Posts Tagged ‘ Jordan ’

Arab Spring Hardening Into Summer of Stalemates

As Reported by USA Today

Among the protest banners in Cairo’s Tahrir Square was a hand-drawn map of the Arab Spring with black target symbols covering each country hit by anti-government uprisings since the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt were ousted earlier this year.

A rebel fighter walks in a old and abandoned Catholic Church used by Gadhafi forces as a military camp near Misrata, Libya, on May 25.
But the bull’s-eyes could easily be replaced with question marks as the groundswell for change has splintered into scattered and indecisive conflicts that have left thousands dead and Western policymakers juggling roles from NATO airstrikes in Libya to worried bystanders in Syria and Yemen.
The stalemates could shift into a deeper holding pattern in August during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, when the pace of daily life traditionally slows as the Islamic world observes a dawn-to-dusk fast and other customs such as temporary truces.

It’s a huge and traumatic undertaking to shove aside regimes with decades in power — and sway over nearly every decision down to who gets hired as street sweeper. Iran did it with the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and the American-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein cleaned the slate for Iraq and ushered in years of near civil war.

But no such wholesale change appears in the pipeline with the present revolts. That has raised concern that even if the leaders fall, the pillars of the regimes could survive, as happened when military rulers took temporary control after Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak stepped down.
“Half revolution doesn’t work,” a headline last week in Egypt’s Al-Ahram Al-Massai newspaper said after demonstrators returned to Tahrir Square to press for swifter political reforms and bolder legal action against officials from Mubarak’s regime who were accused of corruption and killing protesters.

But even a halfway mark appears farther along than most of the rebellions against the Mideast’s old guard. Cores of loyal security forces in Yemen and Syria keep the regimes hanging on despite relentless protests. In Libya, Moammar Gadhafi could face a moment of truth as rebels press closer to the capital Tripoli and NATO warplanes hammer military sites, yet the anti-Gadhafi militias have no clear leader to prevent possible power grabs to control the country’s oil riches if he is ousted.

The country where the Arab Spring began, Tunisia, has been shaken by unrest — including a rise in ultraconservative Islamists — ahead of planned elections in October to elect an assembly that will write a new constitution. Some political groups are urging further delays in the election to give new parties a chance to organize.

Egypt, meanwhile, is questioning when — or if — the ruling military council will surrender power. The caretaker rulers effectively announced a delay of the elections on Tuesday when they said preparations for the vote would start Sept. 30.

“Bring down the military junta,” chanted some of the 30,000 protesters Tuesday in Tahrir Square. Hours later, the military made clear its patience was wearing thin — with Maj. Gen. Mohsen el-Fangari wagging his finger and warning protesters against “harming national interests.”

Mubarak is under arrest and faces trial next month over the deaths of nearly 900 protesters in the uprising that ended his 29-year-rule in February. In a transcript of his interrogation published by two newspapers Thursday, he claimed to have had no control over security forces who attacked demonstrators.

“No one would have paid any attention to me or my orders,” he said when asked why he did not stop the violence. He claimed he gave clear orders that no force be used against the protesters, and blamed top aides for keeping him in the dark about the gravity of the protests that led to his downfall.
Only in tiny Bahrain have authorities apparently tipped the scales clearly in their favor. Security forces — aided by Saudi-led reinforcements — smothered an uprising by the kingdom’s majority Shiites seeking greater rights from the Sunni rulers. A so-called “national dialogue” began this month, but it’s unlikely that the 200-year-old ruling dynasty will give up any significant hold on power and may need a heavy hand to keep Shiite-led protests from reigniting.

“It’s not over, but we are in an ugly situation now,” said Christopher Davidson, a lecturer on Middle East and Gulf affairs at Britain’s Durham University.

That’s why the definition of the Arab Spring is increasingly being stretched. It’s both about the current showdowns and the long-term spillover. The upheavals — supercharged by the instant communications of the Web — have given the region a crash course in the clout of the streets. The view from the top is suddenly less comfortable.

Even monarchs have acted swiftly after relatively small-scale clamor. Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said promised 50,000 new civil servant posts and allocated $2.6 billion for job programs. Jordan’s King Abdullah II has set in motion plans for an elected government in coming years.
In the tightly ruled United Arab Emirates, officials have opened the vaults to fund development programs in poorer regions outside Dubai and Abu Dhabi and plan to expand voting rights in September’s balloting for a federal advisory council. It’s been trumpeted as a “great leap” for democracy in a country that jailed five activists just for posting Internet appeals to form a true parliament.

“No matter what happens, countries gripped or just touched by the Arab Spring will never go back to what they were,” said Marina Ottaway, director of the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. That leads to the bigger question: How deep can the changes go?
Syrian protesters, for example, know that even if President Bashar Assad falls, the underpinnings such as the rank-and-file military and public works staff cannot be purged as well without sending the country into a tailspin.

Omar Idilbi, a spokesman for the anti-Assad Local Coordination Committees, which track the protests in Syria, said the opposition has no plans to dissolve the army or even the ruling Baath Party if he is overthrown but will seek to weaken the powers of security agencies. “At the beginning of the uprising when we chanted, ‘the people want to bring down the regime,’ we did not mean President Assad, but the security agencies that interfere in everything from a marriage certificate to the opening of a shop,” said Idilbi, who is based in Beirut.

Yemen’s president isn’t even in the country, yet his regime fights on. A blast last month sent Ali Abdullah Saleh to Saudi Arabia for extensive medical treatment, including more than eight operations. But his son, Ahmed, kept the regime’s crucial Republican Guards forces intact.
Washington believes no credible alternative exists for the current regime as an ally to fight Yemen’s al-Qaida affiliate, which has been declared a major threat to U.S. interests. But President Barack Obama’s counterterrorism chief, John Brennan, has urged Saleh to accept a proposal that would transfer power to his vice president in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

“The current crisis showed that neither side can win,” said Ahmed Obeid bin Dagher, the deputy secretary general of the ruling party. “If there is no national consensus through dialogue, then al-Qaida will be the alternative.” Jordan-based political analyst Labib Khamhawi sees such calls by regime insiders as bids for survival: Protect the system, not necessarily the leader.

“I think it will be very difficult to imagine that the Libyan, Yemeni or Syrian presidents will remain in power,” he said. “The faces will be changed, but the system might continue to exist.” Among the kings and sheiks in the Gulf, however, there’s not even room for those concessions.
The region’s anchor power, Saudi Arabia, which has not seen protests take off, is staking out a role as “sort of the Arab Spring counterrevolution,” said Shadi Hamid, director of research at The Brookings Doha Center in Qatar.

“The Arab Spring revolutions may have their moments of self-doubt or seem stalled at times, but they are authentic expressions for change and, to use an overused phrase, on the right side of history,” said Hamid. “What began in Tunisia and Egypt is a long, long way from being finished.”

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Arab Pundits Cheer the Tunisia, Egypt Protests

By Salameh Nematt for Newsweek

Following the political earthquake that removed Tunisia’s President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali from power nearly two weeks ago, seismic waves have been shaking ruling regimes from Algeria to Egypt, and from Jordan to Yemen. But if political earthquakes could somehow be measured on a “political” Richter scale, the question would be: Is this a magnitude 3 mild tremor that will pass, leaving behind little damage to the region’s authoritarian regimes and dictatorships? Or will it prove to be a magnitude 7 shocker, causing serious damage to a number of regimes?

Watching and reading Arab pundits and political analysts offers no conclusive answer. Most of the pan-Arab press appears to be celebrating the “Jasmine Revolution” that brought down the Tunisian dictator, cheering on protesters in Egypt, Algeria, Yemen, and Jordan and the rest of the Arab world. Meanwhile, Arab leaders have been at pains not to appear opposed to “the will of the Tunisian people” while at the same time trying not to encourage the spread of the “democracy virus” to their own countries.

It is anybody’s guess how events will ultimately unfold in Tunisia, where a transitional government made up of remnants of the “ancien regime” and a group of opposition and independent figures is trying to appease the disorganized and still angry masses, promising sweeping political reforms and democratic elections within months. But so far Tunisia’s revolution has only gone halfway, removing a president and shaking the establishment but not gutting the entrenched regime that still holds considerable power. That regime includes a military-security establishment that might decide, at any moment, to take things into its own hands and decide the future of the country, for better or worse.

It would be naive to assume that Tunisia has already made the transition from dictatorship to democracy before the current standoff unfolds, a process that may take several months and could turn bloody at any moment.

But the events in the region have certainly dispelled a number of myths and offered a few lessons for governments and observers. Perhaps the most important myth is that the Arab regimes, most of which have been ruling for decades, are too resilient and cannot be toppled, except through foreign military intervention or an inside coup or seizure of power. The other myth now being seriously questioned throughout the Arab media is that Islamists are the only alternative to these secular or apparently secular regimes. In Tunisia, the Islamists appeared to have little visible influence in the popular uprising, while the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has deliberately kept a low profile, perhaps for tactical reasons, leaving the disorganized popular masses of protesters of various political shades to take the lead.

Elaph.com, the Arab world’s most popular online newspaper, argues that the recent events in the region have demonstrated that “people are capable of breaking the fear barrier,” despite the ruthlessness of the ruling regimes. The paper quoted Burhan Ghalyoun, the director of a Middle East research center, as expressing surprise that the Tunisians “have achieved massive change at lightning speed, which goes to prove that change is not as difficult as we previously thought.”

Understandably, most of the official and semi-official Arab media have recognized people’s “right to peaceful demonstration and freedom of expression,” echoing calls from Washington and the West, but warned, at the same time, against actions that may undermine stability and security. Wisely, many governments in the region, including that of Jordan, have moved quickly to reduce the prices of consumer goods and promise political reforms to preempt an escalation of popular anger.

But unlike previous protests in Egypt and other Arab countries, this time the region’s leaders and their governments have not rushed to blame “foreign forces,” namely the U.S. and other Western countries, for instigating the riots. Tunisia’s government had always adopted a pro-Western stance, but today the West, which had turned a blind eye to human rights violations in that country for decades, is now almost silently watching as that regime crumbles, without any sign of wanting to do anything to save it.

However, one might argue that this month’s protests are not only the product of worsening living conditions resulting from the global economic crisis and homegrown corruption and mismanagement. They are also the product of decades of political oppression and humiliation by regimes that are now beginning to realize they can no longer oppress their own people with impunity. Social media and other modern and widely accessible communications tools have stripped these regimes of their monopoly on information. And since knowledge is power, the power is now shifting from the ruling few to the unruly masses, and these masses, in turn, are challenging the status quo throughout the region. But it is certainly too early for pro-democracy advocates in the region and beyond to bring out the Champagne glasses. It isn’t over till it’s over, and it is definitely not over yet.

Majority of Muslims Reject Al-Qaeda

As Reported by Sandra Johnson for The Daily Mail

Muslims in many parts of the Islamic world overwhelmingly reject al Qaeda, support a large role for their faith in government and believe democracy is preferable to any other kind of political structure, according to a new survey released by Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project.

The study also found falling support for suicide bombings, as well as mixed attitudes towards Hamas and Hezbollah, Islamic groups designated as terrorist organizations by Western governments but which operate extensive social services networks in parts of the Muslim world.

The survey, conducted this spring in Jordan, Lebanon, Nigeria, Indonesia, Egypt, Pakistan and Turkey, found that only in Nigeria did Muslim populations have anything approaching a favorable view of al Qaeda, with 49 percent expressing positive views and 34 percent holding an unfavorable opinion.

At least seven in 10 Muslims had unfavorable views of the group in Egypt, Turkey and Lebanon, as did lesser majorities in Jordan and Indonesia, according to the study.

But views of Hamas and Hezbollah were more mixed. Both groups got favorable ratings from a majority of Jordanian Muslims, with 60 percent supporting Hamas and 55 percent holding favorable views of Hezbollah, Pew reported.

Muslims in every nation but Turkey expressed a positive feeling about Islam’s influence in their nation’s politics. More than nine in 10 Indonesian Muslims said its influence is positive, as did more than eight in 10 Egyptian and Nigerian Muslims. In Jordan, 76 percent of Muslims approved of Islam’s influence, as did 69 percent in Pakistan and 58 percent in Lebanon.

In Turkey, 38 percent had a positive opinion of Islam’s influence in political life.

At the same time, majorities of Muslims in every country but Turkey said they were concerned about Islamic extremism in the world and their own countries.

Democracy was favored by a majority of Muslims in every country but Pakistan, although even there it received the largest share of responses. Lebanese Muslims were most favorable toward democracy, followed by those in Turkey, Jordan, Nigeria, Indonesia and Egypt.

Support for suicide bombing had also fallen by double digits since 2002 in every country except Turkey, where it was never well-received among Muslims, according to the study.

Give White House Credit for Mideast Peace Efforts

By Peter A Joseph for The Huffington Post

Skeptics have had a field day criticizing the direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians to be launched this week in Washington. To be sure, the obstacles to concluding an agreement are significant, the stakes are high and expectations are low.

But it is time to give the Obama Administration some credit. The White House is launching direct talks on Thursday with tools that previous administrations did not have or were unwilling to employ in past negotiation efforts. Despite the rampant skepticism, there are indeed reasons to be hopeful without being naïve.

The Obama Administration has come a long way to get to this point. The year-long tussle with Israel over West Bank settlement construction, a botched photo-op between the Israeli and Palestinian leadership in New York one year ago, and painstaking attempts to bring the parties to direct talks in recent months have eroded the optimism and expectations that came with the election of President Obama.

However, there are a number of essential ingredients that the Administration has got right as it launches direct talks. Martin Indyk mentioned four of them last week in the New York Times: 1) there is very little violence between the parties today; 2) settlement activity has been limited; 3) the majority on both sides support a two-state solution; and 4) the contours of an agreement are largely already known. Here are four more:

First, violence is down because security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians is at an all-time high. Palestinian security forces trained with the direct support and supervision of the United States, Israel and Jordan have significantly secured the West Bank and created an atmosphere conducive to economic growth. The success of the burgeoning Palestinian security force is providing Israelis with much needed confidence. Security is – and always has been – Israel’s number one concern. With such cooperation already in place, these talks will have a distinct advantage over all other previous efforts.

Second, the Arab states have endorsed President Mahmoud Abbas’ negotiating with Israel and pledged to be part of the effort. The inclusion of Egypt and Jordan in the launch next week is vital. As co-chairs of the Arab League’s Arab Peace Initiative follow-up committee, Egypt and Jordan bring with them the promise of normal relations for Israel with 22 Arab states following a successfully negotiated agreement on the final status issues.

Regardless of whether Yasser Arafat truly intended to achieve peace with Israel, he never enjoyed the mobilized support of the Arab states, let alone the United States and Israel. Mahmoud Abbas does. The Arab states are providing Abbas with the kind of backing and legitimacy to negotiate with Israel on all of the sensitive final status issues that he will need in order to conclude a historic agreement. This is particularly significant given the political split of the Palestinians between the West Bank and Gaza.

Third, the Palestinians are invested in building the foundation for a Palestinian state. The Palestinians have been plagued in previous negotiation efforts by poor governance and widespread corruption. While concerning issues remain, the progress of Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad to establish the infrastructure for a future state – like the aforementioned security advancements – distinguishes these negotiations from previous ones. The success of the state-building effort to this point and the growth of the West Bank economy lends credibility to the moderate leadership of Abbas and Fayyad and their ability to govern a viable, contiguous state, should the political process enable one to be established. Their efforts should also give Israelis added confidence that they would be establishing a conflict-ending agreement with a responsible neighbor.

Fourth, the Netanyahu government has been calling for negotiations for months, repeatedly stating that an agreement could be reached quickly if negotiated in good faith. The Administration now has a chance to test them on their word.

The make-up of the Israeli government presents both a challenge and an advantage to the renewed talks. The fact that this is a largely right-wing government intended to provide Israel with essential guarantees on security could bolster confidence among the Israeli public for an agreement, should one be achieved. This would remain true even if the government were at some point to replace Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party with Tzipi Livni’s Kadima party. Just as the Likud Prime Minister Menachem Begin secured a peace agreement with Egypt, so too might the current Likud Prime Minister secure the elusive peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Finally, the White House has pledged to be actively engaged and bridge the gaps when necessary. The failed Annapolis process proved that Israelis and Palestinians need the United States to be at the negotiating table in order to help the parties bridge the gaps.

Active engagement by the United States does not just require bridging proposals, but also reminding the parties of the interests at stake. To Israelis, concluding an agreement with the Palestinians would certainly help amplify efforts to mobilize the international community to counter the threat from Iran. To Palestinians, a viable and secure state can only come about through negotiations.

However, even with these various important ingredients in place, there remains a missing one that is vital to the success of direct talks: trust. Without trust between the parties – or in the United States’ leadership – the current effort will undoubtedly fail. Building this trust, beginning with navigating the parties past the September 26th deadline of Israel’s settlement moratorium, is clearly the United States’ most pressing challenge in the weeks ahead. But the foundation to succeed in doing so is beginning to be put into place. The Administration deserves some credit for laying it.

– Peter A Joseph is the president of the Israel Policy Forum

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