Center for World Conflict and Peace

Center for World Conflict and Peace

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Of Libya and Syria

Last week, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham argued the need for Obama's administration to supply weapons to Syrian opposition forces. While the strategic analysis is sound, that such action could weaken Iran, a major question, however, remains. What will happen should the opposition overthrow President Bashar al-Assad?

What happened in Libya after the death of Qaddafi should give everyone some pause. The militias are running out of control. The head of Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) Mustafa Abdul-Jalil even admitted that the council was powerless to control them.

The reason is simple: Libya was a military victory, not a political one. What I mean here is that the rebels' victory happened without them creating a coherent strong administrative and governing organization that could control the country, especially the armed groups.

While it is true that the NTC had support from many countries as noted in my previous post, they never had total control over all militia groups in Libya. Most militias only gave lip-service to its authority; they never really bought into the idea that the NTC was a legitimate political entity. The armed groups backed the NTC for a fairly straightforward reason: they despised Qaddafi and gambled that it was best to band together under the NTC banner because they all realized that they could not win against Qaddafi on their own.

More importantly, however, recognizing the NTC meant that some arms support, especially from France, was provided, which they received directly through airdrops. That, inadvertently, undermined the NTC itself, as it could not use the weapons as some sort of carrot-and-stick to maintain the loyalty of the militias.

By the time the rebels managed to overrun Qaddafi's defenses in Tripoli, everyone was completely armed to teeth, and the NTC did not have the ability to disarm them or to impose any control over them, unless the NTC was willing to provoke another devastating civil war. And it's clear the NTC wasn't willing to go that far.

This post-war mess has happened because the political leaders in France, Britain, and the United States focused on achieving a quick victory and neglected thinking of "what next." Thus, instead of channeling the arms through the NTC, they dropped it directly to the rebel militias. Instead of trying to force a strong unitary command, they opted to have a quick victory by arming everyone. This quick victory meant that the central political organization did not have time to mature and to gain some sort of legitimacy and power. Rather, there are now many groups willing and capable of pursuing their self-interests and exercising their power.

Apparently, these three nations didn't grasp the lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan, that a political settlement is a must in order to prevent further chaos. All three nations were running against the clock: the longer the war, the more expensive it would be, and more costly politically, especially in the United States. Thus, regardless of "what next," the war must be won.

Of course, few now care about Libya. Qaddafi fell and that was that. The 24/7 news-cycle has moved on to Syria. Nobody cares about the aftermath of Obama's splendid little war.

Still, this should be a lesson for Syria. Rather than looking to quickly foment the collapse of the House of Assad, what Syria needs is a strong, unified rebel organization that can impose control over its militias. It will take time, but it has to be done.

Friday, February 24, 2012

SCAF and the NGO Controversy

In a previous blog post, I argued that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (or SCAF), Egypt's current leadership, has demonstrated a combination of incompetence and suspect intentions. That post focused on the soccer violence that has plagued Egypt. Unfortunately, once again, the SCAF finds itself in trouble, demonstrating much of the same incompetence and dubious intentions.

This time, suspicious of outsiders, Egypt's judicial system has gone on the attack against foreign NGOs operating in the country. Although significant public furor over this, both here in the States, Egypt, and elsewhere, really has just recently surfaced, the attack on foreign-based NGOs really started a couple months ago. Back in late December, security personnel stormed the officies of 17 NGOs, such as Freedom House, NDI (National Democratic Institute) and IRI (International Republican Institute), trashing offices and seizing documents and computer hardware and interrogating employees for hours. Shortly thereafter, the justice department formally blocked 19 Americans working for NGOs in Egypt, including Sam LaHood, the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, from leaving the country. 

Now, this month, Egypt has proceeded to charge 43 people, including LaHood and 15 other Americans, with "with crimes that included operating without registration and illegally accepting foreign funds – that is, U.S. government dollars - without the agreement of the Egyptian government." If Egypt's justice department doesn't change course, the charged will face a trial, which is scheduled to begin February 26, and could serve time in prison. 

American officials have expressed surprise, exasperation, and anger at this turn of events. It's an unnecessary disturbance in Egypt-U.S. relations at a time when there's already rising uncertainty and trepidation between both sides. In some circles, the actions against the NGO workers have been interpreted as a form of hostage taking. Moreover, Washington sees Egypt as ungrateful. Organizations like NDI and IRI are in Egypt to provide democracy assistance to people, groups, and political parties, among others, a seemingly valuable tool for a country undergoing a turbulent transition to democracy. To U.S. political elites, it makes no sense, and is downright foolish, to demonize and target benign and helpful organizations.

With this in mind, a number of Congresspersons, such as Rand Paul, have called for the U.S to suspend its aid package of $1.5 billion to Egypt. Meantime, John McCain, who's demonstrated excellent leadership during this fiasco, has called for a calmer approach. In an effort to reduce tensions and resolve the crisis, McCain led a delegation to Cairo and met with Egyptian leaders, including Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who heads the ruling military council, and members from the Muslim Brotherhood and its political faction, the Freedom and Justice Party. McCain has dialed down some of the more heated American rhetoric, expressing that the U.S. seeks to solve any differences through diplomacy.

According to McCain: "The way we approach this issue of the NGOs is with some guarded optimism that we will resolve this issue very soon....We met with Field Marshall Tantawi. He gave us his assurance that they are working very diligently to try to resolve the NGO issue....The speaker informed us they are working on a new NGO law to update the Mubarak era's rather restrictive and repressive NGO law." Further, he argued that "We don't think it helps progress, on this very difficult situation for American citizens, to make threats [to cut aid]. We are not making threats. There is plenty of time to make threats."

What is the role of the SCAF in this mess?

I have heard rumors that the SCAF has tried to dissociate itself from the NGO controversy. And the recent statements by Representative Gary Ackerman confirms what I have been hearing. Specifically, the SCAF claims that it was caught off guard, wasn't behind the actions against the NGOs and their employees, has no control over these events, and wants to let the judicial process play out.

Sure, the SCAF might not have initiated the aggression against the NGOs, and could have been unaware of what the justice ministry was plotting. And there are reports circulating that Minister of International Cooperation Fayza Abul Naga, a relic from the Mubarak era, is behind all of this. Supposedly, she's the one who launched the crackdown and is looking to undermine pro-democracy NGOs in Egypt. Abul Naga claims Freedom House, IRI, and NDI seek to "sow chaos, thwart the development of a strong and democratic Egypt, and turn the revolution to the interest of the United States and Israel.”

Even so, it's absurd to think that the SCAF bears no responsibility in this mess. It's the leadership: it's in charge of the country and is by far the most powerful political actor in Egypt. It is unlikely that the SCAF would permit groups and people to do things it doesn't want them to do. Consider this: "no mere civilian would be allowed to jeopardize United States military assistance worth $1.3 billion annually on his or her own initiative, as Minister of International Cooperation Fayza Abul-Naga has seemingly done." If it wanted, the SCAF absolutely could apply sufficient coercive or persuasive pressure on the justice dept to make the charges go away. And the SCAF knows this, it's acutely aware of what it can do in this situation. Still, it hasn't acted. At a minimum, then, the SCAF is permitting and allowing the war on foreign NGOs to continue and fester. By not vetoing or blocking the justice department, the SCAF has endorsed its moves. And at worst, of course, there could be some collusion between the SCAF, justice officials, and political elites like Abul Naga.

Obviously, all of this begs the following question: why might the SCAF collude with the justice department or ignore the legal proceedings? Will Marshall, a board member for the National Endowment for Democracy, another American organization that specializes in democracy assistance to foreign countries and groups, makes two compelling points.
One answer is that government’s action is popular, and the military would lose more by failing to defend Egypt’s “sovereignty” than by irritating Washington. Another is that the generals, no less addicted to conspiracy theorizing than other Egyptians, actually believes U.S. and European NGOs are stirring up popular unrest. Blaming domestic strife on foreign interference is an autocratic habit that dies hard in the Middle East.
After a perusal of the popular blogs on international politics, like and and, it's apparent that a number of analysts and scholars are concerned that the NGO controversy suggests a bad future Egyptian politics. Perhaps, but there are way so many variables that could impact Egypt, in either a good or bad way, that we really can't even begin to map out where Egypt is headed in the distant future. And it's almost impossible to say what these events mean for Egypt over the long-term. If we want to start to deduce any conclusions, it's better to concentrate on short-term politics in Egypt, a parameter in which many of the major players and structures should remain intact.

Looking ahead to the next few months in Egypt, here is a non-exhaustive list of items I'll be keeping my eye on. Will the SCAF get into more trouble? If so, what will be the repercussions? How will the activists and revolutionaries respond? How will the SCAF handle the process of turning over power to a civilian legislature and president? And to what extent will the SCAF, at the urging of the military, look to protect its interests from civilian oversight and interference?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Republican Horse Race

We now approach the third month in what was supposed to be a two-week primary campaign. Mitt Romney had been the establishment’s favorite all along—he had the money and the campaign infrastructure to nearly win Iowa and cruise to victory in New Hampshire. And despite his inability to win over the Republican base, Romney left New Hampshire—a state he entered as only the "presumptive frontrunner"—as the virtual nominee. It was a matter of when, not if, Romney would win the nomination.

New Hampshire now seems like ancient history. Weeks away from Super Tuesday, Romney trails in national polls and in his home state of Michigan. He lost the only "must-win" state in Republican presidential politics—South Carolina. And it looks as if Romney is strong only among those demographic groups that are least excited about a Republican president—the moderate, the liberal, the educated, and the wealthy. If Romney has a base at all, it is located somewhere far from the traditional Republican constituencies.

What I find most interesting in the current iteration of the Republican presidential race is that there is some sense of panic among the party elite and its base. Everyone, it seems, is worried. The base is worried that they’ll have a moderate standard bearer, and the establishment is increasingly worried that Romney is not as electable as they had presumed.

The problem is partially the fault of the alternative-to-Romney candidates themselves. The social conservative icon Santorum is repugnant to the libertarian elements of the party. Everyone who knows Newt Gingrich well argues that he’s unfit for office, not to mention the fact that he runs as a family-values candidate while clutching the hand of his third wife.

But the blame ultimately falls on Romney and his backers. The establishment wanted electability, but electability comes both from igniting the passions of the base and appealing to moderate voters. There are candidates out there who could have done both—Mitch Daniels, Paul Ryan, Jeb Bush, or possibly even Chris Christie. Romney’s candidacy satisfies only one side of that equation. He has never fired up the base, and probably never will.

This is not to say, of course, that Romney can’t win the nomination. In fact, I would still be surprised if he didn’t. But winning the nomination is the first, and least important, obstacle. If Romney wins, the Republican Party will run against an articulate sitting president, who is better-financed and presides over an improving economy. And it will run with a demoralized base. This is a great failure of the party’s leadership, and it comes with two very serious consequences.

The first is that in the world of governance, Republicans will be shut out of the game for another four years. Obamacare, a piece of legislation that I have argued is extremely misguided, will not be reformed in any significant way. Perhaps multiple justices of the Supreme Court will be appointed. Progressive intellectuals might sit in the seats that have been occupied by the likes of D.C. Circuit judge Brett Kavanaugh, or former solicitor general Paul Clement.

The second is that the conservative movement will have learned the wrong lessons from eight years of powerlessness. Many currently believe the movement's failures can be blamed on the moderate voices within the party. And they will come to the 2016 presidential primary with a renewed belief that only the most conservative candidate is palpable. This will mean another electoral loss for the Republicans, unless by fortune the conservative candidate they settle on both appeals to moderates and has the force of personality to steer the party in a new direction.

I do not mean to hold the grassroots blameless. Undoubtedly, the conservative movement, of which I am a member, is approaching the line of incoherence—supporting reduced deficits without allowing for more revenue or less entitlement spending. But the path back to sensibleness—and power—was never going to be blazed by the grassroots that quite frankly has much better things to do with its time than obsess over politics. Party leadership sets the movement’s course, and always has. I hope next time they’ll choose a better captain.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

An Interview with Amalie Flynn

As our readers know, in addition to our usual writing and analysis on various topics on world politics, we also occasionally present interviews with people who have interesting and unique experiences and perspectives relevant to the main themes of this blog. Here, in this blog post, I'm pleased to share an interview I recently conducted with the writer and poet Amalie Flynn. She is the wife of a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy who was deployed to Afghanistan in 2007. Of course, Amalie is also the author of three blogs, including the powerful Wife and War, an ongoing project that focuses on the experiences--some true to her, some fictionalized--of a military spouse. Amalie's poems have been published in The New York Times and Time and received attention from CNN.

Brad Nelson: I would like to begin by talking a bit about your writing, which I, admittedly, very much enjoy. Appropriately enough, you consider yourself a writer and poet. Is this a career you planned on entering? Are you a writer by training?

Amalie Flynn: I am a writer. I have an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Alabama, and have been writing for years. I write fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Currently I have three blogs. And I just completed my memoir.

BN: What was your motivation to launch WIFE AND WAR? And what do you think you have gotten out of this endeavor?

AF: I married my husband in 2002, a year after 9/11. He was in the Navy, but I never considered myself a military wife. We always lived off base. And, honestly, military life seemed foreign to me. But in 2007, my husband was deployed on an Individual Augmentation to Afghanistan. He was gone for 15 months, leaving myself and our young son behind. Suddenly, I became a military wife. My husband was at war, living in a war zone, where every day was a day he could be killed, or seriously injured. And I was at home, waiting, raising our child alone, missing him, and wondering what my life would be like if he did not come home. And then he did come home, and after the elation of homecoming was over, things were not as easy as we had expected. Deployment was hard. But, in many ways, reintegration was harder. The challenge of reintegration is a quiet, subtle effect of war. And while the headlines broadcast, rightly so, the more tragic effects of war, death, loss of limbs, traumatic brain injury, and PTSD, the quieter, more subtle effects of war often go unnoticed. But they exist. They are part of my story. And they are part of the stories of countless others. And I felt, artistically, as a writer, that I wanted to tell that story. I was inspired by my experience of war and so I began my WIFE AND WAR blog. Because of the publicity I have received for my writing (The New York Times, TIME, CNN), I am able to reach a global audience. I have received many responses to my writing, from people all around the world, from military wives and soldiers to men and women who have no affiliation with the military, people who say that my writing resonates with them. To become part of this important and global conversation about war and to know that my writing resonates with readers is fulfilling.

BN: I’m interested to hear your thoughts on the creative process of your writing. Specifically, I’m curious about how you come up with your ideas. Is your writing a spontaneous process? Or is it more of a conscious, deliberate effort to produce something?

AF: It can be difficult to describe the process of creating. I am, in my very bones, a writer. The images and ideas I use, the words I choose, are all created somewhere deep within me and come forward, mostly, unsolicited. And, then, I craft them, both by instinct and by skill. So my writing process is spontaneous and unconscious and conscious and deliberate, all at once.

BN: As any reader of your work knows, your poems touch on a wide range of evocative emotions and feelings (anxiety, a sense of dread, grief, longing, loneliness, tenderness, and so on). Have you had any reservations about writing on such raw and delicate issues?

AF: I don’t have any reservations writing about such raw and delicate issues. My specific story, having a husband who goes to war, is not everyone’s story. But the emotions involved, fear, dread, grief, longing, loneliness, tenderness, loss, these are the emotions we all have. What I am writing about are relationships, the relationships we all have, the connections we all make, and the disconnections we all face when those relationships are challenged. The emotions and experiences I write about are universal. They are part of being human. And they are what tie us all together.

BN: My favorite poem of yours is "Blade." I occasionally go running, see freshly cut lawns, and then think of this poem. It’s vivid and powerful. What made you think of using "blades of grass" as the heart of one of your poems?

AF: There is something very American about a lawn. For me, a suburban lawn is as wistful and aspiring as it is green. It is symbolic of an American dream. At the time that we received the news that my husband was going to deploy to Afghanistan, we were married, with a young child, with a new house, and with our whole lives seemingly stretched endlessly in front of us. The news of his deployment seemed to cut all of that down, our dreams and aspirations and expectations of our future, like a lawn mower cuts down blades of grass. BLADE is about death, destruction, and dismemberment but it is also about resilience, how something ruthlessly cut can survive and flourish.

BN: Do you attach special significance or important to any of your poems? If you do, to which one or ones?

AF: Every poem expresses an experience I have had or an emotion I have felt or, even, an experience or emotion that I may not have had or that I may not have felt but that I can connect to, as a military wife, because I know that they are the experiences and emotions of so many other military wives. 

BN: I know you are writing your memoir. And you have completed a manuscript. Can you tell us anything about this work? And can we expect to see it in print or online anytime soon?

AF: I have written my memoir. My agent is currently shopping it to publishers. Like my poetry, it is based on my experience as a military wife and it expresses the unique challenges of deployment and reintegration in a narrative and poetic form. It also ties in my experience of being just blocks away from the Twin Towers on 9/11, seeing the tragedy unfold before my eyes, a tragedy that led me to my husband and led my husband to war. 

BN: Of course, your personal experiences as a military spouse informs quite a bit of your writing, and so I’d like to explore this part of your life. To begin, what were your thoughts when you first heard that your husband was going to be deployed to Afghanistan?

AF: When my husband told me he was going to be deployed to Afghanistan, I felt like I had no warning. My husband is in the Navy. At that point, he had never been deployed while we were married. When I heard he was going to be deployed to Afghanistan, as part of an Embedded Training Team with the Army, that he was going to have to train to become a soldier, that he was going to have to carry a gun, and that he was going to be living and working in the very heart of a war, I was not prepared. Now, I know better. If you are in the military, this can happen, you can be sent to war, boots-on-ground, no matter what branch you joined. Later, when I learned that he was going to be working to build a college and curriculum for Afghan soldiers, and teaching them, I was thankful. I was thankful that my husband was going to be able to utilize his doctoral training in educational partnerships, because I knew it would be fulfilling for him and helpful for the people of Afghanistan.

BN: Did you develop any relationships with other military spouses while your husband was away at war.

AF: While my husband was deployed, I didn’t even know any other military spouses. The thing about an Individual Augmentation is that soldiers are called up singularly. My husband went to Afghanistan alone, meaning he did not go with a unit. And I was left here alone, with little support. We rented out our house and I moved to New Jersey to be closer to my parents. I remember seeing the yellow ribbons, signs in store windows saying we support the troops, and feeling very anonymous. That experience makes me think of all of the military wives out there, left, alone, when their husbands go to war on an Individual Augmentation, with little or no support.

BN: I can imagine that your experience as a military spouse is stressful, on a number of levels, especially during the time when your husband was deployed abroad. To the extent that you feel comfortable talking about this, can you describe the stress or pressure you have faced.

AF: It was stressful when my husband was at war. Every day was a day he could die or get seriously injured. And every day was the day I could get notified. I remember every time I drove around the corner, onto my street, as the condo I was living in came into view, I would look for a car out front, a car that might hold an officer, who might tell me, my husband was dead. There is stress and pressure. But life also goes on. And that provides its own unique pressure, because you do go on, and you live your life, without him, accepting the fact that it could be forever.

BN: I was fascinated to read that "the homecoming" or the reunion between you and your husband, after he returned from his deployment, didn’t go smoothly at first. In short, the war had changed both of you in various ways. Did you anticipate this? And how did you cope with your changed lives?

AF: Reintegration is hard. War changes people. When your husband has been at war for over a year, he is different. And when you have been living, alone, at home, without him, you are different. Your relationship is different. Reintegration was hard for us. Neither of us expected the challenges of reintegration. But there we were. We were disconnected by war. We had to reconnect and learn how to be together again. We had to allow space for the war, because the war was there, our experience of war was always there, in our marriage. War is such an intense experience, it does not disappear, and so we had to make room for it, as we moved forward.

BN: I’ve also read that you believe not enough attention has been given to "what happens after war, on the struggles soldiers and their spouses face." Can you elaborate on this?

AF: I don’t believe enough attention is given to what happens after war, to the struggles soldiers and their spouses face on the home front. That is why I believe my WIFE AND WAR blog is important. It expresses the challenges of deployment but, also, reintegration. It affirms for those military spouses facing the challenges of reintegration that they are not alone, and it exposes the challenges of reintegration to those who don’t think about what happens to military families after soldiers come home. I believe it is important to realize that the war is not over when a soldier comes home. Soldiers and their families fight their own wars here at home, rehabilitating from injuries, recovering from trauma, and reintegrating back into a society that feels foreign to them.

BN: Lastly, as a result of your and your husband’s circumstances, do you look at military conflict and war any differently nowadays?

AF: I don’t believe in war. If anything, my convictions of peace are stronger as a result of my experience of war. I want peace in this world, for all people. I want peace for the children we are leaving this world to, for my children, for the Afghan children, for the Iraqi children, and for all children, across the globe, especially the ones living in war torn places, the ones who are born into war and know nothing besides war. I want peace for all of us.

For further information about Amalie Flynn, please see her blog Wife and War. You can find Amalie on Twitter and Facebook. And for inquiries or comments, please contact Amalie via email at

Friday, February 10, 2012

Soccer Violence in Egypt

Soccer fans flee from a fire at Port Said Stadium February 1, 2012. REUTERS-Stringer

Soccer fans flee from a fire at Port Said Stadium February 1, 2012.

Once again, Egypt has once been roiled by violence. This time, the violence occurred in the aftermath of a soccer match between two Egyptian clubs, al-Masry and Al-Ahli. Apparently, last Wednesday, hundreds of al-Masry supporters stormed the pitch, menaced the Al-Ahli players, and went on the rampage against Al-Ahli fans. These fans, in response, headed for the exit, which was locked. As more and more fans piled into the exit area, many became trampled and then suffocated. In all, 74 people died and over 1000 were injured.

Since then, angry Egyptians have protested in several cities, including at the interior ministry in Cairo and police stations in Suez. They have called for the military government, or SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces), to step down, turn over power to a transitional government, and speed up plans to hold presidential elections. (On the last point, it looks like the protesters have gained a minor victory, though the military still won't cede power until June.) The protests have turned ugly, indeed only fueling further violence, as the police and protesters have fought street battles, which has led to more deaths and injuries. 

Soccer-related violence is by no means uncommon, especially in Europe. Soccer fanatics, or really thugs and hooligans, have caused soccer matches to be canceled and later played in front of empty stadiums. Soccer fanatics have rioted, fought against police and other fans, and caused death and destruction. Research has shown that soccer fanatics have even played a role in large-scale ethnic cleansing. And this is only a brief list of their nefarious acts. Along these lines, Egypt is no different. The country has its soccer hooligans, or Ultras, who have their own a history of violence and criminality.

But the recent violence in Egypt is a bit different than the usual story of soccer fan hooliganism. Oh sure, I don't doubt that the perpetrators are thugs and criminals. More specifically, this group of thugs is likely a mixture of counter-revolutionaries, mercenaries recruited to cause unrest, and miscreants looking for and causing trouble. Regardless, this isn't the whole story. Remember, Egypt nowadays is in the midst of a political revolution. This was the setting in which the violence unfolded, and this fact matters in a number of ways.

First, consider this very interesting point made by Juan Cole: "Ahli soccer rowdies had played a leading role in the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, and I saw them lining up around Tahrir Square last summer to provide security to a second round of protests. Ultras had often fought police after games, and used that experience during the revolution. Those in Egypt’s dissident movement already predisposed to see the military and police as holdovers of the Mubarak regime darkly suspected that police in Port Said had their own thugs target Ahli ultras in an act of revenge."

Second, present-day Egypt is also deeply divided, another part of revolutionary conditions. On the one hand, it is clear that some police/security forces are actively seeking to stop the revolution, while others are looking for retribution. Perhaps they saw the soccer match as an opportunity to satisfy these goals. Indeed, it shouldn't be a surprise that eyewitness accounts say that policing in the stadium was very light and that thugs were deliberately let into the stadium by the few police who were stationed there.

On the other hand, the revolutionaries and reform-minded sympathizers, among others, seek to protect and advance the gains they have achieved over the last year. They are anti-establishment, anti-police/security, and against anything else they see as impediments to democratic change. It also doesn't help that the revolutionaries view the police/security forces and the military government as leftovers of the repressive Mubarak era. Emboldened by their successes, as well as very angry at and motivated by the soccer violence, they have confronted the police/security forces, protesting at various spots in Egypt, which has only escalated tensions and hostilities.

The revolution matters in another way: it brought to power the military government. There are suspicions that the generals intentionally were slow to deal with the crisis, for various reasons. Perhaps as a form of revenge, to inflict some pain on the Ultras who supported the revolution. Perhaps to provide a bloody reminder that the military is still needed for security and stability in Egypt. And of course, there is the widespread belief that the military is just not on board with all of the democratic changes that the reformers yearn for.

This then begs the following questions: What does the military want? What are its preferences and interests? Consider the following assessment from Omar Ashour:

Ideally, [the military] would like to combine the Algerian army’s current power and the Turkish army’s legitimacy. This implies a parliament with limited powers, a weak presidency subordinate to the army, and constitutional prerogatives that legitimate the army’s intervention in politics.
The minimum that they insist on is reflected in statements by Generals al-Mulla, Mamdouh Shahim, Ismail Etman, and others. That would mean a veto in high politics, independence for the army’s budget and vast economic empire, legal immunity from prosecution on charges stemming from corruption or repression, and constitutional prerogatives to guarantee these arrangements.

If this is what the military wants, and keep in mind Ashor's account seems reasonable, then it has undoubtedly set itself up for a battle with a host of Egyptian political factions. After all, as Shadi Hamid points out, "All major political forces agree that the military must go back to the barracks and cease interfering in day-to-day politics. There are differences on specifics—such as parliamentary oversight over the military budget and immunity provisions for senior officers—but, notwithstanding its ability to outmaneuver its opponents, the military’s influence in politics will be significantly curtailed."

We should also consider that the people now running the show are military guys, not seasoned politicians. For years, yes, they have played a behind the scenes role in Egyptian politics, largely to protect and enlarge their base of interests. But they have no experience, and maybe even no interest, in day-to-day governing. In this sense, it's expected that SCAF would exhibit a great deal of incompetence and ineptness, such as failing to reform the police ranks. SCAF has been learning on the job. And it is doing so at an incredibly tricky, complicated time.

So what does all of this mean? It is all a part of the laborious process of democratization. It takes time and it's not easy. These are banalities, to be sure, but they are also the truth. There has been and will continue to be fits and spurts, ups and downs. And at times, regrettably, we will also see extreme polarization, conflict, and violence. This is all part of throwing out the old guard, newcomers jockeying for power and influence, and the old regime and their cronies attempting to disrupt the new political landscape. As long as Egyptian society continues to cohere, despite all of the potential pitfalls, the country should remain on track to succeed eventually.

Overall, I remain optimistic because of the continued display of people power. It's what I have previously called Egypt's "revolutionary spirit." It is alive and still going strong. The revolutionaries are still able to mobilize support, get people into the streets, and articulate their demands and grievances. This is a very good sign. And it has helped to force the SCAF into a number of concessions over the past year. But should this revolutionary spirit begin to wane, we could see Egypt could plunge back into prolonged retrogressive and dysfunctional politics. Simply put, without an activated and organized pro-reform crowd, there won't be a significant counterweight to the military and extremist individuals and groups.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The State of Jihadists

On January 26, 2012, the International Crisis Group released a new report titled "Indonesia: From Vigilantism to Terrorism in Cirebon."

While the ICG's work is usually excellent, and a must read for serious students of terrorism, readers of this blog will not find anything new in the otherwise great report - as the report confirms what we have previously argued in this blog, which is that al-Qaeda and Jamaah Islamiyah, its affiliation in Indonesia, have been in decline for years and that global terrorism has degenerated more and more into local based movements.

This shift, however, can be dangerous due to its unpredictability. An adage says "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing," and this seems to be playing out in the terrorism business nowadays. Take the example of Mohammad Reza Taheri-Azar, a graduate student at the University of North Carolina, who drove a rented SUV into a crowd of students, injuring nine.

It was later revealed that he wanted to avenge his fellow coreligionists who were killed by the U.S. in Afghanistan and Iraq -- even though as a Shiite, this guy would have been decapitated by al-Qaeda and the Taliban, both of whom consider Shiite to be a deviant sect of Islam.

The ICG report mentioned above illustrates this problem. The "new wave" of Indonesian terrorists emerge from schools and mosques run by religious fundamentalists. They have made their mark by attacking other religions. Feeling that they needed to do more, they turned to websites run by Islamic radicals such as al-Qaeda for tips and inspiration, and eventually got hooked on terrorism. But while this new wave takes its cues from big-time terrorist groups and organizations, it remains administratively and operationally separate from them. They're homegrown, local terrorists and terror sympathizers.

At the same time, however, this new breed has been less lethal than its predecessors due to its lack of military/bomb-making training, as evident in the last year's spate of bombings in Indonesia, which I discussed in a prior article in the Jakarta Globe.

Still, one can only wonder when these terrorists will increase their sophistication and become threats to a larger portion of Indonesian society. Thus, so as to head off this looming issue, there's a great need for deradicalization programs that promote the idea of pluralism and tolerance various areas of Indonesia. Let's hope Indonesia's leaders begin to act on this advice.