By Fred H. Lawson
United States strategic planners are carrying out a fundamental reconfiguration of America's military presence throughout the world. The shift came to light in November 2011, when President Barack Obama announced that some 2 500 US Marines would take up permanent positions at a training base on the northern tip of Australia. It was underscored in January 2012 when the president appeared at the Pentagon for the release of an extraordinary guidance document with the striking title 'Sustaining United States Global Leadership: Priorities for the Twenty-First Century Defined'. The revised strategic posture earmarks more US military resources to East Asia in general and the South China Sea littoral in particular.
By AlJazeera Centre for Studies
Tensions surrounding the Iranian nuclear programme have risen again, but the main determinants of the issue remain largely the same as they had previously been. As before, these determinants will most likely reduce the chances of a war being waged against Iran. New factors – particularly the upcoming elections in the United States – will act as additional restraints preventing the launch of military operations against Iran in 2012.
By Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn
Recent events in Afghanistan have fuelled speculation over the ability of international forces to continue their presence in the country until 2014. In January 2012, four American Marines in Helmand were shown in a video urinating on Afghan corpses. In February, in a case that appears to have been no more than exceedingly poor judgement, copies of the Qur'an were burnt, damaged and treated disrespectfully manner. In March, a US army staff sergeant in the Panjwayi district of Kandahar province is believed to have killed seventeen individuals (many of them women and children) in a single night.
With relations between Pakistan's civilian government and military incredibly tense, speculation is rife in the Pakistani and international media of a looming military takeover. The military is allegedly buoyed by support of the Supreme Court and the country's business and political elite. However, the nature of events is changing at such a fast pace that it is difficult to predict the future.
The tenuous relationship between the government and the military appears to have finally eased somewhat since the government markedly toned down its anti-military rhetoric. Indeed, Prime Minster Yousuf Raza Gilani has extended an olive branch of sorts to the military. He had previously accused Army Chief of Staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and the head of Pakistan's principal intelligence agency, Lieutenant General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, of acting unconstitutionally when they expressed their alleged disapproval of the government. Just before Gilani left for the World Economic Forum in Davos in the middle of February, he attempted to smooth over the difficulties with his comment that he wanted to 'dispel the impression that the military leadership acted unconstitutionally or violated rules... The current situation cannot afford conflict among the institutions.'
By Dr. Mohsen Saleh
Fear of the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwanal-Muslimoon), the leading Islamist movement, has gained unprecedented international prominence since the beginning of the Arab uprisings. Outside official institutions this fear is most commonly found among liberal or ‘leftist’ figures. Western media also reflect common concerns about the Brotherhood that have been expressed by politicians in both Israel and the United States.
By Afro-Middle East Centre
Introduction: Background to the uprising
Nearly nine months into the Syrian uprising, the death toll, according to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), has reached a staggering 5 000 people (civilians, government soldiers, army defectors and members of armed opposition groups). Despite a consistently rising death toll and continued violence, the situation has reached an impasse.
By Laws & Processes (Jadaliyya & Ahram Online)
The following article was compiled by Jadaliyya and Ahram Online, and gives a brief and concise insightful guide to the upcoming Egyptian elections beginning on the 28th of November.
Egypt population: (est.) 85 million
Citizens eligible to vote: (approx.) 50 million
Parliamentary composition: bicameral
The People’s Assembly: the lower house
The Shura Council: upper consultative house
People’s Assembly elections: Conducted over three stages, each involving polling in nine governorates (out of total 27 governorates). Run-off elections are held a week later between front-runners in single-winner races where none of the candidates got 50%+ of the total vote.
By Dr. Mohsen Saleh
The Palestinian reconciliation agreement still lacks the necessary momentum to transform it into a practical programme that has the potential to be implemented on the ground. Sixth months have lapsed since the signing of the reconciliation agreement on 3 May 2011, yet no genuine initiatives have been presented for its implementation. This despite the fact that negotiations between Fatah and Hamas happened throughout most of 2009, and it took nearly eighteen months to respond to Hamas' objections. Although the 4 100-word draft agreement was thorough and detailed, it appears to lack any sign of life.
By Esam Al-Amin
In early 1994 a small Islamic think tank affiliated with the University of South Florida (USF) planned an academic forum to host Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of the main opposition party in Tunisia, Ennahda. The objective of this annual event was to give Western academics and intellectuals a rare opportunity to engage an Islamically-oriented intellectual or political leader at a time when the political discourse was dominated by Samuel Huntington's much hyped clash of civilizations thesis. Shortly after the public announcement of the event, pro-Israeli groups and advocates led by Martin Kramer, Daniel Pipes, Steven Emerson, the head of the local B'nai B'rith, and a small-time journalist for the local right-wing newspaper began a coordinated campaign to discredit the event and scare the university.
The decision to allow women to participate in the Shura Council and municipal councils of Saudi Arabia is an important step forward, especially given that Saudi Arabia is in dire need of any movement on this issue. At the same time, however, such a step is not expected to bring about the desired concrete and effective changes, given the limitations of the realities on the ground. Furthermore, the predominant popular and cultural impression of the Shura and municipal councils in the Kingdom is that they offer no space for any real and meaningful participation in the political decision-making of the state.
By Toufic Haddad
If the prisoner exchange deal announced on 11 October 2011 between Hamas and the Israeli government is fully implemented without major hitches, there is little question who 'won' this five-year war of wills: the deal will constitute a major victory for Hamas and the resistance-oriented political forces in Palestinian society, while simultaneously representing a significant retreat for Israel and its historical doctrines of forceful coercion and rejectionism vis-à-vis the Palestinian people and their rights.
By Afro-Middle East Centre
Despite the chronic under-reporting on popular protests in Bahrain, the uprising in the small Gulf state that left over thirty dead and hundreds arrested in a brutal government crackdown offers a potent reading of the regional and global dynamics and interests at play. Mainstream coverage of the uprising has mostly portrayed the Bahraini uprising as an extension, or a natural continuum, of the 'Arab Spring' that has swept across the region. Even though the Bahraini protests might have found inspiration in the tidal wave of calls for democratisation elsewhere in the region, and reflect similar demands for greater freedoms and rights, such a homogeneous framing ignores the particularities of the Bahraini context, and the country's geopolitical and strategic significance. Additionally, it negates a long tradition of pro-democracy campaigns by not contextualising this uprising as an extension of extensive civic and popular protests dating back to the 1990s.
By AlJazeera Centre for Studies
Whether foreseen or unexpected, the continuing developments in Tunisia's political arena do not cease to surprise observers. With the approaching elections for the country's Constituent Assembly, scheduled for 23 October, various voices are already calling for a referendum on the same day to decide on the length of the term of the Assembly. Meanwhile, employees of the state security apparatuses have launched a series of protest actions. These culminated on Tuesday, 6 September, when a number of security personnel who had been protesting in al-Qasabah Square in Tunis broke into the Government Palace where Tunisia's prime minister, Beji Caid el Sebsi, was delivering a speech.
By Afro-Middle East Centre
The Palestinian bid for ‘statehood’ has become one of the key items on the agenda of the general debate of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly’s sixty-sixth session – to begin on 21 September 2011. The request being tabled by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) will ‘approach the UN … to obtain recognition of the State of Palestine on the 1967 borders and Palestinian membership in the international community.’
With just days left before the request is formally made in the chamber of the General Assembly, it remains unclear what this bid will mean in terms of the path the PLO will pursue at the UN. It could apply for full membership of the UN, but PLO spokespeople have indicated that even moving from being an observer entity to being a non-member state would in itself be an important progression for the Palestinian people.
The latest United Nations report on last year's lethal flotilla incident – in which nine people were killed and many injured by Israeli commandos on board a humanitarian ship bound for Gaza – was released at the beginning of September, and generated much controversy. On the one hand, the report makes clear that Israel's use of force on board the Mavi Marmara and in the treatment of those detained on the ship was excessive and unreasonable. It acknowledges that forensic evidence indicates at least seven were shot in the head or chest, five of them at close range, and recognises that Israel still refused to provide any accounting of how the nine people were killed. It calls on Tel Aviv to compensate the families of those killed, eight Turks and one American, and also those who were seriously injured during and after the incident, passengers roughed up while in Israeli custody and whose cameras, cell phones and other belongings were confiscated.
By Afro-Middle East Centre
The uprising in Yemen that started in January 2011 was largely inspired by the popular protests that swept the region - in particular the Egyptian and Tunisian uprisings that respectively saw the ousting of Hosni Mubarak and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Despite certain socio-economic and political causal similarities to other uprisings in the region, the Yemeni protests reflect the contextual particularities of Yemen. As such, any reading of the uprising needs to be located and understood from within the complexities of that country's political and cultural milieu.
By Na'eem Jeenah
The revolutionary fervor that swept across North Africa and the Middle East is leaving discernible imprints on the political and social landscape of South Africa. For many South Africans, the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings gave new hope for the possibilities of what could be achieved through mass action.
For a people who had engaged in a long struggle for justice and freedom , but who had subsequently become largely demobilised, the idea of a despotic government being toppled through people's power had become a distant idea tinged with the kind of romanticism that suggests it could not be replicated. That changed when other peoples on our continent,took to the streets, faced down the might of brutal security services and armed forces, and succeeded in forcing out their dictators. In South Africa, activist organizations, think tanks, and even businesses hosted events to discuss the events, and a protest was held outside the Egyptian embassy, with protesters shouting 'irhal' (Leave) as Husni Mubarak was still trying to cling to power.
As happened in other parts of the world, protesters in the small South African town of Ermelo, demonstrating at the same time as their Egyptian counterparts, began referring to the site of their protests as 'Tahrir Square'. The Ermelo protests represented one of a plethora of 'service delivery' actions throughout the country. Thousands of such protests take place every year in South Africa, with people from poor, deprived communities demonstrating against their lack of or inadequate housing, electricity, water, jobs, and so forth. At the beginning of 2011, calls for global solidarity grew in light of the universality of the complaint against service delivery- joined especially by people in the north of our continent - of people demanding more equitable socio-economic conditions, opposing corruption, and insisting that the government fulfilled its responsibilities to those who had been, and remain, the most marginalised in our society. These were people who had believed the ruling African National Congress' (ANC) promise of a 'better life for all' but became disillusioned when the ANC failed to deliver on its promises. That failure had resulted in a lack and weakness in the delivery of services such as electricity, water, and housing, as well as jobs to poor people, resulting in daily 'service delivery protests' taking place all over the country. In Ermelo, these service delivery protesters, who often face the force of the South African police, took heart and courage from those they now viewed as their fellow travelers in Egypt and Tunisia. It was as if a certain energy had begun flowing from north to south across Africa, spreading and hoping to awaken the masses of oppressed and exploited people on the continent. The uprisings also began a debate in South Africa - not yet exhausted - about whether South Africa was moving towards its 'Tunisia moment', if it did not properly address the huge challenges of poverty, inequality and lack of service delivery.
In what many in southern Africa are referring to contagion from North Africa, normally calm Malawi erupted in protests at the end of July, leaving 18 people dead, and much destruction of property. Analysts and observers in the region, and Malawian activists themselves, have been referring to these events as being part of the wave of the wave of uprisings in the north. The protests came in the wake of attempts by the ruling Democratic Progressive Party to have President Mutharika's brother succeed him when his term ends in 2014, rising unemployment, and a host of other socio-economic grievances.
When civil strife broke out in Libya a few months ago, the debates took a new turn. South Africa, a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, supported Resolution 1973, which called on member states to implement a no-fly zone over Libya - ostensibly to protect civilians. However, within three days, the South African government explained that it did not support the manner in which the resolution was being implemented. After NATO began providing one side in the war with air cover, bombed the country, and even tried to assassinate Gaddafi, public opinion turned against the South African government's position, and even the ruling party's youth league publicly attacked the president for the UN vote. 'South Africa voted in favour of imperialists,' said Julius Malema, president of the ANC Youth League, calling NAT action 'killing of fellow Africans imposed by our former masters.' The NATO mission had become an imperialist war whose prize was the country's oil and natural gas, and was viewed in a different category to Tunisia and Egypt.
The situation in Libya was also of concern to many South Africans. Unlike Ben Ali's Tunisia and Mubarak's Egypt, Gaddafi's Libya had made its commitment to Africa and the African Union clear - in rhetoric, involvement, and financial support. When the International Criminal Court issued its warrant of arrest for Gaddafi, not only did it undermine the possibility of a political settlement, but it also confirmed the suspicions of many Africans that Africans are particular targets for international justice.
Whatever the outcome in Libya - and there are many indications that it will result in an entrenchment of imperial, especially European, power - the effects of Tunisia and Egypt will be long-lasting in the southern part of Africa. Not only people demanding better services in South Africa, but also those demanding an end to the absolute (and brutal) monarchy in Swaziland, and those demanding an end to Mugabe's tyranny in Zimbabwe have been inspired by our comrades in the north. And while the immediate effects of the courage and determination from the north might seem somewhat muted here, the long-term effects could very well bring down one or two dictatorships down south as well.
* Na'eem Jeenah is the executive director of the Johannesburg based, Afro Middle East Centre
By Dr. Ammar Ali Hassan
Like other youth in the country, Sufi youth participated in the 25 January Egyptian revolution, and joined the demonstrations in Tahrir Square with their peers. However, they were not as visible as the youth of other groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood or the Salafis. Their lack of visibility was due to two reasons.
By Anouar Boukhars
The making of the 2011 constitution in Morocco has renewed debates and theoretical curiosity about the trajectory of elite accords and their impact on pushing countries in transition beyond their intermediate phase of liberalization. Proponents of cooperative transitions shaped by soft-liners within regimes and assisted by political and civil society actors assert that democratic transitions based on compromise and a strategic necessity to reform have a better chance of success in managing uncertainty and securing a safe exit from authoritarian rule. Despite its elitist and undemocratic nature, the new Moroccan political pact is desirable as it constitutionalizes the principles of individual rights (freedom of expression, freedom of association, criminalization of torture and arbitrary detention) and citizen equality, and convincingly enhances legislative capacity and access to the policy realm. Transitional periods, argue its advocates, are naturally characterized by limited levels of democracy, but as civic consciousness rises and political competition becomes fully routinised, potent political parties and civil society actors are bound to emerge, strengthening in the process the institutions of government and driving levels of democracy up.
By Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett
Last week, the Obama Administration formally charged the Islamic Republic of working with al-Qa'ida. The charge was presented as part of the Treasury Department's announcement that it was designating six alleged al-Qa'ida operatives for terrorism-related financial sanctions. The six are being designated, according to Treasury, because of their involvement in transiting money and operatives for al-Qa'ida to Pakistan and Afghanistan. The announcement claims that part of this scheme was a "secret deal" between the Iranian government and al-Qa'ida, whereby Tehran allowed the terrorist group to use Iranian territory in the course of moving money and personnel.
For the most part, major media outlets uncritically transmitted the Obama Administration's charge, without much manifestation of serious effort to verify it, find out more about the sourcing upon which it was based, or place it in any sort of detailed and nuanced historical context. Stories by Joby Warrick in the Washington Post and Helene Cooper the New York Times exemplify this kind of "reporting."
By International Crisis Group
Unless all sides to the conflict agree to an inclusive dialogue in order to reach meaningful reform, Bahrain is heading for prolonged and costly political stalemate.
Popular Protest in North Africa and the Middle East (VIII): Bahrain's Rocky Road to Reform, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the situation in the island kingdom five months after the outbreak of the mass protest, which was followed by brutal government repression. The spasm of violence further polarised a society already divided along sectarian lines and left hopes for genuine political reform in tatters, raising serious questions about the state's stability.
"While mostly calling for political reform leading to a constitutional monarchy in the uprising's early days, protesters steadily began to embrace the more radical demand for the regime's replacement with a democratic republic", says Joost Hiltermann, Crisis Group's Middle East and North Africa Deputy Program Director. "Feeling threatened, the regime lashed back. This spelled the end of talk about dialogue and reform and weakened dialogue's main protagonists".
By AlJazeera Centre for Studies
The war currently waged between the Mauritanian army and al-Qaeda militants based in Mali's Wagadou Forest raises many questions about the nature and objectives of this conflict, and its political and military cost. It further demands answers about its possible outcomes and implications.
According to most reports, the clashes in Wagadou Forest were sparked on the evening of Friday, 24 June. Mauritania had announced that units of its army had launched a large-scale offensive against militants belonging to the Salafist 'Group for Preaching and Combat'. This group, based in Wagadou Forest, announced in 2007 that it had joined al-Qaeda, and began calling itself 'al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb' (AQIM). It is significant that on 24 June Mauritanian authorities began to leak information that elite units of the military were undertaking unprecedented ground and air assaults on al-Qaeda affiliates that had set up camp in a large area (eighty by forty kilometres) in southern Mali, near the Mauritanian border. The leaks were followed by an official statement on 25 June that spoke of a coordinated attack with the Malian army. The statement celebrated the joint assault as a decisive victory over al-Qaeda militants whose military camp, the statement claimed, had been destroyed.
By Khalid Tijani El-Nour
The independence of South Sudan, and the birth of the fifty-fourth state on the African continent, is a pivotal and historic event for the state of Sudan, and for the continent as a whole. The significance of the event goes beyond a mere change in the geographical boundaries of the divided country and the end of an era in its political history; its consequences will necessarily result in long-term change in the geopolitical realities of the region, and will lead to the emergence of new strategic equations.
By Lamees Dhaif
At the beginning of July 2011, more than 300 representatives of Bahrain's political and civil society gathered in the country's capital, Manama, for the launch of a 'national dialogue'. Many questions pervaded the atmosphere on the eve of this dialogue, the most important being whether the national dialogue could pull Bahrain out of the political crisis which started on 14 February?
Questions were also raised about whether the opposition's participation – described as 'reticent and pessimistic' – would lead to a political solution, considering its constant claim that the dialogue was not based on true popular representation, and that it ignored the essence of the problem in favour of less important topics. There was doubt about whether the crisis would be resolved soon. This followed Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah issuing a decree to form an 'independent fact-finding' committee to examine the violent protests witnessed by the country, and in light of news about the release of detainees, the re-employment of those suspended from their jobs, and talk about the 'redeployment' of the Peninsula Shield forces currently stationed in Bahrain. The Peninsula Shield Force is a military unit set up by the Gulf Cooperation Council, and whose troops entered Bahrain in March to quell the protests there.
By Ali Hussein Bakir
This paper discusses the on-going regional geopolitical transformations in the wake of the Arab revolutions, and examines the impact they have had on two major regional actors: Iran and Turkey. It will look at these countries' interests, influence and the nature and future of their relations with each other. These questions will be discussed under three headings: