Center for World Conflict and Peace

Center for World Conflict and Peace

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Conversation: Afghanistan, Part II

Brad makes some great points, but I want to add something on Karzai. I think he is a very weak leader - not necessarily because he doesn't have strong backing aside of the international coalition, personally he is just a very weak and vain person.

When he became the president, the first thing he should have done was to strengthen the state apparatus, especially the rule of law. This would have had a huge impact, as the Taliban was still demoralized and unable to mount a strong organized attack to the government. By strengthening the rule of law, he could have strongly differentiated his regime from the Taliban's, showing that the Kabul government was much more responsible and thus legitimate.

Once the Taliban grew back in strength, thanks to the Pashtun people's dislike of the government, reinforced by what they saw as a massive corruption in Kabul, the Afghan government had very little legitimacy left. Why would Afghanis choose a corrupt government that could do nothing to help their lives over a murderous bunch of thugs who promised to provide protection, despite the ideological baggage? Not surprisingly, some people have picked the latter.

On Pakistan: I think there's a famous analogy which sadly I forgot at this moment. It goes roughly like this: someone who is so afraid of an enemy or a killer coming from outside is not prepared to the possibility that his offspring or family member might murder him due to greed or mental illness. Or a hypochondriac who keeps drinking a certain tonic to stay healthy, when in fact the tonic is consists of Mercury and arsenic, which are, of course, fatal to the hypochondriac.

The entire security apparatus of the Pakistan is oriented toward possible apocalyptic confrontations against the much stronger India. Having been involved in several wars already that resulted in Pakistani losses, a lion's share of Pakistan's budget is then dumped on the military (a whopping 60% of annual budget was spent on arms and debt maintenance! compared to India's 13% in 2010). Pakistan is afraid of losing the arms race against India, which  is actually far more concerned at this point with the rising power of China.

To keep up the struggle against India, the Pakistani intelligence and military bodies decided to recruit Islamists, religious zealots, etc. At least they can trust their co-religionists who would abhor the idea of living under the Hindus, or so they believed. Plus, zealots are cheap: they are willing to suffer, live in a harsh condition for the sake of God, and very loyal, making them cost effective "food for powder" to fight India. Not surprisingly, the Pakistanis are arming the Talibans, Mujaheddins, and other groups to run a proxy war against India.

The Pakistanis, however, are not prepared for the possibility that the zealots, such as the Taliban, may actually see the Pakistani regime as un-Islamic because the state is not seen as Islamic enough. That is the root cause of current disorder in Pakistan.

On one hand, many people within the intelligence and military apparatus do realize that the Taliban and other religious zealots are not that good after all. On the other hand, they are deathly afraid that cracking down on these groups could reduce their ability to confront India, giving the Delhi potential advantages to strike.

Politically, these radical groups are popular. Thanks to the fact that 60% of Pakistan's budget is spent on military and debt maintenance, there is very little money left for social services, such as education and health service. Exacerbated by massive corruption in every level of Pakistani bureaucracy, there is simply nothing left for the people and the Islamists fill in the vacuum by building religious school and providing medical services. Not all religious schools are bad, but many, sadly, are simply horrid, as they operate simply as politico-religious indoctrination centers. Not surprisingly, when a moderate governor and a cabinet minister were recently killed, the reaction within Pakistan was divided: one huge part actually celebrated the murderers, claiming that the killers were defending the religion.

So can Pakistan be a useful partner in taking care of the Taliban and al-Qaeda? Yes and no. No, because as I mentioned, the Taliban are useful to fight India. I think the Pakistanis calculated that the U.S. may not have the political will to stay in Afghanistan over the long-run, while Pakistan will still have to fight India in 15, or 50, or 100 years. It is in Pakistan's best interest to keep Taliban alive, to prepare them to fight India when they are needed in the future. Plus, there is simply no political will to tackle the "defenders of Islamic values" crowd, especially when everyone knows that the infidel United States is pushing Pakistan to do that, even though the Islamists and Taliban are like cancer that slowly kills Pakistan from the inside.

To make it worse, Pakistani intelligence and army may have a vested interest to keep Taliban alive. First, they can keep getting assistance from the United States, which they will use not to fight Taliban, but to further prepare for the inevitable invasion from India. Second, fighting India is profitable: the fact that Pakistan will have to keep buying shiny bright gadgets such as fighter jets means that a major share of the annual budget will keep going to the army and intelligence. Should Pakistan decide to bury the hatchet and make peace with India, then the military and the intelligence may face massive budget cuts, something that they do not want. Thus, they cannot orient the mission of their armed force to fight the Taliban.

The "yes" answer is the sad fact that Pakistan remains the gateway to Afghanistan. The United States needs Pakistan to keep its supply lines open. But Pakistan can boost its usefulness only when it starts taking care of the Islamist cancer that slowly devours the country.

But overall, I think Pakistan is more of a problem than a solution to the Afghanistan mess.

A Conversation: Afghanistan, Part I

I hope you enjoyed our first conversation on the uprisings. We tried to cover as much ground as we could. This week we are beginning our second conversation, which will focus on the war in Afghanistan. We will pay particular attention to the various political, military, security, and strategic factors that are central to the war.

With so many issues connected to the war, I almost do not know where to begin. But given that so many scholars and policy experts believe that Afghan politics, rather than military force or other tools, are key to resolving the conflict, I think I will start there.

In short, if Afghans cannot get their internal politics fixed, then all of the external political, economic, and security and military assistance and support from the U.S. and its allies will be irrelevant and wasted. Afghanistan will remain chaotic and violent for the foreseeable future. The main remedies are in the creation and molding of thoughtful and effective political ideas, institutions, and leaders indigenous to Afghanistan. Unfortunately, as of right now, all of those things are problematic, for both short-term and long-term reasons.

First, let us look at the short-term picture. There really is no credible, competent government in Kabul to partner with the West or Afghan civilians in an effort to make progress on the host of political, economic, and security challenges facing Afghanistan. The government, at bottom, appears be more of a problem than a problem-solver, and much–though by no means all–of that is because of Hamid Karzai. Karzai is not an especially popular politician, and for good reasons. The country is still not a safe place. The government is hardly transparent. About 90% of the world’s opium production is housed in Afghanistan. Corruption is rampant. Just look at the last presidential election in August 2009, which was rife with fraud and irregularities and other shady and outright illegal activities. Furthermore, there have been widespread reports–most notably issued by UN envoy Peter Galbraith–challenging Karzai’s mental stability. Karzai has been described as erratic, unbalanced, and a likely habitual drug user. Whether these allegations are true is almost beside the point. They fit into a coherent narrative of a leader who lacks control–in his professional and personal life.

This picture of Afghanistan has had negative repercussions. First, it is clear that Afghan civilians have never warmed up to Karzai and his government. And many do not trust and lack confidence in Karzai and his government. Second, because the Taliban and its affiliated groups know this, there is little incentive for them to halt the violence and come to the bargaining table. Betting on the continued incompetence in Kabul, they can simply remain patient, maintain their resistance, and hope that the people will tire of the disorder and chaos and eventually transfer their loyalties to them. Third, the U.S. has grave doubts that Karzai can do what it takes to end the violence and stabilize governing institutions. After almost ten years of war, this only makes more and more American citizens and lawmakers less inclined to support a war that is going nowhere and only leading to increased U.S. casualties.

And as for the long-term horizon, this is just as big of a conundrum. Here is the Afghan puzzle: Kabul must find a way to connect itself to all of the tiny villages, and everywhere in between, in a seamless, non-invasive way. Remember, this is a society that has resisted centralized authority for ages. Power has been traditionally centered at very micro levels, such as tribal or village councils. The Afghan people are accustomed to their independence and autonomy and prefer to live their lives according to such principles. Outsiders who infringe on their way of life are looking for a fight. But in this case, "outsiders" refer not only to the U.S. and the rest of the West, but also often to actors and groups inside Afghanistan. And so as we can see, the concept of Afghan nationalism, at least so far, is still in a very incipient stage. Friendship, familial ties, and ethnicity trump ideas of the nation-state.

With this in mind, it did not make much sense for Afghan leaders to impose a centralized presidential political structure in their country. It would have been far better to create a decentralized system, with power farmed out to local institutions and leaders and the state limited to working on issues like foreign policy and border defense. At this point, it might be too late to rework the 2004 constitution, but perhaps the problem can be finessed in various ways. For instance, maybe prerogatives and responsibilities not explicitly mentioned in the constitution can be handled at local levels. But this must be addressed or Afghanistan risks inadvertently fomenting a perpetual crisis over how much authority the state should possess. For if the state oversteps its perceived boundaries, angering and alienating Afghanis, it will drive the people into the open arms of militant and terrorist groups who are willing address their grievances. And this is particularly likely in a country like Afghanistan (an insecure, unstable war-time setting that fails to provide jobs, schooling, and skills to residents), which really does not offer many tangible benefits in exchange for loyalty and citizenship.

What are your thoughts, Yohanes? I am especially interested to hear your take on how Pakistan fits into this equation. Is there any way Pakistan can be coerced or persuaded to go after Taliban and AQ elements on its turf? How can Pakistan be part of the solution rather than the problem in Afghanistan? What has to change, in your view?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Yohanes' Reading List

Here is my reading list. Keep in mind that in Indonesia, it is pretty difficult to find good books on political science and history.

Books (Currently Reading)
Polarising Javanese Society: Islamic and other visions (c. 1830-1930) by M.C. Ricklefs
The Army of Flanders and the Spanish Road 1567-1659 by Geoffrey Parker
The Tragic Vision of Politics by Richard Ned Lebow

Foreign Affairs
The National Interest
(Indonesia has few good academic journals)

The Jakarta Globe
The Jakarta Post
The New York Times
The Wall Street Journal
The Washington Post

Al Jazeera English
International Crisis Group

Brad's Reading List

Yohanes and I thought it would be fun to share our reading lists with you. (Mine is below; Yohanes will post his own separate list.) What you will find below are the books, magazines, journals, newspapers, blogs, and anything else related to world politics that I am reading nowadays. Perhaps you are looking for something new to read. If so, take a look at the various sources on my list. Maybe you will find something that you find informative and enjoyable. Additionally, I must confess that I am curious see what is on Yohanes's list. I really do not know what he reads. I guess we will all find out at the same time!

By the way, please feel free to suggest any reading materials to us. We are always looking for new and interesting sources of news, opinion, research, etc.

Ruling But Not Governing: The Military and Political Development in Egypt, Algeria, and Turkey by Steven Cook

Egypt on the Brink: From Nasser to Mubarak by Tarek Osman

Non-Democratic Regimes by Paul Brooker


Foreign Policy
Foreign Affairs
The National Interest
International Security
The Washington Quarterly

Nick Kristof
Marc Lynch
Fareed Zakaria GPS
The Middle East Channel
Stephen Walt
Steven Cook
The Monkey Cage
Daniel Drezner
The Duck of Minerva
Shadow Government 
Things I Do When I'm Not Working
Thomas Ricks
Laura Rozen
Al Jazeera
The Washington Note
Paul Pillar
Asia Unbound
Informed Comment
Mona Eltahawy
Aid Watch
John Campbell
Global Spin

The Washington Post
The New York Times
Los Angeles Times
The Boston Globe

Al Jazeera English
Human Rights Watch
Pew Research
Middle East News -Yahoo! News


Friday, March 25, 2011

Thoughts on Egypt, Libya, and the U.S.

I don't really like to write much on Egypt because we already have our own in-house expert, Ms. Dina, who has written many great posts already. So, I'd be very happy if she would reply to this post and tell me if I "mess up" in my analysis.

In my previous posts, I did not delve into the issue of the Ikhwanul Moslem (Moslem Brotherhood) in Egypt, since from what I observed in the beginning, I thought that they were losing their place in politics, preempted by the youth secular mass movements and delegitimized by various troubles facing the fundamentalist states around them, notably Iran. Apparently, I am wrong.

This may be too early to say, as it will be a while before the dust settles, but I am observing a very troubling development that may drive Egypt to the path of Pakistan, which is a very disturbing duet of Military-Islamists squelching the nascent democratic movements for a short term political gains.

Revolution is always a multi-lanes street. On one hand, there are some groups of people who successfully spearhead the efforts to overthrow of the authoritarian regime. On the other hand, there are often other groups that act as a spoiler, trying to redirect the revolution for their political gains. The end results often differ wildly from what the first group wanted. The Bolsheviks in Russian Revolution, the Jacobins in French Revolution, the Mullahs in Iranian Revolution are just a few obvious examples. Less obvious are hijackers that come directly from within the political system.

After a revolution, the military is usually delegitimized as a political power. It happened in Indonesia, that the fall of Suharto also led to a short-term delegitimation of political role of the army, forcing them in the end to surrender their precious voting bloc in parliament. Of course, as people noticed over time the sad fact that both the police and the politicians were very corrupt, the army, this time supposedly clean from any scandals, once again became rehabilitated. Not completely, mind you, but at least people were looking at them as a relatively clean institution with strong leadership, safeguarding the nation. It became the selling point for Indonesia's current president, Mr. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, himself a retired general.

The biggest difference between Egypt and Indonesia lies in the number of Islamist parties. In Indonesia, there are many parties that use religion as a symbol, ranging from the moderate National Awakening Party (PKB) and National Mandate Party (PAN) to the Ikhwanul Muslim-types, such as the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and Crescent and Star Party (PBB). In Egypt, however, it seems that the Ikhwanul Moslem is the only Moslem party, monopolizing the religious symbols, using tactics not dissimilar with the old Indonesian Islamic Party Masjumi back in the 1950s--such as telling voters: if they choose other parties, they will go to hell.

In Indonesia, back in the 1950s, the secular elite, troubled by the possibility of an Islamic party taking over Indonesia and creating an Islamic state, decided to gang up, exploiting the rift within the Masjumi, and managed to keep Masjumi from getting the majority of the seats. In Egypt, however, it seems that there is simply no organized challenger to Ikhwanul Moslem. The Ikhwanul Moslem is the only game in town, as Mubarak had eliminated any other possible contender to power.

I think Ikhwanul Moslem predicts that they can win the majority of the seats in an election. The only thing that prevent them from winning and taking over the country is the army. Thus, both sides make a deal: Ikhwanul Moslem can get their quick election, while at the same time, the army's presence in Egyptian politics is guaranteed. This is not dissimilar to Zia's bargain with the Islamists in Pakistan. 

If my analysis is correct, then the future of Egyptian politics may be dire, as it will descend to the path of Iran's theocracy and Pakistan's quasi-Islamist state, where the minority rights are trampled and the government rules with impunity, supported by the Qur'an and guns. The Saudis may not like the bargain, but it is possible they will accept it due to Iranian threats, Shiite revolts, and possibly guarantees from the Ikhwanul Moslem and the government that they will not try to export their revolution next door.

On Libya: I don't think we can expect a quick war here in Libya. The reason is simple: even though the alliance has been able to hurt Qaddafi's army, forcing them to withdraw from many rebels' stronghold, the rebels are too disorganized to mount an attack successfully, especially after Qaddafi's mercenaries and loyalists got their act together. Air power does help in rallying the rebels, still its effectiveness remains questionable. There has been no precedent in world history where air power delivers a knockout blow on a leader or a state.

Therefore, it is doubtful now whether Qaddafi can be overthrown quickly. Plus, even with him in a corner, he is using all his cash reserves to stay in power.

Of course, if Obama's luck holds, Qaddafi will fold in the future and then it is back to business as usual. Still, should it take a while to clean up Libya's mess, and Obama's bypassing Congress will create further headaches for him. The War Powers Act demands the President to ask Congress for support or permission before deciding to go to war.

Already, Obama has sown much criticism, even from his main cheerleader. Like I mentioned in my previous post, I think Obama took this decision in haste, something to which he did not give much consideration or deliberation. Had he really carefully moved his pieces on the board, he would have tried to build a support in the Congress first on a possible military action. Even though I do not oppose Obama's decision to strike Libya, I think he just blew the opportunity with questionable and rushed decision-making.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Military Force in Libya

Why has the U.S. decided to intervene in Libya with military force? What are the primary factors that moved America to act? The answers to these questions might not be as simple and straightforward as the Obama administration has publicly suggested.

1. Certainly, one key factor was the human rights side of the conflict in Libya. Specifically, the U.S. and its allies aim to staunch the flow of violence and protect innocent Libyan civilians. But the tricky part is that there are other countries with equally, if not more, pressing concerns about violence and bloodshed. Just think about current conflicts in places like Darfur and the Ivory Coast. Why not intervene in these countries as well? So alone, human rights concerns do not make Libya a unique case. They are a necessary but not sufficient condition for intervention.

2. What makes Libya unique is its location. Libya is on the Mediterranean, proximate to Europe, a neighbor to Egypt, and at the intersection between the Arab and African worlds. These characteristics might not sound especially important to U.S. foreign policy–at least they do not to critics like Stephen Walt and Richard Haass. But in a way, that is not entirely a bad thing, because they do matter to Europe and the Arab Street, and that fact greased the wheels for both to agree to support/participate in the intervention. Which, in turn, eased some concerns that American officials had about enforcing a no-fly zone.

3. The decision to intervene was also shaped by an internal debate in American politics. This was a debate with neoconservatives (mostly congressional republicans) and liberal internationalists (congressional democrats and several Obama advisers) on one side and foreign policy realists (the military, other Obama advisers) on the other. While there are stark philosophical differences between neoconservatives and liberal internationalists, both groups supported the use of American military force in Libya on human rights grounds. The realists, meantime, were highly skeptical of intervening in the Libyan conflict, for several reasons–namely, concerns about fighting a war in a third Muslim country, mission creep, the (in)ability of the U.S. to extricate itself from war in a timely and low-cost manner, and so on. At the end of the day, by many accounts, it was the persuasive arguments of the liberal internationalists among Obama’s inner circle (Hillary Clinton, Michael McFaul, Samantha Power) that resolved the debate.

4. The Arab League’s blessing of a no-fly zone was crucial, arguably decisive, in this case. Importantly, it signified that Arab countries were willing to join the coalition in some capacity against Gaddafi. The military intervention, then, would not, and could not, be portrayed as a war against Islam or as evidence of a clash of civilizations. To the contrary, the Arab League's endorsement meant that intervention was the right thing to do, the morally acceptable course of action, to Muslims in the region. Based on the timing of the alleged shift in Obama's views, it seems likely that this information relaxed his initial inclination against military involvement in Libya.

Additionally, keep in mind that the Arab League endorsement communicated to the U.S. that Libya was an issue Washington could use to cultivate better relations with the Arab and Muslim worlds. Specifically, Team Obama could immediately, without prolonged diplomatic wrangling, attempt to align America's interests with the interests of people and governments in the region. For now Washington had a golden opening to show that, like many in the Middle East/North Africa, it supported anti-authoritarian forces and preferred the ouster of Gaddafi.

Now that the U.S. is militarily engaged in Libya, there are many questions that need to be answered. Preferably, most of these questions have already been answered, but given the scuttlebutt in news reports, that might not be the case, unfortunately. Here is a short sample list of questions.

1. What if the U.S. is unable to relinquish quickly its position of military leadership to France or Britain or NATO? Is the Obama administration prepared for this possibility?

2. How does the U.S. reconcile its stated policy goal of seeing Gaddafi leave office with its limited military objectives of stopping the violence and giving the rebels air cover? Can these two tenets be reconciled?

3.What if Gaddafi hangs on to power? (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen has said this scenario is very possible.) What does the U.S. do in response?

4. Is regime change ruled out as a military option?

5. How high of a price is Team Obama willing to pay to reach its desired ends?

6. What happens if the Muslim and or Arab Worlds pulls their support for the military intervention? How would that impact America's policies on Libya?

7. Once Gaddafi is out of power, what kinds of political, economic, administrative responsibilities does the U.S. have to Libya?

8. Who are the rebels?

9. Why should Team Obama be confident that a loose collection of disorganized rebels can unify and then remove Gaddafi from power?

10. And even if the rebels are able to oust Gaddafi, can they put aside their own individual tribal grievances and interests and govern for all Libyans?

11. Does Team Obama know what kind of war they are participating in? Is this a civil war? Or is this a war for democracy? Or both? Or maybe something else?

a very sobering quote from Tony Karon of Time Magazine: "Many of the arguments for intervention derived from the Western experience in the Balkans during the 1990s, beginning with the breakup of Yugoslavia and culminating with the Kosovo conflict in 1999. It's worth remembering, then, that NATO troops were involved in Bosnia for 12 years, and there are still 8,700 NATO troops in Kosovo, which remains a ward of the West."

Monday, March 21, 2011

Some thoughts on International Interventions in Libya

It is interesting to watch the unfolding drama in Libya. I think the situation there illustrates two points that I will discuss in this post.

First, a dedicated autocrat can actually win. I mentioned this a few weeks ago in this blog, that as long as an autocrat is able to maintain the loyalty of his security apparatus, the chance of a successful regime transition is very low. Qaddafi added another twist to this argument: Even though he has very unreliable mercenaries that are present only the for money, he can still win as long as he manages to destroy any possible source of opposition power.

Qaddafi was successful by going against the grain. Autocrats usually able to stay in power by cajoling interest groups (e.g. religious leaders, business interests, military, and any strong organized political organizations). Once they are in power, autocrats have two options: either try to keep these constituents happy and juggle the interests of all of them or attempt to insert themselves into the power structure of the strongest organization and dismantle the normal channels of power.

Most autocrats pick the first option, as they are aware that even their power is limited. They cannot ensure complete loyalty of their original power-base and they are aware that their power-base is not strong enough to completely dominate the state. Those with strong personalities picks the second option.

Qaddafi, however, picked neither option. He dismantled his military, split them into competing units, while at the same time decentralizing the state. Such action caused a controlled chaos: nobody was sure who in control, and as a result, had to rely on the only stable player, the only constant among the sea of variables: Qaddafi himself. This decentralization caused the revolt to be difficult to quash, but at the same time, the revolt was so disorganized that in the long-run, Qaddafi and his unreliable mercenaries (but well paid, so they are loyal, at least before any setback) will likely subdue the disorganized opposition.

Nevertheless, Qaddafi overplayed his hand when this crisis started. I think he did not expect the international coalition to form against him: he believed correctly that Obama was not interested in joining the fray. Egypt was a major test-case. It was true that Obama demanded Mubarak to start the transition process "right now." But then Obama went back to business as usual. It took 18 days of constant demonstration for Mubarak to resign and that is only because the pressure from the army was too strong in the end. Bahrain confirmed it: as long as you have a "friendly" government, the United States will not lift a finger to assist the protesters. After all, Qaddafi had renounced terrorism, gave up his nukes, paid up the Lockerbie victims, and he also has oil. Furthermore, he knew that the Saudis were displeased with how Obama bungled Mubarak's resignation, and that other countries in the region did not want to capitulate to their oppositions, which led to the inevitable conclusion that Arab leaders would not protest against his actions.

What Qaddafi didn't realize was that his strategy backfired. He could not rely on the army as they were fragmented and poorly equipped. Because it took time to bring in mercenaries, (haggled with them on the payments, etc.), he lost precious time, allowing the rebels to close in Tripoli. By that time, he also had huge PR problems, that his mercenaries were uncontrollable and committing lots of human rights abuses. His press briefings reminded people of the infamous "Comical Ali."

The French, thinking that he was going down in short future, recognized the rebels. But Qaddafi soon regained momentum on the ground, recapturing cities that were seized by the rebels. And when the French and other Europeans countries, including the European Parliament, saw that he was going to stay in power after all, they had to avoid a volte-face. They had to support the rebels, as a victorious Qaddafi would want  payback. Their pressure, including from the Arabs wishing to make them the fall guy, finally forced Obama to intervene.

Second, Obama's leadership is completely lacking in this crisis. I have mentioned it often and I will mention it again. The Nobel Peace Prize Winner's lack of empathy, his zen-like attitude in observing the carnage in the Middle East is simply disturbing. It is true that you cannot rush into battle, that it is better to have a huge international coalition supporting you. Obama's problem, however, lies in his inactivity: vague answers/speeches that would make people think that the situation was way above his league. There was a jarring contrast between his lofty Cairo speech on June 4, 2009 and his action throughout the Middle East Revolution.

So what could Obama have done differently? First, in case of Mubarak, behind-the-scene dealings might have done a much better job in persuading him to concede and to announce some reforms, especially when the rumbling started a few days after the successful Tunisian Revolution. Keep in mind that it was after Mubarak's security apparatus decided to violently attack the demonstrators, then pulled back in disarray, that the momentum in demanding Mubarak's resignation started. At that point, Obama and his cabinet had to work in tandem - having several voices advocating different policy prescriptions was bad for the US credibility.

Then, Obama has to walk the talk: he already told Mubarak that the transition had to began "right now" and then he had to follow through with that. Obama's inability to follow his talk with action creates a huge crisis of confidence, that the democracy proponents were unsure about Obama'sObama's statement of support to the opposition in Iran.

It is too early to say whether the revolution in the Middle East is successful. One thing is clear is that thanks to Obama, the United States cannot really be sure whether the new regimes, or even its old allies in the Middle East, will be friendly to the United States when the dust settles.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

An Update on the Referendum

I just heard on the afternoon news that the process of counting the vote is still going on and it might take another day to announce the results. I know that in my neighborhood of Zamalek the result was 81.5% NO. My friends from the Populace Committee worked hard all day helping the judges monitor the voting location, escorting the elderly and helping the judges count the votes.

It looks like most of the rural areas have voted "Yes," while most of the elite areas have voted "NO." Regardless of the results of the vote, it was great seeing the Egyptian people being so enthusiastic about participating in the voting process, knowing that every vote counts and that their participation has a great impact. It is a great step towards democracy. I also think whoever our New President is going to be, he will definitely have to work on drafting a new constitution.

As I am writing this message, there is an update from ONTV news: 60-65% of the overall vote seems to be "Yes." The final results will be out tonight!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Egypt's Constitutional Referendum

Tomorrow, March 19th, 2011 is supposed to mark a momentous day in Egypt’s history. Egyptians from all walks of life are voting "Yes" or "No"on a referendum of proposed constitutional amendments.

In my case, and the case of many Egyptian activists, political leaders and members of my community, who were part of the January 25th Revolution, we all have decided on voting "NO" on what is considered to be patched constitutional changes that would only benefit remnants of the old regime and members of the National Democratic Party (NDP) and Muslim Brotherhood (MB).

One of the main demands of the Egyptian Revolution was the creation of a new and democratic constitution. Ultimately, that is what we would like to achieve. By rejecting the amendments with a majority "NO" vote, we hope Egypt’s interim leaders decide to scrap the amendment process and begin rewriting the constitution.

The authorities assured us that it would be a fair referendum. But I am alarmed by news I heard today and news I have been hearing over the past few days from different sources. Supposedly, members of NDP and MB intend to use incentives to sway citizens to vote Yes" tomorrow. Furthermore, both groups are purportedly paying people all over Egypt to form long lines at voting locations to deter people from voting.

I will be waking up early and going with my neighbors to vote at a nearby school. Members of our neighborhood committee are planning to guard the voting station from thugs and protect the referendum’s monitors. I am not as excited as I was about the referendum after hearing about the alleged dirty tactics. All I can do is hope for the best and do my part by voting.

A Conversation: The Impact of the 2011 Uprisings on World Politics, The Final Word

First, I owe Brad an apology. This week has been very hectic, and my Internet has not been working properly. I can access emails using blackberry, but browsing is a huge pain in the neck as you got this very tiny screen to read, and typing is simply painful.

Well, enough with that, let us continue with the conversation.

First, let me deal with his last Friday's post. I think your question on whether there are any instances of state trying to reconstitute itself should be answered with "yes, all of them." It was a double-edged question: the question can refer to the state trying to remake itself, preventing civil wars from occurring, or "the state," the overthrown elites, attempting to claw back to power.

In African states, such as the Congo, the actor who overthrew the autocrat and his cronies did not have much power. Kabila, who overthrew Mobutu, was not a strong national leader. He created loose ties to other rebel groups only on the basis of their dislike of Mobutu. And when Mobutu was gone, he was not the only one monopolizing tools for violence and the country erupted in civil war. So for the first question, the answer depends how organized and well supported the opposition was. 

In the cases of Indonesia and Egypt, even though the military was sidelined from political power, it still monopolized the tools for violence and possessed the best organization in both countries. The autocrats fell when the military calculated that keeping the autocrats was disadvantageous to their interests. So it is not that the opposition was particularly strong. Instead, the opposition was dedicated and able to embarrass the state, giving discontented elites the opportunity to kick the head of state out of power.

Events in Bahrain in the past few days showed that a dedicated violent repression was adequate to keep the opposition down. Yes, there will be long-term effects, from repressed anger to radicalization, but in general, you can't say that they did not do an effective job keeping things down. We may not like the end result, but it is at least a short-term peace, nevertheless.

But in general, I surmise that an organized state, in combination with a strong opposition, can lead to reforms. A weak state, with a strong opposition, can lead to civil wars. I'd say Libya is actually a weak state. Keep in mind the only strong state entity in Libya is Qaddafi; all other institutions were neutered and kept weak by Qaddafi. Really, I consider Libya a fiefdom that belongs to a warlord. Bahrain is an interesting case: it is an organized state facing a strong opposition; but what really matters here was the Saudis' help. Without pressure from the Saudis, I think the ruling house may be interested in reform.

Of course, I still need to work on these theoretical arguments. Once I get them neatly formulated, I can use that model to explain the effect of colonization and also to explain/answer the questions in the Middle East. As a next step, I think one crucial area to look at is the notion of state formation. In particular, let us look at the process and legacy of colonialism.

Here, what is really important is that colonialism gives the sense of impunity, that as long as leaders have a satisfied selectorate (people whose opinion they really care about), they basically can do anything they want. If leaders face a popular riot due to their incompetence, the British/Dutch/French would be there to save their behind. Before colonialism, the king/sultan was deposed, then another rose to power. In Europe, the constant fragmentation of power due to revolts, etc., actually helped create the condition for democracy. Bad kings got kicked out, new kings needed support, so they appealed to feudal lords or the bourgeois for support and funds. One of the reasons why Louis XVI called for Etats Generaux was because the state was bankrupt and he could not raise taxes on the opposition nobles. He started the assembly, hoping to use the bourgeois to pressure the nobles.

In Asia and Africa, colonialism halted this evolution - though in China's case, it was the bureaucracy's ability to absorb everything, including the bourgeois class, into its ranks by the state exams that allowed absolutism to remain strong. (Perversely, it also allowed for promotion and advancement as everyone was able to become high officials regardless of background, as long as they have smarts and money to pay for study. On the other hand, it stifled innovation, as the doctrinaire type of exam forced a rote-learning system and only this type of system rewarded people.) As a result, Asia and Africa were in limbo: on one hand, they have some sort of proto-democracy, such as the petition system or audience time in the Middle East, where the leaders met with people. On the other hand, there was no leap to the popular democracy, as the rulers were impossible to topple thanks to severe oppression and the domination of rote-learning. That was the major impact of colonialism, which in turn, explains the authoritarianism in Asia and Africa.

Well, that is a really long answer to a single sentence, but bear with me a bit as I offer some quick takes on topics Brad previously covered.

1. On the transition to democracy: Yeah, it is a difficult road to follow, but I think we as scholars working on democracy mostly neglect a very important variable: the belief of invincibility, which, in turn, is a product of adaptation and survival skills. As people clamor for changes, the political elites cling to the authoritarian past. In Indonesia's case, the elite managed to adapt by forming some sort of oligarchy. Basically, every single political elite know each other and has ties either by friendship or even marriage. That is why efforts to eradicate corruption and waste is going at glacial pace in Indonesia. People are no longer shut down by force, but are either ignored or absorbed if they become too noisy or powerful. Not surprisingly trust in the government and support for democracy has hit all time low!

Mother Russia also experienced this kind of situation. The oligarchs and their cronies in the Kremlin were protected by Boris Yeltsin. People got sick of the corruption and waste. The economy went downhill. The communists and nationalists got stronger, so Yeltsin tried to bring in another neglected political elite, the KGB, as a buffer. Once the KGB was in place, they used their strong organization to infiltrate the state and took it over. 

2. On Israel: the best use for Israel in the past few decades was as a bogeyman, a country that could be blamed for any mess in the region. I hate to say this, but I think the relationship with Israel will only be good if the Egyptian government fixes the economy and quickly moves ahead with reform, which pretty difficult now (considering the Japanese economic mess, thanks to the earthquake, and Europe's impossibility to make a deal on how to bail out the deadbeats). Of course, the Israelis also need to bring something to the table if they are really serious to make peace, but I think the they are still playing the "wait-and-see" game, hoping that the new Egyptian government will indicate that they are willing to play ball.

3. On the U.S.: I really think Obama blew entire affair badly. You gave me a good-nature ribbing about my dissatisfaction with Obama, and visitors to my Facebook page could see that I was not amused with his Nobel Peace Prize. So, yeah, perhaps I am biased. Still, events in the past few weeks have convinced me that Obama is not an effective leader. It is 3 AM and he keeps pushing the snooze button. It is Hillary who actually looks presidential now.

Yes, the trip to Brazil is important. It is true, that South America is also brewing. But he could have seen that South America had been brewing from the day one he was in office. Now Columbia is gravitating to Venezuela, not to mention the fiasco in Honduras and various other places in both Central and South America. Recently, he has made time to play golf, announce his NCAA picks, approve the repeal of Defense of Marriage act, and so on, while only giving a few vague speeches on the quake and Libya.

Obama got lucky on Egypt, and I believe he has angered many people around the world. Not surprisingly, the Saudis just ignored his advice and sent tanks rolling into Bahrain. Now, both the government and protesters are both disgusted with America's lack of leadership in the region. Yeah, they hated Bush's overbearing leadership too. But Obama has failed to do much when it was clear that people wanted him to act more quickly and assertively.

4. On al-Qaeda (AQ): You made tons of great points in your last post. I mentioned in my previous post that political Islam was discredited by the revolt and the secular nature of the protests meant that AQ was not a factor, was not involved, and would not gain much. To put it simply, AQ's leadership is actually very simple-minded, not evil geniuses. They know what they want and they use brute force to reach their desired ends. So, yes, the successful uprising in Egypt was a huge blow to their model, that peaceful determined and organized protests do work. In short, I agree with most of your analysis.

In the case of Libya, though, I doubt if AQ will join the fray. It is true that they don't like Qaddafi. On the other hand, they don't like the rebels either. Actually, in every AQ-involved conflict, from Bosnia-Herzegovina during the Yugoslavia civil war to the Somalia civil war, AQ never really blended in well and the organization imposed its strict version of Islam. In Indonesia, AQ was involved in the sectarian civil wars in early 2000s, but most people noted that they did not blend in well with the locals. And AQ's actions got it kicked out in various places, most famously, in Iraq.

Call me an optimist, but even if AQ manages to infiltrate Libya, I doubt if it can do much. Compared to Saudi or Yemen, Libya's version of Islam is not that radical and, in fact, pretty moderate, not unlike in neighboring Tunisia. In addition, both Qaddafi and the rebels don't have any lost love with AQ. Qaddafi at first denounced the rebels as influenced by AQ. On the rebel side, they need world's support, which has made them loath to get associated with AQ. More importantly, with Qaddafi bringing in mercenaries, it has inadvertently created some sort of Libyan nationalism, in that the tribes have united against foreign interferences. AQ is seen as "foreign" influenced, not local, and the tribal leaders have too much at stake (including their tribal leadership) to have AQ come in and steal the limelight.

We need to thank Bush for this. The Iraqi fiasco showed the Arabs that AQ was not a force for good, that al-Qaeda was willing to destroy the lives of ordinary peaceful Muslim citizens. As a result, People no longer saw AQ as a legitimate agent of change, considering the massive civilian casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact, the reason why Taliban and AQ still rules in Afghanistan is not because they are nice, but because they are the only power in town, funded by illicit drugs, making it very profitable to join Taliban and AQ.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Conversation: The Impact of the 2011 Uprisings on World Politics, Part V

Yohanes was supposed to write this response, but he has been having Internet problems in Jakarta. So in the meantime, I am taking over for him. Just to let everyone know, after this post, Yohanes will have the final word, concluding our conversation on the uprisings. Next week we will begin another multi-part conversation, focusing on the political, military, security, and strategic dynamics of the war in Afghanistan.

The last post in this conversation (which was mine) posed a few questions about al-Qaeda (AQ). The overall theme of these questions wondered whether the uprisings have served as a setback or a boon to AQ. In my view, the uprisings are mostly–though not entirely–bad news for AQ. Let us explore this in more detail.

The uprisings have demonstrated four main findings that cut against AQ’s beliefs, arguments, and prominence in the Middle East/North Africa.

1. People, by and large, want democracy, not an Islamic state.

2. As we have seen in the cases of Egypt and Tunisia, political change can occur via peaceful means. Contrary to the views of AQ, violence was not required to overthrow the governments and regimes in these two countries. For almost three decades, Ayman al-Zawahiri (Osama’s right hand man), an Egyptian, has plotted to remove Mubarak forcibly from power, yet he was unsuccessful–often, he found himself in jail for his activities. It was the people power movements, with their emphasis on peaceful civil disobedience, that won the day.

3. AQ played no role in the uprisings. The organization was merely an observer to seismic shifts in the region.

4. Leaders of AQ did not see these events coming nor were they prepared to deal with them. Indeed, they have struggled to formulate a coherent public response or statement to the uprisings. Bin Laden has been quiet. Al-Zawahiri, recently issued three statements, but none of them addressed the uprisings in the region. Experts who have viewed these tapes believe that they were created before the governments in Egypt and Tunisia were toppled.

In a recent opinion piece in The Washington Post, Michael Scheuer, a former CIA hand in charge of the Osama bin Laden unit, presents a much bleaker way of looking at the impact of the uprisings on AQ. The people power movements managed to destabilize the Middle East/North Africa and overthrow governments that were hostile to AQ. In his words, Scheuer writes: "All of this amounts to an enormous strategic step forward for al-Qaeda. That these victories have come with virtually no investment of manpower or money by the terrorist network, and with self-defeating applause from the Facebook-obsessed, Twitter-addled West, only makes them all the sweeter for bin Laden."

And according to Scheuer, AQ has benefited in other ways. He sees the new governments as no longer a bulwark against Islamic terrorism. The domestic environments will be more conducive to the rise of radical speech and organizations in mainstream politics. Moreover, in his view, AQ will now become an even more "geographically widespread movement." In sum, the uprisings have given AQ much more space to operate freely, thereby putting American interests directly in jeopardy.

But the bulk of Scheuer’s arguments are overly pessimistic–really, a series of worst-case judgments–and, simply put, not completely grounded in fact or sound logic. Let us explore further his arguments–the arguments he makes as well as those he overlooks.

1. Even before the uprisings, AQ operated–to one degree or another–in more than 60 countries. It was already a "geographically widespread movement." The practice of "virtual jihad," which has transformed AQ from a hierarchical, centralized organization to a very decentralized movement of sleeper cells and lone wolf attackers, was the big game changer in how and where terrorism occurred. And that phenomenon has been ongoing for 9 plus years, ever since the U.S. began to take tough steps against AQ headquarters in response to the 9/11 attacks.

2. Just because the U.S. may, and probably will, lose influence in the Middle East/North Africa, there is no reason to assume AQ will fill the vacuum. There is no zero-sum relationship between the U.S. and AQ in the region. It is certainly possible that governments like Egypt and Tunisia will take policy positions that are independent of the U.S., but also remain independent of and adversarial to AQ.

3. Yes, we will inevitably see a greater role for Muslim groups and political parties in policy affairs and governing. But the specific identity and interests of these actors are to be determined in the future. Why should we assume that they will be radical and extremist? And why assume that these actors, regardless of their political attitudes, will capture the state? Egypt and Tunisia could go the way of Iran, but they could also follow the lead of Turkey and Indonesia.

4. Scheuer seems to think that Muslims will be overly permissive of extremist talk or action, and that they will be very reluctant to clamp down on Islamic terror groups. He paints a portrait that suggests the new governments very well could be complicit with terror activities. The problem is that there is little evidence to support this claim. Apparently, Scheuer has not taken a look at survey data lately, which is important because these new democratizing governments will be increasingly sensitive to and impacted by public opinion. Support for AQ, terrorism, and violence is way down in Muslim countries over the last 5-7 years. What has happened is that, as AQ emerged from the shadowy underground (in places like Afghanistan) and exposed the world to its actions and beliefs, more and more people have come to find AQ quite repugnant. The clinching factor has been AQ’s willingness to use violence against fellow Muslims (in Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia, etc.).

5. Sure, the transition to democracy can be hijacked by radicals and extremists of different varieties, leading to host of bad outcomes. Columbia University Professor Jack Snyder has written a number of articles and books on this very subject. Snyder’s bottom line is that nascent, weak democratic institutions, processes, and norms provide the kind of environment in which the state is more likely to be hijacked by destructive narrow interests. Naturally, most people think of how democratic elections led to the rise of Nazi Germany. But we can think of more subtle forms of this general pattern. For instance, think of current-day Pakistan. There, since the fall of the Musharraf dictatorship, we see the military as the dominant force in Pakistani democratic politics, distorting Islamabad’s policies in many nefarious ways (refusing to target AQ and the Taliban on Pakistani soil, fomenting anti-American sentiments, prioritizing conflict with India over terrorism, etc.).

The problem is that there is no necessary relationship between democratization and these nasty outcomes. Why? Some countries can build and consolidate democratic institutions and practices in a fairly short time, whereas others fail to do so. The latter group consists of the democratizing countries that typically experience all sorts of problems (think of Yugoslavia and Rwanda in the 1990s). The former group avoids such perils because most of the political and economic rules of the road have been fully and fairly established and internalized, which helps to eliminate potential sources of confusion, resentment, and conflict. Here, think about Central and Eastern Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s as examples.

At this point, it is still possible that Egypt and Tunisia (and any other new democratizing state) will construct the type of democratic institutions and processes that leads these countries to avoid Scheuer’s concerns–that is, the state being captured by narrow, radicalized, Islamic interests (either those indigenous to Egypt or ones from abroad, like Saudi Arabia). It is way too early in their transitions to democracy to think that the door to success has closed. And in fact, it is already an encouraging sign that Egypt and Tunisia are working to empower many voices (including the youth, which is atypical of democratizing states) and proceeding in an orderly, ruled-based fashion. I hope this trend continues.

Right now, I am most worried about Libya, for several reasons. Prolonged civil wars act as a hornet’s nest, attracting local militants as well as those from around the world to join the struggle, and together this mixing of forces can turn into a dangerous brew of radicalism and violence. For instance, the intermingling of local and foreign fighters during civil wars in Lebanon and Afghanistan eventually shifted local struggles, with local interests and concerns, to global jihads, with worldwide grievances and demands. And there have been rumblings that AQ-affiliated members in the region will seek to join their Muslim brothers’ attempt to overthrow Gaddafi and then aim to install an Islamic state in Libya. If true, just like in Lebanon and Afghanistan, the participation of AQ will negatively impact the interests and motives of the rebels, making them more violent and nihilistic. Just as concerning, lawless, unpoliced, and ungoverned areas, which often emerge in civil war settings, provide effective playgrounds for terrorists and their sympathizers to set up camp, recruit foot soldiers, coordinate activities, train for violent campaigns, and smuggle weapons. So even if AQ does not join the fight, its members can take advantage of the situation by moving into areas of Libyan territory and causing mayhem.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Tsunami in Japan: any impact to world politics?

Today I will refrain from talking about the Middle East and switch our attention to Japan, which currently is facing probably the worst crisis since the Second World War.

Generally, people do not make any connection between natural disasters and geopolitics. History, however, shows that mother nature has always been a major player in politics. The rise and fall of Chinese dynasties were influenced by natural disasters. The Medieval Warm Period that hit the world between AD 950-1250 was a factor in the collapse of the Mayan Civilization and the establishment of Genghis Khan's "Golden Horde."

Of course, unlike in the pre-war period, Japan need not worry whether its neighbors will decide to attack during this disaster, as the United States and South Korea find that there are more to lose than gain from allowing countries such as China to invade. The Chinese themselves, of course, would not commit any diplomatic suicide by exploiting this crisis. North Korea might, but I am confident that even though North Korea might do something stupid, the pressures from Zhongnanhai will be so enormous to dissuade further action.

So why the analysis? For one, Japan remains the third largest economy in the world. It also contributes 12.5% of the United Nations' budget, second to the United States (22%), in addition to various foreign aid to third world countries through Japan International Cooperation Agency and other institutions. Furthermore, the fact that two of its nuclear reactors are close to meltdowns will have a major impact on debates on non-carbon sources of energy, nuclear proliferation, etc.

First, let us talk about the economic impact. We have yet to get an exact number of the total damage of this disaster to the Japanese economy, but I will not be surprised if this will further shrink the Japanese economy. As of today, the Japanese export industries are in standstill, and rolling blackouts, inundated factories, and damaged ports, notably in Eastern part of Japan, will surely not help stimulating exports.

While we can argue that the reconstruction in the aftermath of the Tsunami will provide a Keynesian boost to the Japanese economy, the other side of the coin is that the Japanese debt has already hit 196.4% of its GDP in 2010 (compared to America's 58.9%), and few weeks ago, Moody further cut Japan's credit rating to AA, equal to China, meaning Japan will face a higher interest rate.

Dysfunctional Japanese politics also fails to help the matter. Should the politicians go to a "business as usual" mode in the aftermath of the quake, there will be huge waste and the reconstruction and Japan's economic recovery will take a further hit.

This may be a good time for serious Japanese politicians and academics to think about the current political impasse, especially the long-term changes that could reform both Japanese economics and political system. Unfortunately, however, Prime Minister Naoto Kan, the most important figure in this situation, seems to unable to deliver or to show any strong leadership.

This will have a major impact on Japan's foreign aid and its other contributions to international organizations. Any rational recipient of Japanese foreign aid will have to consider that Japan may reduce its foreign aid further. Not to mention Japan will further reduce or restrict its imports either due to lower domestic demand or budget constraints. For many Asian and African countries, this means that they will face slower economic growth due to less money from Japan. Coupled with the economic (and confidence) crisis facing the European Union, this likely mean that the global economy outlook is bleak, at least for the next five or six months.

For the bloated United Nations, this means that the organization will need further belt-tightening. The British already noted that they would reduce its contributions. Obama, regardless of how partial he is to the United Nations, is currently facing a hostile House, demanding further cuts in the U.S. budget deficit.

Finally, on the impact to the debates on alternative/renewable energy: Up to now, there is simply no reliable alternative energy other than nuclear power. Wind farm is not that effective (as we can't store the power efficiently to use during the peak demands, not to mention its impact on bird migration). Solar power's technology is not that advanced yet. Not surprisingly, even liberal Europe still relies on nuclear power. 80% of French electric consumption is supplied by nuclear power. (The United States relies on nuclear power for just 20% of its electricity.)

Already, the disaster forces a moratorium in the decision to build more nuclear plants. Of course, this means that the US-European addiction to carbon-based energy (oil, coal, gas) will remain high. Coupled with current political crisis facing the Middle East, not to mention the Iranian problem, the Libyan civil war, and the potentially explosive condition in Egypt, the price of oil will remain high. It is true that the recession has dampened the impact on the global demands for oil. The total sum, however, remains negative: the debate on the nuclear power means that people will demand more inspections and safeguards, as well as shuttering old nuclear power plants without any alternative energy ready to replace nuclear power.
So what are my predictions?

1. The Japanese economy will not benefit much in the long-run from the short-term Keynesian boost, as the economic confidence toward Japan is already low. The reason why the Keynesian approach works is because the market is confident that the short-term increase in public debt will not hurt the economy in the long run. In the case of Japan, however, the long-term outlook is already horrid thanks to economic mismanagement and political dysfunction. Unless Japan is willing to pursue a complete economic transformation and overhaul its political system, the outlook is horrid.

3. China and the U.S. will remain the engine for global growth. The problem is that the Chinese economy is overheating and the U.S. economy remains in flux, thanks to uncertainties from Obamacare and other Obama-Pelosi domestic initiatives. It is also questionable whether other American states with dysfunctional economies (notably California), observing the ugly fights in Wisconsin, will dare to push for a strong curb on domestic spending.

Thus, the impact of this tsunami: horrid to global economy, and long-term structural problems abound. Either countries need to get their act together or a second major recession is coming soon.

Thoughts on Libya

Today, the Arab League joined a chorus of other world organizations and countries, including Britain and France, in calling for the implementation of a no-fly zone over Libya. Much of the recent debate over a no-fly zone–here in the States and worldwide–has centered around the ease or difficulty with which it can be carried out. For instance, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a prominent voice in this debate–has expressed reservations about a no-fly zone, arguing that it would require a "major operation" to knock out Libya’s air defenses and clear the skies.

Meantime, a recent column by Nick Kristof offers representative example of the other side in the debate. Put simply, the U.S. ought to be able to implement and enforce a no-fly zone against a "third-rate military power" like Libya. Quoting General Merrill McPeak, Kristof writes: "Just flying a few jets across the top of the friendlies would probably be enough to ground the Libyan Air Force, which is the objective....If we can’t do this, what can we do? I think it would have a real impact. It might change their calculation of who might come out on top. Just the mere announcement of this might have an impact."

This debate, however, ignores two key points. First, by many accounts, Gaddafi has been able to inflict damage on the opposition primarily because of his ground forces, tanks, and weaponry. Surprisingly, Libya’s warplanes and aircraft have actually played a small role in the conflict so far. With this mind, a no-fly zone would only marginally enhance the safety and security of people on the ground and do little to impact the balance of forces on the battlefield.

Second, to the extent a no-fly zone can prove useful, is it too late to go ahead with it? The opposition gained the early advantage, but the tide has sharply turned this week: Gaddafi and his forces now have the momentum, recapturing cities and causing increasingly more death and destruction. The opposition is down, morale is low. It is becoming apparent that the most the opposition can hope for is a stalemate, with Libya fractured into two parts. It would have been far better to implement a no-fly zone a week ago, when the opposition had the military advantage. For at that point, it would have sent a strong signal to Gaddafi that his forces were not going to be victorious, which, in turn, might have paved the way for serious negotiations to end the conflict and Gaddafi’s grip on power. Moreover, it likely would have caused a number of more people (civilians, military personnel, government officials, etc.)–many more than the initial wave–to side with the opposition, perhaps enough to turn the conflict decisively into the opposition’s favor.

Another option is to arm the rebels. Here, the goal is to tip the balance of forces in the opposition’s favor so that side could eventually either win outright on the battlefield, thereby imposing a settlement on Gaddafi and his loyalists, or gain enough of a military advantage to force Gaddafi to negotiate on its terms. Surely, this option does remedy a flaw in the no-fly zone idea, in that it directly targets the reason the opposition is struggling. But do we really want to arm an unorganized, rag-tag group of people who we know little about (their intentions, motivations; whether they have ties to terror or other unsavory groups)? I would think that America’s experience in Afghanistan during the 1980s might give everyone second thoughts before going ahead with this idea.

The West’s, and the America’s in particular, current approach to Libya–with its emphasis on tracking and freezing Gaddafi’s assets, forming an international coalition against Gaddafi, cultivating ties to the opposition, and distributing humanitarian relief, among other things–is relatively low-cost and cautious. By design, it is somewhat passive and not likely to produce speedy changes in Libya–at least not the kind of changes that the West prefers. But this only begs many questions.

For instance, I wonder what would trigger an increase in the West’s level of effort. Presumably, more violence, right? But how much more violence? And how would the West adjust its current approach if Libya turns especially bloody? What if the opposition makes a comeback, seizing towns and slaughtering pro-Gaddafi civilians and forces along the way. Is this acceptable? Additionally, how will the West respond if Gaddafi manages to maintain his hold on at least part of the country? France has already recognized the opposition’s transitional government; will the U.S. and other countries do likewise? Ultimately, what kind of price is the U.S. willing to pay to help oust Gaddafi?

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Conversation: The Impact of the 2011 Uprisings on World Politics, Part V

Yohanes, you gave a pretty good description of how autocrats corrupt and abuse state institutions. And your explanation of what happens to the state when autocrats leave office makes sense, though I do wonder how often this occurs in reality. For example, are there any instances of the state trying to reconstitute itself after leaders step down/are forced out? Conceivably, this could be a path that Egypt follows, especially if the military never relinquishes power.

Additionally, I think you’re right that the U.S. should warn these new reform countries that the transition to democracy can be a slow and incremental process, one that is often fraught with peril along the way. Expectations in these countries are high right now, and there is the risk of severe disappointment if the transition to democracy suffers setbacks here and there. People cannot lose hope if things do not go as planned right away; they must be prepared to pursue political and economic (and perhaps cultural) reform over the long-term.

In my opinion, the failure of the U.S. to provide these kind of warnings to Russian citizens during the 1990s helped to damage Moscow’s entire reform project. Clinton Administration officials acted as cheerleaders, extolling the virtues of democracy and open-market capitalism–essentially, they championed political and economic reform as a panacea to all of Russia’s problems. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Arguably, Russia’s problems only got worse through the 1990s: political and economic corruption, a widening gulf between haves and have-nots, terrorism, and violence, among other things, were constants in Russian life. Democracy quickly became associated with disorder and chaos. And feeling fooled and duped by the West’s false promises of democracy, Russians opted for leaders who promised to provide security and stability, even if that meant their country backtracked from the reform process.

Now, onto your questions.

(1) Undoubtedly, the uprisings will impact the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Let us take the case of Egypt as an example. Over time, as the country internally stabilizes, Egypt will turn its attention to the peace process. And at that point, given that Egyptians will have more input on foreign policy issues, and given their attitudes on this specific issue, Israel will likely face increased pressure from Egypt to get a deal done with the Palestinians based on borders from 1967. And Israel knows this. Additionally, because the U.S. is seen as Israel’s backer, Washington will also face pressure to get a deal done.

Where will this lead? When we reflect on the lack of progress over the decades, it is easy to be pessimistic about the likelihood for peace. But I believe the uprisings could be a good thing. At Washington’s bidding, Hosni Mubarak supported the regional status quo, leading Egypt to avoid pushing Israel too hard to work with the Palestinians. In effect, this allowed the Israel-Palestinian conflict to get swept under the rug, and played into Israel’s hands. A more open and free Egypt will no longer take this approach. Egypt will not avoid or ignore the longstanding conflict. Instead, it will likely make a greater effort to make progress on a deal, and this, in turn, might lead others in region to behave similarly, adding a sense of urgency and momentum to the stalled talks.

And while some might fear that the new democratic governments in the Middle East will exhort Israelis to take a bad deal, there is another way to look at this issue. For instance, if these governments significantly get involved in the peace process, they will then have a stake in how the talks move along and in their outcome. Their reputation and credibility will be on the line–important factors to democratic regimes. Hence, from this perspective, these governments will have an incentive to demonstrate–both to their domestic and international audiences–that they can be an effective, responsible partner and mediator in the peace process.

(2) I am not sure where the uprisings will spread next. But I can tell you which governments are unlikely to fall: Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Yes, both countries are home to protest movements filled with people who have serious, deep political and economic grievances. But unlike the cases of Egypt and Tunisia, which had dictators who were abandoned by the U.S., the monarchies in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain still have the support of Washington. Why? Team Obama knows that Saudi Arabia will not capitulate to the protesters calling for regime change and it will not let Bahrain’s monarchy fall. Anything that substantially changes the political dynamics in either country could provoke widespread chaos and violence. And so here, the overriding imperative of the U.S. is to preserve regional stability; complete political transparency, democratic elections, and the like are secondary concerns at the moment.

As a result, the U.S. is pushing for what American officials call "regime alteration." Team Obama will continue to stick by the leaders in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain as long as they start the process of political and economic reform and refrain from committing an unacceptable level of violence. The U.S. is making the bet that existing leaders both countries can take steps toward reform that is meaningful and credible to their political opponents in the streets and cafes and homes and on the Internet. Whether this is a good bet, we will see in the coming weeks ahead.

What are your thoughts, Yohanes? And I am curious to hear how you think al-Qaeda is impacted by these uprisings? As you know, there is an ongoing debate between those who see the uprisings as hurting al-Qaeda and others who believe the uprisings will prove to be a boon for the organization. Which side are you on?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

An Interview, Part II

Once again, Dina El-Gebaly, our CWCP Fellow in Cairo, is helping us figure out what some Egyptians are thinking and feeling nowadays, during this revolutionary period. This time, Dina has interviewed Abbas Fahmy, an Egyptian political activist whom she met while on neighborhood patrol. Both Dina and Abbas are members of the same neighborhood watch group, the Zamalek Guardians. Mr. Fahmy, 44, is married and a father of two beautiful children. He is a marketeer by education and an executive film producer by profession. Thanks to his father's profession, Abbas has lived the first 25 years of his life in different countries around the world. Cairo has been his permanent residence since 1991. This interview took place during the second week of March 2011.

Dina El-Gebaly: Did you support/were you against the Revolution? Why?

Abbas Fahmy: I definitely supported the revolution from the very first moment I heard about the call for demonstrations on Jan 25th (however skeptical I was at first about its chances of success). Now it makes me wish I had the courage to have been among the initiators, the spark for it since Dr. Mohamed El-Baradei has been calling for change. How could I not be? I have been a by-stander all my life, a witness to all the filth, abuse and corruption that were rampant and omnipresent in our life.

DEG: Did you participate in the protests? If so, what was it like to participate in an actual revolution? Describe your experience.

AF: Yes! I participated on Jan 25th in Tahrir Square and on the infamous Friday 28th on Qasr El Nil Bridge. It was a rush, a high that is unequaled. It gave me a sense of pride that I was doing something right, something that was not only for my personal gain but for the gain of every fellow Egyptian that I know or don't know, whether alive or yet to be born.

It's worthy of mention that on the morning of Tuesday [the] 25th we knew that the police was in state of total frenzy and panic. We had been tuning in on their communications.

After that fateful "Day of Rage" was done and the curfew was decreed, I had the sinking feeling that the revolution will prevail. It was the moment I understood that it had reached the "point of no return." The momentum gathered was unstoppable. It was "them" against everyone else. I had realized that it was a do or die. At a later stage I turned my efforts more towards keeping the momentum alive and the information flow going.

DEG: Did you use any social media tools (Facebook, Twitter, cell phones) to communicate about/debate events in Egypt during the revolution?

AF: Just like millions of us, I was glued to the all the technology I could use. Facebook, emails, cell phones, Instant messaging, Skype were not a routine, they were the ONLY routine. Of course, then came the decision to cut off the Internet and then the cell phone services of all 3 providers on Friday [the] 28th. I truly believe that waking up on Friday with no way to communicate actually helped inflame the situation and pushed even more people to pour into the streets. The communication black-out emboldened and aggravated us all even more and we found other, albeit primitive, ways to communicate.

DEG: Did the Muslim Brotherhood play any role during the revolution? What are your predictions of their future political role?

AF: Initially they did not. But later the presence of their sympathizers, without interference and trying to hijack the movement, definitely helped the cause.

I believe that the time has come for their presence to be recognized and for them to have representation, hoping that the moderate ones among them will work for the overall good of the country and not to push an extremist agenda. I laugh at countries, namely Israel, that ring the bells of fear and warn the world about them when they themselves have fundamentalist [views] among their government. The Likud party itself is built on extremist Jewish ideologies. So to all those people I say: Fear not and have faith in the intelligence of the Egyptian people.

DEG: Is there anything you would like to communicate to people who weren't in Egypt during the revolution?

AF: To all the Tunisians I say thank you for showing us that it CAN be done. To all the Egyptians that live abroad I say your support and anguish were strongly felt and your online activism was equally important. To those who decided to flee the country I say: You missed it all! You will never appreciate the taste of what has been achieved as much those who fought for it.

DEG: What are your major fears and concerns about the current political & social situation in Egypt?

AF: The unpreparedness. Since time immemorial (since ancient Egypt), Egyptians have neither been accustomed to choose their leader nor to freely voice their opinion or discontent. What is expected to happen is the initial chaos and status of "free-for-all" that we are currently in. Democracy is not only a process, it's also a culture. It will take time to breed it.

DEG: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about Egypt's future?

AF: I am super optimistic! Mainly for one reason: the old regime will never come back. It will have its place in history books - hopefully under a chapter called "the dark ages of Egypt." We will make mistakes, that's for sure, but the only way is going forth. I am a believer in the overall genuineness of Egyptians.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Oops.... (or analysis on Libya)

When is a good time for an analyst who tries to predict international events, to say "oops, I screwed up, I was wrong?" Having made an assertion few weeks ago that Qaddafi was doing himself no favor by bringing the mercenaries to the fray, I think people have the right to wonder, "If mercenaries are really not that useful, how come Qaddafi is still in power today?"

I will stand by my assertions that Qaddafi's decision to bring mercenaries into the fray is misguided, as he cannot rely on mercenaries to stay in power. The evidence is clear, that Qaddafi's use of mercenaries galvanized the oppositions and drove the population away from him.

The biggest problem facing Libyan rebels are their lack of organization. There is simply no unified command structure - that the rebels don't speak in one voice. Authority is fragmented and there is no united strategy and no vision, aside of their only goal, which is to kick Qaddafi out.

Worse, Libya's regular army, who defected to the rebels early in the unrest, are not that well-trained or well-armed. Most weapons are old, dated back from the Cold War and thus making them unreliable. On the other hand, Qaddafi still controls the air force and his loyal troops are decently trained, leading to stalemates that drags the conflict further.

Therefore, it is not surprising that Qaddafi is still in power, and until the rebels get their act together and create a strong command structure, that will also be helpful in shaping post-Qaddafi's Libya, the war will keep gong.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Women and Egypt

This was not a good day for women in Egypt. Today, which just so happens to be International Women’s Day, a mass rally for citizen rights was held in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Indeed, this was billed as a "Million Women March." But on the ground, observers estimated than no more than 1000 and as possibly few as several hundred women participated. Even worse, those women who did show up were subjected to horrific behavior from men who also gathered at the scene. Women, even girls, were sexually harassed and beaten. Men intimidated, pursued and chased women away from the Square. They chanted and hurled insults against women. In particular, men shouted that women "belong at home" and "will never be president," and screamed epithets such as "cook" to demean women. And very few did anything to help the women demonstrators under extreme duress.

Perhaps this should throw some cold water on the premature celebrating over the role of women in Egypt. Undoubtedly, women provided valuable organizational skills, contributed to securing neighborhoods, and protested in large numbers. Just as importantly, they operated as de facto reporters and journalists by taking pictures and writing reports, blogs, Facebook status updates, and Tweets. And by granting a host of articulate and fascinating interviews, women even served as the backbone of many television, newspaper, and web reports. In many ways, women were the eyes, ears, and face of the so-called Egyptian Revolution. As is obvious, all of these tasks and responsibilities were important, and women should feel immensely proud of their efforts. One commentator even went so far as to call these developments a feminist revolution. But based on today’s events, it is clear that Egypt still has a ways to go before it reaches that point. Egyptian men and women were able to come together in their opposition to Mubarak, but the roles that women played in facilitating that outcome did not fundamentally transform how some men think of and view women, unfortunately.

The unfair, unequal, and oppressive treatment of women is a longstanding problem for Egypt. Human rights monitors and analysts consistently give Egypt low scores on the protection and defense of women’s rights. For example, "a recent report by the World Economic Forum ranked Egypt 125th out of 134 countries when judging the equality between men and women, in good part because so many women do not work, 42 percent of women cannot read or write and almost no women are political leaders. (In 2010, only 8 of the 454 seats in Parliament were held by women.)" As another example, Freedom House–a distinguished non-profit organization that assesses countries on the basis of respect for civil and political liberties–considers Egypt a"Not Free" country, in part because of how Egyptian women are treated by the state and society in general. Additionally, according to a 2008 survey by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, this is a country in which 83% of Egyptian women claimed to have been sexually harassed at least once in their lives, and at least half are sexually harassed every day.

In a larger context, at least for now, this is not a good sign for democracy in Egypt. Men in leadership positions, and men in general, cannot disempower women and expect democracy to thrive. Democratic processes, institutions, and ideas will never take root and sustain themselves over the long-term if half the population is frozen in subservience. Such treatment flies in the face of basic and essential democratic principles like fairness and equality and toleration/respect for others. And this is not merely an abstract, theoretical argument. When women are fully integrated into the social, political, cultural, and economic fabric of their countries, so many powerful, practical benefits inevitably follow. Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half The Sky chronicle a number of these benefits. When women are empowered, countries have higher education and literacy rates, improved women’s and children’s health rates, a more skillful population, a better economy, and a vibrant bulwark against political extremism and violence. These are exactly the kinds of conditions under which democracy can thrive.

It will be a terrible shame if Egyptian women are forced back into the background, especially after their heroic contributions during the January 25th uprising. To avoid this, we need to see a cultural shift. Egypt has been a patriarchal society, and the attitudes of some men reflect this. It will take courage, but women must continue to press the issue of equal rights for all Egyptians. They must speak out in public and on the Internet. They must push business, government, religious, and other prominent figures to make women’s rights a priority. But the bulk of action is not only a burden for women to bear. Cosmopolitan, sensible Egyptian men also need to contribute mightily. These men cannot remain apathetic in this struggle, and they must avoid being cowed and bullied by cruel and barbaric men who treat (or advocate treating) women poorly.

Egyptians should strive to model their society after the joyous scene in Tahrir Square on February 11th–the date that Mubarak stepped down. There, we saw men and women, people of various religious and political backgrounds, young and old, they all gathered together and were united as one, looking forward to a better, happier future. This is the kind of society that Egyptian women want, I have no doubt. We need more Egyptian men to want this as well.

An Interview

Here is a special treat for CWCP followers/readers. In order to give everyone a better idea of what it was like to live through and participate in the so-called Egyptian Revolution, CWCP Fellow Dina El-Gebaly conducted an interview with Randa Haggag, a friend of Dina’s and an Egyptian political activist. Ms. Haggag has studied business, currently works as Head of Marketing for a Multinational Corporation and also owns a Modern Egyptian Fashion Line. The interview was conducted during the first week of March 2011.

Dina El-Gebaly: Did you support/were you against the Revolution? Why?

Randa Haggag: With the revolution. [Because] Egypt was not a livable place anymore and radical change had to take place to improve things. Corruption and poverty were just eating out everyone's life.

DEG: Did you participate in the protests? If so, what was it like to participate in an actual revolution? Describe your experience.

RH: Yes starting the 28th of Feb. I wrote a 25 page document on my experience and feelings, but in a nutshell. The demonstrations gave me the opportunity to live Egypt the way I want to see it. People were so civilized, aware, decent, tolerant, smiling and cooperative, it was the best time of my life. Even though we had so many different sectors of the society participating, we all found one ground and one objective and nothing else mattered.

DEG: Did you use any social media tools (Facebook, Twitter, cell phones) to communicate about/debate events in Egypt during the revolution?

RH: Yes. All.

DEG: Did the Muslim Brotherhood play any role during the revolution? What are you predictions of their future political role?

RH: The beauty of this revolution is that it was purely national, with all sects participating equally. So, NO, MBs were not playing any special role in this revolution. You had AUC [The American University in Cairo] graduates, along with [illiterate people], all joining forces to live. Even when one of the parties would try to take a mike and start preaching, [people] would snap at them and refuse the [speech] saying: national, national, our revolution is national, not based on sect or on a specific party.

The other beauty is that we discovered the MBs in this revolution. We were as frightened from them as you are now, but after getting a little closer to them, I can say they saved my life on Wednesday the 2nd of Feb when the Regime sent horses and camel and thugs to finish us. They joined the Tahrir square [because] everyone was calling for the world to save us and they helped us organize ourselves and in [consequence] win.

I will never vote for an MB government [because] I am liberal, but I am not terrified anymore. I will join another party to make sure they remain in their right place. This revolution made us get closer as a nation on so many fronts.

DEG: Is there anything you would like to communicate to people who weren't in Egypt during the revolution?

RH: To the Egyptians living abroad, [we] need your support on all fronts: political, economical and moral. There will come a point when we will want you to come back to Egypt to join our reform. We need your expertise.

To the rest of the world: Thanks for those who supported us and spoke highly of our peaceful revolution. Come for tourism to speed up the economy cycle [because] we have so much to worry about and the immediate thing is to ensure all social classes of the 85 Million citizens have enough food for the coming 6 month to a year, which is not the case now.

DEG: What are your major fears and concerns about the current political and social situation in Egypt?

RH: I want Dr. Baradei to be president in order to pursue the revolutionary steps of reform. He is our reflection in a Regime and we are his reflection in the streets, homes and offices. I don’t want a president that will come to dilute the essence of the revolution and turn the reform into another personal agenda.

On [the] social front, like our professor Galal Amin said, it is just matter of time until the Egyptians will adapt to the new Regime where 'trust' is the foundation. Then, the Egyptian good manners and morals will prevail once again.

DEG: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about Egypt's future?

RH: VERY optimistic. It is the only way FORWARD. People died for that cause and we have no option but to make it work for the best of our country.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

What Do We Call What is Happening in the Middle East/North Africa?

Many different terms and labels have been used to describe the current events in the Middle East and North Africa, but which ones are most appropriate?

We at CWCP have been using "uprisings," which is a decent term to describe the events in a general way. After all, we are witnessing people "rising up," showing defiance, against established authorities, typically national governments and affiliated institutions. But the problem is that this term does not capture some of the variation in events and processes across all of the cases. Not all acts of defiance in the region have taken the same form or resulted in the same outcomes.

For instance, in Saudi Arabia and Oman, we observe mostly peaceful protests and demonstrations–at least so far. However, keep an eye on Saudi Arabia, which seems very reluctant to provide much of an opening for the protests to sustain themselves for any length of time. Indeed, in an ominous warning to protesters, Saudi Arabia announced on Saturday that its security forces will enforce existing bans on marches, sit-ins, and demonstrations.

Meantime, in Libya, we see a much more violent chain of events. What started as peaceful protests quickly morphed into an armed rebellion. Indeed, it is just about at the point now that we can say, without much hesitation, that we are seeing a civil war in Libya. Two organized groups are fighting for political authority and all of its attendant benefits. On one side is a increasingly organized opposition, with arms, fighters, political figures and military officers, and a nascent administrative body (the National Transitional Council) located in Benghazi. And on the other side is Gaddafi and his loyal forces, who are defending Tripoli and trying to take back cities that the opposition has seized over the last few weeks.

Now as for Egypt and Tunisia, cases that clearly differ from the ones discussed above, another, unique term seems appropriate. Asef Bayat (Sociology and Middle East Studies Prof at U of I) astutely argues that Egypt and Tunisia are in the midst of "refo-lutions." What does this mean? As we know, protesters in both countries successfully drove sitting leaders from power and dismantled a host of state institutions (the ruling parties, various legislative bodies, ministries, etc.). But, Bayat claims, because these successes happened so quickly, the opposition had little time to organize its own formal bodies and organs that can exercise political power over their countries. As a result, the opposition now must rely on the remaining state institutions (such as the military) to carry out all of the political and economic reforms on their behalf. Remarkably, a part of this effort includes institutionalizing the processes, instruments, and ideas of democracy. Hence, Bayat writes: "Here again lies a key anomaly of these revolutions–they enjoy enormous social power, but lack administrative authority; they garner remarkable hegemony, but do not actually rule. Thus, the incumbent regimes continue to stand; there are no new states or governing bodies, nor novel means and modes of governance that altogether embody the will of the revolution."

Should more political turmoil emerge in the coming days, weeks, and months ahead, there will be a tendency to place labels on these situations. Which is fine, and it makes sense to do so. But we have to make sure that the words and phrases we use to describe these events bear a close resemblance to reality on the ground.