Yet another innocent humanitarian beheaded

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Seeing yet another picture of an innocent humanitarian beheaded by ISIS, my mind seesaws between hawk and dove. Civil wars statistically last twice as long as they otherwise would when an outside agent intervenes, yet something about this doesn’t feel like simply another civil war. I can’t help wondering what makes ISIS any different than Nazis on the march? Then I think about an all-out war against them… what it would mean, what it would take… and my heart just freezes.

We are seriously in trouble now.

There is so much to say about how this happened, but most of it has been said. We have so much to atone for, and that alone takes you to your knees. But our question still has to be, “So what do we do now?”

I don’t know what we should do now. But no one else does either. No politician knows for sure and no military commander knows for sure. If anything should be obvious by now, it’s that. It isn’t simply bad political decisions or military strategies that got us here. It’s karma that got us here. The US -and other westerners, let us not forget- became a warmongering nation, attacking a country that hadn’t even attacked us … and look what it led to. God forgive us. And God help us now.

I’m going deep into my heart, into my prayerfulness, and into atonement for the arrogance and recklessness of our  bellicose countries. I pray for forgiveness for irresponsibly sending people to die in another country, in a foreign war, for no reason. For there, at that level of Atonement, I know we enter a place where God’s ears are open and miracles do happen. “God shall not be mocked” means that He isn’t. Until America owns up to what it has become and what it has done — allowing war to become a huge business empire, maintained by military contractors and politicians alike to fight wars that should not have been fought for no more reason than money and oil – then Cause and Effect will continue to operate, and the blowback will increase, and a great country will be brought to its knees.

There is an alternative: We can fall to our knees right now…

The Egyptian paradigm

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morsi-outThe Arab Spring was an exercise in irony, nowhere more so than in Egypt. On the surface, it appeared to be the Arab equivalent of 1989 in Eastern Europe. There, the Soviet occupation suppressed a broad, if not universal desire for constitutional democracy modeled on Western Europe. The year 1989 shaped a generation’s thinking in the West, and when they saw the crowds in the Arab streets, they assumed that they were seeing Eastern Europe once again.

There were surely constitutional democrats in the Arab streets in 2011, but they were not the main drive. Looking back on the Arab Spring, it is remarkable how few personalities were replaced, how few regimes fell, and how much chaos was left in its wake. The uprising in Libya resulted in a Western military intervention that deposed former leader Gadhafi and replaced him with considerable uncertainty. The uprising in Syria has not replaced Syrian President al-Assad but generated instead a war between him and an Islamist-dominated opposition. Elsewhere, revolts have been contained with relative ease. The irony of the Arab Spring was that in opening the door for popular discontent, it demonstrated that while the discontent was real, it was neither decisive nor clearly inclined toward constitutional democracy.

This is what makes Egypt so interesting. The Egyptian uprising has always been the most ambiguous even while being cited as the most decisive. It is true that former President Mubarak fell in 2011. It is also true that elections were held in 2012, when a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood’s election as president illustrated the reality that a democratic election is not assured to produce a very democratic result. In any case, the now deposed president, Mohammed Morsi, won by only a thin margin and he was severely constrained as to what he could do.

But the real issue in Egypt has always been something else. Though a general was forced out of office in 2011, it was not clear that the military regime did not remain, if not in power, then certainly the ultimate arbiter of power in Egyptian politics. Over the past year, so long as Morsi remained the elected president, the argument could be made that the military had lost its power. But even if the fall of Hosni Mubarak had been engineered by the military in order to force a succession that the aging Mubarak resisted, it is no less true that while the military had faded into the background, it remained the decisive force in Egypt.

Modern Egypt was founded in 1952 in a military coup by Col. Nasser. Nasser was committed to modernizing Egypt, and he saw the army as the only real instrument of modernization. He was a secularist committed to the idea that Arab nations ought to be united, but not Islamist by any means. He was a socialist, but not a communist. Above all else, he was an Egyptian army officer committed to the principle that the military guaranteed the stability of the Egyptian nation.

When the uprisings of the Arab Spring came, Nasser’s successors used the unrest to force Mubarak out, and then they stepped back. It is interesting to consider whether they would have been comfortable to retain their institutional position under a Muslim Brotherhood-led government. However, Morsi never really took control of the machinery of government, partly because he was politically weak, partly because the Muslim Brotherhood was not ready to govern, and partly because the military never quite let go.

This dynamic culminated in the demonstrations of this « Egyptian Summer. » The opposition leadership appears to support constitutional democracy –but nothing is less certain. Whether the masses in the streets do as well or whether they simply dislike the Muslim Brotherhood is difficult to tell, but I suspect their interests are about food and jobs more than about the principles of free-thinking. Still, there was an uprising, and once again the military put it to use.

Northern Africa: A Choice between Reform and Stability

In the wake of uprisings in North Africa, West may be forced to make a choice between much-needed reform or stable dictatorships. NATO will need to reconsider its newest partnerships, beyond the interest of its allies, and start guaranteeing actual security.

Doused in paint thinner, Mohamed Bouazizi set himself alight in Tunisia on Dec. 17, sparking a string of protests throughout northern Africa. The 20-year old college graduate, angry after the government confiscated his source of income- a fruit cart- and beat him, has been credited as the beginning of a series of uprisings in North Africa.

Protests have now spread to Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen, as well as Morocco and Algeria. Citizens have taken to the streets in protest of high food prices, and even higher unemployment rates, and general discontent with, in many cases, decades of inefficient dictatorial regimes.

With protests mounting from country to country, igniting passion for reform in nations’ citizens, the uprisings of North Africa may be the 21st century’s Berlin Wall. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen recognizes the potential effect the uprisings could have on the world order, but says, “The outcome of this turmoil remains unclear.”

Resource-rich North Africa has become a strategic battlefield among the US, Europe, China and Russia. The US and Europe seemed to prevail under two NATO initiatives: the Mediterranean Dialogue and a military alliance with the 53 countries of the African Union (AU).

Member nations of the AU and the Mediterranean Dialogue are believed to benefit from the initiatives under the broad public goals of countering security threats against Africa and using NATO as a model for the African Standby Force. But NATO members will receive more concrete benefits, such as limiting Russian and Chinese expansion and blocking arms suppliers of non-NATO members.

The interests of NATO fake ahead, devoid of serious regard to its public objectives. Rasmussen has outlined his concerns with the uprisings in terms of its impact upon the Middle East peace process and a possible increase of illegal immigration to Europe, validating NATO-centric concerns to the world under a “we don’t interfere in domestic politics” stance. Forget about partnerships, dialogues, and goals.

This lack of response from NATO is only amplified by a muted response from the US, with Europe following suit. Though Obama exercised caution in denouncing violence against peaceful protesters in Libya out of fear that the Gadhafi regime would target American nationals in Libya, Washington was also slow to react to protests in Egypt earlier in February.

Only after receiving strong criticism in the media did Obama denounce Mubarak, a long-time ally to the US, calling for transition “now.” Washington has supported up dictatorial regimes, such as that of Mubarak, for decades, benefiting from such stable relationships with dictators. In Egypt, which has been known to hold and torture terrorist suspects for the US, there has been a “protect us in our war and we will forgive your human rights abuses” policy. It seems US policy is in support of stable dictators, rather than fledgling democracies. Why would the US and NATO, which so avidly promote democracy, not have supported it in North Africa?

“The US and allies pull out no stops to prevent democracy because of major energy resources,” says Noam Chomsky, a well-respected American intellectual. In fact, as the protests spread to Libya, the major concern in the US was rising gas prices, not Gadhafi dropping bombs on his own citizens and executing Libyan soldiers who refused to kill their compatriots. Oil prices, which could reach $220 per barrel if Libya and Algeria, both dealing with internal protests, were to cut off oil supplies, could slow down economic recovery.

Both NATO and the US have screened selfish intentions behind national sovereignty, but after decades of support for allied dictators and more recent initiatives for a firm grasp on African affairs, perhaps it is not an honest stance to take. And if the US and NATO do not take a stance, we should hope they set aside potential gains and focus on allowing the internal movements of Africa choose the next step.

Recently, NATO has urged all parties to stop violence and ensure peaceful transition to democracy. A little less recently, Mubarak urged protestors for ‘orderly transitions’ that only served to postpone change. While we can hope and urge for peaceful transitions, we must remember that NATO should not be just a collection of military power, but also a political entity with a widely stated goal to “promote democratic values to build trust and prevent conflict in the long-run. To prevent conflict in the long run, might it be in the best interests of North Africa to allow reform?

West cannot both call for stability and advocate reform. It will need to reconsider its newest partnerships, beyond the interest of its allies, and start guaranteeing actual security.

Way forward for the Palestinian recognition is underway

After direct peace talks with Israel failed last autumn, Palestinian leaders have stepped up their drive to gain global recognition for a Palestinian state. Israel has warned the move could hamper further peace efforts.

Map showing states having recognized or have special diplomatic arrangements with Palestine. ©Wikipedia

Since Brazil in December officially recognized a Palestine as a sovereign, independent state within its borders prior to 1967 a whole wave of other Latin American nations have followed. In recent weeks Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia and Ecuador have done the same. Chile and Peru also recognized a Palestinian state, but declined to mention particular borders in their recognition.

South American and Arab states are due to discuss these developments at a summit in Lima this weekend.
Ireland last month upgraded the status of the Palestinian delegation to that of a mission, thereby elevating the head of the mission to the rank of ambassador. A spokeswoman for the Irish foreign ministry said, the country was following the example of France, Spain and Portugal.

Israeli irritation

Israel has criticized the recent wave of recognitions. It called Latin American countries’ recognition of a Palestinian state “highly damaging interference” by countries that were never part of the Middle East peace process.
Ireland’s decision drew an angry response from Israel, which condemned Dublin for a “long-standing biased policy on the Middle East”. “This will only strengthen the Palestinians’ rejection of any return to direct dialogue and peace negotiations,” Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said.
Currently, more than 100 countries, mostly in Africa and Asia, have recognized a Palestinian state. Palestinian authorities are hoping for a diplomatic domino effect to back their claim for a state in all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel disputes the Palestinian claim on all the West Bank and East Jerusalem, land it captured from Jordan in a 1967 war and has extensively settled.

Revolts put focus on Arab civil society

Youth revolts in Tunisia and Egypt could spread throughout the Maghreb and the Arab World as the discontented masses take to the streets.

Street clamor is not exactly the same in Egypt as in Tunisia

In Tunisia, a popular insurrection knocked down a dictator for the first time in Arab history. In the meantime, the largest protests in decades have broken out in Egypt. Could Morocco and Algeria be next?

Tunisia’s revolution generated tremors not just in Egypt. Throughout the Maghreb, authoritarian regimes like those in Morocco and Algeria have a difficult time addressing the frustration and despair of their young populations. Could the revolutionary example set in Tunisia take root among its neighbors?

The revolution arose on mid December when a desperate, unemployed computer scientist named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in the small town of Sidi Bouzid. Bouazizi’s death symbolized the despair of a generation, triggering a series of general protests that ultimately swept longtime dictator President Ben Ali from power.

“We have 13 percent unemployment but the figures in the interior of the country are significantly higher, sometimes upwards of 70 percent,” said Adelwahab El Hani, a Tunisian human rights lawyer from Sidi Bouzid. “80,000 Tunisians have just finished up with their studies and they need jobs. That’s an enormous challenge for the government.”

Extreme imbalances and poor human rights records
One Tunisian student said it was like the top cover had shot off of a pressure cooker. He wasn’t just alluding to his homeland, but to the entire Maghreb. In Morocco, half the population is under 25 years old and 40 percent of them do not have a steady job. Young graduates are especially hard hit. The grumbling from the streets has become audible. Sure, there are limited political freedoms, woman’s rights, a parliament and a government – but no genuine open democracy. The military and secret police are omnipresent. The social imbalances are extreme.

“Motives for these kinds of revolts are all over the Maghreb,” said Francis Ghiles, from the Center for International Studies in Barcelona. “The elites in Morocco live the high life, but that doesn’t guarantee social stability. The pie can’t just belong to the rich. When there’s no redistribution of wealth, when the upper class parades around arrogantly, then there will be revolt someday.”

In Algeria it has already reached that point. This massive land is a social barrel of gunpowder. In January there were wounded during protests against high grocery prices. In many Algerian cities, the young expressed their rage in a flurry of stones, tear gas grenades and Molotov cocktails.

Algeria’s government promised to take decisive action, but the country is politically stagnant. Longtime President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is supported by a corrupt clique of military officers and secret police. Three-fourths of Algerians are under 30. Most of them do not have jobs, lodging or perspective. All this despite the fact that the state strongboxes are full with money from oil and gas exports.

Algeria “has accumulated 150 billion euros in foreign exchange,” Ghiles said. “The problem is not a lack of money, but a clientele economy. It’s a casino. There’s no order, no plan, no perspective. And on top of that the government is autistic. Those in power just don’t listen, they don’t see the problems of their people, or they simply just don’t want to see.”

But now they have to see. A growing number of desperate, well-educated young people are extinguishing themselves in gasoline and lighting themselves on fire: In Egypt, in Yemen, in Mauretania and also in Algeria. Just like Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia, whose final act of self-determination set a whole country in flames.

Domino effect
Ghiles believes that the so called “Jasmine Revolution” in Tunisia is a historic event that has shaken the entire Maghreb. However, he does not believe that it will set off a domino effect which collapses other authoritarian regimes throughout the region. The Moroccan King Mohammed VI has a broad power base and his role as the highest religious leader of the Moroccan people lends him additional legitimacy.

In Algeria the middle class, which played a critical role in Tunisia, has largely disappeared. There has been social turmoil for years, but the regime has never been seriously threatened. The military and secret police are so tightly connected with the halls of power and the oil and natural gas industries that they have too much to lose in a revolution.

In glaring contrast to Tunisia, the Algerian army would gun down demonstrators. And nobody wants a new civil war in Algeria – the last one cost 200,000 lives. Even if the states of the Maghreb do not fall like dominoes, Tunisia serves as a warning. When these kinds of events repeat themselves, like recently in Algeria or a few years ago in Morocco, or even in Tunisia or Egypt, then governments have to draw some conclusions. If they don’t do that, then the pressure cook will explode – just somewhat later.
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Francis Ghiles, The Maghreb refuses to share, Le Monde Diplomatique, Feb. 2010; El Coste del No-Maghreb, IEMed and ToledoPax, Madrid, May 2006 and Barcelona, Nov. 2007.

WikiLeaks reveals essentials of the ‘dirty war’ in Iraq

The disapproval coming out of Washington and Baghdad aimed at the publication by WikiLeaks of secret Iraq war documents is hypocritical.

Actually, the secret files made public by WikiLeaks offer little new information. At the very latest, since Abu Ghraib, the international community had come to the realization that the war in Iraq was a ‘dirty war’. There were killings. There was torture. Mercenaries operated as brutal aggressors. Shiites and Sunnis took turns massacring each other.

That one of the most barbarous dictators was overthrown in the process has practically been forgotten.

Instead, the image of a dirty war has now been even more enduringly anchored in our collective consciousness. Thanks to the revelations made by WikiLeaks, we have possibly been given a more accurate insight into the course of events and a more precise figure on the brutal human rights violations and number of deaths.

According to the files, more than 150,000 people were killed in Iraq between 2004 and 2009, if we can believe the documents from US military sources.

Documents appear to be credible
Can we believe them? Yes, we can. The documents appear, in principle, to be credible. However, it is important to consider them for what they are: one source among many, and a one-sided one at that, originally intended for internal, domestic consumption.

Not everything in these documents can be characterized as a bitter truth intended to be camouflaged from public view.

This or that bit of information could be a half truth or ‘pseudo-fact'; for example, when the person reporting draws the wrong conclusions due to their subjective perspective, or wishes to hide personal lapses or errors from superiors.

Few things in life are more regularly “air brushed” or openly manipulated than reports to supervising superiors, and this is very probably no different for the US Army in Iraq.

WikiLeaks also needs monitoring
Critical questions, therefore, are certainly permissible: Did WikiLeaks do everything possible when checking the documents to ensure that no human lives will be put at risk? We can only hope and wait.

And, by the way: where are the checks and balances on WikiLeaks?

The group is going to have to accept questions like these – just as traditional mass media or outlets like Facebook and Youtube have done – in view of the fact that its political influence has much grown.

They all bear a major responsibility, without ever having been elected. Of course, it also depends on who is asking the question and with what motive.

The criticism of WikiLeaks, expressed by Washington and Baghdad, is hypocritical, as described above.

Both are concerned about their reputations. US President Barack Obama only appears to be in a comfortable position. He cannot really sit back and claim that all the missteps and consequences are the fault of his predecessor, George W. Bush. In the selective perceptions of many people – and not just in the Arab world – the United States is once again on the pillory.

Risky files for Iraqi leader
The publication of the documents, conversely, is just as much of a blow to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. He now stands there in public as a political leader who condones torture, including the abuse of supporters of political and religious groups, whom, for the last seven months, he has been trying to win over as coalition partners in a new government.

Not surprisingly, al-Maliki suspects intrigue behind the WikiLeak revelations. He knows that the publication of new, shocking details could cost him his political career.

In as far as the documents are not proven to be fake or seriously inconsistent – for which there is no evidence at the moment – then the blame for them lies with him and George W. Bush – and not with WikiLeaks.

As with Vietnam decades ago, the same holds true for the war in Iraq today: Dirty details need to be thoroughly evaluated and dirty truths brought to light with no holds barred. The people of Iraq, in particular, deserve nothing less.

Obama gives way to recognition of a Palestinian state

Impressive Speech from Barack Obama at the UN on the Israeli-Palestinian issue: either we act as in the past – great speeches without changing anything – or everyone rolls up his sleeves. The whole meanwhile, bearing in mind that in 2011 the UN General Assembly might welcome a new member: the Palestinian state.

“The conflict between Israelis and Arabs is as old as this institution. And we can come back here next year, as we have for the last 60 years, and make long speeches about it. We can read familiar lists of grievances. We can table the same resolutions. We can further empower the forces of rejectionism and hate. And we can waste more time by carrying forward an argument that will not help a single Israeli or Palestinian child achieve a better life. We can do that.

Or, we can say that this time will be different — that this time we will not let terror, or turbulence, or posturing, or petty politics stand in the way. This time, we will think not of ourselves, but of the young girl in Gaza who wants to have no ceiling on her dreams, or the young boy in Sderot who wants to sleep without the nightmare of rocket fire.

This time, we should draw upon the teachings of tolerance that lie at the heart of three great religions that see Jerusalem’s soil as sacred. This time we should reach for what’s best within ourselves. If we do, when we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations — an independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel.”

Palestine at the UN – where Palestinians have just now an observer status – new idea or recycling? This wish of President Obama reminds a provision in the “roadmap“, the peace plan finally endorsed (with reservations) by Israel and the Palestinians. The plan, which would lead to a Palestinian state by December 2005, included in the transition phase (June-December 2003) the following measure:

“Quartet members promote international recognition of Palestinian state, including possible UN membership.”

Then it was about recognition of Palestine in temporary borders, but 2003 passed as 2004 and 2005, and nothing happened. Suffice to say that the wish of the President of the United States, which coincides with the publication in France of a book under a deliberately provocative title – There will be no Palestinian state, Ziyad Clot, Ed. Max Milo – will no doubt be greeted with caution by those most affected.

Related Posts: The Impossible Palestinian State

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