Entries Tagged as 'Arab Spring'

How An Entrepreneur Sparked the Arab Spring

December 8th, 2011 at 12:00 am 9 Comments

I recently had the great pleasure of hearing economist Hernando de Soto speak to a group of think tank types and media members about his perspective on the Arab Spring. De Soto is most famous as an advocate for property rights for the world’s poor.

Henando de Soto’s big argument about the Arab Spring is that despite where it may end up, treat its origin began with a protest over the inability for Tunisia’s poor to accumulate capital.

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Mob Rule Comes to Libya

October 24th, 2011 at 12:56 pm 15 Comments

If there was any doubt in my mind that the so-called Arab Spring was nothing more than a backdrop to a long winter freeze, that doubt was set aside by the gory scenes of the death of Col. Gaddafi, played again and again on TV networks. The mad dog of the Middle East was dead, but not before he was captured alive and subject to mob justice and public lynching that have become part of Arab heritage for the last 1,400 years.

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The Murder War Against Egypt’s Christians

David Frum October 11th, 2011 at 5:33 pm 12 Comments

Egypt was not a congenial place for its Christian minority even under Hosni Mubarak. Now conditions are getting worse, writes Peter Goodspeed in Canada’s National Post:

Last weekend’s massacre of Coptic Christians in Cairo is just a symptom of a more dangerous disease, as the transition to civilian rule has fallen victim to a creeping counter-revolution led by the military. …

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Don’t Expect Democracy in Libya

August 25th, 2011 at 12:12 pm 19 Comments

From the widespread reaction, you’d think the collapse of Muammar Qaddafi’s regime in Libya was a World War II-type victory.

In fact it took six months of U.S., Canadian, British, French and NATO air strikes–most of the target practice with no return fire–before the “rebels”  broke through to Tripoli.

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Obama’s Hazy Mideast Policy Reboot

David Frum May 19th, 2011 at 12:15 pm 19 Comments

Eli Lake reminds us that this is the same president who as a candidate said he would sit down to talk with dictators. Now he is telling them they must go. But how? Even with regard to Libya, where the US is fighting a war, the speech was strangely vague about what the US itself will do. The real message here concerns what Middle Easterners cannot expect from the US, and especially what the Palestinians cannot expect. The current Palestinian plan to get a UN General Assembly vote in favor of independence in September and then to use that as a basis for a propaganda-legal campaign against Israel will not meet with US support. The inclusion of Hamas in the Palestinian unity government creates problems for the Palestinians that it is up to the Palestinians to resolve. And Obama accepted the Netanyahu view that the true problem between Israelis and Palestinians is not the exact drawing of any future border, but the securing of Israel within whatever border may be drawn.

There is scarcely a line in the speech for me to disagree with, very unlike the president’s Cairo speech of 2009.  But what matters are not the absence of disagreeables, but the vagueness of future US purpose. It’s welcome for example that the president praises religious freedom in the region, and calls out Islamists who would use democratic means to anti-democratic ends. But are these mere expressions of opinion? Or will they have policy meaning?

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The idea that the real issue between Israel and Palestine is demilitarization and security, not borders is exactly what Netanyahu has been saying for years.

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I think Obama just told the Palestinians to forget the attempt to use a UN declaration in September as a basis for endless further action against Israel.

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Blames Palestinians for walking away from talks – good.

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For a shariah socialist, Obama strangely emphatic about rights of women and free trade.

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Here’s the most important thing in the Obama speech so far:

He is speaking out against Islamists who try to use the democratic system for undemocratic ends.

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This is impressively candid on Bahrain: how much better would Middle East situation be if we had spoken up in this way about Egypt in 2005?

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2009 Iranian repression not forgotten: good.

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This is like a GW Bush speech, with the excesses intelligently edited.

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Glad to hear the Damascus and Tehran reference in praise of self-determination, freedom and equality for men and women.

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Similar to but subtly different from the 2005 Bush second inaugural, with greater emphasis on economics and an eschewing of flowery language.

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This economic passage is welcome, especially the descriptions of how authoritarian regimes divert resentments to Israel and the West.

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This practice of reciting familiar facts bulks out presidential speeches for no discernible reason.

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The president refers to “after years of war” – after? What do we call Libya?

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Obama Stays Silent on Syria

April 20th, 2011 at 7:44 am 8 Comments

The U.S. response to the recent events in Syria reveals that the Arab revolts have not completely shaken President Obama’s faith in a misguided policy of engagement with anti-American authoritarian regimes. To date, over two hundred pro-democracy protestors have been slaughtered in a government crackdown in Syria. The U.S. response offers little to be proud of in terms of promoting American interests and ideals. Instead, it compromises both.

There have been two major moments in the U.S. approach to Syria over the course of the past several weeks. First, there were Secretary of State Clinton’s remarks which cited comments characterizing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as a reformer. “Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer,” said Clinton on March 27th. Next was President Obama’s condemnation of violence on April 8th in response to the killing of approximately 20 Syrian protestors in one day.

The Obama administration needs to get a grip on two key points. One, Assad is not a reformer. His March 30th speech confirmed as much. To be sure, Assad has made a few concessions as a result of the protests. He issued a decree granting citizenship to Kurds, lifted the government ban on teachers wearing face veils, and closed a casino. More recently, he formed a new cabinet. But the continued violence in Syria suggests his actions are not necessarily evidence of reform so much as they are attempts to placate unrest. Syrian activists are justified in continuing to push for freedom and democracy.

Two, the U.S. has little interest in Assad retaining his grip on power in Syria. President Obama’s efforts to distance Syria from its ties to Iran and Hezbollah have failed. Besides, if the ultimate goal of that policy was to weaken Iran and Hezbollah, the current situation presents a fresh opportunity to do just that.

How? Given that the Syrian leadership has successfully held onto power for decades, regime change in Syria would put Iran, its close ally, on notice. According to the Israeli Army Radio, Foreign Ministry officials said: “Syria is an Iranian acquisition, and it is clear that Iran is afraid that its investments will go down the drain. So it has allowed for greater involvement than in other Arab countries.” What would be the harm in destabilizing the relationship between Syria and Iran, an alliance that has produced only toxic results?

Would discontinuing Syria’s political and military support for Lebanon’s Hezbollah advance American interests or the cause of peace in the region and throughout the world? Would regime change be a positive development in a leading state sponsor of terrorism credited with training al-Qaeda forces and providing a safe haven for terrorists? It is difficult to argue no.

And it is even more challenging to do so in light of the Libyan intervention. The Obama administration differentiates Syria from Libya, but fails to recognize the key difference: Libya is mired in a tribal war. Syria, on the other hand, conveniently presents an opportunity in which the advancement of American security interests and a humanitarian cause go hand-in-hand.

In praising the Libyan operation, Nicholas Kristof wrote of its potential to “put teeth into the emerging doctrine of the “responsibility to protect” – a landmark notion in international law that countries must intervene to prevent mass atrocities.” He optimistically posited that such an outcome “might help avert the next Rwanda or the next Darfur.” While we can only hope all the money and other resources we have invested pay some such dividend for humankind in the longer-term, the President’s reticence on Syria undermines the likelihood of this prospect.

That is not an endorsement of military intervention in Syria. While the U.S. should do what it can to promote democracy abroad, there are limits to our power. But instead of calling Assad a reformer, the Obama administration should, at the very least, offer a sympathetic word or two to the peaceful protestors in Syria. Rhetoric is a start. Short of military action, there are other steps the President should consider, such as recalling the U.S. Ambassador to Syria.

It is unlikely that Iran would sit by passively in the event of a regime change in Syria.  While the U.S. would have every reason to be wary about the nature of a replacement regime in Syria, the opportunity to weaken Iran and empower the Iranian opposition is not one to be missed, especially if it falls into our lap.

After all, with regard to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, time is of the essence. Obama’s misguided policy of engagement with our enemies does not buy time; it merely borrows time while our enemies grow stronger. Ultimately, in its willingness to commit the U.S. to expensive humanitarian interventions and in its simultaneous refusal to drop its misguided policies toward Syria and Iran, the Obama administration’s foreign policy amounts to generational theft. Obama has chosen to commit my generation to a future that may include a nuclear Iran and a U.S. too broke to defend itself. Syria presents an opportunity for the President to try and reverse this failure.

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Is Iran Helping Assad Crush the Syrian Revolt?

March 28th, 2011 at 12:04 pm 5 Comments

According to Israeli sources, Syrian dissidents have reported some of the gun- and baton-wielding security personnel unleashed on anti-regime activists in recent days have been speaking in Farsi.

This is not in and of itself conclusive evidence of Iranian involvement. Syria has a large population of native Farsi speakers. So, for that matter, does Israel.

Still: “Syria is an Iranian acquisition, and it is clear that Iran is afraid that its investments will go down the drain.  So it has allowed for greater involvement than in other Arab countries,” Israeli Army Radio reported Foreign Ministry officials as saying.

The alliance with Iran has allowed Damascus to fight above its weight as a regional power player.

Assad, like his father and predecessor, has played a double-game with both his neighbors and the U.S., suggesting at times Syria could be “flipped” given the right inducements.

As Middle East expert Michael Doran has noted, “Syria has played this game of being both the arsonist and the fire department.”

All the while Syria has been extending — and capriciously yanking away — the olive branch, it has been calibrating the use of its client terrorist political organizations Hezbollah and Hamas in Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories according to immediate exigencies and longer range goals.

All the while it has been attempting to destabilize U.S. allies including Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia by way of lower-key intriguing and subversion,

All the while it has been hosting and training al-Qaeda recruits from throughout the Arab world and allowing the country to be used as a land-bridge for infiltrating them into Iraq.

And all the while Iran has looked on and nodded approvingly.

Syria has acted as Tehran’s reliable sword-edge in pursuing greater Shi’ite/Persian aspirations in a largely Sunni, largely hostile Arab world.

The loss of its only Arab ally would be more than just a temporary setback to the mullahs’ plans for redrawing the regional boundaries of power. A destabilized Syria or one where the regime is changed by the will of a people could administer a death-blow to Iran’s current strategic gamesmanship in the Middle East.

Which is why Israel’s warnings about possible Iranian participation in efforts to quell the Syrian uprising carry the ring of conviction.

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New Media Holds Back Assad’s Crackdown

March 26th, 2011 at 12:55 pm 3 Comments

The traditional rules of engagement between the Syrian regime and its opponents have been suspended.

The Carthaginian devastation visited upon Hama, Syria’s fourth largest city, by the Baathist government of Hafiz al-Assad following an abortive 1982 Islamist uprising had long been emblematic of the regime’s mail-fisted approach to dissent.

The leveling of that city by Syrian artillery was a pour encourager les autres-type exercise in quite literal overkill. Hama became synonymous with the institutionalized ruthlessness of a regime dependent on the army, the police and as many as 15 different security services to maintain its monopoly on power.

Now confronted with the first major challenge to Baathist rule in decades, Hafiz al-Assad’s son and successor Bashar has not declared unconditional warfare on his own people. Doubtless he has been urged to unleash the full might of his military and fearsome security services on protesters by some of the apparatchiks who administer his police state. It will be their reflex instinct.

However, Assad has opted for an entirely more proportionate response. The severity of his counter-measures remains restrained –by Syrian standards — in the face of a growing insurgency demanding political reforms and the reinstatement of civil rights and liberties.

The deployment of an armored division to Daraa at the weekend was a show of force intended to demonstrate the city could go the way of Hama. But the regime’s big guns continue to remain silent even though small-arms fire is increasingly being heard there as well as in other centers of rioting.

A regime which slaughtered an estimated 25,000 Syrians at Hama and executed 10,000 dissenters in the decade following  now has no choice but to take an uncharacteristically measured approach to country-wide anti-regime demonstrations. Lethal force is certainly being used — dozens of protesters have been killed since rallies against ‘injustice and repression’ began in January. But the death toll is not on the operatic scale which might once have been expected.

Assad’s hand is being stayed not because he is any more merciful than his father (he isn’t) but because he’s improvising a survival strategy which is hyper-sensitive to Arab and international opinion. The ruthless old orthodoxies of his father’s day no longer apply in the new media age. Hama was destroyed off-camera.  State efforts at censorship notwithstanding, modern revolutions can and will be televised, webcast and Tweeted given the 24/7 news cycle and the ubiquity of social networks sites, smartphones and tablet computers.

And webcammed bloodbaths, as Assad has learned, do not play either on the Arab street or before global audiences.

When Muammar Qaddafi used mass slaughter as both a tactic and his entire strategy for combating Libya’s insurrection, he invited a punitive international response because the world was watching events unfold live and in living color on TVs, computer monitors and BlackBerries.

His preferred take-no-prisoners counter-insurgency measures are now off-limits to Assad and will likely remain so even if the scattered unrest he faces shows signs of coalescing into an organized and cohesive movement. And this is almost certainly already happening. All of the supposedly spontaneous Middle Eastern popular uprisings of recent months were organized and strategized to some degree by way of social networking. It’s unthinkable Syrians, who enjoy one of the highest Internet-penetration rates in the region, aren’t availing themselves of this weapon as their chapter in the new Arab Revolt unfolds.

Assad will know this. He’s perhaps the world’s only webhead of state. As president of the Syrian Computer Society –the one public position he held before being abruptly promoted from spare to heir-apparent following brother Basil’s death –Assad helped to introduce the Internet to his benighted country.

Since succeeding his father as president in 2000, he has presided over a series of increasingly harsh restrictions on its use. However, Assad is aware Syrians routinely evade state firewalls blocking YouTube, Wikipedia and other forbidden sites by using international proxy servers. The protests he faces were inspired by the largely bloodless Arab Spring awakenings in Tunisia and Egypt, uprisings his people followed on the ‘Net not in Syria’s state-controlled media. Last month one of his first concessions to those demanding liberalization of the arbitrary “emergency laws” Syria has been ruled by since 1963 was to lift a five-year official ban on Facebook (fear of “Israeli infiltration” was one of the official rationalizations for denying access).

While still attempting to enforce a media blackout and keep the world blind to his country’s upheavals, Assad knows any scenes of unchecked aggression against demonstrators would bleed out onto the Internet and television screens. Demands for his ouster would go viral as quickly as YouTube videos of wholesale carnage in Syria.

The Damascus-Tehran axis has been a centerpiece of Syrian foreign policy since he assumed power, an alliance intent on establishing a joint hegemony extending from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean. Adventurism and terrorism predicated on destabilizing other Arab regimes and subverting the regional balance of power has made Assad quite as despised by his neighbors as Qaddafi.  Any reversion to true   form now in terms of an unchecked counter-insurgency campaign would almost certainly draw Qaddafi -type pan-Arab condemnation.  Outside intervention, while unlikely, is not entirely unthinkable.

Assad is attempting to quell the unrest by launching what amounts to a fits-and-starts reform program in conjunction with his low-intensity crackdown. Whether this strategy will be sufficient to keep him in office and maintain the iron Baathist grip on power remains to be seen. But at the very least it’s time for Assad to post a status update. One to the effect the old rules are no longer in play.