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Libya: How the West learnt the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan

December 3, 2011 Leave a comment

With the news of the capture of Saif al Islam Gaddafi and the death of Muammar Gaddafi it appears that the long Libya conflict is finally at end with a victory for the NATO-backed rebel forces. How did this come about when the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan descended into Vietnam style guerrilla conflicts after the decisive victory? Will this happen in Libya now the stability of Gaddafi has gone?

Not to make too much of a premature prediction and hopefully not to become a Michael Fish type figure, I don’t think the situation in Libya will turn into Afghanistan number 2, like Iraq did. This is because the West learnt from their mistakes in these conflicts. This was not a Western intervention to depose an unpopular leader like in Iraq, but a movement which started in Libya, by Libyans. Moreover instead of rushing in with all guns blazing to support the rebels, the West played a supporting role – giving them all the tools and support needed to defeat the Gaddafi regime without bringing the government down itself. The effect of this was two-fold:

  1. It didn’t undermine the legitimacy of the rebels by accusations of Western imperialism. This was a Libyan movement – by Libyans for Libyans
  2. The West gained credit for its role in supporting the democratic movement. As I argued in my last post the West needed to finally back up its avocation of democracy with support for the democracy movement, and in this instance it has done and done it well. This has helped to gain some credibility in the region which will help with the war on terror and the achievement of liberalisation.

Furthermore as well as learning that not getting directly involved helped increase the legitimacy of the movement, the way in which the West did involve itself helped too. This was that the unpopular US (after their actions in Iraq and Afghanistan and their ties to Israel) has taken a back seat. Efforts were made to include other Arab countries as well and were successful in getting them to condemn the Gaddafi regime. Thus all legitimacy and possible allies lost, the war for Libya was only going to end one way, and so it did.

 

What next for Libya? Who knows, but for the first time in 42 years its people and not one man are master of its destiny and to an extent they have the Western support to thank, which can only help when a new government is eventually formed.

What next for the region? The situation in Syria seems to be taking a similar course with its expulsion from the Arab League. With the West and the Arabs condemning Assad and imposing sanctions on Syria, it must only be a matter of time before either he goes or the West also intervenes there (a UN resolution for armed involvement was vetoed in October by China and Russia but if the current atrocities continue it is only a matter of time that China and Russia can prevent the action which Turkey and the US are vying for.) Once again the West needs to be involved in some level in order to avoid accusations of hypocrisy but needs to be involved in the way it was in Libya and not Iraq.

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Categories: The Middle East

Europe, China and the odd one out

October 27, 2011 Leave a comment

On Wednesday night the Eurozone summit convened and passed a motion agreeing to a €1 trillion European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) top-up. It has already become obvious that this €1 trillion fund is not enough and negotiations will now start between the Eurozone, led by Nicolas Sarkozy, and China ahead of next weeks G20 meeting. It is expected that China will supply a further €1 trillion bringing the total fund to €2 trillion.

The summit also imposed certain conditions.  Banks will be limited in paying dividends and bonuses until they meet capital thresholds of 9%, or €106bn. This is the equivalent of another HSBC. No mean feat. Britain’s banks, having been forced by the Bank of England and the FSA to raise this amount will be spared the task.

Greece’s debt will be partially written off, reducing the debt burden from 180% GDP to 120% GDP. The next woe for the Eurozone is more than likely to come from Italy. Before the summit Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister, declared he would resign by the new year. A welcome announcement for pretty much everyone.  For months the Italian economy has been without leadership and this was openly declared by Steinmeier in the Bundestag on Wednesday.

The situation in the Eurozone, as is evident, is not contained to the Eurozone. Britain’s largest trading partner is the Eurozone. China holds €2.4 trillion in currency reserves. If the Euro collapsed China would be stuffed. As it is, China has had to resort to boosting domestic demand in anticipation that demand in EU27 will drop off, despite an increase of China to EU27 exports of 20% in 2010. China’s help, however, will not come from China’s desire not to lose any money. It is expected, and one would be surprised if they didn’t, that China will demand that Europe acknowledge China as a market economy and thus drop some of the trade barriers on Chinese products.

Britain, in the whole situation, is the odd one out. On Sunday, Sarkozy told Cameron “You are missing a good opportunity to shut up. If you wanted a say you should have joined the euro.” On Monday, Britain was the only Parliament to debate holding an in/out/renegotiate referendum on EU Membership. The Eurosceptics of Cameron’s Conservative Party threatened to tear his party apart. In the end, only 81 Conservative MPs (including the two tellers) rebelled against Cameron’s three line whip to vote in favour of the motion calling for the referendum.

Cameron has done well to isolate Britain from the European Community, and Germany in particular. The withdrawal of the Conservative Party from the European People’s Party in 2009 in favour of setting up a right-wing bloc in the European Parliament consisting of European fringe parties from the former Soviet bloc. Since becoming Prime Minister, Cameron has moved closer to France without German involvement. France and Germany are inseparable in Europe and to snub Dr. Merkel is an unwise decision.

In the Bundestag, on Wednesday, Kauder (CDU) said : we’re prepared to reach in our pockets, but expect solidarity from Britain & agreement on financial transaction tax. Was that solidarity given? No. Osborne stated that Britain would not give any money to the EFSF but did not rule out giving indirectly via the IMF. The same result will occur – Britain will give money to the Eurozone. The route that Britain has taken, however, will only serve to further isolate the island nation.

On Thursday morning, the Daily Express jumped on comments made by Merkel in the Bundestag on Wednesday:  “If the Euro falls, so does Europe.. No one should assume that another 50 years of peace in Europe are a given.” The Express took this for an implied declaration of war, thus cooling the frosty nature that Britain currently has with Germany. Britain is fast becoming the ‘odd ball’ of Europe.

Britain’s isolationism beside, will the current round of funding to the EFSF work? In the short-term it will. In the long-term it is unlikely. As a European Federalist, tinkering with the Euro will not save it. Fiscal and further political union will save it.

The situation in Libya and the Gulf



The failure of cultural dependence in Libya?

In my recently published book: “Oman and Britain’s changing military relationship: Dependence or special relationship?” I outlined a theory of “security dependency”, specifically in relation to Oman. A large part of this theory is “cultural dependence”. This is a theory developed by Seers, Mohan and others that a leader’s ideas are shaped by their education, advisors, workforce and dependence on other’s methods. (There are other facets to this theory, considering things such as a “brain drain” and an addiction to Western technology which are not relevant here.) In this way the leader’s ways of thinking about things are shaped by the hidden curriculum of the educating country and this leads to a propensity to favour that country. In this way, until the leader gains access to other viewpoints they will be “trapped” in a dependent relationship. As I put it in relation to the Omani Sultan and Britain ‘… all of the Sultans’ ideas were shaped by Britain and he only had access to British viewpoints. This means that his socialisation, ideas and mind-set were predominantly British, affecting the way he considered things and keeping him dependent on British ideas and Britain in general.’[1]

Whilst this is true of Oman and Britain’s relationship it seems to have failed with regards Libya. Saif Gaddafi, the son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, studied at the LSE in Britain from 2003 -2008 gaining an MSC and a Phd[2]. Therefore similar to the argument I made in my book about Sultan Qaboos, you would expect Saif Gaddafi to be more reasonable, more westernised and more favourable to Britain than his father. Whilst it is possible that he is more this way inclined than his extreme father, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of the kind of cultural effect that would be expected or that happened with Sultan Qaboos. (Sultan Qaboos is well known as an anglophile, having studied in Britain and serving with the Cameronians. He enjoys the music of Gilbert and Sullivan and favours British businesses, techniques and advisors) As Saif Gaddafi has been shown on the television holding a gun and declaring that his father will not give up power and for the protestors to prepare for civil war, he has also given lectures in favour of his father and the regime, there doesn’t seem to be any indication that Britain has anymore influence on him than anyone else so this cultural affect doesn’t seem to have occurred here. Why this is the case is a bit of a mystery. It may be to do with the fact that Saif only did postgraduate study in Britain, where students are taught to develop their own ideas much more and therefore there is much less of a hidden curriculum, or it may be that it was to do with the perception of and treatment of Libya (unlike Oman) as a pariah state and therefore Saif was disinclined to adopt British ideas or to gain favour for them. This is a mystery which only he can answer but it is clear British influence did not spread here the way it has for many other countries. Still every rule has its exceptions.

The Ugly Side of “Strategic Influence”

Recently we have seen the ugly side of Britain’s policy of selling arms to Middle Eastern countries. The idea, which was articulated by Jones and Stone,[3] was that by selling arms to Middle Eastern countries, Britain would gain a strategic influence over them. As I explained it in my book ‘Jones and Stone argue that the sale of arms is more than just a commercial practice, it also mutates into strategic interest. Therefore greater political weight is attached to arms sales than just commercial benefit. The sale of arms usually involves sophisticated weaponry that requires a level of involvement from the supplier country (in the form of advisors/training). Due to the scope of the deal, this allows the supplier country to exercise considerable influence in the defence policy of the supplied state.’[4] This helped to produce a dependent relationship which benefits British business, but also allows Britain to exert strategic influence over the rulers of these countries in order to promote British foreign policy goals such as democracy.

In the events of the protests of the last months we have seen the ugly side of this policy. Whilst it was clear that Britain was able to exert influence of these countries because of the arms sales (and other reasons), their foreign policy goal of promoting democracy was severely damaged when in Bahrain and Libya, British arms were used against pro-democracy movements. This led to the criticisms of Western hypocrisy, (especially when David Cameron took arms sellers with him on Gulf peace talks) which to an extent is true but British arms sales have always been about more than just arms as I have shown above. It now seems clear that in very repressive countries such as Libya, this policy was a bad one, if the ultimate goal for Britain is democracy and this is a big if. Whilst I have no doubt that Britain supports democracy and wishes for Middle Eastern countries to be democratic, when the policies of advancing democracy and advancing British business interests cannot be run side by side, I’m not sure if democracy will come out on top. Britain seems content to use democracy as a tool, only fully advocating it (though always genuinely supporting it) when it suits them. The proof of this is seen in Britain’s willingness to support Mubarak and its dealings with Gaddafi, the speed and circumstances in which Britain turned on these leaders shows that it was only willing to genuinely support democracy when the time was right.

Military Action

Britain with France has to its credit, seemed to be leading the way to try and support the rebels in Libya but is in a quandary about what to do about Gaddafi. I’m not sure, beyond military action, what can be done to remove him. Military action in my opinion should be out of the question because of the Iraq debacle and the fact it would hinder a new Libyan government as it would bring with it new accusations of Western interference. Military or other action needs to come from the Arab countries to give it legitimacy, and to their credit they seem to be making headway with this, agreeing with the no-fly zone. I feel it is unlikely the Arab countries will get too heavily involved however, for fear of provoking their own populations (especially as potential allies such as Oman and Bahrain are facing their own protests at the minute). The only Arab country who may be able to support to a good level and who is willing to is Egypt following its revolution but it has its own problems and is unlikely to get involved. Therefore even if the current action is successful in removing Gaddafi, the subsequent regime that he will be replaced will be hindered by the assistance of the West. Just look at what happened with post-Saddam Iraq. The problem for the West is that they really have to get involved for fear of being hypocrites of the highest degree. This is really the West’s last opportunity to win over the people of the Middle East, if they don’t back up their words with actions now, after so long preaching they could lose the region for ever. Cynics may suggest that the West is only getting involved to protect its own business interests. There is a degree of truth here (you don’t see the West getting directly involved in supporting pro-democracy movements in Zimbabwe for example) but I think this current action serves two ends for British foreign policy. This is that it protects British business interests and promotes democracy at the same time, it therefore matches well with British foreign policy ends. In this vein, whilst I think the action is a bit misguided and hasn’t properly learnt the lessons of history, I can tolerate the current action, as long as it doesn’t escalate into a full blown conflict like Iraq again.

The effect of Gaddafi being removed would be huge, he represents the most oppressive regime in the region and if he can be toppled, anyone can. On the other hand, if he defeats the rebels, all Middle Eastern leaders may feel that it is their interests to fight protests, if they start at all. Things for the rebels do not seem to be going well recently, I wish them luck in their struggle for freedom and commend them for their bravery. Daniel Pipes put it best ‘How deeply satisfying will it be to watch as a brave and desperate people sweep this eccentric, nasty, and repressive tyrant into the dustbin of history. How gratifying that he has alienated nearly the entire world, even the U.N. Security Council. May his ugly example serve as a permanent warning to other dictators who make war on their populations.’[5] Hopefully we will be talking about 2011 as the year of freedom, the year of democracy.


[1] Carlton, C (2010) Oman and Britain: Oman’s Changing Military Relationship with Britain: Dependence or Special Relationship?, Saarbrucken: Lambert Academic Publishing, pp. 52-53

[2] Sellgren, K (2011) ‘LSE investigates Gaddafi’s son plagiarism claim’, BBC News, 1st March 2011, available from (www.) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-12608869, accessed 13/03/11

[3] Jones, C and Stone, J (1997) ‘Britain and the Arabian Gulf: New Perspectives on Strategic Influence’ International Relations, Volume XIII, Number 4 (April 1997) Aberystwyth: The David Davies Memorial Institute of International Studies, pp. 1-24

[4] Carlton, C (2010) Oman and Britain: Oman’s Changing Military Relationship with Britain: Dependence or Special Relationship?, Saarbrucken: Lambert Academic Publishing, p. 20

[5] Pipes, D (2011) Gaddafi’s Fin de Régime, available from (www.) http://www.danielpipes.org/blog/2011/02/gaddafi-fin-de-regime#continued, accessed 14/03/11

Categories: The Middle East

The Revolution in Egypt

February 16, 2011 Leave a comment

As this is my first post I would like to start by expressing my thanks to my learned friend Mr Oldfield and to Mr Pike for this opportunity to post meaningful commentary and to be part of such a prodigious project.

I would like to start with a short introduction. I hold a Masters degree in Middle East Politics with Merit from the University of Exeter and a 1st class honours degree from the University Of Wales Institute Cardiff (UWIC) in Modern History and Politics. I have studied a variety of topics and haven’t specialised in a certain topic, but have mainly studied British, US and Middle East history and politics. Therefore I have been given the remit of foreign affairs for this project. I am also the author of the 2010 Lambert Academic Publishing book: ‘Oman and Britain: Oman’s Changing Military Relationship with Britain: Dependence or special relationship?’, available here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Oman-Britain-Relationship-Dependence-relationship/dp/3843362734/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1297120254&sr=8-1

Egypt

Now is one of the most interesting and exciting times to be looking at the Middle East Region, with the regime change in Tunisia, the mass protests and regime change in Egypt and the smaller scale demonstrations in Jordan, Iran, Yemen and Algeria. In this vein I thought I would offer a mix of academic considerations and observations from my October 2010 visit on the situation in Egypt. These are my own thoughts and understanding only.

Some Background

Why are the events of January and February 2011 so important in Egypt? Those unaware of the circumstances of Egypt’s history and politics could well be asking why these protests are so significant. The reasoning behind this significance lies in the nature of the Egyptian regime. Since the overthrow of the Egyptian monarchy in the 1950s by Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egypt has been dominated by the army and authoritarian rule. From the 1950s to the present day Egypt has lived under a dictatorship under three separate leaders – Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat and, for the last 30 years, Hosni Mubarak. These regimes established their own power bases by a mixture of carrot and stick. Under Nasser for example, Egypt initially prospered and Nasser gained status all over the Arab world for outfoxing the Western powers and Israel during the Suez crisis. This gave Nasser incredible popularity and his own cult of personality. This was coupled by a brutal coercive system with freedom of speech limited and a brutal, effective secret police. To a large extent this internal situation continued during Sadat and Mubarak’s rules. Sadat however, initially ruling in the same manner by attempting to lead the Arab world with the Yom Kippur war, was forced into a corner. His army surrounded on the Sinai and his country bankrupt, he was forced to make not only a cease fire with Israel, but peace. This benefited his country in two ways, he was able to reduce spending on the armed forces, and it gained him a substantial subsidy from the US. This made Egypt much more pro-Western, but this was a decision that cost Sadat his life, when he was assassinated in 1981 by anti-Israeli elements. This brought to power Mubarak, himself a former general. Due to the nature of his accession to power it was necessary to increasingly crack down on opposition. The Muslim Brotherhood was banned, press freedoms were limited and the sham democracy that was practised was increasingly difficult for opposition groups to be elected. Every time opposition groups looked to gain some sort of toehold in the parliament, the law was changed to exclude them. This was coupled with a ruthless security apparatus that frequently arrested without trial, brutally tortured opponents and ransacked opposition offices. In these circumstances any sort of formal protest was unthinkable. This led to less formal methods of protest, for example there is a fascinating anthropology article on the use of political jokes as a form of political protest in Egypt.

Why Protests Now?

A simplistic explanation as to why the protests have occurred in Egypt is to trace them to the events in Tunisia. A simplistic reasoning would be to suggest that Egyptians saw the events in Tunisia and realised they also could bring down their government. There is some truth in this but it does not provide a full enough explanation. To me, the protests are all about identity.

The Egypt that I visited in October 2010 was a shock to me. It was not the Egypt that I had read about and studied. I found the country to be poor and suffering. The Egypt as the leader of the Arab world and as the cultural and historic Mecca (as in hub, not the city) of the Middle East was nowhere to be seen. Instead I saw an Egypt desperately trying to survive and wholly dependent on its tourism industry. In Cairo, the streets were strewn with rubbish and dust and wholly engulfed in swarms upon swarms of what seemed to us to be unfinished tower blocks. These were vast slabs of the cheapest concrete slapped together, with no colour and no windows. If this was part of the building process, you wouldn’t bat an eyelid, but there were people living in these structures. Living in these hollowed out blocks with no windows and jammed in like sardines. If you thought the tower blocks of London or Sheffield were bad, you would be astonished by the squalor of these buildings. These structures stretched in every direction as far as the eye could see, with seemingly no end. Cairo, a vast metropolis unlike no other. The story does not end there. Whilst sitting in Cairo airport, I stumbled across an English language newspaper and one of its stories was shocking to a well off Westerner like myself. It was an article stating that due to the rising cost of food, most households could no longer afford vegetables and were having to eat rice and rusk and other cheap staples. We later found out that a well to do shopkeeper in Luxor said that his salary was something like 2000 Egyptian pounds a month, or £250 and this was one of the richer people. Egypt has an incredible “us” and “them” situation, with the well off not wanting to be associated with the poor and even encouraging tourists to not buy their products (on several occasions we were whisked past market stalls by tour guides with them telling us cock and bull stories about the poor quality of the goods and aggressive hassle. In Khan al-Kalili bazaar in Cairo, we were even accompanied by a security guard and were hurried on anytime we stopped to look at anything.) Added to this we found a undercurrent of dissent and dissatisfaction. A Christian shopkeeper in Sharm el-Sheikh, a well educated man, expressed to us his upset that he could not get safe drinking water except in the big cities of Cairo and Aswan. He also said that he was disappointed with the standard of healthcare on offer in his country. Another man in Luxor expressed the difficulty in getting overseas travel visas and how infrequently Egyptians travelled outside the country or, even, went on holiday in their own country.

This anecdotal evidence helps me to prepare my point, identity. Egypt it is clear sees itself as the leader of the Arab, Islamic (although it has a sizeable, about 20%, Christian minority) and African worlds as the place where they all meet. A tour guide expressed this very sentiment to me in Cairo after he found out I had studied Middle East Politics. He said to me, to learn about the Middle East this is where you need to be, this is the centre of the Middle East, forget Saudi Arabia or Iraq, Egypt is the most important. This gives an important insight as to how Egyptians see their identity. They see themselves as at the forefront of the Middle East, the cultural, historical and political leader. Until recently debatably this was true. What seems to me however is that Egypt’s current poverty challenged the Egyptian’s perception of their identity, they had lost the pride in their country. We saw this when visiting the Egyptian Museum, a place of outstanding artefacts and history but filthy and poorly displayed. It can also be seen in the streets of Cairo, dusty, ill-repaired and littered with rubbish. Egyptians felt that the country wasn’t theirs anymore and felt they didn’t have the means to express it. This occurred to me on a dreary drive through wet Wiltshire last week, a drive I have been on a thousand times. Wherever I go, and for how long, whenever I come back to Wiltshire I will always feel that it is my home and part of my identity. In Egypt I feel they had felt that reality had differed from their perception of this identity.

The timing of the protests does come down to Tunisia. Egyptians saw what was happening there and felt they could do the same, that it gave them the opportunity to get the freedoms they wanted to restore their identity. Also however I wonder if there was a bit of one-upmanship in that Egypt did not want to be seen to be outdone by Tunisia, as it saw itself as the leader of the Arab world and therefore in this vein the protests happened both to restore and because of Egypt’s identity.

The Nature of the protests

It is clear the protests were popular in nature and not designed to advance a religious or any other form of agenda. As a friend of mine who is an expert on Iran commented on my question about the  continuity between the Egyptian and Iranian revolutions there is a large difference between them. Whilst both to an extent were popular revolutions with many different aspects, the Iranian revolution had a larger religious flavour with people dressing up as martyrs and Allahu Akbar (God is the greatest) being a slogan for change. In Egypt it is remarkable that the people who took part in the demonstrations were often young and remarkably few were in religious or traditional dress. This is especially surprising as despite Egypt’s pro-Western orientation, the scene greeting one at Cairo airport is an amalgam of traditional Islamic dress (hijab, head scarf etc) for women, traditional Arab dress for men and modern Western dress such as suits. It is mainly but not exclusively older people in the traditional dress and younger people in the Western garb. Furthermore it is clear from youtube videos and statements from demonstrators that this was intended to be a revolution for all.

This gives an indication of who took part in the revolution. It was mainly the younger populace of Egypt who were not content to have their identity of Egypt challenged and hadn’t got stuck in a rut like the older people. For me, getting rid of Mubarak was clearly a key aim of the revolution, but the revolution was also about regaining a sense of community, a sense of identity and a sense of belonging. The proof for this is the fact that Egyptian were seen cleaning the streets of Cairo (anyone who has been there will tell you how dirty the streets usually are) as they finally felt they had reclaimed the city, and by extrapolation the country, for themselves. The revolution then was not an Islamic one, but one designed to be a people’s revolution, to reclaim the country for the people (the essence of which is democracy) and to reclaim a sense of Egypt for Egyptians. It is also clear that the demonstrators had to get rid of Mubarak both to do this and to ensure their objectives of democracy were met. This was both due to a mistrust of his government and to avoid what Brumberg called “the trap of liberalised autocracy” in which a regime grants limited liberalisation which actually increases its hold on power.

The West and Israel

The West was caught in a quandary with regards the situation in Egypt. Whilst it is clear that Western governments supported the movement towards democracy (if they had not they would have been hypocrites of the highest degree) there was also the strong possibility of a new government not being in their favour. The reasoning for this is simple: Egypt and by inference Mubarak’s government were a key ally for the West in the Middle East, both as an ally of Israel and as an ally in the war against terror. At best the overthrow of Mubarak could lead to the establishment of a democratic government but there is no guarantee that this government will remain pro-Western. The Mossadeq incident in Iran provides a blueprint for this where a popularly supported leader was overthrown by MI6 and the CIA for nationalising Iran’s oil (a move definitely in the country’s favour). The worst case scenario was/is a civil war for power. In short the question (to borrow from another friend) was of stability versus freedom. This can help explain the US’s rather watery statements that the Egyptian regime should grant concessions itself and Mubarak wouldn’t necessarily have to leave. Several American academics signed a petition to try and persuade the US government to put pressure on Mubarak to leave but without success, at least publicly. Several academics disagreed with this viewpoint in any case, such as Augustus Richard Norton who said on his blog that the fact of the matter was that the US is very tied up with Israel and needed Mubarak to help safeguard the alliance.

Why didn’t Mubarak leave earlier?

The answer to this isn’t clear but seems likely to be one of two things or a combination. It is possible that Mubarak through a form of the military industrial complex and an extreme arrogance felt that he was the only one able to lead Egypt successfully and the country would be lost without him. In this view Mubarak could have been acting from a perverse form of patriotism. Another view I have briefly considered but that seems unlikely is another patriotic view that Mubarak was acting as the only buffer to prevent the army from coming into power and that he was trying to protect the country. As the protestors seem to trust the army and due to the autocratic nature of his regime, this seems highly unlikely. The second possible explanation is that Mubarak was trying to weather the storm and that he expected by promising limited reforms, via the trap of liberalised autocracy to hold onto power in much the same way that has happened in a lot of the Gulf States. It is also possible that Mubarak meant to hold onto power in order to ensure the position for his son, Gamal.

What next?

On Friday came the news the protestors have been waiting for, Mubarak has gone and Egypt will have a new regime. It is also the case that in Mubarak’s cabinet reshuffle, much of the old guard has gone and been replaced, including Mubarak’s son, Gamal. In some rather pessimistic views this guarantees that the next leader will be a military one, as the only available civilian candidate has left. Another viewpoint suggests that the appointment of Omar Suleiman as Vice-President paves the way for Gamal to be appointed as the next leader as this was previously blocked by the old guard of the army, and Suleiman as an outsider did not hold these objections.

I think both of these views are incorrect. The army has for the minute taken over the country for the interim period but has pledged democratic elections, a referendum on a new constitution and to uphold Egypt’s international treaties. I think this is likely to happen and that the army will act as guarantors of democracy in much the same way as they do in Turkey. It is clear the people will not accept anything else and no matter how strong a security apparatus is it is impossible to hold a country by force alone indefinitely.

The biggest question and worry for the West is who will come to power. The biggest opposition group in Egypt has always been the Muslim Brotherhood (who are officially banned but were recognised in the recent Suleiman led peace talks, progress in itself) and as an organisation it is sceptical of democracy and would likely use democratic elections to establish an Islamic State. The problem is that the Muslim Brotherhood is not just a political opposition group but also a civil society organisation that has operated for many years like a charity, being the only organisation that has provided many people with food and basic amenities. Therefore the group is very popular and would stand a good chance of winning if it ran for election. The situation is very similar to what occurred in Gaza where Hamas, an anti-democratic group, was elected in a democratic election. Hamas’ position in Gaza has been enshrined by Israel’s blockade of it, establishing Hamas as the only group able to provide anything to the people creating a vicious circle.

There is good news however. The Muslim Brotherhood has announced it won’t run for the Presidency and doesn’t really have a strong enough leader to be able to do so in any case. Furthermore Egypt does have several prominent democratic candidates for the Presidency. Therefore I am optimistic that Egypt will become a democratic nation.

What does this mean for the region?

It is unlikely that a democratic government will renege on the peace with Israel as it brings in $2 billion annually in US aid but it may have to be stronger in its rhetoric against it, only time will tell.

What is clear is that the effect on the other autocratic regimes in the region will be massive. The peoples in the countries will see that it is possible to overthrow their regimes, even one as repressive and brutal as Mubarak’s and they will therefore demand freedom, or at least concessions. Egypt has once again reasserted itself as the leader of the region and will spread both a desire for and a sense of possibility of democracy throughout the region. This will cause issues for all of the regimes in the region and may result in other regime changes or at least freedom concessions. The Gulf states due to their rentier status may survive, but the non-rentier states will likely face unrest. This situation has already started with protests in Algeria, Jordan, Iran and Yemen. To put my optimistic head on, this could be the event and time that finally brings democracy and peace to the Middle East.

Categories: The Middle East

‘Biased and One Sided’ why Israel might not be wrong

September 24, 2010 Leave a comment

The report published today by the UN Human Rights Council condemns Israel and Israeli troops for its actions during the raid on the 31st of May. The Council says that “There is clear evidence to support prosecutions of the following crimes within the terms of article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention: wilful killing; torture or inhuman treatment; wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health”.

Just a quick bit of background information on the raid in case anyone has forgotten the events of the 31st of May 2010. Operation Sky Winds took place on the 31st of May and was the seizure of the six ships of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla by Shayetet 13 commandos of the Israeli Navy. The Flotilla had been organised by the Free Gaza Movement and the Turkish Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief. The aim of the flotilla was to breach the blockade of the Gaza Strip, in an aim to bring humanitarian aid, construction materials and medical supplies to the inhabitants. The blockade has been in place since 2007 with the purpose of preventing Hamas from acquiring weapons and materials needed to attack and defend itself from Israeli attacks. On the 30th of May Israel requested that the six ships enter the port of Ashdod to have their cargos inspected, with all cargo not considered contraband being transported overland to the Gaza Strip. The ships refused. After being shadowed by Israeli ships and aircraft, Shayetet 13 commandos boarded the ships and were met with passive resistance on five of the six ships. However it was the actions on board the Mavi Marmara that led to this report. Nine people from on board the ship were killed dozens injured and seven Israeli commandos were also wounded. After all six ships had been commandeered they were towed to the port of Ashdod. What followed was a large agitation of the international stage, with countries taking sides and with relations between Turkey and Israel, one of the few Arab countries Israel had cordial relations with, taking a nose dive.

Before I launch into my analysis of this, I feel the need to explain my own view on the Middle East ‘Crisis’. I think it was wrong after the Second World War to create the Jewish homeland where it is now. It may have seemed like a good idea at the time. There wasn’t any particular tension between Arabs and Jews. Especially compared to the history of the Jews in the previous thirty years. However this does not make me pro Arab. The decision to create Israel was a colossal mistake in my opinion, with sixty years of hindsight. However, this is not a factor in my current beliefs on this volatile region and how peace can be achieved.  The only viable solution is a two state system. I have sympathy with both sides, to be a repressed people unable to return to your home, forced to live in bad conditions because you were there first is deplorable. On the other hand I feel that the Israelis have a right to defend their sovereign state in what is a very volatile region, having had to fight wars on and off for the whole of the country’s short history. I do not even think religion is even a major factor in this crisis, just a way to identify which group an individual belongs to. So in short I think that aggression on both sides is deplorable whether it is settlement building or rocket attacks. I do not support one side over the other.

Now to turn to the matter of the report, the report condemned Israel completely for its actions. I agree that Israel’s actions were condemnable but not for the same reasons as the UN Human Rights Council. The UNHRC cites the Israeli forces for wilful killing; torture or inhuman treatment; wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health. All this happened on one boat. If the passengers on this boat had reacted in the same manner as the passengers on the five other boats, this would not even have been referred to the UNHRC. There is clear video evidence of aggression by the passengers and an Israeli commando being thrown from one deck to the next one down. These are not the actions of peaceful protesters trying to get food and aid to a population under blockade. These were the actions of people determined to fight against Israel.

As in all situations there are two sides to the story. In this case Israel is completely right to call the report biased and one sided even if there choice of language is superfluous. Over 100 witnesses were interviewed from or in Britain, Jordan, Switzerland and Turkey, but not Israel. This was a mistake and one which has cost the UNHRC my respect. It is unacceptable to conduct a report in this manner and not interview any Israelis.

The responsibility for the raid on the flotilla is split with seven tenths of the blame apportioned to Israel and the remaining two tenths apportioned to the organizers of the flotilla and one tenth to Turkey. The Turks are responsible for one tenth as they allowed this convoy to sail from Turkey and knew of its intentions to force the blockade and knew this would provoke a response from Israel. They did not act to prevent this. The organisers of the blockade were acting completely legally when the raid happened. They were in international waters attempting to breach a blockade that is morally grey at best and considered favourable by few outside of Israel. However they could have complied with Israeli demands and saved the lives of the nine activists. They chose to ignore the instructions and life was lost. Most importantly though the organisers knew this was a high profile event that was bound to illicit a response from Israel and used it to highlight their cause. They share a proportion of the blame for the loss of life for choosing a course of action that while legal was just not smart. I am not cynical enough to say they wanted this, but it was not bad PR for them. Israel should shoulder the majority of the blame. They broke international law by boarding six vessels with peaceful intentions and a very low probability of smuggling contraband into the Gaza Strip. However this crime pales into insignificance against the reason life was lost. The Israeli Military planners forgot or ignored basic rules for military strategy. Their intelligence on the flotilla was either not properly gathered or not properly analysed. This in turn led to an even bigger mistake and the crux of the matter. The reason why this is even remembered is because of the choice of the wrong type of personal to carry out the operation. Shayetet 13 commandos are excellent amphibious troops, who specialise in sea-to-land incursions, counter-terrorism, sabotage, maritime intelligence gathering, maritime hostage rescue, and boarding. That is what they specialise in, they do not specialise in pacification of large amounts of angry passengers who took an instant dislike to heavily armed commandos boarding their ship illegally. If Israel had used the correct troops this operation would have been carried out with no loss of life. The response of these highly trained troops was predictable and understandable.

I await the UN report and the internal Israeli reports. I do not expect a whitewash from Israel but I expect them to lay the blame anywhere but at the feet of their military. I do hope the UN report ordered by Ban Ki-Moon interviews Israelis and reaches a more balanced conclusion than this report has.