or popular movement of fairly dramatic proportions.  We have begun to see this in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya and can only hope for Syria.  However the vast majority of the nations in the region continue to exist under largely absolute monarchies or as in the case of Iran a theocracy.

Liberal and Democracy are terms often bounded about as being synonymous with each other, although true western democracy is dependent on liberalisation, liberalisation isn’t dependent on democracy.  The liberalisation of a state, its institutions, and economy can proceed without establishing democratic structures.  This is best witnessed in the success of Communist China in adopting western consumer trends, and economics’ while maintaining the control of the state by the party, a process that failed in the USSR, and is having mixed success in the Middle East and North Africa e.g. Dubai & Qatar.

The level of oppression and desperation present amongst the demographically young populations of the states of this region is difficult to overstate, and the desire within Arab and North African societies for democratic representation is equally as strong.   Within Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union the outcome of this process of first disillusionment, then betrayal and finally a sense of the bankruptcy of communist rule was revolution and the emergence of democratic governance.  However, in the Middle East and North Africa the governments began responding to the incompatibility of their rule and the desires of their citizens for more representative government long before ‘glasnost’ in the Communist bloc.  ‘Glasnost Arab style was manifest in the infitah (open door) policies of Egypt and Tunisia in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s’. (Milton-Edward, 2001: 150)

The adoption of these policies was a result of the increasing illegitimacy that nationalist and monarchical rule was being viewed by the people of the region.  They were seen as a solution to the demands for greater freedoms, without the necessity of real political change at the core.  Jordan, Morocco, Turkey, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have all adopted liberalising projects, following the failure of Arab nationalism during the 1970’s.  Introducing private industry and free market economics, and encouraging the development of the McDonald’s, GAP and MTV culture in their societies has provided an outlet for the ambitious, and young while at the same time maintaining the elites grip on power.  Actual democratisation has been resisted by making token concessions such as the establishment of people’s assemblies in Kuwait, Qatar & Oman. They are half appointed, with powers that are so restrictive as to make them irrelevant.  These concessions serve the purpose of providing the theatre of democracy yet none of the substance.

Despite this theatre the process of liberalisation in these countries has been very successful civil unrest has been rare, and most of the people who live in these societies are content, failing to see that liberal economics and the ability to buy a Big Mac is not what liberal democracy means.  The rulers of these countries benefit from broad public support and are seen as father like figures despite their continuing quiet actions of despotism continuing behind the scenes. The suppression of more radical opposition and overly vocal critics of their governance continues unabated.  Jordan has a free press it is said, free to praise the King, the government, and the military, in that order.

In Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Algeria however liberalisation has either been non-existent or unsuccessful, largely due to the half -hearted approach of the leaders.  Low economic growth or because of unstable factional rule were the ascendant liberal faction can be replaced overnight by a more conservative one resulting in crack downs and the reversal of liberal policies. This may in part explain why three out of these six nations were swept away so quickly in the storm of the ‘Arab Spring’.

The adoption of the liberalising economics of the west has meant that the associated problems with crime and corruption have also emerged.  However, in these societies there is no voice through which society can express its anger with these developments. This has led to nervous societies unsure of their boundaries, and security, it is this environment that breeds the levels of contempt, fear and utter hopelessness, often externalised by their own leaders to detract from their failures.  In turn it helps fuel the support for organisations like Al’ Qaeda, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

The policy of placing the blame elsewhere by leaders in the region is a major cause of diplomatic tension.  The Saudi Arabian royal family are both staunch allies of the United States, personal friends of the Bush family, and supporters and protectors of ‘Wahhabi Islam’.  This extreme Islamic interpretation’s teachings formed the bedrock of Osama bin Laden’s philosophy.   It is this connection between the failure of Arab nationalism, and a lack of democracy in the region that fuels the growth of Islamic extremism and terrorism.

Since September 11th the developed world has been concerned with international terrorism.  However, terrorism in the Middle East and North Africa is an ever present and far from new threat.  In recent years bombs have been going off in Saudi Arabia, set by Islamic extremist opponents of the House of Saud, opposed to its relationship with the west and the United States in particular.  Israel frequently experiences suicide bombings by Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, and Iraq since the 2003 invasion has seen unprecedented numbers of attacks by suicide bombers.  Morocco and Tunisia have also faced similar problems.

The issue of terrorism is not a clear cut distinction between states versus the terrorist, in most of these cases the terrorist groups themselves either has their roots in state security services, or is funded by other rival states.  Two good examples of this can be demonstrated through the Syrian regimes support of Hezbollah’s attacks on Israel, and the suspected involvement of Iranian forces in Iraq.

Foreign policy in the Middle East is dominated by the importance of military strength, with inter-state cooperation a rarity. The desires of various leaders to re-unite the whole Islamic world mean that issues of personality also play a significant role. ‘Democratic peace theory suggests that Middle East wars are, in part, a function of the regions democratic deficits which prevent publics from holding leaders accountable or constraining their foreign adventures’ (Hinnebusch 2003: 141).  There are no attempts by the nations of this region to include liberalisation or democratisation agendas in their foreign policies, with issues of state governance and security on this level being restricted to the power of their militaries.  The most concerted form of inter-state interference in the nature and structure of another states governance can be found in the use of security services, which play a key role in not only maintaining domestic security, but in inciting instability in competing jurisdictions.

The use of terrorism by security services to further political goals, and discreetly continue conflicts is best illustrated by Syria and Iran.  Syria has for decades funded and supported Hezbollah and Hamas in its continuing fight with Israel, a policy that reached its height in the Lebanon during the 1980’s with Syrian military units in rebel or Lebanese guise engaging Israeli forces.  Libya’s use of terrorism in its foreign policy is infamously known through the Pan Am airline bombing over Lockerbie in 1989.

The most influential foreign policy decisions regarding liberalisation and democratisation in the region are coming from outside.  The ambition of Turkey to join the European Union is having a significant effect on its political and economic structures with nothing short of true democracy being acceptable for European Union (EU) entry it is likely that Turkey will effect such change within the current decade.  Already Turkey is a far different nation than ten years ago, although events unfolding in the streets of Istanbul as I write seem to be setting the nation back, and the reactions of the government and police have been far from democratic.

Within North Africa the influence of the EU is also bringing about significant changes, Morocco harbours desires to be more closely integrated with the EU and is therefore making reforms of its own, although these have been far less dramatic than those of Turkey.  In the Middle East the EU is less of a force although financially vital to the Palestinian Authority it could push more vocally for change.

It is the United States that is having the biggest effect on the liberalising agenda in the Middle East.  It has been actively pursuing as part of its foreign policy the promotion of free market economics and democracy although the latter is probably more gloss than reality.  Its stated intentions in the region have become more complex since September 11th, and the invasion of Iraq.  It is the demands of the United States that have probably proven as much an influence on the liberalisation of Middle Eastern economies, as domestic pressure.  It is for this reason that countries like Jordan and Morocco have at least played at the theatre of democracy, recognising that only the language of democracy is truly legitimate in the post-cold war world.

Despite the shared language, religion and culture of these nations the borders that divide them are real and peace and stability in the region is as fragile as ever. With civil war in Syria there is an ever present danger of a regional war breaking out dragging Lebanon, Turkey, Iran and Israel into conflict.  It may well be the case that in order to gain a more lasting peace in this region a period of instability will first be required.

Bibliography:

Baylis, John. Smith, Steve. (2001) ‘The Globalization of World Politics’ 2nd Edition Oxford University Press, Oxford p395

BBC News Website: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/2949768.stm ‘Middle East Water Wars’ & http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/2789233.stm ‘Saudis Jailed for Al-Qaeda Plot’

Gilbert, Martin (1999) ‘A History of the Twentieth Century, Volume Three: 1952 – 1999’ Harper Collins, London

Hinnebusch, Raymond (2003) ‘The International Politics of the Middle East’ Manchester University Press, Manchester p141

Milton-Edwards, Beverley (2001) ‘Contemporary Politics in the Middle East’ Polity, Oxford p150-151

Weaver, Mary Anne. (2003), ‘Revolution from the Top Down’ National Geographic Magazine, March, p84 – 105

The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development Website:  http://www.johannesburgsummit.org/html/basic_info/unced.html

What’s Happening in Turkey?

Thousands Gather To Protest Against Presidential Candidate

By Ian Howarth

The Wests favourite Middle Eastern government is being rocked by massive civil protests that some, (not including the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan) are calling Turkey’s ‘Arab Spring’.  But hang on a minute the Arab Spring was a phenomenon of oppressive corrupt Arab dictatorships, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria are not in the same category as democratic and free Turkey, which furthermore is not an Arab country but a Turkish one.

Well that may well be true, and it probably is wrong to place the events currently unfolding in Turkey into the same category as those which unfolded and continue to do so across the Arab world.  However, something significant is happening in Turkey which is at least potentially revolutionary.  Let us take a step back and just consider Turkey’s particular circumstances.  It is a democratic state and has been through several changes of government at the ballot box rather than through the insistence of the military.  This later point is significant because what in past years was seen as the role of the military to protect the secular ideals of Kemal Atatürk’s Turkish Republic would appear to have devolved to the people stood in the streets of Istanbul tonight.

In 1923 out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire and the disaster of the First World War modern Turkey’s founding father Kamal Atatürk declared a secular republic and for the better part of the next 40 years it was run as a one party state under this principle. In the years since 1945 when this effectively ended the country has had a turbulent relationship with multiparty democracy largely as a result of the continued interventions of the military under the guise of protecting the secular constitution established by Ataturk.

The election of Recep Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2002 was a key moment in Turkish history. It marked the first time since the establishment of the Republic that a publicly avowed Islamic political party was allowed to govern. This is especially significant when one recalls that as recently as 1997 Turkey was subject to a military coup over the very issue of the maintenance of a secular Turkish Republic.    In its early days the AKP was careful to repeat its promises of respect for the constitution and drew a clear line between its Muslim beliefs and its opinions on issues of morality and public life and the responsibilities it held as the governing party of the Turkish Republic.

It has won three terms in open and free elections and yet with this popular success has come an increasing blurring of lines between government and religious beliefs.  Recent ‘changes in legislation have included the ‘prohibition [of] retail sales between 10pm and 6am, a ban on all alcohol advertising and promotion, and will stop new shops and bars from opening within 100m of schools and mosques.’ (The Guardian, 31/05/2013).  Furthermore, the government has been involved in the funding and construction of 17,000 new mosques in the country and the religion of the majority of Turks is far more visible in the streets and public life than at anytime since the founding of the Republic.  It is clear that many in the AKP have a view of Turkey’s future as an Islamic state, which is very different from the secular Muslim state that it officially is today.

What we are seeing on the streets of Istanbul is a clash between a middle class urban vision of modern Turkey and the conservative and Muslim attitudes of the AKP Party and its supporters chiefly beyond the cities.  One vision of Turkey see’s Istanbul and urban life as no different from that of New York or London while the other wants to see the gradual curbing of perceived western excesses and a return to Islamic traditions in public life.

The danger in this confrontation is two-fold.  First the protesters who I am very much in support of are in danger of being characterised as an urban elite out of touch with the rest of their country and if this view is successful then the protesters in Istanbul and the other urban centres of Turkey could become isolated and detached much as the radicals of the 1871 Paris Commune did.  This would bring about the second danger in that consequences of this would probably be a speedy victory for the conservative forces in the government and then a faster pace towards the road of a more explicitly Islamic Turkey.   I feel that this would probably mean a less free and less open country, as Islamic law and pluralism are incompatible and so it would almost certainly become a permanent block on the country ever joining the European Union. It is worth just adding here that the current block on membership placed by France and Germany has only gone to assist the move away from secular republicanism.

If the protesters are to succeed in their basic demands for a preservation of Turkey’s secular state let alone the resignation of the Prime Minister they need to link with a wider movement in the country.  Namely the working classes and the people beyond the cities who are also concerned at the heavy handed police response that has seen two fatalities in as many days; and arguably was the trigger that turned a peaceful protest against a city park development into a national anti-government movement.  If the worries and concerns of these people can find common cause with those manning the barricades of Istanbul then there is a chance that a secular plural Turkey can be preserved.  I hope that this will be the case as otherwise we will see a significant and tragic reduction in the sphere of human liberty.

How the Syrian People became a victim of Post-Imperial Russian Pride

By Ian Howarth

As I sit here and write confirmation has come from the French Foreign Ministry that the Syrian Regime of Bashar al- Assad has used Sarin against its own people in its desperate fight for survival.

syria opposition flagThe story of the two year battle for Syrian freedom and self- determination is one that is rife with tragedy and hypocrisy.   The response of the Western Powers towards the rebellion in Libya played its part in galvanising the oppressed and un-represented youth and middle class of Syria to stand and resist the hereditary tyranny of their government.  However, in doing so and looking to the West for aid they received only kind words and a sense of abandonment as the forces of Realpolitik took over in the corridors of the Foreign Ministries and Intelligence Services of the Western Powers.  Bordering Israel, Turkey, Lebanon and Iran with the regime supported by Hezbollah and Russia it was never going to be a case of a quick Allied air campaign followed by jubilant scenes of victorious rebels in Damascus pulling down posters of the despised Dictator.

This has been and will continue to be a long and bloody battle that will see both sides move further and further to extremes and in the process of doing so the secular free republic initially sought by the first rebellions will be lost amongst the massacres and bloodletting that will be increasingly done in the name and by the hand of the forces of Islamism.  With protests breaking out in Turkey this past week as well the whole bloody mess has the potential to grow and spread.  Already Iran with its Hezbollah puppet is fighting a proxy war in the streets of Syria against the Western backed rebels.  The added potential of Russian advanced weaponry on their side and the recent lifting of the EU weapons embargo means that a situation that was already burning out of control could be about to be stoked to new heights of depravity and destruction.

It is important that I clarify something here.  I am in no doubt as to which side of this conflict I am on.  That is the side of freedom, liberty, and secularism and so that is the side of the Rebel Syrian Army, and its leaders.  However, I am not fooled into believing that all those on that side would recognise the description I have just given it.  It is clear that many in this movement represent the very opposite of the ideals I have just attributed to it. Increasingly the movement against Assad is Islamist in nature and as such a great threat to these ideals.  I will also be clear in my meaning of Islamist, it is not anti-Muslim, but specifically a brand of extreme political ideology that finds its closest comparison in Fascism.  In fact commentators such as Stephen Schwartz and the late Christopher Hitchens have used the term Islamofascism as a way of clarifying a more familiar political ideology wrapped in a quasi-religious wrapper and so that is the term I will adopt here.

The plans of the French, British and Americans to arm the seriously out gunned rebels in Syria seem on the surface to be a good idea. However, how do we ensure that these weapons stay with the rebels we like?  It is worth looking to Afghanistan and to a lesser extent Libya to see that when you start sending weapons into a conflict zone they very soon find their way into the hands of all and anyone engaged in that conflict.  With the fact that we could see a return to the Cold War with Russia arming one side and the United States the other we are in a further danger of internationalising this conflict.  However, with that said in truth it’s already internationalised in the favour of the Assad regime.  Hezbollah is in Syria funded and directed by Iran, and Russian tanks, helicopters and fighter aircraft are being used against the rebels, with the prospect of more Russian weaponry being supplied still.   In the last few days the Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that the contract to supply advanced S-300 Surface to Air missiles had not yet been fulfilled and Russia did not want to “disturb the balance in the region”.  This does not however alleviate the already considerable Russian military equipment engaged in the conflict or the diplomatic and political cover that they are providing the Assad dictatorship.

While the Great Powers stand off against each other over the future of Syria all the while the situation on the ground deteriorates further.  Terrible brutality has been unleashed by both sides for sure, but the heavy weaponry and foreign aid that the Assad regime is receiving means that on the whole it is they that are responsible for the most consistent and worse abuses of human rights.  The extremity of this sort of violence only leads to more extreme political reactions and the strengthening of the forces of intolerance in this conflict.  This is a vicious circle that we have seen unleashed time and again since the end of the Cold War (and across the centuries), in Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan and now in Syria.  The threat of the opposition becoming entirely controlled and directed by Islamofascist forces is a real one.  It would seem though that with the Western Allies of the Syrian Opposition either unwilling or unable to bring a decisive blow to the favour of their cause we are doomed to watch this bloody civil war continue to roll on and on strengthening the very forces that it is neither in the interests of Russia or the West to see strengthened, let alone the Syrian people themselves.

If it were the case that Islamofascist’s were to win the day in Syria this would be both a tragedy for those brave souls who first stood up against the vile regime that has imprisoned that proud nation for the past 40 years, many of whom paid with their lives for this defiance; and for Democracy and the nations of the democratic world.  In an Islamofascist Syria we would have a new home for the terrorism and the breeding of doctrines of hate against the plural secular societies of which as a Briton I am proud to be a part. With Russia facing its own problems with the forces of Islamofascism in the Caucasus it seems that Russian Foreign Policy has become detached from the preservation of its own national self-interest and caught up in a pathetic flexing of post imperial power in the defence of an old ally for the sake of Russian pride.  While superficially understandable that Russia would wish to preserve its perceived sphere of influence in the Middle East and more precisely its lucrative arms contracts with the Assad regime.   Russia is failing to acknowledge the bigger picture and wider implications that the further continuation of this bloody conflict would inevitably lead too.

This is all as yet speculation, and fear for the future.  There is still a chance that the liberal forces that unleashed the initial opposition in Syria could yet triumph and let us not underestimate the Syrian people themselves.  They are an educated and informed people, connected too and interested in maintaining these connections with the rest of the world.  Many have studied in Universities in Britain, France and the USA.  They watched with horror the terrors that were unleashed in their neighbour Iraq and do not wish the same sectarianism for their nation.  However, it cannot be stressed that the tide of history tends to pass over the quiet liberals and in the face of unrestrained brutality it becomes harder and harder to stand for plurality.  I hold out a glimmer of hope for a free and secular Syria even today, that the mandarins of the Russian Foreign Ministry will wake up and realise the stupidity of their own position and that an effective and united international effort to bring an end to the Assad regime can be mounted.   However after two long and brutal years this glimmer grows dimmer with each passing day.