Friday, February 25, 2011
Despite the claims that there is an "Arab democracy deficit" and that Islam and democracy "don't mix," we can already see in less than a few weeks that the beginnings of a democratic transition is taking place in the Arab world. We need, of course, to be extremely cautious about predicting where this "Arab spring" will lead. However, we can divide democratization in the Arab world into 4 stages. While these stages are not discrete, since they can overlap, each one poses certain challenges for the future.
The Arab world is currently in the first stage of democratization - ridding the region of its tyrants. So far, the results are impressive. Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was gone in a month, and Husni Mubarak was ousted in two weeks. Most Arab leaders who have not been forced from office have made at least some concessions, whether deciding not to seek office again or enacting long overdue reforms.
Stage two involves writing new constitutions and electoral laws and moving towards fair and free elections. This stage is just beginning in Tunisia and Egypt. At least in Egypt, the signs are very positive. Prominent intellectuals have been appointed to important positions in the committee tasked with suggesting constitutional reforms. Tariq al-Bishri, a well known scholar of Egyptian nationalism and Islamist movements, has been appointed head of the committee to rewrite the constitution. A former state court judge, he seeks to end the emergency laws and military rule. A Coptic Christian judge, Sami Yusef, and a Muslim Brother and lawyer, Sobhi Saleh, are also part of this committee.
Already the committee has called for reducing the term of president to four years and imposing a two term limit on the office. This demonstrates rapid and important progress in Egypt. A number of the new ministers in the Egyptian government likewise point to democratic change. Dr. Gouda Abdel-Khalek, a close friend and one of Egypt's most prominent economists, has been appointed Minister of Welfare. Dr. Abdel-Khalek is a member of the left-leaning Tagammu' Party which, despite its secular orientation, has defended the Muslim Brotherhood from government repression in the past.
While the Mubarak regime consistently denied, from the mid-1990s, permission to the "Moderate Party" (hizb al-wasat) to form, the new Egyptian government has approved the party's petition for a license. As a number of analysts have noted, the Wasat Party is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. But this comment misses the point. The party counts among its founding members a Christian. It derives its name from the Prophet Muhammad's emphasis in the Qur'an on moderation in all life's affairs, hence the name Moderate Party. The leadership has indicated that, if the membership wants to elect a Christian as party head, that would be acceptable.
In Tunisia, demonstrators continue to protest the inclusion in the Interim Government of members from the former Ben Ali regime. A new Higher Political Reform Commission, headed by the prominent and widely respected lawyer, Yadh Ben Achour, is trying to decide whether to amend the existing constitution of create a new one. Meanwhile, demonstrators continue to protest the retention of the last member of the former Ben Ali regime, Mohammed Ghannouchi, who continues to serve as prime minister.
At the same time, both Egypt and Tunisia continue to be ruled by decree. In Egypt, the military under the head of Mubarak's Defense Minister, Muhammad Hussein al-Tantawi, and in Tunisia, the Speaker of Parliament, Fouad al-Mebazaa, possess dictatorial powers.
Still, Iraq points to the benefits of democratization. Despite the very unfortunate killing of demonstrators by security forces in Mosul and elsewhere in Iraq, protesters are not calling for the overthrow of the system, as they are elsewhere in the Arab world, but for better services and accountability. In other words, the demonstrators show support for democracy but not for their current political leadership.
Stage three will come after the new elections, promised to be held in Tunisia, later this year or early next year. Here questions of national identity, political participation, individual liberty, and human rights will come to the fore. Will Islamists be allowed to participate in politics? Will women's rights be fully protected, both de jure and de facto? Will secularists and Islamists, old and young, Muslims and Christians, rich and poor be able to find common ground in an accepted definition of political community? Will tolerance and pluralism assume a dominant role as core political values in the new post-election polities?
Much will depend on the good will of Tunisians and Egyptians from all political ideologies and walks of life. In Iraq, we have seen that, while tensions exist between secularists and Islamists, thus far they have been able to co-exist, albeit sometimes uncomfortably. But young people throughout the Arab world, who seem less enamored of ideology than personal freedom, may actually provide the political clout that forces their elders to approach politics in a more tolerant manner.
Perhaps educators, historians, and artists can play a greater role here by using their talents, whether through history textbooks, films or other media, to recall the nationalist uprisings of an earlier era, such as the Egyptian Revolution of 1919, and the Iraqi Revolution of 1920, in which all segments - Muslims, Christians and Jews, men and women, the young and old - helped forge a sense of national identity. Democratic activists in the Arab world and the larger Middle East have yet to fully evoke the power of historical memory.
The fourth stage will require addressing the problem of social democracy. Egypt, for example, will need to create 250,000 jobs each year if it is to just keep pace with population growth. Unemployment is endemic throughout the Middle East, especially among youth.
We know that youth comprise 65% of the population in most countries of the Middle East. This "youth bulge" will continue for the next two decades. Free elections and the right of political expression will fall on deaf ears if there are no jobs and youth continue to feel that there is no hope for the future. The recent arrival of over 4000 Tunisian "boat people" in Sicily, most of them youth, indicates that democratic freedoms alone will not solve the problems of the Arab world and the larger Middle East.
The European Union is concluding a favorable new trade treaty with Tunisia in the hopes of stemming a large flow of refugees to the shores of the northern Mediterranean The UN, US, and EU, working together with prosperous Muslim majority countries, such as Turkey, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, should work to address the problems associated with this last phase of democratization. If the new democracies are to be consolidated, they will need outside assistance. Those countries in the West and elsewhere that support democracy should not view what's occurring in the Arab world as a "spectator sport."
The Arab world is on the cusp of a possible sea change in its internal politics. The forces of democracy there need external support. Democracy flourishes when its enjoys a supportive political culture. "Democracy without bread" is a recipe for radical elements to manipulate politics with an aim of suppressing hard won freedoms and imposing authoritarian rule. We only need remember the collapse of the Weimar Republic and the rise of the Nazi Party in 1933 after a lengthy period of economic suffering by the German people.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
To date, most Westerners have watched with both interest and increasing concern as events in the Middle East have unfolded. Most have assumed that the damage to Western interests would be to oil prices which indeed are beginning to show a dramatic rise. While Libya only produces 1.8 billion barrels of oil per day, its sweet crude is highly desired, especially in Europe to which it sends most of its exports. As foreign oil companies have shut down operations, the state owned National Oil Company has forfeited its ability to produce oil since it is largely dependent on foreign workers and technical personnel to run Libya's oil industry.
Another problem that is only beginning to emerge is the impact events in Libya could have on the southern European cone and indeed the European Union. If the violence continues to escalate and the Eastern part of the country, which has already been able to break from Muammar al-Qaddafi's control, enters into conflict with the West, where the Libyan capital of Tripoli is located, we can expect to see an intensification of the problems that Tunisia has already experienced since the overthrow of former President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, namely a flood of migrants leaving the country for southern Europe.
The country most affected by such migration would be Italy, which has already experienced the arrival of Tunisians who have fled their country's economic problems, only made worse by the disruption of finance, trade and industry after Ben Ali's fall. If unrest spreads to Algeria, we could see even more migrants leaving North Africa for southern Europe, a dangerous scenario for countries like Spain and Italy that are suffering from weak economic growth and high unemployment.
Italy faces perhaps the most dire consequences as a result of the unrest in Libya. It is heavily dependent on Libya for its natural gas, and its semi-state owned energy giant, ENI, is heavily invested in Libya. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has maintained close ties to Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi, ties that are just now being examined with a fine tooth comb by the Italian press. Already embroiled in a sex scandal, for which he is soon to stand trial, Berlusconi is in no position to exert national leadership. As Italy's economic crisis grows, Berlusconi will be hard put to persuade Qaddafi to end the bloodbath against his own people, a bloodbath that has resulted from orders to his praetorian guards and mercenary forces to attack demonstrators with deadly force.
Italy, already on the verge of a financial crisis on the order of Greece and Ireland, is ill equipped to absorb the double blows of a loss of energy and ENI revenues, on the one hand, and the massive influx of Libyan and other North African refugees, on the other. In other words, the Libyan uprisings could be the straw that breaks the camels' back - the "tipping point" as it were - to send Italy into an economic tailspin.
If we add a major financial crisis in Italy to the European Union's other travails - namely to possibly have to bail out the Spanish and Portuguese economies, following similar bailouts for Greece and Ireland, we begin to see that what is occurring in the Middle East should not be viewed as a "spectator sport." What is happening there is not a gladiatorial sporting event, but rather the beginnings of political, social and economic transformation of the region that could have major consequences for the global economy.
Thus it is in the interest of the United States and its democratic allies around the world to press the UN Security Council to enact drastic measures to end the bloodshed in Libya. The fact that the Qaddafi regime has engaged in massive human rights violations is clear from only a cursory perusal of the media. What then should the UN do?
First, unless Qaddafi orders his forces to immediately stand down and stop killing protesters, the UN Security Council should order the freezing of all Libyan assets abroad, including those of Qaddafi's family. Second, it should impose a "no-fly" zone on Libya which would prevent Qaddafi from bringing in more sub-Saharan mercenaries to kill Libyan civilians. Third, the UN should impose a naval blockade that would prevent any oil from leaving Libya. Finally, the Egyptian and Tunisian governments should be asked to seal their borders with Libya to prevent all but humanitarian goods from entering the country (but not prevent Libyans fleeing to safety from leaving).
Unless action is taken quickly, Libya could face a civil war and thousands more Libyans could be killed. We need recall the actions of the late Syrian president Hafiz al-Asad when he ordered his air force to bomb the city of Hama in February, 1982, to put down an uprising by the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood that killed or injured an estimated 17,000 to 40,000 of the city's residents. Likewise, Saddam Husayn bombed the Kurdish city of Halabja in March 1988 with chemical weapons killing thousands of the city's residents, when he thought the Kurds there were supporting the Khomeini regime in Iraq's 1980 to 1988 war with Iran.
Muammar al-Qaddafi is of the same ilk as the former Syrian and Iraqi tyrants and we can expect the same results if the violence is not brought to an end quickly. Forcing Qaddafi from office now - an action that should only take place under the auspices of the United Nations Security Council - will not only be in the interest of Italy and the European Union, but prevent the type of bloodbath in Libya from which the country might not soon recover.
Monday, February 21, 2011
Anyone who thought that the road to democracy in the Middle East would be easy only need look at Libya. As Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi's son Sayf al-Islam al-Qaddafi stated in a television address, Libya is not Tunisia or Egypt and that, if ongoing demonstrations do not cease, "blood will flow in the streets." Meanwhile, Libya's Deputy Ambassador to the UN has accused al-Qaddafi of engaging in genocide. Reports of security forces using deadly force against demonstrators has been reported in Libya's major cities, Tripoli, Benghazi and Bayda, including heavy weapons. Foreign mercenaries from sub-Saharan Africa have b een brought in to suppress the demonstrators. These facts are not in dispute. The question is: where is the international community? Why hasn't the US and other countries brought the matter of the killing of what began as peaceful demonstrations to the United Nations?
Reports today say that much of Eastern Libya is in the hands of rebels opposed to the Qaddafi regime. Other reports indicate that Helicopter gunships have fired into crowds of protesters. Two Libyan Mirage F1 fighters defected to Malta with the pilots indicating that they refused to use their aircraft to fire on demonstrators. Hundreds of Libyans have already been killed. The death toll is unknown but Human Rights Watch believes it is very high, between 200 and 800 Libyans. Soldiers who have refused to shoot demonstrators have also been tortured and killed.
What can the UN do? First, the sanctions that were formerly imposed on Libya by the UN in 1992 after the Pan Am bombing in Lockerbie, Scotland,in December 1988, should be reimposed. The UN Security Council should vote to freeze Libyan assets around the world. The UN should vote to impose a naval blockade on shipping coming into and leaving Libya until Muammar al-Qaddafi is handed over to the International Court of Justice for trial for crimes against his own people.
Commodity prices, especially the price of oil, has spiked in response to the unrest in the Middle East, especially in Libya, a major oil producer in the region. The global business community is deeply concerned. However, they need to realize that ruthless regimes such as that of Muammar al-Qaddafi do not benefit the world business community. These regimes are inherently unstable and lead to vioence and instability. Failure to confront their dictatorial rule does not represent good business practice.
Tomorrow the UN Security Council will finally meet to consider the human rights violations that are occurring in Libya The Obama administration has been remarkably silent on events in Libya. A strong statement from President Obama condemning the Qaddafi regime and supporting the rebels efforts to rid Libya of 42 years of tyranny would send a powerful message to all in the Middle East who seek democracy. It would be an important shot in the arm for Libyans democrats and democratic forces throughout the Middle East.
Sunday, February 13, 2011
With the success of the January 25th Movement in removing former president Husni Mubarak from office, many Western policy-makers have expressed concern over the type of government that will emerge in Egypt. Uppermost in their minds is the possibility that a government dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood will come to power. But is there really a possibility that an Islamist political party such as the Brotherhood will win elections and take power?
The answer to this question is complex and multifaceted. There is no doubt that the Muslim Brotherhood will play a role in post-Mubarak Egypt. However, what exactly does that mean? Does that mean, as some analysts in the West have asserted, that the Brotherhood will be able to create an Islamic Republic in Egypt according to the Iranian model? Here the answer is resoundingly in the negative.
In a recent telephone poll, conducted between February 5th and 8th by an Egyptian-led field team under the auspices of Pechter Middle East Polls in Princeton, NJ, 15% of Egyptians expressed support for the Muslim Brotherhood and only 1% supported them in a presidential straw poll. When asked what were the most important reasons that led the Egyptians to rise up against the Mubarak regime, they had nothing to do with Islam.
Indeed,the top three concerns of Egyptian respondents were overwhelmingly economic in nature: "poor economic conditions" (22%), "corruption (21%), and "unemployment/lack of job opportunities" (17%). Only 4% of Egyptians polled said that "the regime (is)not Islamic enough," and only 4% likewise said that the "regime (is) too connected to the US."
When I began studying the Muslim Brotherhood in the late 1960s, I was surprised to find that it recruited few Muslim clerics (al-'ulama). Despite having been founded in 1928, it has never enjoyed the type of support that would allow it to seize power. Led by its firebrand founder, Hasan al-Banna,the organization did engender support. But such support had less to do with its Islamic orientation than with its opposition to British colonial rule in Egypt and its sending members to fight in the Arab Revolt in Palestine between 1936 and 1939 and in the Arab-Israeli War of 1948.
Once al-Banna was assassinated by the Egyptian government in 1949, and its military wing, the Secret Organization (al-jihaz al-Sirri ) was suppressed after an assassination attempt on the new Egyptian military leader Gamal 'Abd al-Nasser in 1954, the Muslim Brotherhood became an unimaginative and stodgy political movement, one dominated by its "supreme guides," first Hasan al-Hudaybi and then 'Umar al-Tilimsani, along with an increasingly aged leadership.
The Brotherhood's prominence over the past 30 years has been the result of a conscious effort by the Mubarak regime to constitute it as the "official opposition." All other parties were suppressed or marginalized. By allowing the Brotherhood limited access to power - in the form of electing some members to parliament - the Mubarak regime could always thwart US and Western suggestions that he introduce democratic reforms by arguing that, if he did take such actions, the Brotherhood would come to power.
In 2002, after the Bush administration initiated an effort at democracy promotion in the Middle East (a short lived policy analyzed in greater detail my posting, http://new-middle-east.blogspot.com/2011/02/us-must-think-democracy-in-mideast.html), the Brotherhood won 88 seats in Egypt's parliamentary elections, as the Mubarak regime allowed more openness in the elections. However, just as the significant support for the Italian communist Party under the corrupt rule of the post-WWII Christian Democratic Party reflected a protest vote, so too the votes for the Muslim Brotherhood while Mubarak was in power were less an indicator of support for its policies than a rejection of the Mubarak regime.
In the sample of the Muslim Brotherhood that I constructed, I discovered that it has attracted many middle class professionals, especially in the natural sciences and in the engineering profession (http://fas-polisci.rutgers.edu/davis/ARTICLES/). There were few peasants and workers or clerics in my sample. Indeed , there has been ongoing hostility between Egypt's Muslim clergy and the Brotherhood because clerics view the Brotherhood as upstarts who are trying to usurp their religious role in society.
After 2005, a split developed between the Brothers in parliament and the organization's leadership. The parliament representatives, who were much younger than the septuagenarian and octogenarian leadership, sought to make alliances with the small number of parliamentary delegates representing secular parties, such as the Tagammu'a Party. They believed that such alliances would enable them to expand their ability to draw attention to government corruption and authoritarianism. When the leadership forbid such ties, the parliamentary delegates ignored them. This cleavage already foreshadowed the generational gap that currently defines much of Egyptian politics, as we have seen over the past month.
A further cleavage has developed in recent years as young Brothers, many of whom refer to themselves as "the Reformers" (al-Islahiyun), have likewise challenged the organizations's leadership. These young Brothers, including many women who likewise consider themselves part of Egypt's Islamist trend, want to create a more democratic and tolerant Islamist politics. They have called for better treatment of Egypt's Coptic Christian population, which the Mubarak regime has failed to protect from radical (albeit minority) Islamist elements in Egyptian society, and to give women positions of leadership within the the Brotherhood. These younger Islamists support democratic elections such as have occurred in Turkey under the Islamist AKP (Justice and Development) Party.
Now that Mubarak is gone, many political parties have come out into the open, as many as 26 by current count. Egyptians no longer are faced with a choice between Mubarak's discredited National Democratic Party and the Brotherhood. Younger Brothers who participated in the recent demonstrations against the Egyptian government have been seen as supportive of open and fair elections. The fact that the Brotherhood only gave its support to the demonstrators well after they had already become large and were being attacked by the police was not lost on the Egyptian people.
Finally, the attempts to draw parallels between Egypt and Iran are misplaced. The Shiite clergy in Iran has been involved in opposition against the central government since the late 1800s. Many clerics are linked by family ties to the powerful traditional merchant class known as the bazaaris. Many own land as well. While the clergy has always had its internal doctrinal and ideological cleavages, there has never been the type of cleavage within Iranian society between the clergy and a non-clerically based political movement like the Muslim Brotherhood.
Also, there was no Internet, Facebook and Twitter during the 1978-79 Iranian Revolution against the regime of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. While it is true that the revolutionaries used Western television stations in Tehran to promote their opposition to the US during the seizure of US Embassy personnel in late 1978 and early 1979, they did not have the ability to mobilize quickly and in large numbers as Tunisian, Egyptian and other youth do now. Indeed the Iranian regime had its hands full suppressing the demonstrations by Iranian youth in Tehran and elsewhere in June 2009 that protested the rigged presidential election of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.
The Muslim Brotherhood will participate in the Egyptian elections that will occur next year. It will win seats in parliament and its views will need to be represented in the new Egyptian government. However, we will most likely see a much more pragmatic Brotherhood that will need to focus less on its Islamist agenda than on addressing Egypt's pressing social and economic needs. If it fails to do that, it will lose support among the populace at large, especially among Egyptian youth.
Thursday, February 10, 2011
Democracy promotion has never been the United States’ strong suit in the Middle East. When the Bush administration made democratization its formal policy in 2002, pundits labeled it “naive,” and “unrealistic,” given the Middle East’s purported authoritarian political culture rooted in “Islam,” “tribalism,” and an “Arab democracy deficit.”
Events soon seemed to prove the critics right: in 2003, the Bush administration’s promised rapid transition to democracy in Iraq failed to materialize; in 2005 the Muslim Brotherhood won 88 seats in Egypt’s 2005 parliamentary elections; then Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian elections. Democracy promotion fell by the wayside and the US returned to its historical pattern of supporting autocratic regimes.
But as recent events have revealed, support for democracy runs deep in the Middle East, especially among the region’s youth -- 100 million strong between the ages of 14 and 29. To measure this support, all we need do is turn on our televisions.
The US is at a crossroads. Will the Obama administration actively help the region’s new activists bring about a peaceful transition to democracy or will it allow the type of thugs who attacked peaceful protesters in Cairo’s Liberation Square to trample its flowering? Will the U.S. allow a historically transformative period to pass it by?
During my 40 years of research in the region, Middle Easterners have constantly complained to me that the US practices democracy at home but supports authoritarianism in their countries. Now this long term discontent challenges many of the regimes in the region and the proverbial chickens are coming home to roost.
Support for authoritarianism has not produced long-term regional stability, but political upheaval and hostility towards the US instead. Once our main ally, the Shah of Iran was toppled in 1979 by an upheaval that created the most dangerous regime in the Middle East. Tunisian leader Zein Addine Bin Ali, whose role was to protect US interests from al-Qa’ida in North Africa, was forced to flee his country last month. Egypt’s Husni Mubarak, a guarantor of the 1979 Arab-Israeli Peace Treaty -- but who likewise suppressed dissent, imprisoned critics, and countenanced widespread torture -- will soon be gone as well. Large protests have placed other autocratic allies, notably King Abdullah of Jordan, who recently dissolved his government, and the perennial Yemeni President, Ali Abdallah Salih, who has vowed not to seek another term, on shaky political grounds as well.
Despite the current mass demonstrations, many Western analysts continue to decry democratic change. Radical Islamists will take power, scuttle the Arab-Israeli peace treaty, and promote regional instability, they warn. But the main driver behind the calls for democracy is not the older generation of Islamists, but rather youth -- often well educated -- who lack jobs, the ability to voice discontent, and any hope in the future. They are less concerned with religion than with employment, raising a family and leading a stable life. In the age of the Internet and social media, these youth can compare the freedoms they lack with those their counterparts enjoy elsewhere in the world.
As my research with Iraqi youth over the past two years makes clear, most youth abhor religious radicalism because they know it results in intolerance, violence and new forms of political and cultural repression. Those youth who do turn to religion increasingly are searching for a tolerant Islam,that promotes personal freedom and is compatible with democratic practices. Above all, youth in Iraq and elsewhere realize that they can only achieve a better life by ridding their countries of the small, rapacious ruling elites who have institutionalized corruption and nepotism, and are unconcerned with the problems of the citizenry at large.
Although the US does not control events in the Middle East, it still maintains enormous political and economic influence in the region. Strong support for democracy will enhance its moral standing as well. The US needs to curtail military and financial assistance from it and its global partners to authoritarian regimes, criticize allies that engage in political repression, mobilize large amounts of international aid for local civil society organizations, and consistently voice support for the new democracy movements. Such sustained pressure would at the very least temper the behavior of Middle East autocrats, especially those who seek closer ties with the US.
These policies could win the gratitude of the large youth demographic from which will emerge the next generation of leaders. Surely making democracy promotion the centerpiece of US policy in the Middle East is not too much to ask of a country that still claims leadership of the free world.
This post represents remarks that were originally delivered to a panel on democracy in the Middle East that was convened by the Friends Select School in Philadelphia, PA, and subsequently published as a guest column inThe Philadelphia Inquirer on February 7, 2011.