All analyses in chronological order - Afro-Middle East Centre

By Brahma Chellaney

The political unrest and upheaval sweeping many Arab countries has coincided with the expansion of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) grouping into BRICS, with the addition of South Africa. These five countries are among the most important non-Western powers on the world stage, and their views and policies matter on a host of issues, including the new Arab revolutions that started from early this year. Unlike in past world history, major power shifts now are being brought about not by battlefield victories or new geopolitical alignments, but by a factor unique to our modern world — rapid economic growth, even as the importance of military power remains intact. The ongoing shifts in power are tectonic in nature and will profoundly impact international relations and international security.

By Rashid Khalidi

The past week in Washington was an extraordinary one. It witnessed an American president give two speeches in which he offered further concessions to Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of a country that is a client of the United States. Netanyahu challenged the President from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, effectively seeking and receiving Congress's stamp of approval on his strikingly extreme positions. This end-run around the US Executive Branch followed an invitation from the head of the Republican congressional opposition to speak to a joint session of Congress. This invitation itself was in defiance of American constitutional principles and the hallowed convention that politics stops at the water's edge. The world looked on as this foreign leader got at least twenty-six standing ovations during a hard-line speech that ruled out either the prospect of a serious negotiation, or of anything approaching a sovereign Palestinian state. Given the trend of Arab and Palestinian politics lately, negotiations on American-Israeli terms were in any case unlikely.


After the first of the President's speeches, Netanyahu insulted him before he even got to Washington, telling reporters on his plane that Obama did not understand the Middle East. He then disagreed publicly with his host during their joint remarks after their meeting – looking at the President rather than at the press much of the time as he hectored the leader of the most powerful country on earth. Finally, in his speech to Congress, the Israeli leader hit every moss-covered Zionist propaganda point since the 1897 Basel Congress, and laid out positions on all the key issues so uncompromising as to make negotiations pointless.

What had Barack Obama done to deserve this treatment? He had already capitulated to Netanyahu's refusal to stop building settlements in the occupied territories after two years when this was a central element, if not the lynchpin, of his Middle East policy. The word "settlement" did not pass the President's lips during this entire embarrassing week. Moreover, in his State Department speech before Netanyahu's arrival, Obama accepted a whole slew of Israeli positions. These included the usual outrageous and elastic Israeli demands in the name of security; the need for Palestinian acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state; rejection of the recent inter-Palestinian reconciliation; and deferral of negotiations over refugees and Jerusalem – the two issues of paramount importance to the Palestinians – into the indefinite future (after twenty years of deferral since Madrid).

Beyond this, the President reiterated his objection to the "de-legitimization" of Israel. This lexical turn signifies the Obama administration's adoption of the term, coined by the Israeli far right and their neo-conservative American lawyer friends. This "de-legitimization" would take place via the Palestinians bringing the issue of Palestinian statehood before the UN in September. In his second speech, before the 10,000 people AIPAC had brought to Washington to hear Netanyahu, the President insisted that a Palestinian state must come into being as a result of negotiations, not a UN resolution. The President's speech-writers and advisor's apparently failed to recall, or conveniently forgot, that the state of Israel came into being not as a result of negotiations with the Palestinians, but as a consequence of a 1947 General Assembly resolution, 181.

However, in the State Department speech, in an attempt to anticipate Netanyahu's attack on his policies on his own turf, the President had the temerity to repeat a position taken by every one of his predecessors since Lyndon Johnson. This was that the United States considers the 1967 lines (with "land swaps") the basis for a settlement, as per Security Council resolution 242 of November 1967. In Israel and on Capitol Hill this was considered an occasion for ritual outrage because Obama failed to mention explicitly George W. Bush's crucial concession to Israel's ceaseless building of illegal settlements in the occupied territories. This came in a letter to Ariel Sharon in 2004 in which Bush wrote: "In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centres, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949."

After he had aroused Netanyahu's fury in his State Department speech, speaking to AIPAC the President's reprised Bush's crucial capitulation to the Israeli position, albeit in a slightly less fulsome form, referring simply to "new demographic realities on the ground." Having already accepted that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state in the first speech (a demand that originated with Netanyahu, and had never before been made by Israeli negotiators), in the second Obama implicitly accepted another new Israeli demand, made explicit in Netanyahu's own speech, for a permanent Israeli military presence along the Jordan River Valley.

The first is the demand not for Palestinian recognition of Israel, which has already taken place, but of Israel as a Jewish state, rather than as the state of all its citizens. This means that the 1.4 million Palestinians living inside Israel must remain second-class citizens and that Palestinians must renounce their conviction that all of Palestine is their homeland. Netanyahu's demand for control of the Jordan River valley "and other places of critical strategic and national importance" in the West Bank means in effect that a Palestinian state will be no more sovereign and no more of a "state" than a Bantustan, with Israel controlling its key border and dominating it exactly as it does the occupied territories today.

There was much else in Netanyahu's speech: all of Eretz Israel is "the Jewish homeland," including "Judea and Samaria [where] the Jewish people are not foreign occupiers." However, the truncated statelet that Israel may eventually deign to grant the Palestinians in perhaps a fifth of the country is all the Palestinians get as a "homeland." There is to be no return of refugees to Israel. Jerusalem will never be divided and will remain the united capital of Israel. It was the speech of a man who has no intention of negotiating anything with the Palestinians, and seeks to guarantee that he will not have to, by setting out a position that would keep even a Palestinian Quisling away from the negotiating table.

While this was not a good week for Barack Obama, and was a very good one for Binyamin Netanyahu, it also can be a salutary occasion for Palestinians and Arabs. It should finally cure those still infected with the diseased notion that they have anything to gain by bending to the importuning of American diplomacy. It should alleviate any doubt that there is any reason to avoid seeking entirely new means to achieve Palestinian national aims. Justice and liberation for the Palestinians, and peace for the entire region, will not come from following the course of the last two decades: exclusive reliance on the United States. If this week in Washington did not make that crystal clear to even the most deluded Palestinian, presumably nothing will.

So there is no point, if ever there was, in waiting for Godot to appear in DC. What is to be done is another, harder question. An optimist would say that the organized, shrewd, massive non-violent methods that have played a central role in the Arab revolutionary upsurge of the past six months have provided an object lesson for Palestinians. Hopefully, this will be a lesson especially to those who have relied on futile, self-defeating and indiscriminate violence largely directed against civilians. However, a pessimist would say that the desperate struggle that Arab revolutionaries are waging in the face of armed reaction in Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria have dimmed that lesson.

The fact that Israel's leaders have been carefully watching events unfold in its neighbourhood, and specifically these new methods of mass mobilization, is evident in their vicious reaction to the Nakba Day marches on May 15. The targeting of unarmed demonstrators with sniper fire may have been meant to teach a lesson to anyone who would try to march peacefully on Israel's borders in the future. And that lesson was intentionally painful. Over fifteen unarmed protesters were murdered and scores wounded. In addition, what were most likely rounds intended to fragment upon impact were fired from a couple of dozen meters away (at which distance no trained soldier could possibly miss) at the backs of several fleeing protesters near Maroun al-Ras in Lebanon, intentionally causing horrific injuries.  

Of course, this may just have been standard IDF operating procedure. A few days after these reactions to unarmed peaceful protest, the US Congress offered twenty-six standing ovations to a ringing speech asserting Israel's absolute right to "self-defence." It is little wonder that Israel's leaders long ago rightly concluded that with this kind of endorsement, they can get away with anything, even the intentional killing of unarmed young people, as they have been doing for so long. Some authoritarian Arab leaders who order their security forces to shoot unarmed protesters get similar indulgence from Washington, while others get sanctions or bombs.

Other means than mass protest, including diplomatic, popular, informational and other initiatives are possibilities for the Palestinians in this new Arab era. But a precondition for success in any strategy is that the Palestinian people take the lead away from the sclerotic, bankrupt and self-interested leaderships that have stifled them for so long on both sides of the Fatah-Hamas divide. The thus-far successful popular demand for the end to petty, self-destructive, partisan inter-Palestinian divisions, together with the May 15 popular marches, may be long-awaited indications that Palestinians have in fact started in this direction.

* Rashid Khalidiis the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies in the Department of History at Columbia University.

** This article was originally published on jadaliyya.com and is published here with permission.

 

By Junaid S. Ahmad

The assassination of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan by US Special Forces was supposed to have been a landmark triumph that would bring peace and stability to the region. A Navy Seal unit executed an unarmed Bin Laden and killed at least four others, including a woman, in an early morning raid on Monday, 2 May 2011. However, instead of bringing peace and stability to the region, the assassination of the Al-Qaeda leader has aggravated the country's volatile political predicament. The hullabaloo over Bin Laden's presence in Pakistan is being used by the US government and military to coerce Pakistan into greater

By Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies

This article was written just prior to the signing, on 4 May 2011, of the reconciliation accord between Fatah, Hamas, and other Palestinian factions. The reconciliation agreement ended a bitter four-year rift and saw agreement on the formation of a caretaker, transitional government in preparation for parliamentary and presidential elections within a year. The accord also provides for elections to the Palestinian National Council (PNC), and sets-up Hamas's entry into the PLO. 

The article establishes an important contextual reading of the factors that have compounded the schism between the Palestinian factions, the various dynamics that eventually paved the way for this historic agreement, as well as the potential challenges facing rapprochement between Fatah and Hamas, and how reconciliation might play out.

 

By Mohamed Darif

As with other Arab countries, a wave of protests calling for change is sweeping across Morocco. These protests have largely been inspired by the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, and the revolutionaries believe that the current period provides the opportunity to put pressure on the ruling regime by mobilising the Moroccan street, and calling for a series of far-reaching institutional and political reforms. The wave of protests began with an appeal to Moroccans to join a protest on 20 February 2011, a date that has since been associated with the movement calling for change, which is now eponymously called the ‘February 20 Youth Movement’. Since the announcement of protests for that date, political groups and rights organisations have engaged in a series of actions throughout Morocco.

 The February 20 Movement also called for demonstrations on 20 March and 24 April, and defied a ban on protests by again taking to the streets on the 22 May in protests that saw riot police wounding dozens of protesters. 

By AlJazeera Centre for Studies

The Syrian uprising against the Baath Party regime started with a small demonstration in the Al-Hariqa quarter of Damascus. The demonstration lasted for about half an hour before being dispersed by security forces who arrested many of the participants. The demonstration sparked a rapid succession of protests in different parts of Syria in the weeks that followed.

The southern city of Dar'a; Latakia and Baniyas in the north; and Duma in Rif Dimashq were the most prominent sites of protest. In these places, the popular movement involved in the uprisings faced tremendous violence from the security services, leading to the deaths of approximately three hundred Syrians in one month of protests. However, neither the violence of the security apparatuses nor the official media narrative of foreign terrorist and Salafi agitation succeeded in quelling or confining the uprising.

By Na'eem Jeenah 

Everywhere people have been fascinated with how rapidly, and with such resolve, the people of Tunisia and Egypt have overthrown repressive regimes, inspiring others in the Middle East to contemplate the same. Na’eem Jeenah gives the background to this revolt and reflects on its meaning for the Middle East and Africa generally.

Muhammad Bouazizi, a 24-year-old vendor, had repeatedly been assaulted by police in the town of Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia’s poverty belt. Police insisted he must apply for a licence. When he was last assaulted in December 2010, Muhammad could not have imagined that his desperate decision to pour petrol on himself and set himself alight outside the local municipal office would light the flames of popular anger in a way that would bring down the dictator in his country and inspire protests across the Middle East as people demanded freedom and democracy.

By AlJazeera Centre for Studies

A recent document titled the ‘citizenship initiative’ has raised a great deal of controversy in the Tunisian political arena. Immediately after the committee tasked with preparing the draft electoral law took its vote, Yadh Ben Achour, the president of the Higher Political Reform Commission, announced that his commission would begin discussing how to make the document binding on the Constituent Assembly (parliament) and on candidates who will be standing for the elections scheduled for next July.

 In the first round of discussions over the document, the drafting of which largely took place outside of the parliament, several members from the Islamist Nahda Movement and the pro-republican Congress for the Republic raised concerns relating to the legality of obliging the Constituent Assembly to ratify a document passed by an unelected body. Despite the flexibility shown by the Nahda representatives who supported the idea of adopting the ‘initiative’ as a ‘republican contract’ or ‘democratic oath’ that would have a moral but non-binding character, the Congress for the Republic stuck to its previous position: that the commission was not in a position to impose any obligations that could limit the freedom of the next Constituent Assembly.

By Rashid Khalidi 

Towards the end of his long, eventful life, in 1402, the renowned Arab historian Ibn Khaldun was in Damascus. He left us a description of Taymur's siege of the city and of his meeting with the world conqueror. None of us is Ibn Khaldun, but any Arab historian today watching the Arab revolutions of 2011 has the sense of awe that our forbear must have had as we witness a great turning in world affairs.

By Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn

The US engagement in Afghanistan, its longest war to date, has come under increasing criticism in the light of mounting Afghan civilian and international military casualties. Under significant economic pressure, the prolonged commitment of substantial financial resources, as well as the sacrifice of life, has seen domestic approval rates decline and has opened up the discussion as to the sustainability and future of the international engagement.1

 

By Burhan Koroglu

The recent series of Arab revolutions began with the first revolution being in Tunisia, and resulted in the people of Tunisia being victorious in removing President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from power, and forcing him into exile. Egypt was next to witness a great popular revolution. However, the revolution in Egypt proved to be bloodier than Tunisia’s, but it was of a shorter duration, and saw a more expeditious resignation of the president, Hosni Mubarak. The outcome of the third popular revolution – in Libya – is still unclear, with rising casualties, and a revolutionary path that is at both a critical and important stage. Outcomes of other revolutions – in Bahrain, Yemen, and Syria – are also unclear.

Turkey has not been removed from the popular revolutions of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Whether at the level of official leadership, sentiments of the population, or through coverage in its media, Turkey has to some degree interacted with all of these events, by posing questions, eliciting reactions, or offering multiple and varied analyses.

By Gawdat Bahgat

Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which consists of the country’s top military commanders, has ruled Egypt since former president Hosni Mubarak’s ouster on Friday, 2 February 2011. The army of almost one million (roughly half active and half reserve) is not only one of the largest in the Middle East (and the world), but is also the most well-organised and powerful institution in Egypt. Initially, the army stayed on the sidelines as the uprising swept the country late January. The military refused to fire on the masses, and eventually shepherded Mubarak out of power. It is for this reason that the army has largely been seen as a unifying force, and is more acceptable and admired than the police controlled by the interior ministry.

In short, the army holds the key to Egypt’s present and future. This raises several important questions. Who are the main players in the military? What future role can the military play in the political and economic arenas? How will the military engage with the Muslim Brotherhood? What are the reactions of the United States and Israel? And, finally, which model will Egypt follow: Turkey, Iran, Indonesia, or some other?

Book review: Dubai

  • 31 March, 2011

By Adnan Abu Amer

Dubai, by Yommi Eini, a former high ranking member of Mossad, was released one year after the assassination, in Dubai, of Hamas' military leader, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. It poses many questions that deal primarily with security and intelligence aspects, such as whether Mossad was really responsible for the assassination of al-Mabhouh. It further looks at how al-Mabhouh was lured to Dubai and then tracked down, asking, what really happened in Dubai?

By Abd al-Jalil al-Marhun

 The events in Bahrain, unfolding at an increasing pace, have in many respects forced themselves on both the local and the regional arenas and contexts. In addition, they have attracted unexpected and extensive international attention. What was the spark that ignited these events? How did they develop? What are the stances adopted towards them by the various political groups? And, where is Bahrain heading?

 By Lamis Andoni

In an effort to contain the increasing tensions in Jordan, the government of Marouf Al Bakhit, appointed late January after protests forced the resignation of Prime Minister Samir Rafai, initiated a national dialogue with different political groups to agree on political and economic reforms. But the initiative was set back when the Muslim Brotherhood, the strongest organised opposition in the country, boycotted the talks citing lack of seriousness on the government's part. As a result of this position taken by the Brotherhood, King Abdullah met with its leadership - for the first time since he assumed power in 1999 - but failed to convince the movement to engage in what has been described as a new era of genuine reforms in the country. Other political trends and parties share the Muslim Brotherhood's deep scepticism, but have decided to give the government and the dialogue a chance while maintaining weekly rallies pushing for reforms.

By Mansouria Mokhefi

For centuries, tribes have played a key role in terms of politics and social relations within Libya, and have ensured their perpetuation through the Bedouin customs of farming and caravan trading, as well as through the social solidarity which binds together the different members of a tribe.

Libyan tribes played an important role in the fight against the Ottoman Empire, as well as against Italian colonisation from 1912 to 1943. In spite of that, the importance of the tribal system faded under Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's rule after he seized power in 1969. Undoubtedly, Libya's modernisation, the building of new cities across the country, and the introduction of new systems of education represented factors which cumulatively caused people to abandon their tribal localities and to distance themselves from some manifestations of the tribal affiliation under which they had grown up. All this ultimately resulted in the foundations of the traditional tribal system being destabilised.

By Saïd Haddad

In spite of the atmosphere of suspicion which has surrounded the Libyan armed forces since the Al-Fateh Revolution of October 1969, it has played and could play a major role in the popular rebellion which was ignited on 16 February 2011. Among the many questions raised about Libya since the uprising began, the loyalty of the army, with an estimated 76 000 soldiers, to Gaddafi's regime is an extremely important one. While it is possible that some members of the Libyan army intentionally opened fire on demonstrators intending to kill them, or that others bombed crowds of protesters in Tripoli and Benghazi, there are soldiers in the same army who refused to shoot at their fellow citizens, and joined the revolt, swelling the ranks of the demonstrators, and who flew their planes to Malta. Furthermore, there are other questions which ought to be addressed: What is the actual composition of the Libyan armed forces? Why has the army been considered, for many years, a marginal player in the arena of internal politics? What is the future role which the army might play in a post-Gaddafi Libya?

 

By Adam Hanieh

The events of the last weeks are one of those historical moments where the lessons of many decades can be telescoped into a few brief moments and seemingly minor occurrences can take on immense significance. The entry of millions of Egyptians onto the political stage has graphically illuminated the real processes that underlie the politics of the Middle East. It has laid bare the long-standing complicity of the U.S. and other world powers with the worst possible regimes, revealed the empty and hypocritical rhetoric of United States President Barack Obama and other leaders, exposed the craven capitulation of all the Arab regimes, and demonstrated the real alliances between these regimes, Israel and the USA. These are political lessons that will long be remembered.

By Na'eem Jeenah

As the Tunisian uprising gained momentum after four weeks of protests and former president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was spirited out of the country, questions were being asked about “who next” would face the “Tunisia effect” and whether the North African country was the first of a set of dominoes to fall across the Arab world.

We now know that Egypt was next—even if that country’s president stubbornly refuses to go anywhere. But there is no set of dominoes that will result in despots fleeing their countries or being forced into early retirement.

Egyptian aftershock felt most by Israel

  • 10 February, 2011
  • Published in Egypt

By Afro-Middle East Centre

Although the Egyptian uprising might not give rise to a domino effect in the region, it will have substantial regional implications. Na'eem Jeenah, executive director of the Afro-Middle East Centre, writes in the Mail & Guardian that profound changes are occurring and will occur in the Middle East as a result of the uprising. He discusses the effect on opposition groups in other countries in the region, arguing that the events in Tunisia and Egypt have served to embolden people and has given them greater confidence to make demands on their governments. Also, significant ramifications of the revolution in Egypt are likely to emerge in terms of the power balance between Israel, the Palestinians and the United States. This is exacerbated by the revelations in the 'Palestine Papers' which had already placed serious doubt on the intentions of the Palestinian Authority. The most far-reaching implications the Egyptian revolution will have is on Israel, both in regards to the Camp David Accords and Egyptian collaboration with Israel. If a new Egyptian government results from the uprising, and is one that is neither friendly to the US and its interests nor to Israel, this will adjust the balance of power between Israel and the Palestinians, and may change the entire status quo. For the full article click here.

Egypt at a crossroads

  • 03 February, 2011
  • Published in Egypt

Na'eem Jeenah

Responding to demands of “Mubarak out!”, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced earlier this week that he would stay in power until presidential elections in September, and will oversee the formation of a new government and of constitutional amendments which will allow opposition candidates to run for president.

The announcement was made on the eighth day of national protests, when two million Egyptians occupied various city centres to protest against Mubarak’s three-decade rule. Predictably, the protesters were unimpressed, and continued demanding his removal.

Egypt at the crossroads

  • 03 February, 2011
  • Published in Egypt

By Afro-Middle East Centre

Egypt has been in turmoil since 25 January 2011, when anti-government protesters took to the streets seeking the immediate resignation of President Hosni Mubarak. The unprecedented protests represent a challenge to the economic, social and political order in Egypt. Na'eem Jeenah, executive director of the Afro-Middle East Centre, provides an analysis in the Mail & Guardian that goes beyond the day-to-day protests. His article analyses what is occurring in Egypt and the regime's reactions to such actions, arguing that from the very beginning the regime's response to the uprising was crafted by the military in such a way that would help maintain the current status quo, allowing it effectively to control the politics of the largest Arab country. Ultimately, it is evident that the end game for the Egyptian military is one in which the regime has the upper hand and is able to strike a deal with the major opposition leaders, while the political influence and economic interests of the military are protected. It is these conditions that would allow it to maintain a direct relationship with American and European military structures, thereby ensuring that the military is able to maintain its domestic power while fulfilling its foreign policy objectives - irrespective of whether democracy is brought to Egyptian soil. For the full article, click here.

 

By Mohsen Mohammad Saleh

There have been numerous debates recently about the usefulness or otherwise of the Palestinian Authority (PA). In light of these discussions, many leaders, both within the PA and in the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), find themselves in a deep state of frustration. This is because it is becoming evident that the PA can no longer bring about the creation of a Palestinian state, and because Israel has essentially emptied the peace process of all its content.

By Aisling Byrne

'If we are building a police state -- what are we actually doing here?' So asked a European diplomat responding to allegations of torture by the Palestinian security forces. The diplomat might well ask. A police state is not a state. It is a form of larceny: of people's rights, aspirations and sacrifices, for the personal benefit of an elite. This is not what the world meant when it called for statehood. But a police state is what is being assiduously constructed in Palestine, disguised as state-building and good governance. Under this guise, its intent is to facilitate the authoritarianism which creates sufficient popular dependency -- and fear -- to strangle any opposition.

The Islamic Republic of Iran's interest in a stable Middle East is arguably greater than that of the United States - after all, this is Iran's neighborhood. For Iran to grow and prosper, it needs secure borders and stable neighbours. A poor and unstable Afghanistan, for example, inhibits trade, and, potentially, increases the flow of refugees and narcotics into the northeastern part of Iran.

Arguably, stability in Iraq may be even more critical to Iran than stability in Afghanistan. The Iran-Iraq war caused enormous suffering to the people of Iran; Iranians will not forget it in the decades ahead. They will also not forget that their suffering was largely because of American and European support for Saddam Hussain - including western support for his acquisition of weapons of mass destruction, which he regularly used against Iranian and Iraqi civilians. There was no condemnation from western governments or even the western media for these cruel and barbaric acts. Iranians believe that western leaders are just as guilty for these crimes against humanity as Saddam Hussain himself.

 

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