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North Africa

Commemoration and counter-memory of the Algerian liberation and civil war: calls for an inclusive approach

Commemoration and counter-memory of the Algerian liberation and civil war: calls for an inclusive approach

Anissa Daoudi*

When ‘Algeria’ is mentioned, some people might have heard of the book Djamila and Picasso, others might have seen the film The Battle of Algiers depicting Algerian women playing an active role in the revolution. In the Arab collective memory, Algeria is known as the country of the three Djamilas, an Arabic name, meaning ‘beautiful’ in referrence to three Algerian women war veterans: Djamila Bouheird, Djamila Boupasha and Djamila Bouazza, symbols in the fight against the coloniser during the Liberation War (1954-1962).

What unites these memories is the Algerian Revolution of the 1st of November 1954. However, Algeria has witnessed another traumatic phase during which more than 200 000 Algerians lost their lives. This historical period is what is known as the ‘Black Decade’ of the 1990s. Despite the atrocities of that period, little is known about what happened and above all, victims and activists struggle to keep the memory of their loved ones alive and bring the perpetrators to justice. In an effort to break the official and public silence, activists and survivors are attempting to appropriate the symbolic signification of the 1st of November to all Algerian victims and survivors of both periods: the Algerian Revolution and the Civil War of the 1990s.  

To that end, the Association Djazairouna (our Algeria), directed by Ms. Cherifa Keddar, one of the victims of terrorism, who witnessed the assassination of her brother and sister at her family home in Blida, organised a two-day conference titled Our memory, our fight: for the memory of our victims. The conference was held on the 1st and 2nd of November 2016 at Riyadh al Fateh, Algiers and Blida.  It was to commemorate those who lost their lives in the Civil War in the 1990s and to remind the Algerians of the atrocities which took place in what is known as the ‘Black Decade’. The theme of the conference falls within the context of my current research project on the 1990s. 

The 1st of November was chosen consciously to remember the eruption of the Algerian revolution against French colonialism in 1954. It symbolises the will of Algerians to fight against French brutalities and inhuman way in which they were subjugated. The date also coincides with the International Remembrance Day, as Cherifa Keddar explains. 

For Zahira Guenifi, a mother who lost her twenty year-old son, Hisham:

the 1st of November is chosen on purpose…I have all the right to use this day as I want and in the way I want…I was seven years old when the French killed my father…he is a martyr…that was not the end of that, 296 members of the Mehsen family, from Al Sitara, Beni Staih, near El Melia (Jijel) were assassinated in one afternoon by the French. This date is chosen not to steal the lime light out of the 1st November (Algerian revolution)…It is a date for all Algerians, except the Harkis. The 1st of November belongs to all Algerians…therefore; we said it is a date to send a strong warning to our government …to commemorate our victims…a date for the memory of our sons, husbands, brothers, sisters, all of those who were hurt, a date to remind us that we are not alone, a date that might help (not sure of that) us come to terms with our pain, a date that narrates stories of those who died…a date exactly like the 1st of November.

Three films were specifically chosen for the event. The first was l’Heroine (the heroine) by Cherif Agoune. The story goes back to the 1990s and takes place in a remote village, few kilometres away from Algiers, where Ashour and his two brothers lived on a farm. The men of the family are killed either in clashes between the security forces and the terrorists or by the terrorists. Two women are kidnapped. Houria, Ashour’s widow and the heroine of the story, was able to escape and save the children. She is received in Algiers by her family, but conflicts re-emerge and she finds herself facing another harsh reality of life. No longer willing to accept her status in her family, she decides to roll up her sleeves to meet the needs of her children. She becomes a professional photographer specializing in wedding ceremonies. She also joins the association of women victims of terrorists. The story is about survival and the strong will of the heroine to live for her children and overcome the obstacles of her society.  After the screening of the film, an actor who played the role of the officer, gave a short interview in which he said that the film was based on the true story of one of his patients, when he was the doctor in that town.

In Memoire de Scènes by Abderrahim Laloui, again, the story takes place in the 1990s. Azzedine, a professional journalist, prepares an adaptation of the play Tartuffe by Molière which he wants to stage in the municipal theatre. The story depicts the daily life of Algerian intellectuals in the 1990s. Throughout the story, intellectuals like Tahar Djaout, the francophone writer, as well asmany others are remembered. At the end, the playwright is killed but the group of actors swear to perform the play as an act of defiance against the terrorists.

The third film was El Manara by Belkacem Hadjadj. The film revolves around three characters, namely: Fawzi, Ramdan and Asma, who have been friends since childhood. The two men and the woman lead a happy life in the old city of Cherchell. Their relationship is complex; it includes a combination of friendship and romantic love. Their world is shaken and slowly torn apart as they become overwhelmed by events around them: the popular riots of 1988, the military heavy-handed response to the riots, the initiation of the democratic process and its abrupt dissolution, and then the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. The abduction of two female characters and their rape constitute the climax of the story and reveal the systematic sexual violence against women. Alongside the theme of violence, the film tackles the issue of the ‘new’ Islamic concepts which started to make their way in the Algerian society, such as the abolition of festivities such as the celebration of the prophet’s birthday, known as El Manara festivity, aiming to highlight the foreignness of this ‘new Islam’.

The audience was mostly victims/survivors of terrorism, who were crying and shouting out phrases in approval throughout the films. “Yes, it was like that during the nineties!” would be heard in the room. The survivors were happy that those films were produced. “These films say what we cannot express, they document to the coming generation what we have seen and above all, help us feel a sense of belonging to a group, particularly that the official narratives do not recognise that the 1990s existed,” one of the survivors said. During the debate, the film makers said that their works were not shown on national television. Similar voices were heard on the second day of the conference. Voices which called for remembering of victims and, most importantly, calling for justice to take place.  All of the survivors, with no exception, stressed that they were against the Amnesty Law (1999, 2005) and that they want to bring to justice the perpetrators.

Mr. Ali Bouguettaya, President of the National Coordination of Resistance, talked about their role in restoring security, particularly in the villages most badly hit by terrorism. He mentioned that 5000 paramilitary men (patriotes, also called Civil Defence) died and 11000 were left handicapped. In his testimony, Mr. Farid Asslaoui, a retired official who worked closely with the victims of terrorism, referred to nine magistrates killed on the same day, as well as intellectuals (he cites Djilali El Yabes), journalists (e.g., Tahar Djaout) and many others. He adds that it was not possible to go to their families to pay tributes for fear of being identified by the terrorists.  As for rape, he classifies it in terms of space and time, in other words, where and when it happened.

Dr. Amira Bouraoui, a doctor and an activist discussed how she lived the Black Decade as a child and as a daughter of a doctor who worked in the military hospital of Ain Naadja. She described the daily atrocities she and many of her generation had witnessed. Prof. Cherifa Bouatta, an academic and a psychologist worked closely with survivors throughout the Black Decade, and explained her role as someone who had not only witnessed the atrocities but also as a professional known to most of the survivors in the room.  In a moving testimony, Fatima Zahra Keddar described how her brother, sister and mother were shot in the family home. Similalry, Ms Nadjia Bouzeghrane, a journalist who was exiled to France described her feeling of being away from her loved ones and hearing news about the death of colleagues and people she left behind.  Prof. Fadhila Boumendjel-Chitour, founding member of Réseau Wassila, and niece of the martyr Boumendjel, stressed the need to mend the social linkages and rebuild the collective memory. Mr. Mohamed Boudiaf, the son of the late president Boudiaf also talked bitterly about the assassination of his father and condemned the terrorists who “have no relation to Islam” as he says.  

What was clear from the event is the determination of the participants to continue their battle towards justice. Moreover, it shows the strong bonds between survivors, professionals such as psychologists, jurists, activists and doctors as a product of a long lasting combat by people who share similar memories. These men and women from different backgrounds and political opinions came together in opposition to the president’s charter for peace and reconciliation. Djazairouna represents the place to remember, to mourn and to get support. Through it they launch their call to make the 1st of November their day of remembrance too, a day that unites all Algerians and symbolises the fight against colonialism and terrorism at the same time, a day which denounces violence and puts forward notions of humanism.
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Anissa Daoudi is a lecturer in Arabic and Translation Studies at the University of Birmingham. She is head of the Arabic section and specialist in the Translation Studies (Arabic-English-Arabic) programme. She recently won the Leverhulme Fellowship for her project: narrating and translating sexual violence in Algeria in the 1990s.

US, NATO and the destruction of Libya: The Western front of a widening war

US, NATO and the destruction of Libya: The Western front of a widening war

by Horace G. Campbell *
General Khalifah Hifter and his men
NATO claimed that its intervention in Libya was a historic success. But three years later, Libya is in complete chaos. Some 1700 militias have a combined total of 250,000 men under arms. Another external intervention seems necessary to stabilize the country. But the US and NATO must never be involved.
INTRODUCTION
Most western embassies evacuated their personnel from Tripoli over the past few weeks as the fighting between rival armed militias creates a nightmare of violence, insecurity and death for millions of Libyans. The United States used its military presence in the Mediterranean to escort its embassy personnel and Marine guards to travel by road over the last weekend to Tunisia. The evacuation of western diplomats leaving the millions of Libyans to an uncertain fate has brought to the fore the Libyan dimensions of a wider theater of warfare from Tripoli through Benghazi to Cairo, Alexandria and Gaza and from Aleppo in Syria to Mosul in Iraq. The former allies of NATO such as Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are now connected to differing factions of the Libyan civil war. In Libya, the war and bloodletting between the US supported General Khalifah Hifter (sometimes spelt Haftar) and the militias supported by Qatar is one indication of former allies falling out. Citizens of the West have little understanding of the depth of the sufferings unleashed on the peoples of North Africa, Palestine, Syria and Iraq since the United States and NATO launched wars against the peoples of this region. The battles in Libya are merging with the criminal war against the people of Palestine, especially the peoples of Gaza.

It was three years ago when NATO declared the end of the NATO mission, loudly announcing that the NATO mission to Libya had been ‘one of the most successful in NATO history.’ Despite this declaration of success there were clear signs of the remnants of the NATO suborned militias fighting for control of Libya. Today, that fighting has engulfed all of Libyan society to the point that the militias that had been deployed by NATO are now out of control while the funders of the militias are caught in the wider disputations over the future of Africa, Palestine and the Arabian Peninsula. Calls for the United Nations and for the African Union to militarily intervene in Libya must now be accompanied by the call for ensuring that none of the current members of the UN Security Council who were participants in the NATO intervention can be part of any UN force to demilitarize Libya to disarm the out of control militias.
THE CURRENT CIVIL WAR IN LIBYA
News of the current civil war in Libya remains confusing because the western news agencies have a vested interest in keeping the issues unclear so as to keep Libya destabilized and destroyed. Since the NATO destruction of Libya in 2011 there have been over 50,000 Libyans who have lost their lives. This is in a society where the United Nations had gone in with a mandate of Responsibility to Protect. Instead of protecting Libyan civilians, the NATO forces killed tens of thousands, built up militias and then left the country under differing factions who have unleashed a reign of terror in the society. Despite the best efforts of the United States’ State Department and NATO to present a so called ‘transition’ process with the procedural democratic rituals such as elections, the role of the militias has been the dominant feature of the warfare and destruction. When prominent Libyan human rights activist Salwa Bugaighis was slain in Benghazi last month, both Samantha Powers (US Permanent Representative to the United Nations) and Hilary Clinton (former Secretary of State) issued statements denouncing her murder but these two architects of the destruction of Libya remain indicted in the court of public opinion for their roles in creating the present conflagration. What has been kept from the citizens of the USA is the role of financial enterprises such as Goldman Sachs, Tradition Financial Services of Switzerland, French bank Société Générale SA, hedge-fund firm Och-Ziff Capital Management Group and private-equity firm Blackstone Group in their dealings with the Libyan Investment Authority. The more informed will have to read the financial press to follow the many lawsuits that are ongoing in the scrutiny in wide-ranging U.S. and British corruption probes that are examining the lengths to which some Western financial firms went to gain a piece of Libya’s oil wealth.
A close scrutiny of the current probe of Goldman Sachs dealings with the Libyan Investment Authority by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for possible violations of American anti-corruption laws will help shed light on the powerful forces in the United States that pushed the war against the peoples of Libya in 2011. Because of the propaganda war about fighting terrorism in Africa, western citizens cannot easily understand how the government of the United States supported the Jihadists in Benghazi. Thus far, the US Congress has muddled the information about the relationship between the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the most extreme militia groups because representatives such as Congressman Darrel Issa from California have been deliberately creating confusion to disguise the complicity of the US military and intelligence forces in their dealings with the most extreme militias.
From time to time the US public is diverted from the civil war by the USA seemingly mounting operations to seize ‘terrorists’ such as Ahmed Abu Khattala (in 2014) for the killings of US officials in Benghazi) or the capture of Abu Anas al-Libi in 2013. However, the twists and turns of the web of western intelligence and military operations in North Africa have come into full integration with the wider war against the peoples of Palestine and North Africa. General Hifter now represents the public face of the US supported forces in the western edge of the present wars in North Africa.
THE UNITED STATES AND GENERAL HIFTER
When NATO intervened in Libya, the North Atlantic militarists were experimenting with a new kind of warfare because the citizens of the West had been opposed to the intervention based on the mobilizations and demonstrations of the peace and social justice movements. In order to make the NATO intervention acceptable to US citizens, the Obama administration claimed that there would be no deployment of massive troops, even though early in the campaign the US Africa Command was taking credit for the NATO Operation. This kind of warfare went to great lengths to avoid the deployment of ground troops from the USA or the other NATO invaders; instead there was reliance on incessant bombing from the air, the deployment of armed militias, the mobilization of third party countries (in this case Qatar), the mobilization of Special Forces and the use of the western media for disinformation, propaganda and psychological warfare. When NATO declared its mission a success it was part of an internal debate within the corridors of the militarists because as we learnt from the book, ‘Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary of War,’ by former Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, there were deep divisions over the prosecution of this NATO bombardment and destruction of Libya. With his own eyes on history, Robert Gates said that he was about to resign over this NATO intervention and war in Libya.
Now that the world is witnessing the full blowback of this war against Libya with the death of John Christopher Stevens (former US ambassador) in Benghazi and the present evacuation of the US mission from Tripoli, it is instructive to grasp the role of some of the US supported forces such as General Khalifah Hifter. (See Russ Baker (April 22, 2011). “Is General Khalifa Hifter The CIA’s Man In Libya?” ) Hifter, now 71, had been in the Libyan military from the time of the military coup in 1969, but after 1987 he defected from the Gadaffi government. When the West had imposed sanctions on Libya, Hifter was associated with opposition National Salvation Front of Libya (NSFL). In 1988 he relocated to the United States and lived well in that notorious suburb of Washington, DC, – Langley, Virginia. When the NATO bombings started in March 2011, Hifter returned to Libya and joined in with the numerous factions.
It is most important here to state for readers that the CIA recruited elements in Libya who had been earlier designated as terrorists. In the many books about Libya under Gaddafi the names of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) and Abdelhakim Belhadj featured prominently. Eastern Libya was a base for subversion and the laziness of the Congressional representatives of the USA prevents the full exposure of how the US Africa Command and the CIA recruited Jihadists such as Abdelhakim Belhadj. It is this alliance with Jihadists that General Hifter returned to in 2011 but in his search for dominance in the anti-Gaddafi forces, there was another general who was seeking to place his stamp on the rebellion. General Abdul Fattah Younis had been a senior military officer under Gaddafi who had reached the position of Minister of Interior. He resigned from the Gaddafi government in February 2011 to join the ‘rebellion. ‘
The abduction and assassination of General Younis in July 2011 removed the only other senior military person who could compete for the position as a military strongman in the post-Gaddafi era. After the assassination and humiliation of Gaddafi in October 2011, Hifter became leader of one of the 1700 militias with over 250,000 persons under arms. Abdelhakim Belhadj became the most powerful person in Tripoli after the NATO ‘victory’ when he installed himself as the head of the Tripoli Military Council. When the United States undertook its transition program for Libya, Belhadj dropped his military title and contested elections as a civilian leader. Hifter could not openly challenge the LIFG forces in Tripoli so he worked to build relations with the Zintan militias working hard to emerge as the new military strongman of Libya.
Since 2014 Hifter has been involved in a number of high profile military actions (first a declared military takeover in a failed coup attempt of February 2014 and later in May in a prolonged war to defeat the Misrata forces and those supported by Qatar). From the western platforms and those who have interviewed Hifter, this general claims the allegiance of over 70,000 troops along with the Zintan militia forces.
On Friday, February 14, Maj. Gen. Khalifa Hifter announced a coup in Libya. ‘The national command of the Libyan Army is declaring a movement for a new road map’ (to rescue the country), Hifter declared through a video post. Even the New York Times ridiculed this coup attempt with the story by David Kirkpatrick who reported on the coup from Cairo. In his report, ‘In Libya, a Coup. Or Perhaps Not,’ Kirkpatrick drew attention to the colorful career of Hifter without explaining to his audience the close relationships between Hifter and the US web of military and intelligence operatives in North Africa. In May 2014, Hifter reappeared in the international headlines with his bravado report that he was fighting to root out terrorists from Benghazi.
There are numerous militias in Benghazi but the two well-known ones were the February 17 Martyrs Brigade and the Ansar al-Sharia militias. While the forces that came to be called Ansar al-Sharia had been mobilized by the NATO planners to join the war to remove Gadaffi, by September 2012 these varying militia forces had disagreed among themselves and this particular militia was blamed for the attack on the CIA facility in Benghazi on September 11, 2012 when four US operatives were engulfed in the intra militia warfare.
One indication of the levels of external support for Hifter came from the fact that his military wing that is called the National Army was able to use aerial bombardment against his opponents. Hifter launched Operation Libyan Dignity on May 16, saying his mission was to dissolve the General National Congress, which he labelled Islamist, and to destroy ‘terrorists.’ In order to ingratiate himself with western propaganda forces, Hifter labelled his opponents in Benghazi as terrorists and claimed that these ‘terrorists ‘had been allowed to establish bases in Libya. This was clear double talk because it was the Central Intelligence Agency under General Petraeus as we learnt from the biography by Paula Broadwell who had been recruiting Islamists from Eastern Libya to fight in Syria.
The other evidence of collaboration between Hifter and western intelligence forces came when in the midst of the fighting between Hifter and his opponents in Benghazi, the US Special Operations forces carried out their mission to ’capture’ Ahmed Abu Khattala. This US operation exposed the close cooperation between Hifter and the USA. When Libyan citizens complained about the military campaign of Hifter, the US ambassador to Libya refused to ‘condemn’ the killings of innocent citizens in Benghazi by Hifter and his ‘National Army’. Hifter’s avowed aim to dissolve the General National Congress exposed deeper disagreements between the United States and Qatar over the future of Libya and the politics of North Africa.
Although Hifter was fighting with his ‘National Army,’ the divisions between the varying militias led to big battles between Hifter and other militia forces. Media reports claim that Hifter is supported by external forces in the USA, Egypt, Algeria and Saudi Arabia. It is significant that in this line up of support there was no mention of Turkey and Qatar. One of the strongest militia forces in Libya from the time of the NATO intervention had been the Misrata fighters. As we documented in our book, ‘Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya’, it was from Misrata where the forces of Qatar had been landed in order to carry out the takeover of Tripoli in July/August 2011. We know from media reports from Al Jazeera that there are forces sympathetic to the MIsrata militias in Qatar. In the Al Jazeera typology of the varying militias in Libya we are told that the ‘235 militia brigades are collectively the most powerful single force in Libya, fighting through a six-month siege during the uprising. They are equipped with heavy weapons, tanks and truck-launched rockets and have the power to be a decisive force in any struggle between Haftar and Islamist forces.’ One can distinguish between this report and those of other western forces such as the BBC or Voice of America on the nature of the Libyan militias.
When certain western media outlets were hailing General Hifter as a savior and comparing him to General Abdel Fattah Saeed Hussein Khalil el-Sisi of Egypt, this was part of the propaganda war to sell Hifter to the citizens of Benghazi who had stood up to the bombardment by his forces. The Misrata factions were the military wing of that section of the political forces that dominated the General National Congress. Hifter was in a struggle to consolidate the varying militia forces under his leadership and there were many glowing reports of how Hifter was the savior of Libya. However, from Qatar one writer, Ibrahim Sharqieh, noted in an article in the New York Times that the world should ‘Beware Libya’s ‘Fair Dictator’. Ibrahim Sharquieh stated that ‘Over the past two years many of them have profited from – and developed an interest in maintaining – the chaos that engulfs the country. Warlords, Islamist groups and other committed revolutionaries who truly fought against the Qaddafi government will not surrender to General Hifter’s movement – and that poses a grave threat to Libya’s prospects for stability.’ Washington’s tolerance of General Hifter’s movement has made things much worse. Deborah Jones, the United States ambassador to Libya, was quoted as saying, ‘I am not going to come out and condemn blanketly what he did’ because, she added, General Hifter’s forces were going after groups on Washington’s terrorist list.
This article brought out the clear divisions between Doha and Washington which was a reflection of deeper divisions in North Africa and Palestine. In the war against the peoples of Syria, the Qatar regime had been very active along with the governments of Saudi Arabia and Turkey in providing finance and weaponry to the zealots who have now proclaimed themselves ‘The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’ or (ISIL or ISIS) . However, relations between Qatar and Washington frayed over the path of the political process in Egypt. The military forces who had killed and incarcerated hundreds of thousands of supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt are not supported by the current leadership in Qatar. Qatar and Saudi Arabia broke ranks over the military takeover by General Sisi and the counter revolutionary forces of the Egyptian military.
In this new disagreement between the political leadership of Qatar and the generals in Cairo, the news outlets and NGOs supported by Qatar have been harassed. Qatari Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt were harassed and arrested. In June 2014, two Al Jazeera English journalists were sentenced to seven years in jail and one to 10 years. These journalists were sentenced by an Egyptian court on charges including aiding the Muslim Brotherhood and reporting false news.
EXPANSION OF THE WAR AND BATTLE FOR THE AIRPORT IN TRIPOLI
Of the 1700 militias in Libya the dominant forces are represented by the militias from Zintan (The Al-Zintan Revolutionaries’ Military Council was formed in 2011), bringing together 23 militias from Zintan and the Nafusa Mountains in western Libya, the militias from Misrata and the militias from Benghazi. In the case of the capital Tripoli, the competing militias controlled differing neighborhoods with the militias from Zintan and the militias from Misrata, two of the dominant forces, claiming legitimacy. As there was no central command over the use of force, from time to time different factions of the military vied for military supremacy. In the case of the expanding wars in the East, the Misrata forces have intensified their battles to gain the upper hand in Tripoli. For the past few weeks this battle for supremacy has taken the form of a deadly battle where hundreds have been killed and aircraft worth more than US$1.5billion destroyed. Since the NATO declaration of success in 2011, the Tripoli airport area has been under the control of former fighters from the western town of Zintan. Rival Islamist-leaning militias from Misrata along with their allies fought with the Zintanis in recent days, but failed to dislodge them.
Recently, the Zintan militia group which has controlled the airport since the end of the revolution, claimed victory over the Misrata-led Operation Dawn force that tried to dislodge them from the airport. Future information will bring out whether this battle is an extension of the battles between the USA and Qatar since the forces seeking to dislodge the Zintan forces from the airport are the Misrata militias. For the past three years under the so called transition plans by the USA Office for Transition Initiatives (OTI) there were efforts to pay off hundreds of thousands of youths in the militias hoping to silence some of the guns. The US legation and the other western Embassies have been caught in this new round of intense fighting, hence the evacuation by road to Tunisia. Thousands of residents of Tripoli are fleeing the capital while third country nationals are being evacuated. None of the armed groups are listening to the calls by the United Nations for a ceasefire.
The destruction of aircraft in the fighting, which began on 13 July, has cost an estimated US$1.5 billion. The battles around the airport are by no means tame battles of armed men with side weapons. The Misrata forces after failing to dislodge the Zintan forces have been taking over residential areas adjacent to the airport, using tanks to pound the Zintanis, who in turn respond with shells and anti-aircraft fire. Hifter’s calculation that his forces and allies would ‘mop’ up the other militias has now backfired as the Libyan theater of war merges with the wider battles that are raging in Palestine and in Syria and Iraq. With the criminal assault on the peoples of Gaza the sympathies have now increased for those in Libya allied to the faction of the Palestinian movement resisting the Israeli occupation and bombardment. At the same time the massive demonstrations by the Palestinian peoples in the West Bank and the sterling resistance of the Palestinians in Gaza have deep consequences for the political leadership in Egypt. It is very clear that the present political leadership of Egypt is an ally of the conservatives ruling Israel who have inflicted collective punishment on the people of Gaza. Even the New York Times boasted of this alliance between the counterrevolutionaries in Egypt and the neo-conservative militarists in Israel on July 30, the Times noted,
‘After the military ouster of the Islamist government in Cairo last year, Egypt has led a new coalition of Arab states — including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan — that has effectively lined up with Israel in its fight against Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls the Gaza Strip. That, in turn, may have contributed to the failure of the antagonists to reach a negotiated ceasefire even after more than three weeks of bloodshed.’
What the strategic planners in Washington and Tel a Viv forget is that the 80 million citizens of Egypt are also aware of this alliance between Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. When NATO intervened in Libya in 2011, one of the unspoken goals was to develop a rear base for western interventionist forces in case the Egyptian revolution was radicalized to the point where the popular forces started to dismantle the institutions of oppression and exploitation. Benghazi was crucial for the forward planning of the West, hence the intense battles for Benghazi since 2011 and the efforts to manipulate the youths by the Central Intelligence Agency. Now, in the midst of the war in Gaza and Syria there is increased attention on the role of Egypt as an ally of Israel in keeping the people of Gaza under lockdown by keeping the Rafa crossing closed. Since the intensified wars against the citizens of Gaza there have been new attacks on the Egyptian border posts in the West. In July, there was a bold attack on the western border post of Egypt where 22 troops including three officers were killed.
UNITED NATIONS AND INTERVENTION AGAIN?
The killing of Libyans who were supposed to be protected has led to calls from within Africa and the nonaligned world for a thorough investigation of the NATO intervention in Libya. Since that call the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has been a silent bystander as hundreds of Libyans are killed and displaced. Now these UN personnel have joined with the other western powers that are being evacuated from Tripoli.
The killing of human rights workers and the killing of activist women of Libya such as former member of the Libyan General National Congress, Fariha Barkawi, and Salwa Bugaighis have brought out statements from western elements that have been destabilizing Libya. Muhammad Abdul Aziz the Libyan Foreign Minister has asked the UN Security Council to send military advisers to bolster state forces guarding ports, airports and other strategic locations. These calls are a manifestation of the complete breakdown of control over violence in Libya. The African Union and the nonaligned bloc within the United Nations will have to make a firmer stand on western militarism in North Africa and Palestine. The peace movements in the West also have a major responsibility to oppose NATO, oppose the deployment of western forces and expand the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel in clear solidarity with the peoples of Palestine.
This month as the world remembers how slowly humanity slipped into the massive bloodletting of World War 1 in 1914, it is worth reminding citizens of the West how the working peoples were manipulated to support the Generals and the Bankers. The peace and social justice movement must popularize the cases against Goldman Sachs, the Blackstone Group, the French bank Société Générale SA, and Tradition Financial Services of Switzerland. Progressive forces ought to follow closely the present case in the London High Court against Goldman Sachs and work to ensure that as a result of the dark markets that the Intercontinental Exchange are involved with, that the corporate elements will face the same demise as their academic spokespersons who had operated through the Monitor Group of Cambridge Massachusetts.
The peace and social justice forces must intensify their organization at this point so that there can be clarity on the role of General Hifter and the Central intelligence Agency in Libya. Progressive forces cannot accept the packaging of lies and disinformation that sold the war against the people of Libya as part of Responsibility to Protect. Today, the western media is attempting to package the bloody assault on the peoples of Palestine as a defensive war by the hawks in Israel. There is need for broad solidarity by peace and social justice forces internationally so that the current wars end and the west end their support for corrupt bankers and militarists.
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* Horace G. Campbell is a Professor of African American Studies and Political Science at Syracuse University. He is the author of Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya, Monthly Review Press, 2013.

Tunisia’s Ennahda movement, perhaps learning from the crises of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and AKP in Turkey, compromises to remain relevant

Tunisia’s Ennahda movement, perhaps learning from the crises of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and AKP in Turkey, compromises to remain relevant


On January 14, Tunisians will celebrate their revolution, which ignited a wave of protest that swept most of the Arab world. For this third anniversary, the Salvation Front, representing key leaders from political parties and civil society, gave the Tunisian people and the Arab masses a set of rare gifts: another peaceful transfer of power, a new constitution that protects the life and dignity of all Tunisians, and roadmap to a stable future.


Ennahda, the party that won the first post-revolution elections in Tunisia, handed over power to a non-partisan government last week so that it would remain relevant. This decision was the only path that could allow Ennahda to maintain its edge in the coming elections and avert disastrous outcomes similar to those experienced by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the likely diminished power of AKP in Turkey. Importantly, the resignation fosters a promising culture of peaceful transfer of power–a first in the Arab world. Before stepping down, however, Ennahda’s leaders–working with leaders from two secular-leaning political parties, al-Mu’tamar and al-Takattul–managed to reduce the level of violence in the country, stabilize the economy, draft a new constitution, and set the course for a transition to a permanent government though the ballet, not the bullet.

It should be noted, however, that Ennahda did not voluntarily cede power. It took several political crises, many strikes and low-level uprisings, two assassinations of key opposition figures, and active participation of key civil society institutions (notably labor unions and NGOs) for Ennahda and its allies to give in to public pressure. Additionally, the troika (Ennahda, al-Mu’tamar, and al-Takattul) spent too much time drafting the constitution, which is crucial for holding elections that would move the country past the transition phase.

Nonetheless, Ennahda should be given credit for its willingness to be inclusive, for compromising to preserve the dignity of all Tunisians, and for enshrining social justice norms in the new constitution. For instance, while leaders of the movement insisted that Islam be privileged, they nonetheless accepted the codification of the civil state, the supremacy of the rule of law, and the proscription on takfir (branding dissenters infidels or non-believers). The new constitution, drafted under their watch, explicitly protects women as equal citizens, codifies women’s equal participation in public and political life, and highlights the abhorrence of violence against women.

Senior Ennahda leaders have always favored a parliamentarian system of governance, but they signed off on a constitution that defines Tunisia as being a republic: where the president is the top executive, where the people (not some interpretation of religious texts) has the ultimate authority, and where representatives of the people share governing responsibilities with the president. The new constitution emphasizes the principle of separation of powers, sets an absolute term limit for holding the presidency, and establishes a judicial system that is both independent and reflective of the will of the people (the composition of the constitutional court is determined by both the executive and the legislature branches).

In short, the new constitution lays the foundation for a pluralistic system that could empower all Tunisians and end the era of authoritarianism. Ennahda’s relative flexibility and willingness to step away from power at this juncture might be the only and best opportunity for the movement to avoid the fate of the Muslim Brotherhood and preserve public support, which it will need in the critically important elections ahead.

Of course, like any other constitution, Tunisia’s new constitution is not perfect. For instance, the language associated with the first two articles, the most important and most controversial in entire document, seems to confuse two critical concepts: nation and state. That problem could be avoided if the first and second articles are interpreted like so: (1) Tunisia is a free nation (watan/ummah; not dawlah), independent, sovereign, Islam is its national religion, Arabic is its national language, and republicanism is its form of governance; (2) the Tunisian state is civil, founded on citizenship, the will of the people, and the supremacy of the law.

The distinction between state and nation would rectify some of the misconceptions about the place of religion in society and in state institutions. Many Western interpreters of Arab constitutions contend that Islam is codified as the “state” religion. The language and use of the term “dawlah” perpetuates that misunderstanding, which if taken to be true, would make Article 1 and Article 2 contradictory: how can an Islamic state also be a civil state and treat all citizens—Muslims and non-Muslims—equally?

Distinguishing between state and nation means that there is no contradiction in holding that Islam is the religion of the country/nation (given that the majority are indeed Muslim), but the state with all its governing institutions is civil and treats all citizens equally regardless of religious affiliation. This interpretation would soften any harmful interpretations of Article 6, which states that “the state looks after (ra`yah) religion, fosters freedom of belief and conscience and the practice of religious rites, protects the sacred, and guarantees the status of mosques and places of worship as neutral space–free from partisan politics.” It would also make sure that the state does not define orthodoxy or discriminate on sectarian or religious grounds. However, failure to distinguish between making Islam the national religion and making Islam the state religion could empower the government to determine orthodoxy and use that authority to suppress freedom of thought and expression. The state can conceivably privilege a particular religion as part of collective national identity without harm, but that privilege must be balanced by strong safeguards for freedom of thought and expression.

The amendment clauses, too, are ambiguous and leave room for an interpretation that could create two separate paths for amending the constitution. Specifically, it seems that amendments could either pass through the parliament or occur by popular referendum. If the latter, the president could put an amendment directly to the voters and then ask the parliament to approve it by a simple majority, whereas an amendment originating in parliament would require a two-thirds majority. It is not clear whether these different thresholds are the intended result, or whether these clauses represent a poorly-considered balance of power that could result in careless amendments to this foundational document.

These are decisive times for Tunisia. Once again, the people and their representatives have a chance to prove that the Arab Spring was not a fluke, that non-violence is the only constructive path for social change, that Islam is compatible with representative governance, and that authoritarianism is not the only guarantor of security and stability. Tunisians can provide a hopeful model for Arab societies that is worthy of the Arab peoples’ past sacrifices and honors those who struggled for social justice and suffered torture, exile, imprisonment, and death.

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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.

A Moroccan view on Catalan independence: Madrid’s continued support for the independence movement in the Western Sahara is hypocritical when compared with their attitude towards independence movements closer to home

A Moroccan view on Catalan independence: Madrid’s continued support for the independence movement in the Western Sahara is hypocritical when compared with their attitude towards independence movements closer to home

by Hassan Masiky*
Sahara

Behind Spain’s European veil is a country struggling to deal with its painful history. Catalonians’ quest for independence exposes Spaniards’ agony over Franco’s legacy and the destructive historical ramifications of the dictator’s actions in Europe and North Africa. For Moroccans, Madrid’s opposition to Catalans’ rights to self-determination while Spain supports the same rights for the Western Sahara represents an example of Spain’s’ political hypocrisy and dual personality.

Since Morocco seized the Western Sahara from Spain in 1975, Madrid has been publically and covertly supporting the Polisario Front separatists’ call for the self-determination of the former Spanish colony. While Moroccan diplomacy struggled to counter Madrid’s meticulously designed campaign to keep Rabat bogged down in the Sahara, indigenous minorities across Spain stared to ask for their rights to self-rule.

For years, Spain’s support for the Algeria based Polisario Front did not carry any political liability for the Iberian country. However, the nationalist awakening of the Catalan people turned Madrid’s policy in North Africa into a heavy diplomatic encumbrance.

Spanish civil society and partisan parties were Polisario’s first supporters. The former Marxist guerilla movement enjoyed a considerable diplomatic, financial and moral support from the right and the left across Spain’s’ political spectrum. Under the guise of “right to self-determination”, numerous Spanish politicians, human rights activists, writers and actors adopted the Sahrawi cause.

Moroccans watched helplessly as Spain’s support of the Polisario thrust the Sahara conflict onto the world stage. The Spanish government and civil society’s active enthusiasm were instrumental in the rise of Polisario’s profile worldwide. Former Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar engagement in this campaign was significant and deliberate

During PM Aznar’s tenure (2001-2004), Moroccan-Spanish relations deteriorated significantly. In the eyes of the Polisario leadership, Aznar moved “the Saharawi file towards a solution that respects the Saharawi people’s inalienable right to self-determination.” The former PM’s sympathy for the Polisario positions was not a proclamation of love for the people of the Western Sahara but rather a major element of his strategy to weaken Morocco.

In Rabat, Moroccans were mystified with Aznar’s right wing Partido Popular (PP) crusade to grant Sahrawi independence knowing the PP‘s disdain for Catalan and Basque nationalists. As Spanish “right wingers” continued their support for the former Marxist Polisario Front, the PP attacked and ridiculed Catalan nationalists.

Madrid contends that Catalans do not “deserve” an independent homeland based on flimsy facts that can easily be dispelled using the Polisario arguments for secession from Morocco. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal in 2012, Aznar dismissed Catalonia’s independence as “Constitutionally impossible” since Catalonians “voted for the 1978 Spanish Constitution”. During the same interview, the former MP stated that Catalans are Spanish and have been part of a “historic nation in Europe for 500 years.”

Moroccans find such statements by a former high ranking Spanish statesman insulting, since Rabat argues the same position at the United Nations to dispel the Polisario arguments for an independent Sahara. The Western Sahara never existed as an independent country and has been part of the Kingdom of Morocco longer than 500 years.

For the Catalans and the Basques, their central government’s explicit support for the right to self-determination in the case of the Moroccan Sahrawi, must be extended to all minorities in Spain. It is incomprehensible to hear Spain’s current Prime Minister Rajoy state at the United Nations that his country “is maintaining its commitment to finding a fair, long-lasting and mutually acceptable political solution to the Western Sahara dispute that allows for the free determination of the Sahrawi people in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter”. Meanwhile, the Spanish government is actively engaged in a secret war against Catalan independence.

As Catalan nationalist campaigns keep on gaining European sympathy, Madrid has started to review its long held pro-Western Sahara independence positions. In a startling reversal of position, Spanish Socialists (PSOE) and PP parliamentarians shunned a recent visit by pro-Polisario parliamentarians to the Morocco controlled Sahara, despite their membership in the Cortes “intergroup on friendship with Western Sahara”.

Catalan and Basque political groups spearheaded this visit to the city of Laayoune intensifying their campaign to link the Saharan conflict to Catalonia’s drive for independence, thus using Madrid’s current and past positions calling for the Sahrawi rights to self-determination to highlight their central government illusory attitude.

Judging from Madrid’s recent cool attitudes toward the Polisario, Spain appears to be falling into the same trap the PP dug for Morocco in the Western Sahara. On close inspection, none of the central government’s anti- Catalonia independence arguments holds up. The contention that the Catalonian vote for the 1978 constitution makes their current demands for independence illegal is injudicious, since the balloting took place three years after the demise of the brutal Franco dictatorship when most of the country was still recovering from a political jolt.

Madrid must recognize the transition underway in Catalonia. Moreover, Spain, as a member of the European Union, should grant the Catalan people the basic right to vote on self-rule. Despite harassments and legal hurdles, a simmering Catalan nationalist movement is thriving and will eventually achieve its goal of creating an independent homeland. Meanwhile, the central government self-denial undermines Spain image as a democratic nation.

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* Hassan Masiky is a freelance journalist and former advisor to Amnesty International USA.

News Analysis: Is France now fighting the same kind of groups it armed and assisted in Libya?

News Analysis: Is France now fighting the same kind of groups it armed and assisted in Libya?

It may be a long while before we know the details about France’s sudden intervention in Mali. After all, Mali’s armed forces lost control of parts of the country many years ago. Mali’s political leaders have asked for help many months ago. Yet, suddenly, France, with little warning, launched an aerial bombing campaign to push back armed Salafi groups, Ansar al-Din, who were seen (by satellite and surveillance airplanes) rapidly moving south, possibly towards the capital, Bamako. When the bombing failed to dislodge the Ansar, France decided to insert ground troops which would mean that this intervention will be a long one.
The surprise intervention might have a military value, but it also risked the lives of many civilians since it did not give governments any time to upgrade security around vulnerable facilities. The workers taken hostage in Algeria is just one example.

The French intervention highlights another problem. The west does not seem to have a principled strategy to deal with the changes taking place in the Arab world. First most western governments hesitated to support the peaceful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. Additionally, western governments continue to support the Arab authoritarian rulers of the Gulf States (French president was visiting UAE when his forces launched the  attacks). Still, the same governments provided unlimited support to armed, violent rebels in Libya and Syria. Without doubt, the groups France is fighting in Mali are not that different from the groups it supported in Libya and is supporting now in Syria.
The most alarming thing is that the Jihadi Salafis western governments are now fighting come from the same generation of fighters they trained in Afghanistan. That means that they are yet to deal with the generation of Libya and Syria Jihadi fighters they have sponsored, which means that the west’s conflict with violent Salafi groups is made perpetual.
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Egyptian military and Brotherhood in high stakes game of brinkmanship

Egyptian military and Brotherhood in high stakes game of brinkmanship

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

Before his ouster, Hosni Mubarak fired a desperate, last shot. He handed over all his authorities to the military, from whose ranks he rose to power. He reasoned that if he cannot keep power, he should preserve influence. Since then, the military has walked a tight line between appeasing the powerful Muslim Brotherhood and protecting the old regime. The Muslim Brotherhood, too, practiced smart politicking by standing at an equal distance between the revolutionary youth who wanted a total break with the old regime (including the military). Both sides, the military and the Brotherhood, managed the transition like skillful chess masters. 


The military did not move a single step forward unless necessitated by events in Tahrir Square. From drafting the blueprint to electing new legislature to commencing Mubarak’s trial, the military never initiated actions to speed the transition to civilian rule, which the generals promised will take place within six months, or punish those guilty of corruption and murdering protesters. 

The parliamentarian and consultative elections finally happened (late last year and early this one) and the result was alarming for the military and the old guard. Over seventy percent of the seats went to various Islamist parties, Mubaraks’ most formidable nemesis. However, since the military was able to preserve some of the old institutions such as the media and the courts, it was able to manage the events in ways that preserved its interests despite Islamists’ gains.
When the first round of presidential elections produced a head-to-head contest between a representative of Mubarak’s regime and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, the old guard, represented in the constitutional high court, effectively launched an Algerian style coup, dissolving an elected institution. The court also allowed the last prime minister under Mubarak to compete for the presidency. Potentially, the court’s ruling could result in incalculable results for all sides. For this reason, contradicting statements were released by key players and nervous quiet followed the event.

Immediately after the release of the ruling, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Beltagy, described it to be a coup. The Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate however, Mohamed Morsi, denied that there was a coup and insisted that he is moving forward with his campaign. He insisted, nonetheless, that elections’ results could be falsified and threatened a second revolution should that happen. Many activists and revolutionaries were simply too stunned by the ruling to react.

Apparently, on Saturday and Sunday, Egyptians will use the ballot box to create a new form of dictatorship, given the absence of a legislature and a constitution. If they elect Morsi, he may dissolve the court and reinstate the parliament which would serve to rubber stamp his decisions. Should he do so, the military may challenge the will of an elected president to preserve the ruling of a court from the era of a de-legitimized regime and that could produce protracted chaos. If Ahmed Shafik wins, he would likely support the court’s ruling and recreate the old regime with the consent and assistance of the military.  Either way, due to the failure of the revolution to purge the country of the old regime’s leaders and institutions, a new form of dictatorship could be in the making and the military and Mubarak are responsible for it, again.

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* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. Opinions expressed herein are the author’s, speaking as a citizen on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

What is on the mind of Arab media

What is on the mind of Arab media

Tunisia’ new leaders wanted to celebrate the revolution that deposed the old regime and ushered in representative governance. So they invited other Arab heads of state, but only several showed up. Of course, this is not a normal gathering. It is one that reminded the Arab rulers that they will all go unless they reform. Reportedly, the new Tunisian leaders sent invitations but only the leaders of Algeria, Libya, Qatar, and Mauritanian showed up. The rest of the countries sent low level representatives just to be polite. Tunisian media noticed this awkward party moment.

Although Tunisia and Egypt have more or less moved to representative governance with bloodless revolutions that removed the strong regimes of Ben Ali and Mubarak, the Libyan uprising was bloody and cruel. Nearly 50,000 people are said to have lost their lives and there are daily reports of gun battles between competing rebel factions. The instability in Libya did not go unnoticed in other Arab countries. Consequently, enthusiasm for revolutions is brought under check especially in places like Yemen and Syria. Arab media took notice of the change in attitude. 
Here are some of the other themes discussed in several influential Arab news outlets recently.
Russia moves to limit its losses, editorialized the pan-Arab newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi:

“If you want to know the odds of a war taking place in the Middle East, just keep track of the statements out of Moscow and Washington and the movements of their respective vessels and aircraft carriers – especially now that Russia is waking up from a period of hibernation and is coming back strongly in the region to protect its interests.”

The newspaper argued that Russia will not lose another Arab ally to the West. “Having taken stock of such a major loss, Russia is now determined to counter forcefully any US attempts to topple the Syrian and Iranian regimes,” the newspaper concluded.
The newspaper pointed to the Russian ship loaded with weapons reportedly sent to Syria as evidence of this shift in policy adding that the “Russian aircraft carrier and other warships arrived in Syria’s Tartous port” are a show of force aimed at reassuring Asad that military intervention will be met with military resistance:

“By dispatching an aircraft carrier and shiploads of weapons and other hazardous materials, Russia wants to send out a strong and unequivocal message to Arab governments and the United States, that it will not let down its Syrian and Iranian allies, after it has already lost Qaddafi’s Libya and Saddam’s Iraq.”

To make matters very clear, Dmitry Rogozin, the Russian envoy to Nato since 2008, who was appointed in December as his country’s vice premier for defense industries, said last week that “any military intervention having to do with Iran’s nuclear program will be considered a threat to Russia’s national security.”
U.S. image in the Arab world: “soldiers abusing Muslims is a pattern” 
Another issue that was picked by the Arab media is the US soldiers’ scandal. Sharjah-based newspaper al-Khaleej editorialized that U.S. soldiers violating their own laws, like urinating on dead bodies, are not isolated cases; they are patterns of behavior. The paper referred to the humiliating treatment of Iraqi prisoners by US soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison several years ago and said that that “showed how US soldiers were having fun dehumanizing prisoners in unimaginable ways.” The paper contended that other cases, such as “al-Nisour Square incident in Baghdad in 2007, when US soldiers killed more than a dozen Iraqi civilians for no reason.”  Guantanamo Bay, the newspaper argued “is yet another flagrant example of the violation of basic human rights.” The latest incident in Afghanistan is not “isolated or individual”, the newspaper said. “It is a function of the usual method adopted by the US forces in Afghanistan and previously in Iraq.”

Policy and politics of the first democratic government in Tunisia

Policy and politics of the first democratic government in Tunisia


by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

Exactly two months after Tunisia’s October 23 elections, a peaceful transfer of power took place—a rarity in the Arab world. The outgoing prime minister, Beji Caid el Sebsi, handed the reins to Hamadi Jebali, one of the founding leaders of al-Nahda movement and a former political prisoner. The latter introduced his cabinet to the constituency assembly, which voted largely along political party lines to approve it. Forming a coalition government was understandably a struggle for a group of novices, many of whom had spent more time in prison than in government. But in the end, the parties put forth a respectable coalition of 30 ministers and 11 secretaries of state. Three political parties (Nahda, Mu’tamar, and Takattul) and some independents are represented in this coalition government. Several appointments in particular stand out.

The most controversial appointment concerns the foreign ministry, which was entrusted to Rafiq Abdessalam, a former politics and international relations student at the Centre for the Study of Democracy, University of Westminster, London. The 43-year-old academic has no practical experience that would allow him to navigate the complex world of diplomacy, except his personal connections to some of the rulers of the Gulf States. It is believed that his appointment was meant to reward the historical leader of al-Nahda: Rachid Ghannouchi, his father-in-law. But this very fact did not please many Tunisians who had suffered from the actions of Ben Ali’s in-laws. Appointing the son-in-law of the leader of the winning party to a powerful position despite his lack of experience is a painful reminder of the corruption, cronyism, and abuse of power under the old regime. Nahda might suffer politically in next year’s elections because of this insensitive and probably foolish move.

Nahda leaders may have a saving grace in the new chief of the interior ministry. For most Tunisians, the interior ministry is a euphemism for police brutality. Under Presidents Bourguiba and Ben Ali, the ministry was used to eliminate political opponents, torture political prisoners, intimidate citizens, and spread fear—it was the tyrants’ favorite tool for subjugating peoples. One of the victims of this institution was Ali Laaridh, who was imprisoned for 15 years—13 years of them in solitary confinement—during Ben Ali’s rule. He was sentenced to death under Bourguiba’s regime. It is highly unlikely that a victim of torture and abuse would subject others to the same brutality. Consequently, Laaridh might well be the right person to rehabilitate the security forces and reform the institution.

Another reassuring face in the new government is that of Noureddine Bhiri. The 53-year-old lawyer is a moderate who spent years defending political prisoners. He, too, was imprisoned for his political activities. Many Tunisians, and other human rights activists, hope that his struggles for civil and political rights will serve him well as he leads the critically important ministry of justice.

Governing a country that has suffered years of mismanagement, corruption, and abuses of power is never easy. Forming a coalition government was the right choice. The three political parties seem to trust one another, and they all stand to lose a great deal if the coalition fails. They have months, not years, to deliver on three critical issues: unemployment, political reform, and economic growth. Even more importantly, they have the responsibility of setting new standards for the rest of the Arab world. The new standards must reflect transparency, compassion, and just use of power that demonstrates respect for human dignity
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* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. He is the author of the book, Contesting Justice. Opinions expressed herein are the author’s, speaking as a citizen on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

The dissipating prestige of the Egyptian military

The dissipating prestige of the Egyptian military

Despite evidence to the contrary, the Egyptian military continues to deny using violence against protesters and continue to argue that it is the legitimate power broker. On Tuesday, Gen. Adel Emara, spokesperson for the ruling military junta contended that the military had never used violence against protesters:
“The armed forces and the police pledged not to use violence against protesters actively or even verbally.”
When a journalist tried to display a newspaper image of a woman brutally beaten by military police he interrupted:
“Before you open the newspaper, fold it. I know what I’m talking about. Yes, this scene took place and we’re investigating it. But let’s look at the whole picture and see the circumstances the picture was taken in and we will announce the complete truth. Don’t take only this shot, you or any other, and cite it to prove that violence was used.”
Another Egyptian general said that the protesters are “delinquents who deserve to be thrown into Hitler’s ovens.” Gen. Abdel Moneim Kato, who serves as an adviser to the military’s public relations department, made the remarks in an interview with the Egyptian newspaper al-Shuruq on Monday.
The military rulers think that they are the legitimate authorities despite the existence of the newly elected body. In fact, the military junta wanted to circumvent the work of the newly elected members of the assembly when it appointed a “civilian advisory council,” which in turn suspended its activities until the military stopped the violence and apologized. One-third of its roughly 30 members have quit already.
Egypt and the military are both better served by recognizing the fact that the junta’s ascent to power was ordered by an ousted dictator and that only an elected authority can claim legitimacy. The military rulers should transfer power to the newly elected body, which should adopt the Tunisian model and establish an interim constitution and an interim government until a permanent constitution is adopted and general elections are held.


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A Middle East run by Islamists: Should Western Powers Freak Out?

A Middle East run by Islamists: Should Western Powers Freak Out?

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

In 39 days, three Arab countries held critical elections, Tunisia (October 23), Morocco (November 25), and Egypt (November 28-9). Although the elections in these countries have different contexts and implications, the three events have several things in common. First, the elections were made possible directly or indirectly by the Arab Awakening of early 2011. Second, before the Awakening, Western powers had labeled these three countries as “moderate,” a euphemism for undemocratic regimes run by a westernized elite. Last, these elections brought to power Islamist parties and groups that the west has labeled “extremists.” So should western governments now freak out?
In the short run, maybe. In the long run, not at all. Here is why.


1. Extremists are more dangerous when they are outside the political system than when they are inside it.

Some radical extremists choose to stay outside the system because they don’t believe in it or perceive it as illegitimate, whether for political or religious reasons. So they stay outside the system and in some cases they undertake work to overthrow it by any means necessary. In contrast, there are other groups and movements that were kept outside the system against their wish. Those groups are likely to adopt radical ways to make their voice heard or until they are invited in. The Islamist and nationalist groups that participated in the recent elections belong to the latter category. Members of these groups have been exiled, imprisoned, and demonized by the Arab regimes since their countries became independent. The Arab Awakening offered them a chance to be part of the political system and they are taking advantage of it. Will it change their extremist ways? Absolutely. Many cases from around the world support this view.

2. Almost all extremist leaders and groups tone down their rhetoric and actions once they are in power

As soon the preliminary results were announced, al-Nahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi made a number of reconciliatory announcements telling western governments that his party will honor all previous commitments to foreign governments. He also told Tunisians who voted for his party that his government will not scale back personal freedoms. 

To take another example, Hamas was a group shunned by western powers as a terrorist organization until it won the 2006 elections and took charge of Gaza. At that point, it completely stopped the bombings carried out by its members. The movement managed to maintain an unofficial truce with Israel, reducing the number of cross-border rocket attacks. Recently, its political leaders have announced that the movement will give “popular resistance” a chance, signaling shift in military strategy and an acceptance of a political settlement.  

3. Even extremists must respect the rules of the game that brought them to power

The Islamist parties are coming to power through the ballot boxes, not bullets. They are taking over the reins after popular uprisings that ousted authoritarian, corrupt regimes. Their success and their rise to power testify to the fact that oppression does not last and that people eventually win over tyranny. Islamist leaders are aware that their ability to hold on to power depends on their ability to earn and maintain the trust of the voters. Moreover, it is unlikely that former political prisoners who were tortured and exiled could easily turn into torturers of political dissenters—their old selves.

4. The people will not tolerate new dictatorships
Despite their impressive electoral accomplishments, Islamist parties cannot take full credit for ending tyrannical rule. The three elections’ results show that voters trust them to lead but not control. In fact, in Tunisia and Morocco, Islamist parties cannot form a government on their own and must enter into alliances with other political parties to secure a governing majority. That political circumstance is a resounding rejection of tyranny, whether in the form of one individual ruling in the name of God or a political party ruling in the name of the voters. Consequently, the new Islamist leaders cannot use religion as a cover, or culture as an excuse to extend their rule beyond the mandate given them by the voters. God did not vote.

5. The new Middle East is not run by the “friends” of the West
In western discourse, extremism has been portrayed as an Arab or Islamic phenomenon. Some went as far as to suggest that Islam is not compatible with representative governance. Consequently, western powers were content with a foreign policy that supported “friendly” and “moderate” leaders who oppressed their peoples. Israel especially, showered Mubarak and other friendly rulers with praise, while poking fun at their societies as undemocratic and prone to extremism. Some Israeli leaders criticized the U.S. for not supporting Mubarak, on the basis that fair elections would bring extremists like the Muslim Brethren to power (Here is a sample). This line of reasoning came from a governing coalition that is–by all accounts–the most conservative and extreme in the history of that country. True, all indications show that the new Arab world will be run by conservative Islamist and nationalist parties (albeit democratically elected). But how is that different from the current Israeli governing coalition that consists of the staunchly religious United Torah Judaism and Shas parties, the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu and Jewish Home parties, and the super-conservative Likud party. In fact, the current ruling regime is so extreme that many lifelong Jewish activists have voiced their dissatisfaction with its radical agenda: 

When, however, laws are passed that stifle free expression, seek to undermine the independence of the judiciary and, in the name of defending a Jewish state, seek to undermine the rights of Arabs and other minorities, then the very democratic character of the state is being eroded. [Abraham H. Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, Huffington Post, 11/30, 2011]

So, if western powers are not freaking out about a right wing government in Israel, why should they freak out about Islamist-run emerging democracies in the Arab world? In fact, elected governments in the Middle East might advance the cause of peace and stability—assuming the theory that democracies don’t go to war with each other hold true. 

6. Western regimes overestimated the influence of the liberal elite and underestimated the popularity of Islamist and nationalist movements
Reacting to the results of the elections in Egypt, an Egypt expert told the Washington Post (on December 1) that “in the end, the liberal groups are not popular and not organized.” For years, western commentators argued that in fair and transparent elections, Islamists would not fare well. Although that theory was debunked twice in Iraq under the watch of American troops when Sunni and Shi`i parties outlasted the well-funded secular ones led by Allawi and Chalebi, many continue to argue that the Islamists’ gains can be explained by the fact that the secular parties did not have enough time to prepare. Western politicians (from the left and right) have a curious expectation of the Islamic world. In their eyes, Muslims must all embrace liberal and secular ideas, to the exclusion of religious ideals. Domestically, however, these Western liberals and conservatives are not alarmed by the rise of religious and conservative politicians. The “shellacking” the Democrats received in 2010 U.S. midterm elections when they lost the House to conservative Republicans can be easily explained away. But the persistence of conservatism in Islamic society alarms them.

The elections in Tunisia, Morocco, and Egypt ought to humble those who hold this double standard. They ought to admit that their attitude is partly to blame for the lack of popularity of liberal and secular groups in Islamic societies. They must have faith in the transformative power of choice that people exert after being faced with brute force that strips them of their dignity and self-respect. The Tunisian, Moroccan, and Egyptian voters are giving the Islamists and centrists a chance to restore their hope in a dignified future. If they work for that, we all ought to support it.
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* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. He is the author of Politics of Appearances. Opinions expressed herein are the author’s, speaking as a citizen on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.
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