Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Neither Sovereign Nor Failed: The Destabilizing Impact of Iraq’s Militia-Mafia State

Members of Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces (al-Hashad al-Sha'bi)
The continue killings of democracy activists in Iraq, especially youth, without anyone being held accountable, highlights the complete lack of control of Iran’s proxy militias by the Federal government in Baghdad.  The ability of the militias to dominate large swaths of Iraq’s economy points not just to the Iraqi state’s inability to control the means of violence within its borders, but the extent to which Iraq has become a country of mafia style crime syndicates.   

What does this violence and criminality tell us about  state formation in the Middle East? The Iraqi state is neither sovereign, because the central government has only nominal control of its security forces, not failed, as the state continues to provide salaries to its employees and social services – however degraded – to its citizenry.  The larger issue is what does imply for Iraq’s future and for the political stability, of lack thereof, of the Middle East, especially the attempt to reign in Iran’s meddling  in neighboring countries? 


States in the Arab world can be characterized as stable autocracies, e.g., Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies, competitive authoritarian regimes, e.g., Algeria, failed and quasi-failed states, e.g., Yemen, Libya and Syria, and proto-democracies, e.g. Tunisia and Sudan. However, a new type of state has emerged in Iraq and Lebanon – the "militia-mafia state."  In the militia-mafia state, elections occur and a central government exists.  However, the military power and control over much of the economy lies in the hands of powerful militias, whether Hizballah in Lebanon or Iran’s proxy militias in Iraq.  


In considering this state formation, we can find other examples beyond the Middle East.  The FARC have for many years controlled much of Columbia’s economy through cocaine production and sales as the Taliban have likewise dominated much of the Afghan economy with heroine production and sales.  For many years, crime syndicates in southern Italy, such as La Cosa Nostra (Mafia), Camorra and ‘Ndrangheta, controlled government contracts in the south and continue drug and human trafficking as well as penetrating Italy’s banks in the northern part of the country. 

Although the militias who control much of the Iraqi economy have adopted  “religious” titles, such as Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq, Kata’ib Hizballah and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada’, their goals and behavior have little or nothing to do with Islam.  As a movement which begin under Bush administration auspices in 2003 with the return to Iraq of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and its militia, the Badr Corps, it blossomed after the Islamic State (IS) seized Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city in June 2014. 


As IS forces took control of Mosul and much of north central Iraq, the Iraqi Army collapsed, largely due to the corrupt and sectarian behavior of then Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. On June 13, 2021, as the IS was approaching Baghdad, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued a fatwa entitled, “Collective Responsibility” (wajib kifa'i) which called upon all able-bodied Iraqis to defend their nation.   


Sistani’s call to arms was embraced by large numbers of Iraqis, especially in the Shi a dominated south.  A number of new militias were formed and the established militias’ influence grew and attracted many new recruits.  Officers from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) arrived to help the militias fight the Dacish and US military trainers joined the battle as well. Once the Islamic State advance was halted, and the militias were no longer  needed, it was expected that the newly established ones would disband and other militia members would be integrated into the Iraqi army. 


It quickly became clear that the militias, both established and new, had no intention of giving up their newly enhanced political power.  Over time, the militias have become a major part of the Ministry of Interior’s elite security forces, providing full-time government jobs for poor youth who lack the possibility for finding meaningful employment. Thus, the militias have developed a loyal social base among those poor youth who lack education and skills. Likewise, they have been recognized by the Federal Government as official members of Iraq’s armed forces.  


Nominally under the control of the Office of the Prime Minister, the militia movement has become increasingly powerful and ignored the central government.  As its military power has grown, it has institutionalized its armed units and engaged in attacks on the remnants of the Islamic State in al-Anbar, Salah al-Din, Ninawa and Diyala Provinces.  It has coordinated much of its military activity with the IRGC which has seen its influence in Iraq grow substantially since 2014. 

Much attention has been given to the PMUs ability to operate military apart from control by the Prime Minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi. Less attention has been given to the parallel economy it has developed as a result of widespread illicit and criminal activity.  First, it has assumed control of many Iraqi highways where, under the claim that is providing security, it monitors traffic and collects tolls.  In addition to control of highways, the militias collect fees at border crossings where they engage in smuggling goods into Iraq without paying customs duties. 


After the defeat of the Islamic State in Mosul, the PMUs have seized considerable land and allowed some of it to be placed under the control of the Shici Waqf Endowment, despite the fact that Mosul is primarily comprised Sunni Muslims. While there are also a number of Sunni militias, the Shici militias dominate the military and economic activity of much of the Sunni Arab provinces which adds to local sectarian tensions.  


Iran has tried to defuse these tensions by developing ties to local notables. It is known that Muhammad al-Halbusi, the Sunni Speaker of Parliament, is closely tied to Iran.  Nevertheless, many Iraqis are fearful of the growth of Iranian political and economic influence in Iraq. These feelings have been vocally expressed by the youth supporters of Thawrat Tishreen (October Revolution) which began in October 2019.   


As demonstrations supporting October revolution have spread in Baghdad and throughout the south of Iraq, the militias have been in the forefront of attacking the peaceful protestors. At the time of this writing, more than 600 demonstrators have been killed and over 24,000 wounded.  Many leaders of the protests and democracy activists have been killed, abducted and tortured. To date, not a single militia member accused of killing protestors have been brought to trial. 


Complicating matters still further is the destabilizing role the militias are playing in the struggle against the Islamic State’s efforts to reestablish itself in the Sunni Arab province of North central and Western Iraq. Since the defeat of the Da’ish on the battlefield in the summer of 2017, the militias, working on behalf of Iran, have been trying to force US and NATO troops to leave Iraq. This has resulted in an increasing number of attacks on Iraqi airbases directed primarily at US aircraft. 


The tension between Iran’s proxy militias intensified when Donald Trump ordered a drone strike on IRGC general, Qasem Suleimani, on January 3, 2020, which also killed the leader of the PMU movement, Abu Mahdi Muhandis, who was accompanying him. Angry demonstrations ensued and the militias mobilized parliamentary members supportive of Iraq to vote on a resolution that US forces immediately leave Iraq.   


The resolution was passed without a quorum and thus had no legal status.  Nevertheless, it led to an attack on the US Embassy in Baghdad and increased efforts to end the US and NATO coalition training mission for Iraqi Army forces.  At first, US forces were attacked with crude. missiles from launchers near the airbases.  More recently, using more high technology drones which carry explosives and fly below radar detection, the attacks threaten to become more lethal.  


The growing power of the PMUs and tensions with the US have led to two air strikes – one last February and one this June - on militia bases along the Syrian border and one in Iraq.  The attacks were meant to destroy rocket launchers and drones.  New demonstrations by militia supporters and calls for US forces to leave Iraq have intensified.

At the same time that the United States is trying to negotiate with Iran to reinstate the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Operating Agreement (JCPOA).  Both sides seek to reach an agreement – the US wants to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and Iran is desperate to end the hundreds of US sanctions which have seriously compromised its economy.  

However, the US cannot tolerate attacks on its forces in Iraq. Engaging in counter-attacks on Iran’s proxy militias, such as happened this past week, complicates the negotiations because it brings Iraq into the equation.  No matter how antipathetic to the militias, Prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi cannot allow the US attacks on militia forces to go unanswered. 

In short, the militia state in Iraq has created a "state within a state" which possesses more power than the central government.  It is already having a detrimental impact on Iraqi politics and society and could threaten the negotiations with Iran to curtail nuclear weapons proliferation in the MENA region.  This "political dualism" constitutes a new form of the state - a "militia-mafia state."  It may take hold in other states in the Middle East, foreshadowing even more political instability in already unstable region. 


Sunday, May 30, 2021

What Next? Paths Towards Finding a Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Jewish and Arab Members of the Israeli Knesset argue over Palestinian rights
The Hamas rockets are no longer raining down on Israel and Israeli jets have stopped attacking the Gaza Strip.  The majority of both Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza have breathed a sigh of relief that the fighting has ended. Meanwhile, the Biden administration has pledged $22 million to rebuild the Gaza Strip which was badly damaged by Israeli bombing. Apart from Biden’s pledge, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has largely disappeared from the news. What will happen next?  What can be done to address this intractable struggle?   

The view expressed here is that the solution to the conflict begins in Israel. If Israeli politics was not controlled by the hard right, the prospects for peace and addressing the Palestinians’ legitimate rights for a sovereign state and the ability to enjoy democracy, prosperity and dignity could be met.   


The key to such change is the active involvement in Israeli politics of its Palestinian citizens.  If Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel had more power, they might be able to translate that power not just into improving the lives of Palestinian Arabs in Israel proper but Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as well. How could that process move forward? 


In the current political scenario, neither Israel’s  center-right nor the center-left has been able to form a stable government. The political instability which has resulted is evident in the four snap and inconclusive elections Israel has held since 2019.  Israelis have become increasingly disenchanted with their fragmented political system. 


Recently, a major change has been in the making with the willingness of Israel’s Jewish political parties to consider forming coalitions with Israel’s Palestinian Arab parties, even if indirect.  With several seats in the Knesset – Israel’s parliament -  the Palestinian parties hold the balance of power in deciding which coalition can form a government. Even Benjamin Netanyahu, who has vilified Palestinians, whether Israeli citizens or living in East Jerusalem, the West Bank or Gaza, tried in the March 2021 elections to attract Arab voters to his political coalition. 

Yair Lapid, Naftali Bennett and Mansour Abbas (United Arab List)
With the announcement today that the center-left Change Party (Yesh Atid) and the far right New Right Party (HaYamin HeHadash) – led by Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett respectively – will form a collation to oust Benjamin Netanyahu and end his 12 year reign as prime minister, Arab support for the new coalition government is essential.  Lapid and Bennett will run a minority government which will need Arab votes if it is to insure at least the required 61 seats in the Knesset.  

 Would the support of Arab Knesset members for a ruling coalition led by Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett, specifically those of the Islamist Raam Party, bring about a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?  Not at all.  However, working with other political parties, the Palestinian Arab bloc could make its support of the new government contingent on providing more material and social assistance to Israel’s Palestinian Arab citizens.  If a serious effort could be made to address the second class status of Israel’s Arab citizens, then that in turn would encourage more active political participation on their part. 

Should the proposed minority government survive with Arab support, it will become clear to Israel’s Jewish citizens that their Palestinian counter parts have decided to become full players in politics and use the electoral process to improve their lives.  These “facts on the ground” would have the effect of eroding the ability of Israel’s far-right to argue that the Palestinian Arabs – 20% of Israel’s 9 million population – constitutes an ongoing threat to the nation-state. 


Once they became supporters of the new governing coalition, with the ability to bring down the government if their party withdrew its support, Palestinian Arab Knesset members would possess considerable power due to the roughly 50-50% split between center right and center left voters in Israel.  This division within Israel’s Jewish electorate is unlikely to change anytime soon, and the coming attacks on the new coalition by Netanyahu once he is no longer prime minister will only make Israel’s political coalitions even more fragile. Palestinian Arab Knesset support will thus become even more important, ironically giving them the ability to act as power brokers. 


As key coalition members, Palestinian Arab members of Knesset would acquire the power and influence to insist on a number of important changes. One would be to end their marginalization within the Knesset.  Since 2012, several bills introduced by Arab Knesset members, which were intended to address discrimination against Israel’s Palestinian citizens, were never allowed to come up for a vote.  Likewise, a 2016 legislative amendment allows the Knesset to vote to expel members who criticize Israeli policies.  Arab Knesset members feel that law in intended to silence them. In their new position of power, they could demand that this amendment be annulled. 

Israel Discriminatory Measures Undermine Palestinian Representation in the Knesset

Arab parties could also insist that their ongoing political support of the Change-Yesh Atid government is contingent on reigning in far right settlers who seek to expropriate Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem and on the West Bank.  Under Netanyahu, not only were these settlers not constrained, but they were tacitly encouraged to pursue policies which further repress the Palestinian rights.  While Naftali Bennett would react negatively to such pressure, there is a strong likelihood that he would support the rule of law over losing his governing position, especially since his party only received 5% of the vote in last March’s elections.  

The Sheikh Jarrah Expropriation


Arab Knesset members could demand other concessions as well.  While Palestinian Arabs constitute 20% of Israel’s population, only 7% of judges in Israel are Arab.  Placing more Arab judges on Israel’s courts would have a positive impact by allowing Palestinian citizens to more effectively contest discriminatory government policies, such as poor municipal services, sub-standard education funding, and poor health care facilities.  If Arab Knesset members could demonstrate their ability to improve the Israeli Palestinians’ standard of living, this would be another step towards making Israel a truly democratic state. 

Only 7.7% of Israeli Judges are Arab, New Study Finds

At the same time, the international community needs to add its voice to this process.  The European Union, the United States, the United Nations and other nations committed to the peace process would need to step up its financial support. This financial support would be especially helpful if it promoted collaborative projects between Israeli Jewish and Israeli Palestinian citizens.  Many such projects have been underway but funding them publicly would have a positive effect not only in helping them succeed but demonstrating to the world that efforts to establish peace are not just talk but a reality. 

Our Generation Speaks


As I wrote in a recent post, the recently established ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco, and Egypt and Jordan earlier, suggest new relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors and possibilities for jump starting the peace process.  With its large sovereign wealth fund, and the investments it is already making in the Israeli economy, the UAE has special leverage in helping to improve the status of Israel’s Palestinian citizens.  Already it has offered a $10 billion investment in Israel’s energy and other sectors of its economy. 

The Future of Arab-Israeli Relations: A Middle East Common Market?


The UAE could directly invest in existing Palestinian enterprises in Israel and assist new start-ups to become successful entrepreneurial ventures.  It could likewise provide funds for joint Jewish-Arab NGOs, social entrepreneurial ventures and peace-building education initiatives.  Following the example of Brandeis’ University’s Our Generation Speaks, the UAE could invite Jewish and Palestinian social entrepreneurs to its Emirates Foundation for Youth Development, and the Youth Hub, run by the Federal Youth Authority, to encourage joint ventures across religious and ethnic lines and to build ties of trust among Palestinian and Jewish Israelis. 

Youth Hubs in the United Arab Emirates


The UAE has paid special attention to its youth population as seen in the appointment as age 22 of Shamma Bint Suhail bin Faris al-Mazrui as Minister of Sport, and Noura al-Kaabi as Minister of Culture and Youth.  The UAE is well situated to develop projects which are directed at educating youth as to the benefits of peaceful cooperation and coexistence, especially though the development of social entrepreneurial ventures. One simple example could be the promotion of restaurants which serve Middle Eastern cuisine loved by both Arabs and Jews. Indeed, this is one of the few places in Israel where Palestinians Arab and Jewish Israelis come into contact, e.g., in the very popular restaurant, Shawarma Emile, in the northern city of Haifa 

Shawarma Emil - Haifa, Israel

What will be the results of inaction?  A recent Opinion column in the Washington Post by Farid Zakaria touted Israel’s impressive technological development and economic dominance in the MENA region. Its military superiority dwarfs all of the states of the region.

The Only Way to Solve the Israeli-Palestinian Problem 


However, Zakaria fails to discuss the internal fault lines of Israeli society.  Just as many outside observers viewed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi as secure in his power given Iran’s oil wealth, his support by the US and his powerful military, his regime fell during the Iranian Revolution of 1978-79. While the parallels with Israel may seem a bit far-fetched, the recent violence between Palestinian Arabs and Israelis during the 11 day war between Hamas and the Israeli military should be of serious concern.  The attacks carried out by mobs on Palestinian and Jewish neighborhoods, houses of worship and businesses does not bode well for the future.  


With demonstrations occurring in the West Bank as well, and Hizballah threatening to enter the conflict, the Israeli government realized that military might could not quell civil disturbances.  Much effort has been made, especially since the 1990s, to build cooperative associations of Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs.  However, even within Haifa, the purported model of Jewish-Arab relations, coexistence remains tenuous and the city largely segregated. 

Haifa the Capital of Coexistence is Segregated


The greatest threat to Israeli democracy is the far right settler movement which seeks to ethnically cleanse Jerusalem and the West Bank of Palestinians who live there. The settler movement is hostile to all principles of liberal democracy. Violence is one of the main tools in its arsenal to achieve its goals. Ultimately, it is not just the enemy of Palestinians, both citizens of Israel and those in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, but of secular liberal Israelis who sincerely would like to live in peace with Palestinians, both citizens and non-citizens. 


Beyond Palestinian Arab political parties using their influence in the Knesset to improve the standard of living of Palestinian  citizens, and the UAE deploying its investments not only to strengthen ties with the Israeli government, but to assist Israel’s Palestinian citizens, the Israeli center-left would be well advised to seek out Palestinians to develop a broad based political movement which could counter the far right settler movement. Such a movement might just be the beginning of solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. 

No more wars -the killing must stop! 

Thursday, May 6, 2021

لماذا يجب على العراق الابتعاد عن صراع المحاور السياسية في المنطقة؟

نرحب بضيفنا المساهم الأستاذ عقيل هاشم عبود

طبقا لبعض المعلومات المسربة من دائرة القرار السياسي العراقي في بغداد, فأن اجتماعات سرية قد جرت بين مسؤولين رفيعي المستوى من ايران والمملكة العربية السعودية, الهدف منها تقليل حدة التوتر بين الطرفين, ونزع فتيل أزمة سياسية مزمنة بين الطرفين كان لأستمرارها الاثر الكبير في عدم استقرار المنطقة برمتها. ويبدو ان هذه الاجتماعات ربما جاءت بتشجيع من الحكومة العراقية والذي قام رئيس وزراءها مصطفى الكاظمي بزيارة لكل من البلدين في فترة سابقة من السنة الحالية, او ربما جاءت نتيجة قناعة الطرفين بأن الظرف السياسي العالمي والاقليمي الراهن يدعو للعودة لطاولة المفاوضات والبحث عن مخرج مرضي للطرفين فيما يتصل بموقفيهما من جملة الاحداث المهمة والجارية في المنطقة

لم تكن العلاقات بين ايران والسعودية علاقات يمكن وصفها بأنها علاقات طبيعية بين قوتين فاعلتين في الشرق الاوسط, منذ قيام الثورة الايرانية عام 1979 بقيادة السيد اية الله روح الله الخميني (1902-1989), والتي اطاحت بشاه ايران الاخير محمد رضا بهلوي, وحتى يومنا هذا. وقد رأت العائلة المالكة في المملكة العربية السعودية في هذه الثورة تهديدا كبيرا لموقعها القيادي للاغلبية المسلمة في العالمين العربي والاسلامي, باعتبارها الراعية الاساس للارث الاسلامي والوجود الاسلامي المتمثل بوجود بيت الله الحرام او الكعبة المشرفة وقبر الرسول ومسجده الكريم في المدينة المنورة, وقد تمثل هذا التهديد بالنسبة للملكة العربية السعودية في ظهور تيار اسلامي راديكالي شيعي, تشكلت ابعاده ووضحت ايديولوجته الدينية والسياسية في

اعقاب نجاح الثورة الاسلامية الايرانية, والتي اتخذت من قضايا الصراع الايديولوجي مع الغرب بصورة عامة والولايات المتحدة الامريكية بصورة خاصة اهداف مشروعة لمقاومتها, ووضعت مخططا للتوسع القائم في المقابل على ايديولوجية دينية معقدة في المنطقة العربية وفي العالم الاسلامي

ومن النافل قوله, بأن القيادة الايرانية الجديدة لم تخفي امتعاضها من بعض مصادر القرار العربي, كالسعودية بوجه التحديد وسلوكيات هذه الممكلة, في الجانب السياسية على وجه الخصوص في المنطقة وعلاقاتها مع الغرب والولايات المتحدة بوجه التحديد, الامر الذي لم يولد الانطباع الايجابي لدى صاحب القرار في الرياض من جملة العواقب الوخيمة المتوقع حدوثها في المنطقة, اذا ما استتب الامر لاية الله الخميني, ودولته الجديدة

لكن الغريب في الامر, ان طيلة فترة الصراع بين الطرفين (ايران والعربية السعودية), لم تحدث اي مواجهة مباشرة بينهما, والحديث دائما هنا عن مواجهة عسكرية, ولكن المؤكد ان الدولتين قررتا ان يكون حل النزاع بينهما على اراضي دول اخرى, وقد نجحت العربية السعودية ايما نجاح في هذا الامر, كما نجحت فيما بعد ايران في خوض غمار صراعاتها السياسية المضنية والمعقدة مع الممكلة في اراضي دول اخرى وعبر منظمات ومجموعات جهادية تتخذ من ولاية الفقيه مرجعا روحيا وسياسيا لها, كما هو الحال في العراق, اليمن, لبنان وسورية.

أتفق الكثير من الباحثين في الشأن العربي والاقليمي من ان الخدمة التي قدمها الرئيس العراقي السابق صدام حسين (1937-2006) للعربية السعودية في العام 1980 لا تقدر بثمن, فقد اعلن صدام حسين والذي اعدم في العام 2006, الحرب على ايران بعد فترة قصيرة جدا من عمر الثورة الايرانية, وبعد تأزم ملحوظ للعلاقات بين الطرفين أبان تسنم أية الله الخميني أدارة الامور في ايران. استمرت الحرب لمدة ثمان سنوات (1980-1988), راح ضحيتها ما يقدر من المليون ونصف المليون من القتلى بين الطرفين بالاضافة الى مئات الالاف من الجرحى والمعاقين, وقدرت الخسائر المادية للطرفين بمئات الميارات من الدولارات.

كان للدور الذي لعبته دول الخليج, وعلى رأسها المملكة العربية السعودية والكويت, الاثر الكبير في مساعدة نظام صدام حسين على الخروج منها غير مهزوما من الناحية الصورية,

لكن علامات الهزيمة كانت واضحة المعالم لكل المتابعين والمحللين السياسيين والعسكريين والاقتصاديين, فلم يستطع نظام صدام حسين تحمل تبعات هذه الحرب وخسائرها المادية والسياسية, فارتكب خطأ فادحا سيعود عليه بالوبال طيلة فترة التسعينيات من القرن الماضي, والتي انتهت بأحتلال العراق في العام 2003.

يدخل العراق الكويت في اعقاب تلك الحرب الطاحنة, فيجتمع العالم كله ضد القيادة العراقية, وتقود الولايات المتحدة الامريكية وبريطانيا وغيرها من دول العالم حملة عسكرية فتحرر الكويت ويهزم العراق شر هزيمة, بعد حملة قصف جوي لم يشهد لها التاريخ الحديث اي مثيل. علينا ان نشير هنا, بان العراق وطيلة فترة الحرب مع ايران, كان يحسب ضمن محور سياسي تشكل بالضد من محور اخر تقوده ايران, سورية, الجزائر وليبيا. وصراع المحاور هذا كان القشة التي قصمت ظهر العراق في فترة حكم صدام حسين. والواضح للمتتبعين, ان طبيعة النظام العراقي السابق التي تأرجحت بين تبني شعارات القومية العربية, وشعارات زائفة اخرى كانت رائجة في تلك الحقبة حتمت عليه الدخول في صراع المحاور والزعامة والريادة في العالم العربي على اقل تقدير, الامر الذي قاده الى نهايته المحتومة.

تسوء العلاقات العراقية العربية ويختفي شبح صدام حسين وشعارات نظامه القومية, ويدخل العالم العربي في حالة من الضياع والانقسام جاءت في اعقاب حرب تحرير الكويت, لكن يبقى اصرار السعودية ودول خليجية وعربية اخرى على تركيع العراق, فمهدت سياسة العزل والعقوبات القاسية على العراق الطريق لسقوط نظام حزب البعث وصدام حسين في ما اطلق عليه فيما بعد بعملية تحرير العراق في العام 2003 والتي قادتها ايضا الولايات المتحدة الامريكية وبريطانيا بالاضافة الى دول اخرى.

لم تكن فترة (التسعينات), فترة يمكن أعتبارها مريحة بالنسبة لكل من ايران والمملكة العربية السعودية, على الرغم من احتفاظ الطرفين بعلاقات شبه مستقرة بينهما. لكن هذه العلاقات لم تفصح عن رغبة واضحة بين الطرفين في الذهاب الى ابعد نقطة ممكنة في العلاقة بينهما. لكن سرعان ما تعود العلاقات بين الطرفين الى المربع الاول, والسبب هو احتلال العراق, ووقوف ايران في محور معارض للحرب واحتلال العراق, ووقوف السعودية الى جانب مبدأ الحرب واحتلال العراق.

كانت الحرب كارثية بنتائجها على العراق وعلى المنطقة برمتها, فبدء عهد جديد من التحالفات وصراع المحاور, وهذه المرة على الارض العراقية, بعد فشل القيادة الامريكية في الحفاظ على استقرار العراق بعد احتلاله, فقد انعدمت الرؤية الواضحة لدى صاحب القرار الامريكي عما يراد من العراق وما يمكن فعله للوصول الى الغايات المنشودة من الاحتلال؟

نشأت حالة من الفوضى وافول للدولة العراقية ورمزيتها المتمثلة في مؤسساتها العسكرية والامنية, مما جعل العراق ساحة مفتوحة لقوى عربية واقليمية ودولية, وكل حسب ما تقتضيه مصالحه في العراق, فوقع ما لم يكن في الحسبان, حرب أهلية بين فرقاء البلد الواحد. كان للسعودية وايران التواجد الكبير في العراق, وتباين هذا التواجد على الاصعدة السياسية والاجتماعية والدينية. وقد غذى هذا التواجد ومن خلال توفر المال وعناصر القوة واجهزة اعلامية ضخمة جدا البعد الطائفي بين العراقيين, فحدث شرخ كبير في النسيج الاجتماعي العراقي, كما كان عاملا اساسيا في تحجيم البناء السياسي الجديد في العراق والذي جاء في اعقاب الاحتلال.

لا يزال هذا النظام السياسي يعاني كثيرا, حتى بعد مرور فترة زمنية طويلة نسبيا على انشاءه, لان السياسي العراقي وصانع القرار السياسي في بغداد لازال يدور في فلك المحاور السياسية المتعددة في المنطقة, وهو امر لم يعد بأي نفع للعراق كدولة وللعراقيين كشعب طامح للتغيير. على صانع القرار في بغداد ان يدرك ان دول الجوار ومواقفها المختلفة من العراق والتي خضعت لرهانات التموضع في هذا المعسكر او ذاك ومحاولة جر العراق للعبة المحاور كانت وبالا على العراق والعراقيين.

وهنا يمكن الاشارة, الا ان الانتخابات القادمة, ستكون مفصلية في حياة العراقيين, من حيث نوعية التفكير السائد لدى الغالبية العظمى منهم, بضرورة احداث تغيير في نمط السلوك لدى النخب الدينية والسياسية على حد سواء, وان الدعوة الى عراق مستقل من الفاعل الاجنبي مهما كان نوعه, ومهما كان قربه او بعده, وعراق مستقر, أمن, ناشد لوسائل التطور والتفاعل مع العالم برمته, هو ضرورة ملحة لكل العراقيين.

وهذا الامر لا يتم الا من خلال ابعاد العراق عن صراع المحاور العربية والاقليمية والدولية. لا يمكن للعراق ان يكون طرفا في اي نزاع او تحالف يعمل على تمزيق المنطقة بصورة

اكبر, ولا يمكن للعراق ان يكون طرفا في معارك خاسرة حتى قبل ان تبدأ, كما لا يمكن للعراق ان يكون طرفا في معارك صفتها الاساسية دينية او طائفية, فالعراق بلد تتعدد فيه الاديان والطوائف والقوميات, وقوته ان اريد له ان يكون قويا, تبنع من هذا التعدد.

اذا كان هناك درسا لابد للعراقيين من تعلمه, فهو يكمن في مسألة أخذ العبر من الماضي وما حدث فيه من أحداث جسام تركت بصماتها على الساحة العراقية وعلى العراقيين. والسؤال هنا, ما الذي يمكن ان تقدمه سياسة الابتعاد عن المحاور للعراق وللعراقيين؟

أن الجواب فيه أوجه متعددة, لكنني سوف اختزلها بما أراه حيويا لوجود الدولة العراقية الجديدة وللمجتمع العراقي الجديد الطامح للاستقرار والتطور والامان.

في الجانب السياسي

سوف تساعد سياسة الابتعاد عن صراع المحاور في تحرير العراق كدولة ذات سيادة من حسابات الربح والخسارة في مجال السياسة والتي تترتب على مسألة البعد من هذا الطرف أو ذاك, القرب من السعودية وبعض دول الخليج الاخرى, والبعد عن ايران, والعكس صحيح. القرب من الولايات المتحدة الامريكية كدولة راعية للنظام الديمقراطي الذي اسسته في العراق بكل مساوئه, والابتعاد عن ايران والسعودية كفاعلين اساسيين لهما تأثيراتهم الواضحة في النسيج الاجتماعي العراقي (شيعة وسنة). مسألة التقارب من الجميع لها أهمية قصوى في الحفاظ على البناء السياسي العراقي الجديد, فالعراق الجديد هو دولة مؤسسات, وهذه المؤسسات يجب ان تكون هي الفاعلة في صياغة السياسة العراقية الخارجية, والتي احدى اهم اهدافها, هي ايجاد علاقات سياسية متوازنة بين العراق وكافة جيرانه قائمة على اسس الاحترام المتبادل وعدم التدخل في الشؤون الداخلية لاي طرف من الاطراف.

لقد كان الهدف من اقحام العراق في صراع المحاور, هو اضعاف النظام السياسي الجديد في العراق, وخلق بيئة غير متجانسة تعمل على تفريغ هذا النظام من اي محتوى, وجعله نظاما هشا معتمدا في وجوده على الاخرين. ان الاحداث التي رافقت بناء الدولة العراقية الجديدة خير مثال على ذلك.

في الجانب الاقتصادي

يحتاج العراق جميع جيرانه لأخراجه من المعظلة الاقتصادية التي يعاني منها, وعليه فحاجة العراق لايران حيوية كما هي حاجته للسعودية, ولقطر, وللامارات, ولتركيا, وللاردن, وللولايات المتحدة الامريكية وبريطانيا وبقية دول العالم الاخرى, ولكي يكون العراق دولة حرة في بعدها السياسي, فالحاجة الى نظام اقتصادي متعدد في استثماراته العربية والاقليمية والدولية تصبح مسألة ملحة للغاية. يمثل العراق حاليا سوق خصبة للاستثمار الدولي بكافة ابعاده, وان اي محاولة لجرالعراق الى سياسة الاصطفاف العربي او الاقليمي او الدولي, لا تساعد في عملية التحول الاقتصادي المطلوب لاخراج العراق من محنته الاقتصادية, وقد اثبتت السنوات الثماني عشرة السابقة مدى خطورة انزلاق العراق في صراع المحاور على الوضع الاقتصادي في العراق.

ففي دولة حيث تكون فيها نسب البطالة مرتفعة بصورة مخيفة, وحيث نسبة الشباب فيه تتجاوز % 75 بالمائة من اجمالي السكان, تصبح الحاجة الى اعادة صياغة اسس الاقتصاد العراقي الجديد, وفتح مجالات الاستثمار على مصراعيه امام المستثمر العربي والاقليمي والعالمي ضرورة ملحة لاستيعاب الاعداد الهائلة من الخريجين والايدي العاملة وفي مختلف الاختصاصات.

في الجانب الاجتماعي

لقد ترك صراع الارادات العربية والاقليمية على الاراضي العراقية جرحا كبيرا في النسيج الاجتماعي العراقي صعب له ان يندمل. فقد استخدمت غالبية القوى العربية والاقليمية

المكونات العراقية المتنوعة في انتمائاتها وتوجهاتها السياسية والعرقية والقومية لخدمة مصالحها, وقد نجحت هذه القوى الى حد كبير في تحييد المجتمع العراقي وابعاده عن ماهو مطلوب منه. وابعد من ذلك, فقد نجحت هذه القوى, في اشعال فتيل حرب اهلية كان بامكانها ان تاتي على كل شيء, من خلال تفعيل العامل الطائفي بين مكونات المجتمع العراقي, لكن قوة وصلابة النسيج المجتمعي العراقي حال دون ذلك, ولكن الامر لم يخلو من خسائر باهضة. بالتأكيد كان للفاعل الداخلي المختلف والمنقسم والمنتشي بسلطة سياسية ومادية وعشائرية لا يستهان بها, دورا واضحا في ما انحدرت اليه الامور في العراق, وهو امر يجب ان لا يتكرر, والانتخابات القادمة والمزمع اقامتها في الشهر العاشر من السنة الحالية ورغبة الناخب العراقي بضرورة تغيير كل المعادلات لا سيما السياسية منها من اجل خلق عراق جديد يسع الجميع, كفيل بعدم تكرارالتجربة القاسية.

اخيرا, يجب على العراق ان يختار بين كونه بلد حرا ومستقرا ومتطورا وامنا, وبين ان يكون تابعا ضعيفا وهشا تتلاطمه رياح الاصطفاف بين هذا المعسكر او ذاك, بين بلد يطمح ان يكون فاعلا في عالم جديد, وبين بلد يعيش على هامش عالم متسارع في تطوره وتحضره, بين بلد مستوفي لشروط وجوده, قادرا على حماية ارضه وشعبه, وبين بلد ضعيف متهالك يحتاج الاخر في وجوده وفي حماية ارضه وشعبه.

اشياء لا زلنا بأنتظار تحققها

Friday, April 30, 2021

The Future of Arab-Israeli Relations: A Middle East Common Market?

Israeli-Palestinian relations remain contentious.  Recent demonstrations held by Palestinians who celebrate Ramadan at the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem each year resulted after  who police erected fences in part of the area.  Clashes broke out with the police, and an anti-Arab youth group affiliated with a far-right party joined the fray.  Hamas followed the clashes with rocket attacks on southern Israel eliciting an Israeli bombing of the launch sites.  


This past week, Human Rights Watch Report criticizing Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians.  The Israeli government was accused on imposing an Apartheid system on Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem and the Palestine National Authority (West Bank). 


Viewed from afar, these events suggest that, when it comes to the Arab-Israeli relations, tous ca change, tous c’est le meme chose.  However, an event which has been given relatively little attention may suggest a way forward for these relations to improve.  Despite a disastrous and largely incoherent foreign policy, one positive step by the Trump administration was fostering the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

It is noteworthy that, soon after relations were in place, large numbers of Israelis boarded airplanes to visit the UAE.  What they discovered was a well-run and prosperous country where local Emiratis welcomed them.  The Emirates and Bahrain’s authoritarian political systems notwithstanding, the following question arises: what might the impact be of expanded ties between Arab states and Israel?  


I am particularly interested in exploring the impact of these new relations on Israel’s domestic politics and its impact on its Palestinian Israeli minority. It is often forgotten that one of very 5 Israeli citizens is of Palestinian Arab heritage.  


Discrimination notwithstanding, many Palestinian Israelis have been able to benefit from Israel’s excellent university system. A not insignificant segment of young Palestinian Israelis have prospered and developed their own start-ups and entrepreneurial ventures.  Others have been trained in important professions such as engineering and computer science. 


As economic ties increase between the UAE, Bahrain and other Arab Gulf states, these Arab youth can look to a more promising future.  Having the professional and business skills, and the advantage of Arabic language fluency and the understanding of Arab culture, Palestinian Israelis can expect that the emerging economic ties between Israel and the Arab Gulf will bring greater financial benefits to Israel’s Arab minority.   What might these benefits look like and could they impact Israeli politics? 


One likely impact of the ties Israel has gradually been establishing with Arab countries, especially the UAE, is to bring more financial investments and resources to the Palestinian Israeli community.  If Arab businesses can expand their ventures, then they would be able to hire larger numbers of Palestinian Israelis. With the new diplomatic ties in place, Israel’s Arab citizens are now able to export and sell products in the UAE.

 How might such economic developments affect the political landscape in Israel?  During Israel’s March 2021 elections we saw something quite remarkable take place.  Benjamin Netanyahu, who in the past has used fear of Arab voters supporting center-left parties to mobilize voters on the right, had found himself embroiled in a series of elections, none of which has allowed him to form a stable government.   


Thus, it was highly significant that he turned to an Arab party – Islamist no less – in his effort (still ongoing as of this writing) to reach the magic number of 61 seats in the Israeli Knesset which would allow him to remain as prime minister. The very fact that the Arab party in question has indicated that to would be willing to join a Likud government indicates that Palestinian Israelis have realized that remaining on the political sidelines will not bring them improvements in their lives which they seek. 


In other words, Arab legitimation of participating in coalitions with Jewish political parties in Israel has also made it easier for Palestinian Israeli businessmen to work across the Arab world, even though many Palestinian Israelis entertain ambiguous feelings about how they might be betraying their fellow Palestinians beyond Israel.  

Perhaps, most important, the willingness of Israelis Palestinian minority to become partners in an Israeli government and the interaction of Israelis with Arabs in the UAE and the Gulf has the possibility to undermine the fear-mongering of the Likud and far right parties which manipulate a notion of Israel as a “garrison state.”  Thus, the establishment of ties with an increasing number of Arab states has the potential to break the Israeli right-wing’s grip on power and open the way for a center-left government to take office. 


The reemergence of the center-left in Israeli politics would be much less supportive of building new settlements or expanding existing ones. With a center-left government in power would be much less apt to seize Palestinian land in the Palestine National Authority.  


The larger context for the possible changes which might come about is the development of an economic common market in the Middle East.  If we take the example of France and Germany, which fought each other in two brutal world wars, today we obviously see them working together to continue to institutionalize the European Union, not just for their own benefit but for the other 25 members as well. 


The idea of a common market in the MENA region is not a new one.  In my study, Challenging Colonialism: Bank Misr and Egyptian Industrialization, 1920-1941, I examine the efforts of Muhammad Tal’at Harb, the founder of the Bank Misr (Bank of Egypt), which established 22 companies between 1920 and 1941 to promote regional economic integration during the 1930s. 

 Modest in outcomes, Harb’s vision was nevertheless a revolutionary idea for its time, especially in the context of a global depression.  Harb argued that the only way to bring progress to the Arab world and larger Middle East was though economic integration (al-takamul al-iqtisadi).  He proposed developing economic ties between Arab countries during the 1920s and 1930s.  


For example, Egypt Air, which today is Egypt’s premier airline, was founded in 1932 and developed the first Arab airline route between Cairo, Jaffa, Beirut, Damascus and Baghdad.  During the 1930s, Egypt Air also established a route for Muslim pilgrims between Jedda and Mecca.  The Bank Misr Transportation Company carried pilgrims from Port Sa'id at the southern mouth of the Suez Canal to Jedda.

Purifying the wells along the pilgrims' land route between Jedda and Mecca, e.g., Kawthar and Zamzam,  Harb significantly reduced the number of pilgrims' deaths from cholera.  To underscore his commitment to improving the pilgrimage - al-hajj - obligatory for all able bodied Muslims, Harb named the Misr Transportation Company two main ships, Kawthar and Zamzam 




Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Youth and Social Entrepreneurship: A Path Forward for the Generation in Waiting الشباب وريادة الأعمال الاجتماعية: طريق إلى الأمام لـ الجيل المنتظر

YSESD "Demo Day" participants - March 6, 2021
While there has been considerable success in reducing global poverty, much of this effort has been undermined by the spread of the Covid-19 virus. This is especially in LDCs on the Global South whose health systems were ill prepared for the  pandemic. Even without the pandemic, many developing countries suffer from widespread corruption and nepotism and state run industries where there is little incentive by those who manage them to improve their performance. 

With slow economic growth, many countries face the problem of large numbers of youth entering the labor market each year only to find that there are no jobs beyond menial work.  This is especially disheartening for youth who have received a college degree but cannot use the skills they learned through their education.  For all too many youth, the outcome is feelings of disillusionment and lack of hope in the future.   


In countries where youth are a large demographic, in certain cases 70% of the population under age 30, this presents a dangerous situation. Crime, violence, and joining extremist groups present an ongoing threat. What can be done to address the problem of youth who see little opportunity for developing a meaningful career? 


Unfortunately, youth continue to be largely ignored by those who rule.  Rather than viewing them as important human capital, youth are often viewed with suspicion because they frequently challenge traditional norms and ways of doing things in society.  These rulers fail to comprehend that putting youth to work would not only enhance economic growth, but promote greater social and political stability while training the next generation of leaders in all areas of society at the same time. 

The lack of opportunities available to youth in LDCs, and the potential problems which lack of hope in the future can produce, are key reasons why a group of colleagues and I established the Youth, Social Entrepreneurship and Sustainable Development project (YSESD).  

The goal of the project is to establish an international network of youth social entrepreneurs who will have access to a “talent platform” where they will be able to exchange ideas about potential start-ups or established social entrepreneurial ventures with colleagues, receive mentoring from successful social entrepreneurs, and pitch their projects to potential investors through “shark tank” style competitions. 


With a grant from the Rutgers University Research Council, the project began to take shape in a workshop held at the university’s Eagleton Institute of politics in August 2019.  Following the Rutgers workshop, we organized a Core Team to direct the YSESD.  

The Core Team is comprised of Dr. Eric Davis, YSESD Director, Dr. Yass Alkafaji, who directs the Iraq Leadership and Public Policy Program (IPLP) and teaches business administration at the American University of Sharjah, Dr. Abid Ali, a social entrepreneurship specialist and engineer at Dataiku and an instructor at the University of Chicago and Northwestern university, and Mr. Berat Kjamili, CEO of (“migration portal”) which teaches refugees in Turkey how to become successful social entrepreneurs. 

Youth and Building the New Iraq: the Iraq Public Policy and Leadership Program

In 2020, the YSESD received a grant from the Hollings Center for International Dialogue, which is located in Istanbul and funded by the Office of Economic and Cultural Affairs at the US Department of State.  This grant enabled the YSESD to organize a Workshop on promoting youth social entrepreneurship which included a series of 5 sessions that began in December 2020 and ended in the beginning of March 2021. 


The YSESD Workshop represents the culmination of Phase 1 of the project. Its purpose was to begin work in 3 countries - Iraq, Pakistan and Turkey - in which the YSESD Core Team has extensive contacts with the goal of developing a pilot project which could later be applied in other regions of the world.  

YSESD second Workshop session - December 11, 2020

The December 2020 through March 2021 Workshop included youth social entrepreneurs from Iraq, Pakistan and Turkey, as well as mentors, social entrepreneurship venture capitalists, and academics interested in the topic of youth and social entrepreneurship. A group of teams were organized around the YSEDS’s 5 thematic foci.  Each team concentrated on developing projects aligned with one or more of these themes, since the themes obviously overlap. 


It was especially unique and exciting that the Workshop teams include social entrepreneurs and mentors from Iraq, Pakistan and Turkey.  The Core Team choose to establish10 Teams which were organized along cross-national lines, and gender balanced. The teams’ organization of was to help the YSESD better assess how youth social entrepreneurs can work together coming from different economic, social and cultural contexts. Thus the goal was to ascertain what types of synergies could be developed using a cross national/cultural social entrepreneurship model instead of a country based one and one with mixed genders. 


The youth social entrepreneurs enjoyed meeting their counterparts from other countries.  It was also the first time they had the opportunity to share ideas with youth working on social entrepreneurship in other countries. As we had hoped, many participants discovered new ideas and approaches to problems they had experienced with their social entrepreneurial ventures by discussing them with colleagues in other countries. 


As the Workshop sessions progressed, participants learned about how to develop and pitch their social entrepreneurial ideas, The business models they used were able to be refined by the mentoring them received from successful social entrepreneurs.  Most important of all, they were able to develop projects which could be implemented in the future across national boundaries. 

During "Demo Day", the final workshop session held on March 6, 2021, many excellent projects were presented.  These included innovative recycling ventures, ventures to reduce food waste and convert it to fertilizer, public health assessments in urban and rural areas which lack adequate access to health care, electric waste The December 2020 through March 2021 Workshop included youth social entrepreneurs from Iraq, Pakistan and Turkey, as well as mentors, social entrepreneurship venture capitalists, and academics interested in the topic of youth and social entrepreneurship. A group of teams were organized around the YSEDS’s 5 thematic foci.  Each team concentrated on developing projects aligned with one or more of these themes, since the themes obviously overlap. 


It was especially unique and exciting that the Workshop teams include social entrepreneurs and mentors from Iraq, Pakistan and Turkey.  The Core Team choose to establish10 Teams which were organized along cross-national lines, and gender balanced. The teams’ organization of was to help the YSESD better assess how youth social entrepreneurs can work together coming from different economic, social and cultural contexts. Thus the goal was to ascertain what types of synergies could be developed using a cross national/cultural social entrepreneurship model instead of a country based one and one with mixed genders. 


The youth social entrepreneurs enjoyed meeting their counterparts from other countries.  It was also the first time they had the opportunity to share ideas with youth working on social entrepreneurship in other countries. As we had hoped, many participants discovered new ideas and approaches to problems they had experienced with their social entrepreneurial ventures by discussing them with colleagues in other countries. 


As the Workshop sessions progressed, participants learned about how to develop and pitch their social entrepreneurial ideas, The business models they used were able to be refined by the mentoring them received from successful social entrepreneurs.  Most important of all, they were able to develop projects which could be implemented in the future across national boundaries. electric waste reduction in homes, an employment agency to place women university graduates in private sector firms, a venture which offer psychological services to refugee families and their children, and a very successful venture which reduces agricultural product loss through air drying fruits and vegetables to extend their shelf life.

The YSESD is now entering Phase 2 where it will complete the building of its platform - both a public information site and a "talent"  platform where youth social entrepreneurs can benefit from the services described above.  Most important will be the YSESD's efforts to obtain investment funds for project start-ups and established ventures which seek to scale up their efforts. 

If you are interested in the YSESD, please contact Dr. Eric Davis at