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Arab Spring

Algeria breaks the wall of fear

Algeria breaks the wall of fear

by Jessica Northey and Latefa Narriman Guemar


Friday 22 February 2019 will be seen as a new chapter in Algeria’s long history of revolution and struggle, as massive peaceful protests took place across all major cities of the country. Starting tentatively on Friday afternoon, the protests gradually gained momentum as thousands of people, including men, women and children were peacefully marching, singing their national anthem and waving Algerian flags. This happened despite a complete ban on marching in the capital since 2001. On Friday, Algerians stood up to have their voices heard.

With the memory of violent repression of popular demonstrations, and Algeria’s Black Decade where hundreds of thousands of Algerians lost their lives, still weighing on the country, taking the decision to march in a political protest is not an easy one.

Why are they marching?

After weeks of uncertainty as to whether the ailing 81 year old President Bouteflika would stand yet again in a fifth election, the announcement by the FLN to launch his presidential campaign, brought deep unhappiness and dismay to many Algerians.

There are many reasons why people took to the streets. The Constitution was revised by Bouteflika himself in 2016 to limit presidential mandates to two terms, the FLN has ruled Algeria since Independence in 1962, there is a lack of governance and rule of law, and opportunities for young people are restricted by a small oligarchy that continues to monopolize power. These are just some of many motivations for people to protest.

Algerians have responded en masse, without violence or division. Sectarian slogans, Islamist calls, political parties and divisive messages were absent this Friday. Shouts of ‘Chaab w chorta, khawa, khawa’ (demonstrators and police are brothers) may have contributed to the relative absence of police repression. ‘Joumhouria machi Mamlaka’ (A republic not a monarchy) was another shout recalling the republican nature of Algeria, a cause for which more than a million people died during the war of liberation, including thousands of women. Indeed, and as on all occasions when Algeria appealed to its citizens, Algerian women are present, and their struggle remains crucial: to build, side by side with the Algerian men, a modern and republican Algeria in which the rights of each will ultimately be respected.

From Chlef, to Bejaia, to Algiers, women marched, reminding us of the importance of their regaining their rights to the city and citizenship. Women in the Diaspora, including large numbers of young women, also protested in Paris, Marseille, Montreal and London to support their peers back home in their protest to out the “Issaba” (Bandits). In London, a woman insisted on taking the microphone to lead the protest saying: not only do we not want a fifth term of Bouteflika, but we request radical reforms of Algerian governance of today.

Although it might appear to be, Algeria is not a dictatorship. Bouteflika is not hated, with demonstrators even wishing him good health. However, ordinary Algerians and young people in particular have simply had enough of the status quo, and of the inability of their political leaders – similar to so many countries across the world – who are unable to find solutions for a vibrant, intelligent and creative young society. This is a protest for justice, rule of law, equality, good governance and better politics. Young people want and deserve to have a place in the political, social and economic life of Algeria to build a brighter future for their country. Over the last ten years, they have done this painstakingly outside of the political sphere, through associational activism, through journalism and through community action – but this is not enough.

Nobody knows what happens next. These national, spontaneous, well-organised and principled demonstrations sow great hope amongst all Algerians at home and abroad. They also fear that the western media will misrepresent this important moment in Algerian history. Politics has already changed and will continue to do so. Algerians have been left to feel humiliated by the ruling elite for too long. They have now stood up to this arrogance and humiliation. Power has to be shared, it has to be honest and needs integrity, in line with the principles of Algeria’s founding Revolution in 1954 against colonialism. The voice of the people once again will have to be heard.

Journalism and media in Islamic societies in conflict zones

Journalism and media in Islamic societies in conflict zones

al-Sharq al-Awasat coverage
Journalism in Arab countries: With the increased violence and potential for sectarian war in the Middle East, one would think that the media and journalists would pay more attention to details, facts, and the language they use to report about the death and destruction in that part of the world. Instead, journalist and the media in general sided with their benefactors or religious/ethnic community, betraying the profession and their duty to objectively inform the public.

Al-Sharq al-Awsat, which wanted to be the New York Times of the Arab world showed its true identity: the mouth piece of the rulers of Saudi Arabia. Aljazeera, whose funders wanted it to be the BBC of the Arab world, resigned to its limited true function: serving the Qatari ruling family and its political allies—the Muslim Brotherhood and Turkey. Alarabiya has become the Fox News of the GCC ruling families. Alahram serves Sisi… and the list goes on. 

Here is an example of the kind of headlines the “professional” journalists at al-Sharq al-Awsat ran recently:

5 nations cut their diplomatic relations with Iran… and the world condemn its violations

It did not cross the mind of Iran that its attacks on the Saudi embassy and consulate in Tehran and Mashhad would open the doors of hell on it, including the cutting of diplomatic ties…

[The headlines and opening sentence sound ominous. But the rest of the news story would make you think that you are reading a satirical piece on The Onion or watching a story on the fake news program, The Daily Show. The 5 countries that cut relations with Iran are:

Saudi Arabia (the country the just executed 4 and beheaded 43 including a religious scholar whose crime was “criticizing wali al-amr [the ruler]”)

Bahrain (the tiny kingdom that serves as a bar and resort for the Saudi princes and princesses)

Sudan (Whose president cannot travel much because he faces arrest for war crimes and genocide)

Djibouti (where the hell is Djibouti)

Somalia (does this country actually has a government?)

Arab journalists’ dereliction of duty during these difficult times will make a grave situation graver. In the past, and during peace time, people of that region were used to the media serving as the propaganda tools in the hands of authoritarian rulers. People did not take them seriously. However, with civil wars raging in a handful of Arab countries, the need for accurate information is compelling and Arab journalists ought to take their responsibilities seriously.
Aljazeera devoted half of its space of its website frontpage to reports about the humanitarian crisis in the town of Madaya, Syria, because it is is “Sunni” town. Aljazeera avoided referring to the other towns under siege for years, as the BBC report shows, simply because those towns are inhabited by Shia. To stoke sectarian passion, Aljazeera used graphic images that did not depict people from Madaya.

The legacy of the illegal war on Iraq and the burden of befriending the Wahhabi rulers

The legacy of the illegal war on Iraq and the burden of befriending the Wahhabi rulers

A day after the couple Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik killed 14 people in San Bernardino, CNN reported that Malik had made “a pledge of allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.” Subsequently, it was reported that Malik attended al-Huda, a religious institute whose funding and curriculum were decided by Saudi benefactors, and Farook visited Saudi Arabia and married his wife in that country. The connection between terrorists and Saudi sponsored religious institutions is well documented. The connection between ISIL and its derivatives, terrorism, and the civil war in Syria and Iraq must be properly understood and factored into any global strategy to combat terrorism and reduce violence around the world. Law enforcement officials’ reaction to the San Bernardino shooting–suggesting that the attack “may have been inspired by ISIS” but “not directed or ordered” by the group–shows that the connection between Saudi political/religious systems and terrorism is not properly made and understood.

Besides the usual claims of responsibility that ISIL releases after the fact, there is no evidence that the group ordered or directed any of the other attacks, including the most recent ones in Beirut, France, and Tunisia. Distinguishing attacks inspired by ISIL from the ones ordered by ISIL reveals a lack of understanding of the ideology and methodology of ISIL and an incoherent response that allow this group to carry out its genocidal agenda. This willful ignorance is present among federal law enforcement officials and political leaders, the main authorities that are supposed to formulate a comprehensive strategy to neutralize and eradicate such threats. Moreover, the occurrence of these brutal attacks in many countries, Muslim and non-Muslim majority ones, underscore the link between the crises in Syria and Iraq and the spread of terrorism. It is now clear, that the longer the Syrian and Iraqi civil wars are allowed to continue the graver the threat of terrorism around the world. Therefore, defeating ISIL in Syria, Libya, and Iraq is necessary to protecting civilians in this country and elsewhere. These conclusions are based on a number of facts.

1. Once in control of territories in Syria and Iraq, and upon declaring himself “caliph,” al-Baghdadiordered, through his spokesperson al-Adnani, all his followers all over the world to carry out all kinds of acts of violence against anyone who disagrees with his interpretation of Islam everywhere—inside or outside Muslim majority countries. The order included specific and appalling instructions about murderous acts and targets. That order was meant to be open as long as the “Islamic State” is in existence. With that being said, the notion that ISIL did not order this or other attacks is factually untrue. 

2. Ideologically, every lone terrorist and every fighter in the ranks of ISIL and its derivatives, from the ones who carried out the 9/11 attacks to the ones who carried out the attacks in Tunisia, follow Salafism. Not all Salafists are ISIL terrorists. However, it is immanently true that all ISIL terrorists are Salafist. Therefore, terrorism cannot be defeated without confronting states that espouse, sponsor, and support Salafism and Salafist figures and force them to purge their educational and religious institutions from hateful and genocidal ideas.

3. The fight against combatant Salafist terrorists of ISIL and its derivatives must be constitutional and within the limits of international law. No government should imprison or kill Salafists based on membership, only combatants in the ranks of ISIL and its derivatives can be pursued so that the war on genocidal fighters is not turned into an ideological war against Salafism or Islam in general. Analogically, the KKK espouses a genocidal ideology not that different from ISIL’s but the US government does not arrest or kill KKK members just for being members. The same standards should be applied to Salafism and fighters affiliated with ISIL and its derivatives to prevent leaders of these groups from using real or perceived Western double standard for propaganda and recruitment purposes.

4. The US’s anti-ISIL coalition has failed to contain, let alone defeat, ISIL because it had embraced a strategy based on the faulty logic of equating the malfeasance of the government of Assad with the crimes of ISIL and its derivatives. The equivalency is factually false for a number of reasons:

4.1. Before and after the peaceful uprising of 2011, Assad’s government has not distinguished among Syrians on the basis of sect or religion. ISIL and its derivatives have.

4.2. During the peaceful uprising, Syrian government’s soldier did not blow up homes belonging to specific religious groups, destroy bridges and public buildings, kill police officers at checkpoints, execute them and chew on their internal organs, and enshrine rape and slavery. FSA and ISIL fighters did. Indeed, some Syrian security forces violently attacked protesters, arrested opposition figures, and tortured political prisoners–common practices among all Arab regimes–and perpetrators of such acts should be held to account. Those who took up arms and hijacked the peaceful uprising should be held responsible, too.

4.3. After the peaceful uprising and during the civil war, Assad’s government did not behead people because they were Christian, Shi`a, secular, or kafir; ISIL and its derivatives did and continue to do so.

4.4. The 250,000 thus far killed were not killed by Assad. They were killed by FSA rebels, fighters from ISIL and its derivatives, and government forces. FSA, which was initially the umbrella organization of all rebel groups including al-Nusra and ISIL, self-documented their fighter committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.

4.5. The millions of displaced Syrians were not forced out by Assad. If they were, why haven’t they left before the civil war. They were forced out by ISIL and other armed groups that moved into their neighborhoods, towns, and cities, in violation of international law of war, bringing war to civilian areas. ISIL and its derivatives are the ones who attack communities on religious and sectarian grounds, purging area after area from religious and ethnic groups. Damascus and other cities still controlled by Assad are still inhabited by Sunni, Christian, Shi`a, and Alawites; Alawites, Shi`a, or Yazidisare not able to live in cities under the control of ISIL or its derivatives.

4.6. Assad’s government, as authorized by the old and current constitutions, did not and has not wanted to impose its version of the shari`a on all Syrians. ISIL and its derivatives have.

5. Removing Assad will not remove ISIL, it will strengthen it and here are the facts that support this conclusion:

5.1. In Libya, Qatar and its allies, backed by NATO planes, armed the rebels arguing that removing Qaddafi will end extremism and usher in democracy in that country. Qaddafi was murdered in 2011, yet, just two weeks ago, ISIL’s branch in Libya declared the coastal city of Sirte part of the “Islamic State”, in addition to its other stronghold of Derna.

5.2. In August 2014, Nouri al-Maliki, under pressure from Saudi Arabia and the Obama administration, was forced to resign after having had won the elections by a huge margin, so that ISIL is defeated in Iraq. Instead of being defeated, ISIL was able to take over more cities and provinces, including Ramadi, which lies just 70 miles west of Baghdad.

5.3. Before the Saudi war on Yemen, leaders of ISIL and its derivatives admonished their Yemeni followers for not building significant presence in Yemen. After Saudi Arabia and the coalition of countries under its economic sway bombed that impoverished country for nine months and after they sent Sudanese and even Colombian mercenaries to southern Yemen to push the Houthis and their allies out, ISIL and its derivatives moved in and are now in control of a number of cities and provinces in the south and east of Yemen.

5.4. In Syria, ISIL and its derivatives extended their control over areas previously controlled by the Free Syrian Army and other so-called “moderate” rebel groups. There is no evidence to suggest that “moderate” rebels were, are, or will be able to wrestle away territory from ISIL and its derivatives and hold it for long periods of time. Only the Kurdish fighters, who are not part of the rebel groups, are able to resist and even defeat ISIL, but only within Kurdish majority areas.

5.5. ISIL and its derivatives exist in countries with failed states. If the Syrian government is further weakened or were to collapse, ISIL and its derivatives will fill the void. Therefore, providing support for the Syrian government is the only sensible, practical, and legal option to defeat ISIL and its derivatives.

6. ISIL and its derivatives did not have the capacity to carry out threats around the world and control territory in Syria and Iraq without the political, financial, and military support they have received from individuals and countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey. The evidence presented by the Russian military about oil from areas under the control of ISIL being sold in Turkey is damning. Russia’s evidence, in fact, only confirms what NATO members had communicated to Turkey in September 2014, when they asked Turkey to “tighten its border controls, stem the flow of fighters passing through Turkey, and crack down on the oil smuggling from Syria that is financing ISIL.”

The US administration must push for a principled definition of terrorism and terrorist entities. Administration’s official focus on ISIL, and only ISIL, as a terrorist organization in Syria raises doubt about the US commitment to ending the violence in Syria and fighting all terrorist groups-not just ISIL. US rhetoric criticizing Russia for not limiting its airstrikes to ISIL distorts reality and gives comfort to other genocidal groups and their sponsors. 

When considering that ISIL’s leaders adopted three different namesin the past three years, looking at a name to identify which is or is not a terrorist group becomes absurd. Singling out ISIL as the only terrorist group that should be fought allows the latter’s members to join other groups like al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, which are equally genocidal in their thinking and practices. After all, al-Nusra was al-Baghdadi’s original armed group in Syria before he had a fall out with al-Julani. Instead, of waiting for groups to self-identify as subscribing to al-Qaeda ideology, the world community must come up with an objective definition of terrorist entities taking into account the nature of the creed, practice, and connections of the group. This way, the name of the group would not matter. What the ideology it espouses and acts it carries out should determine if the terror label shall apply.

Should ISIL and its derivatives be allowed to continue to occupy and control cities in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Nigeria, or Yemen and should the ideology espoused by ISIL fighters go unchallenged, the recent attacks in Beirut, Paris, Tunis, and San Bernardino will not be the last. The US must work with the Syrian and Iraqi governments, now, not in six or eighteen months, to defeat these genocidal fighters. Instead of continuing to send weapons to today’s moderate fighters who will be tomorrows ISIL soldiers, the US and its allies should send those arms to the Syrian government troops, the only legal force on the ground that can defeat ISIL and that can be held responsible for past and future violations of international law of war. If the international community has evidence that Assad or any of his generals have ordered the murder of civilians, they should pursue legal action and seek justice for the victims, not remove him by arming his adversaries in violation of international law. 

If the US administration wants to protect its citizens, end racist and hateful threats against American-Muslims, and stop the flow of refugees, it must develop a principled, not political, strategy to defeat genocidal fighters in Syria and Iraq. It should start by confronting regimes and individuals who provide moral, ideological, financial, and military assistance to ISIL and its derivatives. It is reckless to tolerate ISIL and its derivatives so that Saudi Arabia or any other country achieves some geopolitical goals. It is irresponsible for the US administration to continue to give credence to the bizarre Saudi logic that the presence of one man, Assad, created ISIL and its derivatives, and that his removal will result in ISIL’s defeat. ISIL and its derivatives have existed in many countries not ruled by Assad, and have existed long before Assad’s troops fired a single bullet in Syria’s cruel civil war. As a first step in fighting terrorism, stopping the civil wars that create the suitable environment for terrorism, and ending Saudi spread of hateful, genocidal ideology, Syrian and Iraq must be made whole again.
* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

Proposition for ending the crisis in Syria: concurrent devolution of power regionally and military action against genocidal fighters nationally

Proposition for ending the crisis in Syria: concurrent devolution of power regionally and military action against genocidal fighters nationally


Syrians as refugees because of this level of destruction of their cities

Politics is the art of compromise. Successful politicians rarely give ultimatums because doing so would limit their ability to navigate complex issues. In 2012, President Obama underestimated the complexity of the crisis in Syria. He drew a “red line” for President Assad: the use of chemical weapons would have “enormous consequences” and would “change [his] calculus” on American military intervention in Syria’s civil war. A year later, someone used weaponized chemicals, killing hundreds of civilians. Although no investigation was conducted to identify the perpetrator at that time, the U.S., encouraged by its regional allies like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey, accused the government of Bashar al-Assad. Just days before world leaders were to meet in New York, U.S. bombing of Syria was all but certain. Then two key events changed the course of history. First, Prime Minister David Cameron, initially supportive of military intervention, was restrained by the British parliament. As of September 7, 2013, the U.S. Congress was also set to not authorize the use of force in Syria, especially if it was not authorized by the UNSC. Second, U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, made a “silly mistake”, to borrow the words of some observers.

On Monday, September 9, 2013, Kerry, then on his way to a meeting in Europe, made the gaffe that saved his boss. Answering a reporter’s question, he said that Assad could avoid an American attack by turning over “every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week.” The State Department tried to take back Kerry’s comments by saying that he “was making a rhetorical argument about the impossibility and unlikelihood of Assad turning over chemical weapons he has denied he used.” Nonetheless, Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, put Kerry in check:  Moscow urged Syria to place its chemical weapons under international control. The next day, the Syrian government “welcomed” Russia’s proposal. The U.S. Senate, having scheduled a vote for Wednesday on whether to back a proposed punitive strike, postponed it. The U.S.-planned “surgical strike” against Syria did not take place. 
In hindsight, and given the abysmal results of the yearlong airstrikes on ISIL, the U.S. administration should be thankful for Russia’s intervention that allowed Obama to save face, while eliminating a dangerous weapon that could be used by the Syrian government or its opponents if storing facilities fell under their control. Above all, Russia’s plan for Syria’s chemical weapons was a lifeline for President Obama, who was headed for defeat, at least in the House, on his request for approval for military action.
Fast-forward to September 2015. Russia, once again, might be offering the U.S. and its allies a lifeline: an opening to chart a new course for its military and political plans in Syria. Clearly, U.S. bombardment of ISIL positions from the air is not producing any significant results, and the U.S. cannot find a reliable “moderate” partner that could hold cleared territory.
Since the start of the Syrian crisis, the U.S. and its regional allies—Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey—have insisted that Bashar al-Assad must step down before they stop their support for rebel fighters. In fact, the AKP-led Turkish government has insisted that it would not fight ISIL unless it and its allies are allowed to fight the Syrian government troops as well. In other words, working with the Syrian government to combat terrorism is out of the question in the eyes of these governments. Russia, on the other hand, has insisted that fighting terror groups in Syria must be a priority and must be coordinated with the Syrian government.
There is a growing body of evidence pointing to the fact that U.S.-Saudi position is untenable. 
First, Turkey is now fighting its own war on terror at home. ISIL suicide bombers have killed Turkish citizens inside Turkey. The AKP government chose to re-open its war on Kurdish fighters and ignore the threats posed by ISIL. Some Turkish towns are now off-limits to Turkish government forces.
Second, the U.S. planto train and equip “moderate” rebel fighters and use them to fight ISIL on the ground in Syria has failed in a spectacular way: the first group of fighters inserted into Syria was immediately attacked by al-Nusra, killing many of its members and capturing the rest. Moreover, a leader of this U.S.-trained group declared that his fighters will never attack their “brothers in jihad,” which of course would include ISIL.
Third, al-Nusra has been reluctant to enter into open war against ISIL. Last week, al-Nusra’s overall leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, ordered the group to cooperate with ISIL, despite his rejection of ISIL’s declared restoration of the caliphate under the leadership of al-Baghdadi.
Fourth, Saudi Arabia has claimed that Assad lost legitimacy because he has killed civilians in Syria. Now that Saudi Arabia is bombing civilians in Yemen and siding with an unelected ruler of that country, they have lost that moral high ground. The Saudis, Qataris, Bahrainis, and Emaritis are all involved in an illegal brutal war. It is also possible that that Saudi Arabia will lose territory to the Houthis before the war on Yemen is over. The Saudi rulers themselves might face serious criminal charges since they stand accused of committing war crimes in Yemen.
Fifth, the refugee crisis is spreading to Europe, and the longer the crisis in Syria is made to last the more people will be leaving that country. Only an end to the violence and the creation of an international recovery plan could stop the flow of refugees. The countries that supported the armed rebellion are responsible for the humanitarian disaster and for recovery costs.
Sixth, even if President Assad were to step down or be removed, there is no evidence that members of the warring factions will stop fighting, lay down their arms, and go back to doing what they were doing before the crisis. Events in Iraq, Libya, and Yemen indicate that armed groups are intent on taking over and holding territories. These non-state actors are not wrestling away control over towns and cities from government forces only, but also from each other. These groups do not believe in the devolution of power, they want all power for themselves forever and through the gun.
The war in Syria is a classic proxy war going bad. Too many states have too many proxy fighters all fighting the Syrian state and each other. Relying on non-state actors to carry out violence against the state is a dangerous and destabilizing strategy that will affect not only the target country, but other nations in the region and around the world. Violence will reach neighboring nations like Lebanon, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan and the refugee crisis will continue to affect Western countries. The war in Syria and Iraq must end in order to minimize the spread of violence and the increased number of displaced people. However, for the war to end, states party to this conflict must employ both military and political strategies concurrently—not just one or the other. 
The concurrent military and political solution is necessitated by the following facts:
1. The Syrian government will not be able to re-establish pre-crisis conditions. Too many people have died, too many people have been displaced, there has been too much destruction, and there is too little trust and good will—making it impossible to start a reconciliation and recovery phase without the inclusion of local leaders.
2. Syria has been flooded with all kinds of weapons and ammunition, making the task of keeping peace and order all over Syria a herculean one. The government will need some of the armed groups to manage some of the towns and cities that were outside the control of the Syrian state.
3. Syria has always been a mixed society. The country consists of an amalgam of sectarian, religious, ethnic, and tribal communities. During the crisis, and when the government failed to protect all citizens in all of Syria, these communities armed their own local committees (lijan sha`biyya/difa` dhati) to defend their towns and cities of residence. It is unlikely that these traumatized communities will disarm immediately and trust their fate to this or a future government—with or without Assad. 
4. While some armed groups are interested in preserving the diversity of the Syrian society, other fighters who embrace and practice genocidal ideas, like ISIL, al-Nusra,  and Ahrar al-Sham are determined to cleanse the regions they control of ethnic, sectarian, religious, secular, and any group that is not them. Moreover, these genocidal groups do not believe in any degree of public participation in electing regional or national political and administrative leaders. 
These facts create a set of conditions and variables that require a concurrent military and political solution. A solution that supports the national government’s fight against genocidal fighters and put Syria on a path to deliberate devolution of power. The devolution of power could be achieved through purposeful political reform that would allow towns and cities a healthy degree of autonomy without risking the territorial integrity of their country and the abrupt collapse of the state. The fate and future of Assad and his government can be determined after local governments have been established, through national elections under a new constitution that reflects the new conditions.
The Russian military buildup in Syria might provide the world community with an opportunity to start an effective collective plan of action in Syria. The Western coalition that has been bombing ISIL from the air for more than one year without success could have another partner, who is not the Assad regime, on the ground. Russian troops could open the necessary channel of communication between the Western coalition and the Syrian government. Together, and after securing authorization from and monitoring by the UNSC, the Syrian and Russian troops could secure local elections in towns and cities freed from genocidal fighters. These local elections will provide some opposition figures with a chance to gain power, through the ballet box, over regions where they have influence and if they have influence. 
This approach will necessarily mean that Kurdish regions, Shia towns and cities, and tribal communities (`asha’ir) will emerge as self-governing, semi-autonomous regions within Syria. This kind of solution would preserve Syria’s state institutions, offer Syria’s minorities a degree of self-rule, and fight genocidal warriors. A Saudi-Western solution preconditioned on the removal of Assad and his generals will cause the disintegration of Syria, the permanent displacement of millions of Syrians, and the spread of violence to neighboring states. In the end, peace in Syria depends on a gradual devolution of power and diminished use of violence by non-state actors. It cannot depend on using those non-state actors simply as tools for regime change.
* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

The Arab Spring in a Global Context (conference)

The Arab Spring in a Global Context (conference)

The wave of uprisings known as the Arab Spring may have changed or at least challenged the relationship between the governed and governing actors not only in Arab countries but in other societies with Muslim people around the world. New legal regimes may now navigate sectarian, gender, and religious fault lines in differing ways. Emerging issues and changing circumstances provided scholars from

all academic disciplines with opportunities to apply and/or revise old theories and produce a body of new knowledge about issues of social change, social justice, racial/ethnic and gender relations, the law, public policy, economic development, and international politics in a global context.
Talks, paper presentations, and interviews associated with the international conference on the Arab Spring in a Global Context will be added the play list below as the become available.

Beyond terrorism: Sousse attack, economic development, fair trade, and dignity

Beyond terrorism: Sousse attack, economic development, fair trade, and dignity

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

The intent of those who planned and carried out the recent terrorist attack in Tunisia and the reactions to it, both underscore the idiosyncratic connections between economic development and terrorism. Importantly, the attack ought to remind us of the global nature and imperatives, not only of ISIL’s brand of terrorism, but also of economic development. Both problems, terrorism and lack of economic development in the Global South, must be confronted cooperatively, because European countries were indeed involved, directly and indirectly, in creating the kind of conditions that weaken their southern neighbors’ economies, which in turn have created the kind of environment most suitable for terrorism.

Zakaria Hamad

When 30 British citizens vacationing in the city of Sousse, Tunisia, were killed along with three Irish, two Germans, one Belgian, one Portuguese, and one Russian, the Foreign Office ordered all but essential travelers to leave that country immediately. Habib Essid, Tunisia’s Prime Minister, said that his government would help to evacuate approximately 3,000 Britons, but told Tunisia’s parliament that he was “dismayed by the advice from the Foreign Office.” The Tunisian government said the UK “was damaging the country’s economy,” which is heavily reliant on tourism, and may end up inadvertently fueling poverty and therefore terrorism. Oliver Miles, a former UK ambassador to Libya and Greece “found the [UK]’s response puzzling.” Other commentators and international affairs analysts contended that Britain was “wrong to bring tourists home” because it would weaken the only true emerging democracy in that part of the world.

Having just returned from Tunisia, I have had a chance to observe up-close life, the hopeful and fearful aspects of it, in that beautiful country. I have witnessed how ordinary citizens, bureaucrats and government officials, and business leaders are coping with the new reality of citizens’ mandated governance. It is clear that Tunisia deserves support from the global community for moral reasons, and deserves support from NATO countries for legal, political, and economic reasons.

The world community ought to support Tunisia because it is the only country in the region thus far that has managed to transition to representative rule without military coups, civil wars, and violent takeovers. Support for Tunisia means support for peaceful transfer of power, and serves the global community’s stake in political and economic stability.

More specifically, NATO countries have the legal obligation to stand by Tunisia because NATO, and its Gulf allies like Qatar, undermined Tunisian security when they launched the ill-planned bombing campaign against Libya. The two persons who carried out the Bardo and Sousse attacks were trained in Libya. Libyan weapons that were not secured after the fall of the Libyan government are now being used to destabilize Tunisia and other neighboring countries. In other words, NATO broke it, so NATO bought it.

Furthermore, NATO and European countries have a long history of supporting authoritarian regimes in North Africa, including the Tunisian and Libyan dictators. France sent its diplomats to show support for Ben Ali even as he was killing protesters in December 2010. Italy and other European countries paid off Gaddafi so that he could prevent African immigrants from reaching the European continent while continuing to deny his people basic political and economic rights. European countries must atone for their political and economic dealings with oppressive regimes.

European countries must also atone for decades of exploitation and unfair economic practices. Italy, for instance, used to buy Tunisian olive oil in bulk, process it in Italy, and ship it to the global markets as an Italian product. Agricultural, mineral, and other natural Tunisian resources were shipped to Europe for processing adding thousands of job opportunities to Europeans, denying them to Tunisian workers. 

Having considered these facts, let’s consider what Tunisians really want from their northern neighbors. Young Tunisian entrepreneurs and government officials want to be treated fairly and with dignity. They do not want handouts. They do not want loans. They do not want to be dependent on tourism or for European leaders to risk the lives of their citizens to shore up tourism in Tunisia. What they want is for the European leaders to encourage their powerful businesses and rich citizens who made some of their wealth through exploitation of African communities to invest in Tunisia and the Tunisian economy.

For example, in a conversation I had with Zakaria Hamad, Tunisia’s current Minister of Industry, Energy and Mining, it became clear that Tunisian leaders want the added value from their country’s products, of which it has been deprived in the past. For instance, instead of shipping raw materials to Europe for processing and sale, the new Tunisian leaders would prefer that Westerners invest in Tunisia by building factories and processing plants, creating thousands of jobs for Tunisians at home and producing quality goods for the global markets at fair prices.

If Europeans genuinely invested in the Tunisian economy, they would limit the flow of migrant workers, help stabilize their neighboring communities, undo years of past exploitative and unfair practices, and receive a healthy return on their investment. In the long run, this change in attitude and practices are the best way forward for Western countries and their southern neighbors. Military interventions, bombing campaigns, and reliance on dictatorial regimes are shortsighted, costly, callous, and destructive. Such acts are moral and legal burden on Western societies and powerful propaganda tools for genocidal terrorists.

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* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

The controversial rule that benefited the Justice and Development Party now diminishes its chances to quickly form a government

The controversial rule that benefited the Justice and Development Party now diminishes its chances to quickly form a government

Turkey’s democracy has had many pitfalls since the early days of the modern republic. The ruling elite, initially from the military and recently from the conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP), have tweaked the rules of the game to exclude others and preserve their stay in power. Since 2002, Turkey’s powerful AKP politicians benefited from the rule that required political parties to win at least 10% of the votes to send representative to the parliament. Kurdish politicians, especially, were marginalized forcing them to compete for elections only as independents, increasing the chances of the more powerful parties, in this case the AKP, to artificially inflate their share of seats. If the 10% rule were not in place, and more political parties were represented this time around, AKP would have an easier time finding a coalition partner that had won just 17 seats–not 80.
For the first time, the pro-Kurdish party known as Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP) has surpassed the 10% threshold and will be sending about 81 highly disciplined members to the parliament. This victory is not only good for the Kurdish people, it is also good for Turkish democracy. It deprived the increasingly authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan from a chance to amend the constitution and give himself more powers. It solidified political pluralism. And it added a voice to minority voices in a political landscape dominated by a single party for nearly two decades.

Now that the chances of changing the political system into a presidential system are significantly reduced, Turkish politicians should amend the constitution to strengthen their democracy, limit the power of demagogues, and usher in an era of cooperation. For this to happen, the terms of forming a coalition government, be it with the AKP or without AKP, must include their agreement to significantly reduce the 10% threshold. 
In reducing this absurdly high bar, more political parties will be able to take part in the democratic process and it will be easier for political parties to form coalition governments and work together instead of calling for new costly elections that rarely change the circumstances. Should this happen, Turkey will be able to escape the cult-of-personality politics that dominated public life in that country for so long. Then, Turkey can play a constructive role in a region deeply in need of stability, institutional governance, and peaceful transfer of power.
Key Stats (not official):
AKP now has 259 seats, 276 seats are needed to form a government; 367 seats are needed to change the constitution directly; 330 seats to call a referendum to change the system.
* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

Will the rulers of Saudi Arabia, and perhaps other GCC, fall and why?

Will the rulers of Saudi Arabia, and perhaps other GCC, fall and why?

Saudi rulers use war on Yemen to remain relevant

The war on Yemen removed the last fig leaf and exposed the tools and advantages the rulers of Saudi Arabia have used for nearly a century to control its population and project power and influence outside the kingdom’s border. The first tool is the strategic alliance with the United States that shielded it from any criticism in international forums and protected it against foreign threats in return for steady flow of cheap energy. The second tool is a brand of interpretation of Islam, Wahhabism, which allowed the rulers to enjoy absolute power over the institutions of the state as long as Wahhabism was allowed to use the instruments of the state to project itself as the purest form of Sunni Islam.

Saudi Arabia, despite its abhorrent human rights record enjoyed diplomatic, political, economic, and military cover that shielded it from any criticism or sanctions. In fact, Western countries often referred to Saudi Arabia and the few Arab countries that fell under the direct influence of the kingdom as the axes of moderation. The marginalization of ethnic minorities, diminutive attitudes towards groups belonging to different sects, abuse of foreign laborers, domination of women, selective application of cruel punishments, political corruption, blatant nepotism, and flagrant interference in internal affairs of other countries all went unexposed—beyond the reach of media and even academic scholarship.

The rulers of Saudi Arabia used its wealth-acquired clean image to build religious centers in Western countries and madrasas and mosques in poor Muslim countries and staff these institutions with administrators and imams who were indoctrinated in Wahhabism—albeit under the name of Sunni Islam. In addition to this soft form of proselytizing, the rulers of Saudi Arabia have supplied its global allies with hardened zealots who were ready to fight and die for whatever cause they were able to manufacture. Often times, the interests of Western governments and the ambitions of the Saudi-Wahhabi alliance intersected as was the case in Afghanistan in the 1970’s and 1980’s. In this particular case, Western governments, especially U.S. administrations, embraced the so-called mujahidin and they worked together to counter the real or perceived threats posed by the Soviet Union. The same alliance was revived in Syria in the last four years to counter the real or perceived threats posed by Iran and Russia. Saudi Arabia wanted to use this alliance in Yemen as well but the Obama administration hesitated. There are signs however, that this freakishly strange union between the U.S. and the Saudi-Wahhabi cabal is about to expire.

First, the so-called Arab Spring uprisings has forced Western governments in general, and this U.S. administration in particular, to realize that the business of protecting unpopular regimes has become very risky. The sudden fall of two “moderate” Arab leaders in Tunisia and Egypt almost left Western countries on the wrong side of history. They were forced to retroactively overreact calling these former friends and allies dictators. The breaking of the wall of fear that kept Arab masses under check for so long produced a level of political unpredictability never seen before. The Obama administration reaffirmed this reality when it warned the rulers of GCC that their real threat is from their own people not from outside. In other words, U.S. administrations will no longer protect regimes that do not enjoy a popular mandate. They remain, however, interested in protecting countries, especially the ones with clear commitment to representative governance like Tunisia. This distinction between regimes and countries and lack of commitment to protect specific regimes kept four out of the six rulers of the GCC out of the summit at Camp David. Interestingly, the Obama administration also extended NATO’s protection to Tunisia after it denied it to GCC States.

On May 12, the self-declared caliph and leader of the “Islamic State,” al-Baghdadi, declared the Saudi-Wahhabi alliance nulland void. In a 34 minute long rant, he accused Aal Salul (the group’s diminutive label for the Saudi family) of attempting to regain its standing as the protector of Sunni Muslims by launching “Operation Fancy” in Yemen. He called on Saudi Sunni Muslims not to fall for this trick. He explicitly asked them to rise up against the rulers of the kingdom and join the “Islamic State,” which is, in his determination, the true representative of pure Islam and the real “protector” of Sunni Muslims. The fall of GCC regimes will be internal. Specifically, it will come on the hands of the adherents to the brand of Islam they manufactured over the past eighty years: Wahhabism.

Importantly, al-Baghdadi’s statements confirm what some scholars have been saying about the link between Saudi Arabia and ISIL. Al-Baghdadi reaffirmed that his version of Islam was in fact inspired by the same Islam preached and practiced in Saudi Arabia. The difference, however, is that he and his “Islamic State” are living the true faith and practice, whereas the Saudi ruling family support it only in name and form.

These two important developments, the downgraded Saudi-Western alliance and the rise of the Islamic State as the exemplar of Sunni Islam, are terrifying for the Saudi ruling family. The ruling family’s precious investment in religious extremism—as an ideology—and dependence on Western governments—as a national security strategy—are spent. Wahhabism, the brainchild of the family of Saud, has now outgrown its masters and has established its own political and military entity: the “Islamic State.” Western countries are no longer dependent on Saudi oil. Preserving regimes that are rejected by the peoples they are supposed to represent is now very risky. For the rulers of GCC, as it has become for most Arab rulers, the options are very limited: reform or perish.

* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

Saudi Arabia’s attempt to create a Sunni-Shia sectarian war hinges on fragile alliances and a retrograde worldview

Saudi Arabia’s attempt to create a Sunni-Shia sectarian war hinges on fragile alliances and a retrograde worldview

What is happening in Yemen and why?

In the post-Arab Spring Middle East, the rulers of Saudi Arabia see no place for neutrality. Their default position has become that declared by President Bush after 9/11: You are either with us or against us. Even the winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, Tawakkol Karman, who is also a leading figure in Yemen’s Islah party, flew to Riyadh to join Abd Rabuh Hadi and bless the Saudi-led bombing campaign against Yemen, which killed thus far over 1000 people, including children and women. Indeed, neutrality is not an option when it comes to loss of life, but those who are inviting a foreign country to bomb their own people are siding with aggression.

Although the Saudi rulers started moving its military closer to the border with Yemen, it reassured the world community that the military buildup was for “protecting our borders only.” Suddenly, the kingdom did attack Yemen and without any provocation or threat to its territory. It did so under the umbrella of a coalition consisting of ten Arab and Muslim countries. This coalition empowered a 34 year old Saudi prince, the youngest defense minister in the world—and that is not a complement, to use all the military hardware his kingdom has accumulated over the years to bomb the Houthis and their allies to submission. The declared goals and justifications of this brutal war are: restore the legitimate government in all of Yemen and disarm the Houthis and their allies.

The said coalition is now shrinking forcing the rulers of the Gulf States to resort to intimidation and threats. For instance, when Pakistani lawmakers, reflecting the wish of the people who elected them, voted to stay neutral, Gulf States’ officials derogatorily branded Pakistan a “media ally.” After providing Egypt with billions of dollars to support the regime that overthrew Morsi, Saudi Arabia and UAE have pressured Sisi’s government to take a more visible role in the bombing campaign against Yemen.

As for legitimacy, it might suffice to quote an Arabic proverb that states: faqid al-shay’ la yu`tih [one cannot give that which one does not have]. Countries led by rulers who lack legitimacy lack the authority to bomb another country that is attempting to build its own representative government. Despite the Saudi claim, Hadi, like his predecessor and all other Arab rulers prior to the Arab Spring, does not represent a legitimate government in Yemen. However, the same way the Gulf States had supported Saleh, they are now supporting Hadi despite the fact that his term as interim president had expired February 27, 2014.

The social uprisings that forced the Tunisian dictator to escape disturbed the rulers of Saudi Arabia. They offered him a home even though he was accused of killing hundreds of Tunisians. Saudi Arabia’s rulers did not like the uprising that replaced Egypt’s Housni Mubarak with an elected president either. They spent billions to undo the “damage” brought by the revolution and were happy that a second “revolution sent an elected president to prison and reinstated a new authoritarian regime in Egypt. Saudi Arabia’s rulers worked hard to contain the spreading wave of protest in Yemen and impose a compromise meant to preserve its influence over its southern neighbor. However, the Saudi and Qatari rulers used the same wave of protest to overthrow or attempt to overthrow Arab governments that did not succumb to their influence like the Libyan and the Syrian governments.

The so-called Arab Spring protest movements provided influential rich Arab rulers with serious challenges and enticing opportunities. The crisis in Yemen represents both challenges and opportunities, forcing to the forefront a flawed logic and bringing together an alliance that is fraught with contradictions. 

First, the rulers of Qatar still consider Mohamed Morsi the legitimate president and that country’s satellite television channel, Aljazeera, continues to call anti-Sisi opposition “the supporters of legitimacy.” The Turkish government, too, refuses to normalize relations with Egypt unless Morsi and other Muslim Brotherhood members are released from prison. Sisi’s government responded to these requests last week by issuing death sentences against a number of Muslim Brotherhood leaders. This did not bother the backbone of this alliance, Saudi Arabia, which, albeit under the leadership of the previous king, branded the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization

Second, in 2012, then under the sway of Qatar, the Arab League suspended Syria’s membership and recognized the Syrian Coalition as the “sole legitimate representative” of that country. This year, the Coalition was not even invited to attend the yearly meeting that was held in Egypt. 

Third, Saudi rulers reckon that a magnified fear of Shias would minimize the conflict among Sunni countries and, at least temporarily, unite them against the Iranian imagined threat. This strategy is more dangerous than productive. It exposed the Saudi rulers’ disdain to minority social groups and latent racism. It cannot be embraced by other Muslim countries, like Pakistan and Turkey, who have significant minorities and whose leaders gain power through the ballet, not the sword. With these contradictions aside, let’s examine the Saudi claim that its war on Yemen is for the purpose of restoring legitimacy.

After months of peaceful demonstrations, the Saudi rulers convinced then Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, whom they supported for decades, to resign and transfer his powers to his deputy, Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, ahead of an early election and receive immunity from prosecution in return. Hadi was expected to form a national unity government and call for early presidential elections within 90 days, which he did and easily won since his name was the only one on the ballot. This process in itself was illegal since Yemen’s constitution (article 107) requires a minimum of two candidates competing for the presidency. 

Nonetheless, this transition agreement which was engineered by Saudi Arabia and its GCC allies in 2011, set a two-year time limit on Hadi’s presidency starting from the date of his inauguration, which took place on 27 February 2012. This agreement, which was later endorsed by the UN, also stipulated that a new president be elected under a new constitution. Such constitution never saw the light of the day allowing Hadi to remain in power despite the expiry of his term. 

Frustrated by delays, Houthis and their political and tribal allies, including former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, pushed for establishing a presidential council to replace Hadi and form a unity government to oversee the transition. Although Saleh was barred by the terms of the agreement from returning to power, he continued to exert influence and was hopeful that his son, Ahmed Ali Saleh, will be the next president. When the Houthis and their allies overran Sana`a in September 2014, Hadi reigned. After escaping to the southern city of Aden, then to Riyadh, he withdrew his resignation, providing a political, but not necessarily a legal, cover for Saudi Arabia to start its military campaign.

If it were not for their greed and disdain for the poor, the rulers of the Gulf States could have provided themselves with an actual legal basis for intervention in Yemen had they made that country part of the GCC. However, Yemen was excluded from the club of rich Arab nations despite the 1,100 miles of shared borders. After the Arab Spring, shamelessly, Saudi Arabia reached out to Morocco, which is thousands of miles away, and Jordan and invited (invitation was later revoked) them to join the GCC–but not Yemen. Yet, after allowing that country to fall into abject poverty, they now claim that the stability and welfare of Yemen are important enough to wage a destructive war on this impoverished yet proud country.

The Saudi intervention in Yemen is dangerous for the region and for the world and it is unprecedented. It is dangerous because the Saudi bombardment is creating the kind of environment (failed states) in which groups like al-Qaeda thrive. Curiously, after two weeks of intense bombardment, not a single bomb has fallen on al-Qaeda fighters who used this opportunity to solidify their control over Shibwa and expand their control over Yemen’s largest province, Hadramawt.

Hadi’s legitimacy aside, no country shall intervene militarily in another sovereign country without legal authority. Had Yemen been invaded by a foreign country, theoretically, Hadi could have asked for outside help. However, that is not the case here: Even the Saudi rulers admit that the Houthis are part of the Yemeni society –making the conflict an internal one. The Saudi rulers began their attack on Yemen and then asked the Arab League and the UNSC for legal authority

The so-called alliance is falling apart as the number of civilian casualties rises and the cost of destruction increases. The old adage, you break you own it, will apply here. Pakistan and Sudan cannot afford to be weighed down by the cost of war in and rebuilding of another country when their own peoples are struggling with poverty. Pakistan has already made its decision to stay out of this conflict. More countries will peel off as the human and financial costs of the war continue to climb, reducing the anti-Houthi coalition to Gulf States minus Oman and several other countries with debt owed to the rich Arab club of nations.

At home, the Gulf States are marketing their military campaign as a firm stance against the aggressive Shia neighbor, Iran, accusing it of supplying Houthiswith weapons. The Saudi Grand Mufti issued a call for mandatory draft to train and arm Saudis to protect “religion and nation.” This rhetoric is consistent with the internal Saudi discourse, which is sectarian in nature. Instead of facing their own internal problems and dealing with their chronic failure to embrace representative governance, the rulers of the Gulf States continue to blame foreign countries and inflame sectarian tensions.

There is another reason why Saudi Arabia launched its war on Yemen when it did: the Iranian-P5+1 preliminary nuclear agreement will transform the geopolitics of the Middle East. With Iran freed from being blamed for all the Middle Eastern problems, the politics of fear will be replaced with contesting ideas and expressing desire for open governance, which would expose the Gulf States’ retrograde ideology, political repression, and hateful sectarianism.

The post-Arab Spring Middle East is not the same as the pre-Arab Spring Middle East. The Saudi rulers want to preserve the old order and continue to privilege genocidal rhetoric. That is a failed strategy. As President Obama suggested in a recent interview, Saudi Arabia’s rulers fear not a Houthis’ takeover of Yemen on behalf of Iran, they fear most a new paradigm: an independent and democratic Yemen where leaders are elected by the people, not appointed by the head of the clan.
* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.
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