Monday, April 25, 2011

The lack of a moral strategy for the Arabs

If you read the headlines of some articles it is of utmost importance that the rebels in Libya win. Never mind that they are hopelessly divided and have even been unable to govern the piece of Libya that they control.

I think we are bringing the wrong message with our support to armed resistance. As our support is a;most by default selective (we didn't support resistance in Bahrain or Saudi Arabia) it puts us in a hypocritical position. This undermines the moral power of the present wave of unrest in the Arab countries.

The core of the protests in the Arab countries is against corruption. So we should help expose this corruption. But neither on Libya nor on Syria I have read any article that highlights corruption. Instead we see articles that seem to claim if those countries become democratic corruption will somehow magically disappear. I think it is the other way around. As long as corruption is not attacked it will just contaminate the democracy and soon we will find that chosen politicians are just as corrupt as dictators. If on the other hand we highlight the corruption and other abuses of a regime it will feel compelled to do something about it and it will result in a higher moral standard. At some point these higher standards will make the step towards democracy just a next logical step.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Nikolic's mistake

I am rather puzzled by Nikolic's hunger/thirst strike in Serbia.

First of all you don't protest to change generally election laws. Sure, sometimes most people agree that the present government is stupid. But that is bad luck: election laws are there to be respected. A government has the right to end its period. If you don't respect that you don't respect the rules of democracy.

That doesn't mean that there aren't ways to undermine the present government and to force elections: The present government is a coalition. So it might be possible to find a coalition partner who might benefit if it leaves the coalition now. An alternative is to field proposals on which the coalition is divided or on which the coalition has chosen a difficult to defend position. The budget proposals by Ryan in the US were a good example of how to do this.

Of course the government parties still have an advantage and if they play their cards right they can prevail. But the opposition has the advantage that they can choose on which subject to fight and doing that they can push the government in the defense.

Nikolic's present action will weaken his standing with the EU and the US (and we know how important their input was in previous elections).It will also weaken his standing with the Serbian voters who value democracy. Even if he gets everything he wants this action may bring Nikolic more harm than good. Making threats is not the way to get things done in a democracy.

In my opinion Nikolic should as fast as possible find an excuse to end his hunger strike and lead the opposition again. It may cost him some voters in the short term, but continuing this charade is more damaging in the long term.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Why is Libya so difficult?

Some thought about what is needed to solve the situation in Libya.

First an armistice:
- The West should go to Gaddafi, the East to the rebels. It doesn't matter where the border comes exactly as long as there will be a wide stretch of desert in between so that compliance can easily be checked.
- this leaves Misurata - the only town in the West where the rebels still are strong. One might consider a kind of neutral status for that city.

Then negotiations:
- keep in mind that Libya with its tribes is much more African than Egypt and Tunisia. The African countries are watching the events with at least as much interest as the Arab countries.
- Gaddafi should leave, but with honor. He might retire inside Libya, for example near Sirte.
- for the continuity it is best when much of Gaddafi's officials stay. Firing competent people for being of the wrong group is an expensive move - as Iraq and Kosovo can testify.
- aim for an agreement instead of a victory of one of the two parties. Having one of the sides win in an ethnic conflict can lead to many years of trouble.
- keep in mind that the goal is more freedom - both economic and of speech. Democracy is a means to achieve that - not a goal in itself.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Egypt needs Baradei as leader

With the recent news on demonstrators in Egypt demanding Mubarak in court and soldiers crushing their demonstration it looks like things are going wrong.

In my opinion the main problem is the lack of credible leadership. Egypt needs a leader who both the demonstrators and the soldiers will believe. He should both be able to tell the demonstrators that it is not a good idea to bring Mubarak in court - provided he gives up most of his fortune - and to tell the soldiers that demonstrators are Egyptians too and deserve a decent treatment. I am not an expert on Egypt but I think that it should be someone from the opposition who has some credibility with the Mubarak-era establishment, like Baradei

Without such a figure there is a risk that the situation may escalate.

Bosnia and Ivory Coast

While watching the news on Ivory Coast it may be good to remember that this is exactly what the Western cosmopolitans had in mind for Bosnia. Just as Bosnia Ivory Coast had a civil war between its main (clusters of) ethnic groups. And just as in Bosnia it ended with a Western-mediated peace.

Only this time there were no special provisions for the different groups. As each of the groups believed they were a majority they accepted the idea of a centralized state where winning the elections would mean the difference between being on top or being discriminated.

In the end the South lost (they claim due to election fraud). They didn't accept it and that resulted in the present stalemate. Now Western countries are using arms to impose their "solution". I am afraid that in the long term it will not work as well as they expect. There are already reports about mass murders by Northern troops in their EU/UN supported offensive. It seems those reports don't deter the Western country. After all the Northern candidate is a former IMF man and so he is supposed to be "our" man.

Postscript: Newsweek has an article ("Battle After Ballot") in which it wonders that the West might be doing more bad than good, both by getting involved in an ethnic conflict and by imposing "democracy" with violence.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Libya: time for a real armistice

Now that the weather is bad for air attacks, the rebels are retreating again and the US has announced to restrict its part in the attacks it seems time for a bit of humility on the side of the rebels. Unfortunately we don't see much of it yet. The rebels have finally asked for a cease-fire, but their conditions sound completely unrealistic. What to think of their demand that Gaddafi should allow demonstrations? That is something for a peace agreement, not for an armistice: in a war you don't allow demonstrations.

I presume that the rebels can't do much better. They are highly divided and that is not situation in which an organization can make big concessions. So I think it time that some international leader steps in and takes up a mediating role. It is a pity that until now we haven't seen anybody who travelled both to Tripoli and Benghazi and tried to broker some armistice.

The big question in this is the role of the US. As long as Obama aims for regime change it is unlikely that the rebels will go beyond seeking delays in which they can rearm and seeking propaganda coups.