Thursday, December 26, 2013

Forbidding the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood

Egypt has forbidden the Muslim Brotherhood. The move comes a day after an suicide bombing attack on a police headquarters where 16 people were killed by a splinter group from the Muslim Brotherhood.

The events remind me to the Aleppo Artillery School massacre in 1979 where a Muslim Brotherhood splinter group killed some 70 Alawite cadets. That too proved a watershed that resulted in oppression of the Brotherhood. Then too the Brotherhood denied involvement but nobody really believed them as their whole attitude was such as to encourage such actions.

The Aleppo attack was the beginning of a major Brotherhood uprising that ended with the Hama massacre in 1982. It has to be seen what the Brotherhood will do next. Since the coup by Sisi they have been on collision course with the military government.

The Syrian Brotherhood chose the path of violence. Syria is still paying the price. The Egyptian Brotherhood can do better by openly rejecting violence - in the interest of the country. They will still stay forbidden for some time. But in the longer term it will open the road for them to become an active player in the political process. On the other hand, when they choose violence the Egyptian government has no choice but to forbid and persecute them.

The slogan that government violence forces them to their own violence work nicely in propaganda - and is often used by the US government - but in reality it is not how things work. The monopoly of violence for the government is an essential part - not only from every democracy but from every state.

Friday, December 20, 2013

China's risky rise

China is well on its way to become the new superpower. That brings risks. It was Germany's bumpy rise that contributed a lot to the two world wars.

Yet it doesn't have to be. The rise of the US to superpower went without bumps. Sure, it helped that the competition was broke after World War II and that it had friendly relations with the UK - its main rival for the position. But there are lessons to be learned.

The US largely kept to itself until World War II. That war was its entry on the world stage. It was an entry on demand. And when it had made its contribution in and after the war nobody questioned its right on superpower status.

In contrast Germany aimed for the attributes of its new big power status and it the process generated a lot of conflicts that created a climate of distrust and conflict and set the stage for World War I.

Under Deng China mostly followed the American model and focused on its internal affairs. Unfortunately lately it has increasingly followed Germany's model.

The German model looks at first sight attractive. But it is a matter of being penny wise and pound foolish. In the end you pay the price for being a pain in the ass. If you follow the American model on the other hand - jumping in where it is needed, for example in peace missions - you will earn your status as superpower and be rewarded.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Wikileaks on Otpor, Popovic and Stratfor

The Wikileaks Global Intelligence files that were caught from the Stratfor database show rather close connections between Stratfor and Srdja Popovic according to the article Wikileaks Docs Expose Famed Serbian Activist’s Ties to ‘Shadow CIA’. Some of the issues mentioned:
- Popovic gave lectures at Stratfor
- he passed information to Stratfor about on-the-ground activist events in countries around the world - without their consent
- During the Arab Spring, when Popovic had an interview with CNN he turned to Stratfor for talking points.
- Popovic's wife worked during one year at Stratfor
- Stratfor gave him a free subscription

A copy of the article can be found at the Occupy website as Exposed: Globally Renowned Activist Collaborated With Intelligence Firm Stratfor

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Peaceful change in the Arab world

A nice report (The Other Arab Awakening) in the NY Times tells how comments on Twitter and Facebook and the pressure of the Arab Spring are forcing the rulers of the Gulf States - including Saudi Arabia - to pay more attention to the needs of their subjects.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Four stumbling blocks for an Iran interim agreement in Geneva

According to DebkaFile the negotiations in Geneva are facing four stumbling blocks:

1) Iran will not shut down its underground enrichment plant at Fordo.
2) Work on building the Arak heavy water reactor will not be halted.
3) Iran will not allow the export of a single gram of its enriched uranium from the country.
4) Iran will not sign the Additional Protocol of the Non-Proliferation Treaty which expands international supervision of its nuclear program and permits snap inspections.

As I see it Iran is right in this in most of the points:
- this is about an interim agreement that should cover only six months. So asking Iran to do near irreversible things like signing the Additional Protocol shows bad faith.
- the same applies to forcing Iran to export enriched uranium. Iran uses that uranium in an experimental reactor to produce medical isotopes. Given time it would slowly consume its stock. Asking it to export it is a public statement that you don't trust Iran to keep its word. As such the demand is deliberate insult meant to sabotage the talks.
- Iran claims that the Arak reactor is just a replacement for another reactor to produce medical isotopes. Others claim its main purpose is to produce plutonium. That is a discussion that needs further exploration. So while it is fair to ask Iran to stop further construction, it should be done in such a way that if it would be decided later on to resume construction that can be done without much extra costs.
- the agreement is about stabilizing the expansion of Iran's nuclear abilities, not about abolishing them. The latter should be discussed for the definitive agreement. So rather than just shutting down Fordo the agreement should specify that Fordo should not be expanded or upgraded and should specify the amount of enriched uranium Iran is allowed to have. And Fordo should only be allowed to produce more when the stock falls below that limit.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

A case of bad social engineering in China

In the 1960s many Western countries built large numbers of high flats. There was need for more housing and this was the cheapest way to provide that. Of course the houses had no gardens, but for the rest they were quite large and quite decently built. Yet soon these areas became problem areas and many still are. People who could afford it left and those remaining found themselves living in a high crime area. And as no one felt connected to them those quarters soon decayed - both the houses and the environment.

It was just one example of bad social engineering - people trying to design an environment for other people to live in.

Now the Chinese government has engaged in a similar experiment: it is building complete new cities and forcing people to live there. Predictably many people don't like this and employment fails to arrive. The result is once again desolate areas where no one likes to live.

It would be a much better policy if the Chinese government seduced some companies with subsidies and facilities to move to those areas. That would allow for a much more organic growth of those cities.

Postscript: The Chinese government has now announced a list of 60 reforms that it wants to introduce. Given how badly the Chinese government is implementing the urbanization I am rather pessimistic that it will do better on those other reforms.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Saudi-Israeli whack-a-mole policy

Saudi Arabia and Israel are united in their opposition against any reconciliation with Iran. For very similar reasons.

Israel doesn't want strong adversaries in the Middle East. So it always tries to crush the strongest country available. That used to be Iraq and now that that is finished it has turned on Iran. Don't expect Israel to rest when Iran has become just as wrecked as Iraq: it will just start looking for the next strongest country in the region and target that. The alternative is reconciling with the Arabs. But that would mean giving up on stealing Arab land and that isn't popular in Israel. It doesn't help neither that Netanjahu is the kind of politician who thrives on sowing hatred.

Saudi Arabia is a country that was only formed in 1932. Its cohesion is weak. In fact it is just the project of the rapacious Saud family. It is somewhat doubtful whether the country would have survived without oil. Yet nowadays the Saudi has big visions of Saudi Arabia as the most powerful country in the Middle East. As he lacks the forces to project such power himself he depends on his money to seduce other countries to do the dirty work for him. As Iran is the strongest country at the moment it is the natural target.

So we have two countries that are inherently weak yet want to be kings of the hill. Both want crush the strongest country available as a threat to this ambition. But as they themselves are too weak to dominate that just will open the door for another country - that will become the next target of their ire. This is a whack-a-mole game that will never end. Western countries who let themselves be seduced to participate in this game will sooner or later conclude that they are fighting for a bad cause.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The misguided Geneva peace process takes another step

The false "friends of Syria" have produced another document on how they believe the Syrian peace process should be run. This is the communiqué issued by the London 11.

It comes with high aims: "The future Syria must be democratic, pluralistic, and respectful of human rights and of the rule of law.". Given what has happened in the other "Arab Spring" countries this is unlikely to be achieved. Worse, by putting so much stress on the process they avoid talking about what really should change in Syria. If you really want such a Syria you should begin by talking about how it should look. Only after that has been settled should there be elections. If you have a transitional government and elections first you create a Libya-style climate where the strongest dominates and where talking seems meaningless.

The continuing US desire to get a permission to use violence is also very visible. Article 13 claims that "Negotiations to form the TGB must not be open-ended. Delaying tactics should not be tolerated" and article 17 claims that "The agreement, which will be signed by the parties, certified by the participating states, and endorsed in a United Nations Security Council Resolution, shall be enforceable."

It seems to me a recipe for disaster.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Boko Haram is beatable after all

The NY Times has an article (Vigilantes Defeat Boko Haram in Its Nigerian Base) about how in Maiduguri in North East Nigeria Boko Haram has been pushed back by a vigilante militia that calls itself “Civilian J.T.F.” (JTF = Joint Task Force = a common name for the army). As Maiduguri is the capital of Borno province where Boko Haram is strongest this is highly significant.

The article is highly critical of the army and claims that the army does very little to combat Boko Haram and that it rather seems to consider the group as a nice excuse to ask for more money for the army.

Monday, October 07, 2013

How privatization in Serbia went wrong

RFERL has an investigative reporting article (Documents Show How Serbian Companies Were Pillaged By Offshore Firms) that discusses the fate of the company Agrohem that was privatizing in 2003 and then pilfered Russian style by some investment companies based in tax paradises. It was not the only one: According to the article Almost 2,000 of the 3,017 state-owned enterprises that were privatized between 2001 and 2011 have ceased operations or sunk into bankruptcy or are on the verge of closing down, according to the Social and Economic Council of Serbia, a joint governmental and labor-union body.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Reversing Somalia into a failed state - once again

It is well known how the US threw Somalia back into anarchy in 2009 with its support for the Ethiopian invasion against the Islamic Courts Union government. This was actually a quite moderate government but in Washington the name "Islamic" was enough to believe it to be Islamists.

Now we see a similar development with the closure of the Hawala system of money transfer. Several banks have already closed their support for the system and now Barclays is about to follow. The excuse is that some of the money may land with the al-Shabab guerrilla movement in the South of the country. However, for a country that is very dependent on remittances from emigrants, this could be devastating. After Barclays there will be some banks left but very probably they will soon come under similar pressure from America's (anti-)terrorists.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The chemical arms "norm"

Few people have noticed it, but Obama pulled a rather clumsy legalistic trick when he talked about the "norm" that chemical arms should not be used.

The 1925 Geneva Protocol forbids the use of chemical arms in wars between states. However, it does not forbid their use in civil wars. Neither does it forbid their use once the other side has used them.

This became a problem in 1988 when Saddam attacked Halabja with chemical arms. In a reaction a new and much stricter treaty, the Chemical Weapons Convention, was adopted in 1993. But while Assad signed the Geneva Protocol he never signed the convention.

So Obama had a problem with his red line as Assad didn't violate any treaty if he had used chemical arms. One because it doesn't forbid using them in a civil war, the other because he hadn't signed it. Of course Obama could have resorted to more general treaties about human rights and protection of civilians in a war, but that would make his red line statement specifically about chemical arms look a bit weird.

Obama's solution was to claim that so many countries have adopted the Convention that it has become the international "norm".

It is a rather ugly construction. It raises also the question whether it can be applied more broadly. The US has a bit of a habit to be the only country that doesn't sign some treaties. Should we hold them to those treaties anyway because they become the "norm"?

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Obama meets the limits of bullying

Thanks to his bullying tactics, stressing the horror of a chemical attack and raising questions about America's credibility if it doesn't react to the alleged chemical attack in Syria no one in Congress any more dares publicly to raise questions about the lack of evidence. They would be painted by Obama's propaganda as not caring about US credibility and not caring about the victims of chemical attacks.

However, these Congress men still face the dilemma that attacking Syria will likely kill hundreds of Syrians and might well draw the US into a war. And they are perfectly aware both that the present lack of evidence would be insufficient to explain support for their decision - specially if things might go wrong. And they can also see that the same fluffy arguments could also be used to push them towards further involvement.

Does Obama also want to attack ISIS/Al Nusra?

This blogpost claims so. It states:

Another hot news from Arabic Facebook. Here is the summary
U.S. missile attack will damage not only Assad troops but also opposition forces! According to source in the Turkish General Staff, during the second phase of the operation in Syria, U.S. missiles will vanish militant training centres of “Al-Nusra Front” and “Islamic State of Iraq and Shama”. The U.S. will also destroy the control centres of the main radical opposition groups and this way the problem of Islamic extremists in Syria will be solved.

In another article I read that one Al Nusra unit had arrested someone for placing transponders that could make them a target for US bombings.

5 September 2013: Syrian Islamists believe they will be targets of US air strikes: Jihadists move personnel and weaponry ahead of expected intervention

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

The role of prince Bandar in the Syrian uprising

Recently the Wall Street Journal published an article (A Veteran Saudi Power Player Works To Build Support to Topple Assad) in which it claims that the Saudi prince Bandar only recently got involved in the Syrian uprising when he became head of Saudi intelligence. Several others have copied this claim.

As far as I can see this is wrong. Bandar was named from the very beginning as the mover behind the Syrian uprising. So it seems that Bandar's promotion is rather an indication how much importance the Saudi king Abdullah attached to getting rid of Assad. Two articles stand out in this respect: US, Israeli, Saudi involvement in Syrian uprising and Media sources reveal details of a conspiracy by Bandar Bin Sultan and Feltman to "destroy" Syria. The author of the first article is Haytham Manna, a prominent Syrian opposition activist.

The link to the latter article is now dead. However, here you can find a copy. It is also discussed and quoted in its entirety in one of the Stratfor Wikileaks files.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Obama's unprofessional handling of Syria's gas attack

One could write a book about all the things the Obama administration is doing wrong in Syria and regarding the gas attack. There wouldn't even be a civil war without US involvement. Instead I will try to describe how a more professional Obama would have acted:

How Obama should have reacted to the Syrian gas attack

- He should have started with declaring his horror, immediately asking for an UN investigation (instead he didn't hurry) and offering to send atropine to the region. No condemnations. No threats.

- If he had evidence that the government used the poison gas he should first provide the evidence and let the world evaluate it. Only when that is convincing should he discuss retaliation. He should also be prepared to accept it if the rest of the world considers it insufficient - as happened with prior gas attacks.

- He should be prepared to take accusations that the rebels used gas seriously.

- He should shed his attitude that Russia is up to no good. In fact Russia and China gave him the green light in case of Libya and he terribly abused it. Now he is in the position that has to show that he has improved. It may feel humiliating for a president of the US but it is well deserved.

- He should have complimented the Syrian government for allowing the inspections - instead of reacting by increasing his hostility. Better late than never.

- Both the wave of criticism after Assad allowed the inspections and the refusal to wait for the results of the UN inspection suggest that Obama doesn't really care about the chemical attacks and just sees it as an opportunity to bomb Syria. This radiates narrow-mindedness and opportunism. It certain won't win him influence among the countries that support Syria.

- He should be prepared to wait for the result of the UN inspections.

- He should only attack with permission of the Security Council.

- He should stick to the fact instead of holding misleading talks about Syria being a threat to the US.

- Russia and Iran should get time to formulate their reactions. Khomeini was so much against chemical weapons that he forbade their use even when Iran was attacked with them by Iraq - so one can be sure that Iran won't be enthusiastic about Syrian use of chemical arms.

- Assad should get time to formulate a reaction. One of the possibilities is that the chemical arms were fired by some rogue officer in the Syrian army. Assad punishing some of his soldiers - even if they are scapegoats - would be an acceptable outcome.

- A considerable number of Syrians support Assad as the lesser evil compared to the Islamist dominated rebels. Chemical arms could make them change their minds and as such are not a very wise policy for Assad. A precedent of how the public opinion could react is the Houla massacre that increased support for the rebels. Given this and other considerations there can be expected to be considerable discussion within Syrian government ranks if the US provides convincing evidence that the government fired chemical weapons.

- Red lines are for children and troublemakers. It is ridiculous that some people are now discussing the situation in terms of Obama's credibility instead of the need to stop the use of chemical arms. Besides that, credibility doesn't work that simple.

- If there was armed retaliation it should consist of only a few missiles. With the message that next time there would be more.

- The primary goal should be preventing a repeat. If for example the Russians would refuse to support a resolution but would be prepared to effectively pressure Assad that no repeat should happen this should be considered a success.

The above may sound as very time consuming and likely to lead to no action. However, one should consider the following:
- all the noise about attacking Syria distracts the attention from the chemical weapon use dispute
- one of the two things we are now waiting for is the US finally disclosing its evidence that Assad used chemical arms. The US could speed this up.
- the more civilized tone of the debate would invite Russia and Iran to take part
- the time would be used for a very realistic discussion. One caveat: it might take effort to keep it going.
- With power comes responsibility and that is usually implemented with procedures. Keeping to procedures would mean that Washington shows real leadership - instead of dictatorship.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

America betrays Syria - again

Finally - much too late - the Syrian government allowed the UN inspectors to have a look at the alleged chemical attack sites. Immediately we saw Washington react with the message that it was too late. At the same time Obama adopted a more hostile tone.

This is a familiar pattern. It shows that Obama doesn't care about what Assad is doing and is only obsessed with getting his "regime change". From that attitude the forthcoming reaction of Assad was unwelcome and had to be compensated with more hostility from the US side.

If Obama had been interested in dialogue and solutions he would have welcomed the Syrian change of policy. Not that it is such a great gesture or that it will make much difference. But simply because any improvement in attitude should be rewarded if you want to have better relations.

It is not improbable that Obama has already decided to some retaliatory attack. But even in that circumstance it is still the case that communication should not be unnecessarily hampered.

Leave it to Iran

Amid the accusation of the use of chemical arms in Syria it may be good to watch Iran.

During the Iran-Iraq war Iraq used chemical arms against Iran but Iran never retaliated by using chemical arms itself - considering them immoral.

So if it would become clear that Syria's government has used chemical weapons Iran can be expected to take that very seriously.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Why Western mediation failed in Egypt

Both the EU and the US sent mediators to Egypt. They thought they were close to a deal. But in the end - according to them - the Egyptian army refused to make a deal. In fact the mission was doomed because the diplomats didn't understand the situation.

Take this example of arrogance:
“You could tell people were itching for a fight,” [senator] Graham recalled in an interview. “The prime minister was a disaster. He kept preaching to me: ‘You can’t negotiate with these people. They’ve got to get out of the streets and respect the rule of law.’ I said: ‘Mr. Prime Minister, it’s pretty hard for you to lecture anyone on the rule of law. How many votes did you get? Oh, yeah, you didn’t have an election.’ ”
Obviously Graham found it impossible to see the situation through the eyes of this prime minister. Yet the first step in a mediation is being able to see things through the eyes of both sides. Only then can you see what motivates them and propose other solutions.

The arrogance is systemic. This was what the journalists wrote after talking to many of the Americans involved:
The generals in Cairo felt free to ignore the Americans first on the prisoner release and then on the statement, in a cold-eyed calculation that they would not pay a significant cost — a conclusion bolstered when President Obama responded by canceling a joint military exercise but not $1.5 billion in annual aid.
The generals are involved in a win-or-lose fight with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). They are convinced that if they don't prevail either a civil war will follow or Muslim Brotherhood's intolerant sectarian rule. For them at the moment the US - and anything else outside the conflict - is far away and irrelevant. When the conflict is over they will have the luxury to worry about those kinds of things. But obviously the Americans find it painful to see that they - the great superpower - are just irrelevant in the present situation.

Of course there is also a conspiracy theory to make the bad guys looking even worse. In this case it is the theory that some Egyptian generals always hated the MB and that they saw the present situation - where the MB had lost much support due to bad government and sectarian activism - as an excellent opportunity to once and for all suppress it. Just like any other conspiracy theory you cannot disprove it. The problem of such theories is that they close the minds of those who believe them for any fact that doesn't fit the theory. And that makes them incapable to see solutions.

The mediation effort itself: Under a plan they worked out, the Muslim Brotherhood would limit demonstrations to two squares, thin out crowds and publicly condemn violence. The government would issue a similar statement, commit to an inclusive political process allowing any party to compete in elections and, as a sign of good faith, release Saad al-Katatni, the Muslim Brotherhood speaker of the dissolved Parliament, and Aboul-Ela Maadi, founder of a more moderate Islamist party. Both faced implausible charges of instigating violence, and Western diplomats felt that before the takeover, Mr. Katatni in particular had proved himself a pragmatic voice for compromise.
This is typical of Western diplomacy that in other instances (Slovenia/Yugoslavia, Kosovo, Cyprus) too came with unrealistic proposals that reflected the fact that it didn't get the core of the problem. Let's look at this proposal:
- the MB has many times said that they were committed to peaceful protest. The problem was that they used the next sentence to say that they were prepared to die for their cause and that obviously throwing stones fell within their definition of non-violence.
- you cannot have endless demonstrations. Even the US beat down Occupy Wall Street when that employed such tactics. The goal of demonstrations is to express opinions. When instead they are used to try to impose opinions you have a major law-and-order problem. One effect of continuing demonstrations is self-radicalization and you saw that already happening in Egypt.
- an "inclusive political process" sounds very nice but is meaningless as long as the only thing acceptable to the MB is the return of Morsi as president. The mediators were right that at some point the MB should be again part of the Egyptian political process. They forgot that you can only be a part of a process if you accept its rules. One can understand that MB members are angry about Morsi's arrest but they cannot become part of the new political process as long as they remain focused on Morsi's return.
What we see here is a rather common reaction of Western diplomacy to violent protests in other countries: they de facto give in to the protesters and when that leads to a confrontation they blame the government.

According to the NYT article one of the top leaders of the MB, Mr. Shater, rejected the proposal. A Reuters article claims that the Brotherhood did accept a deal and that it included more steps than one.

In the end the army publicly declared that the negotiations had failed: The Americans and Europeans were furious, feeling deceived and manipulated.
Any realist would have thought that their chances of success were much below 50% to begin with but that it was worth to give it a try. It looks like those diplomats lacked that perspective.

When it came to the methods the army used for its crackdown we see another conspiracy theory: But diplomats and Egyptian officials said [Minister of Interior] Ibrahim was worried that if the assaults went badly he might be held up as a scapegoat.
Unfortunately this conspiracy theory makes that part of the article very hard to understand. And that very likely reflects a lack of understanding among the Western diplomats about the dilemma's that the Egyptian army faced. Again, by misunderstanding the situation, the diplomats rob themselves of the possibility to have some influence.

The only things that could have worked for Western diplomacy was being very clear towards the MB that unless they cooperated there would be a crackdown. It is not hard to see the disadvantages: it meant full support for the military coup and it would mean that those diplomats would be held partly responsible if there was a blood crackdown. Obviously that would have required lots of courage from our political leaders.

You can only have one government in a country and if it isn't Morsi's it is the military's. That shouldn't stop us from being very critical of the methods the Egyptian army is using to make sure it has total control. Finding the balance between the two is difficult. Yet: if our Western leaders are not prepared to walk that thin line they might have done better to keep their diplomats at home.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

How Egypt's Brotherhood grabbed power

Many articles have listed complaints about how the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood grabbed power. Yet many Western journalists still cling to the excuse that obstruction by the Army and others left the MB little choice.

In that light the following article is interesting. It shows that the MB power grab happened on all levels and even in the villages. It looks like this was a systematic and well coordinated operation. Probably that is the reason that the MB is no resisting so fiercely against the army takeover. It has little to do with democracy: they know that it is very unlikely that they will get a second chance for their power grab.

Egypt’s Brotherhood loses rural support: ... the Brotherhood’s controlling all squares where prayers are performed. They appeared extremely proud of their power. They stood at the squares’ entrances deciding who the preacher would be, and leading their people however they wanted. Anyone who prayed last year in any village where the Brotherhood controlled the town’s major mosques and youth centers will remember this. The Brotherhood dominated everyone through controlling these centers and mosques. This led to a general state of frustration and fear of the unknown under the Brotherhood’s governance.

Egypt’s Journalists, Still Under Siege tells the story of an Egyptian journalist who is critical of Islamists and the Brotherhood and who has faced harassment from them for decades. It became worse under Morsi but even today it hasn't ended.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood's continuing miscalculations

When the Egyptian army deposed and arrested Morsi this was a well considered and long prepared step. So it was foolish to expect that army would give in a re-install Morsi - the more so as the Morsi supporters were not in a position to force the army.

So the logical attitude for the Brotherhood would have been to protest loudly while at the same time cooperating with the army to prepare for the next elections. They should be careful not to provide the army with any excuse to delay the promised elections.

Instead the Morsi supporters chose the confrontation. They stressed the legality of Morsi - conveniently forgetting his not so democratic missteps. They waged a media campaign full of lies to instigate their followers against the new government.

MB members have claimed that the army wants to forbid their movement. They forget that you cannot really forbid a popular movement in a democracy. Its voters will just move to another party to further their interests and sooner or later they will be allowed again.

MB members seem to believe that martyrdom will further their cause. They are wrong. First of all the confrontation will kill many Egyptians and cause a lot of damage. But its long term effects may be even worse. It could be an immediate war like in Algeria or a delayed war as we see in the Syrian conflict - that is to a considerable extent the result of the previous uprising in 1982. They are also forgetting that by forcing the Egyptian army to kill many of them they are increasing the threshold for the army to ever again allow the MB to acquire power.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The economic plans of Egypt's new government

Al Ahram has an article (Egypt plans quick steps to spur economy, then 'Marshall Plan') about how Egypt's new government plans to address the economy.

I am rather skeptic how much they will achieve. But it is at least good that they are thinking about it - after Morsi's lack of ideas.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The harmfulness of "Assad must go"

Many have lamented the refusal of the Syrian opposition to negotiate - that is often masked by making the departure of Assad a precondition for negotiations. As I see it the root cause it is diversity of the Syrian opposition and its incapability to find a common position. Without foreign support those divisions would long ago have led to the end of the uprising and forced the opposition to talks to Assad.

The opposition leader now claims fear that Assad will abuse talks just to keep them busy and for that reason insists on the departure of Assad. But he is either confused or trying to mislead us.

Talks are meant to find a compromise - not to appoint a winner. For that reason insisting on Assad's departure is wrong. But such a compromise will be a very complicated road map - with concrete dates - that points out how the business monopolies of Assad's cronies will be abolished, how the economy will be reformed, how the police and secret services will reformed, how agricultural policies will be reformed, how the country will come under one government again, how the country will become more free, etc. Such a road map will not be created at once. In the beginning there will an agreement on a general framework and some dates for the first steps and gradually more dates will be set and more steps implemented.

Only when those steps have been passed will there be elections. And as by that time most of the wishes of the opposition have been implemented while at the same time the safeguards asked by the government have been implemented it will at that time not be that important who wins the elections.

During the early days of the uprising in 2011 the opposition did further some demands for reforms. But rather than aimed at a more free and just Syria they were aimed at having Assad giving up his power - step by step. This makes Syria's opposition - where the Muslim Brotherhood has considerable influence - look like the Egyptian Brotherhood. Morsi's rule too was characterized by distrust of other groups and grabbing for power while in terms of ideas for governing the country he disappointed too.

A recent report of the International Crisis Group concluded that in fact the positions of the opposition and the government aren't that far apart. Both sides claim to want free and tolerant Syria where the different sects live peaceful together. It will demand some diplomatic balancing act to achieve peace from this starting point but it is not impossible.

The biggest obstacle at the moment is the opposition that too divided to work out that road map and too still too arrogant to appoint a small team that could do it on its behalf.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Assad's amnesty program for disappointed rebels

Syria: disillusioned rebels drift back to take Assad amnesty: Disillusioned by the Islamist twist that the "revolution" in Syria has taken, exhausted after more than two years of conflict and feeling that they are losing, growing numbers of rebels are signing up to a negotiated amnesty offered by the Assad regime.
when The Daily Telegraph previously visited the reconciliation ministry's headquarters in Damascus the office was crowded with the family members of rebels fighting in the city's suburbs who said their men wanted to return.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Magnanimity in victory

Foreign policy has an interesting article "How Morsy Could Have Saved Himself". According to the author Morsi should have co-opted the old guard:

But whereas Egyptians tossed their dictator in jail and tore up his ruling party, Indonesians pursued a different, gentler path. Suharto -- a man every bit as corrupt as, and considerably more brutal than, his Egyptian counterpart -- was allowed to live out his days in luxury, and his old ruling party, Golkar, was not only allowed to persist (reliably capturing about 20 percent of the vote in legislative elections), but has been included in every post-Suharto cabinet but one. Indonesians may not have satisfied their powerful desire for justice, but their willingness to forgo retribution and work with supporters of the old regime is what allowed that country's nascent democracy to take root despite its endemic poverty and vast ethnic diversity.

That is how democratic revolutions should be done.

In this context this article (Egypt's "road not taken" could have saved Mursi) is also interesting. It tells about an EU initiative about a month before the coup to reconcile the sides.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

How the USA bullies its foreign based citizens

The Wall Street Journal has an article (How to Lose Friends, Citizens and Influence) about the Fatca, the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act. It tries to tax all Americans living outside the United States. For that reason enormous pressure is exerted to foreign banks.

Syria's Kurdish PYD will declare autonomous region

According to Today's Zaman, Syria's Kurdish PYD has has announced that it will declare an autonomous Kurdish region in Syria's north on 19 July. Maybe that explains also the recent increase in fighting in Ras Al-Ain.

According to this article (Syrian Kurds plan self-government) they want to form a provisional government for as long as the war lasts.

Of course Turkey is not happy about this. Neither is the US that sees both Al-Nusra and the PYD as terrorist organizations. That says in my opinion more about American hypocrisy than the situation on the ground.

A good overview can be found in this article (The Latest Sideshow: the PYD v. al-Qaeda) that provides a chronological overview of the fights.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Islamist cause

It is popular nowadays to talk about a conflict between Sunni and Shiites or between Iran and Saudi Arabia. I suspect those conflicts are exaggerated. Consider the following:

- After the Iranian revolution Iran promoted Islamist revolutions everywhere in the Arab world. They didn't seem to care about the Sunni-Shiite difference.

- Just like the Gulf States Iran spends a lot of money on promoting radical Islamist goals. Often they support the same goals such as Hamas. Hezbollah too was until recently generally seen positively in the Arab world.

- Saudi Arabia and Qatar supported the uprisings in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. They supported and still support Islamist organizations that want to establish an Islamist dictatorship. Yet this didn't stop those countries from initially seducing the West to support the uprisings with the claims that they wanted democracy.

- This raises the question how real the Saudi hatred of Iran really is. It might just as well be another insincere excuse to get the US involved in Syria.

- At the moment it appears that Qatar and Saudi Arabia are divided on Egypt. With Qatar supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and the Saudi's opposing it. However, the Saudi's traditionally support the Salafists. And while the Salafists initially supported the military they seem now turning towards the Brotherhood.

- Morsi initially opened up towards Iran. Later the relationship cooled but interestingly after the recent military take-over in Egypt this was condemned by Iran.

- There is a kind of feud between Saudi Arabia on the one hand and Hezbollah and Assad on the other because the Saudi's suspect them of having been involved in the murder of Hariri. Hariri was very close to the Saudi royal family and had the Saudi nationality. This too has little to do with sectarian issues.

So in my opinion spreading Islamism goes above nearly all other issues as the main motive of the Gulf States.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Egypt's illusions

I had a look at the demands of Egypt's Tamarod movement. The original page has disappeared but still has a copy. It is the text of a signature campaign for the departure of Morsi and speedy new presidential elections:

Rebel Campaign (For the destitution of Mohamed Mursi Al Ayat)
  • We reject you … Because Security has not been recovered so far
  • We reject you … Because the deprived one has still no place to fit
  • We reject you … Because we are still begging loans from the outside
  • We reject you … Because no justice has been brought to the martyrs
  • We reject you … Because no dignity was left neither for me nor for my country
  • We reject you … Because the economy has collapsed, and depends only on begging
  • We reject you … Because Egypt is still following the footsteps of the USA
Since the arrival of Mohamed Mursi to power, the average citizen still has the feeling that nothing has been achieved so far from the revolution goals which were life in dignity, freedom, social justice and national independence. Mursi was a total failure in achieving every single goal, no security has been reestablished and no social security realized, thus and gave clear proof that he is not fit for the governance of such a country as Egypt. That said, I, the undersigned, hereby declare that I am of sound mind and with my full will, as a member of the Public Assembly of the Egyptian people, the destitution of Dr. Mohamed Morsi Isa Ayat, and call for early presidential elections, and I promise to uphold the goals of the revolution and work to achieve them and propagating the Rebel Campaign for masses so that together we can achieve a society of dignity, justice and freedom
. Next the document asks your name, id number, governerate, district and email. The problem is that these demands are so vague. We can see it now already with the way the military is behaving that they are clueless what to do. BTW. the Tamarod campaign was financed by some Egyptian businessman: Mr. Sawiris, one of Egypt’s richest men and a titan of the old establishment, said Wednesday that he had supported an upstart group called “tamarrod,” Arabic for “rebellion,” that led a petition drive seeking Mr. Morsi’s ouster. He donated use of the nationwide offices and infrastructure of the political party he built, the Free Egyptians. He provided publicity through his popular television network and his major interest in Egypt’s largest private newspaper. He even commissioned the production of a popular music video that played heavily on his network. [] Ms. Gebali, the former judge, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday that she and other legal experts helped tamarrod create its strategy to appeal directly to the military to oust Mr. Morsi and pass the interim presidency to Hazem el-Beblawi, a former chief of the constitutional court.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

How communism is similar to Islamism

To many people they couldn't be further apart: communism and Islamism. However, on closer inspection they have a lot in common.

The core is that both are ideologies financially supported by one or more countries. This makes them different from normal political parties as they not only need to deliver for their voters but also for their financial backers. So they might be in government, the economy might be doing well, crime might be decreasing and they might be doing well at the polls and yet they might still become under pressure from their financial backers because they don't do enough to further the ideology. And because the financial backers are in a position to play the factions in the party off against each other they can not ignore this pressure.

The supporting countries are usually strict dictatorships that don't allow within their own borders the kind of activism that they promote elsewhere. They defend that seeming contradiction with the claim that are already "pure" and that attacks on them would hurt the cause. So the ideology serves at the same time to defend repression at home and to project influence outside their borders.

Some of the resulting similarities are:
- In both cases party members are known for their loyalty and fanaticism. I suspect that that is caused to a large extent by the fact that there are no real ideological discussions in the party as the ideology is settled by the money supplier. This allows one to be a true believer. Sometimes elements of the ideology may be changed by the money supplier but that is still less stressful than seeing an endless ideological battle as often happens in really democratic parties.
- Both types of parties are very capable to survive in adverse circumstances like dictatorships.
- Both types of parties show a ruthless opportunism. Sometimes they may appear to be loyal democrats. But tomorrow they may dump and betray today's partners.
- Both types of parties are prepared to resort to terrorism, murder and whatever it takes to reach their goals.
- Coalition building is an important part of their power hunger. They can be very dedicated partners - as long as it suits them.
- They are always looking for the next honorable and popular cause that could improve the standing of the party. These are genuine contributions. The communists did much for social justice while for the Islamists are known for support for the poor and - in the case of Egypt - providing affordable health care.
- There is typically one big party (the communists or the Muslim Brotherhood) that is surrounded by a multitude of small parties (Maoists, Trotskyists, anarchists, etc, resp. Salafists and other Islamist parties). Where the big party tends to become dominated by old, somewhat conservative men these splinter groups accommodate the diversity of youthful enthusiasm. This constellation fits the big party as it encapsulates young enthusiasm while at the same time keeping the young fanatics at some distance so that they can't destabilize the big party. As a result the big party enthusiastically supports the splinter groups.
- The movement is split into major factions. The main fault line within the communist movement was between Marxist-Leninists and Maoist while the main fault line within the Islamist movement is between the Brotherhood and the Salafists. However, these conflicts don't stop the factions from collaborating on many fronts.
- Having a fixed ideology also makes leadership less important. Some communist parties had for decades the same leader. But replacement goes just as easily.
- Note that the end of foreign financial support will not automatically change the party. The internal hierarchical culture and the lack of tolerance for dissidents can stay around for a long time. Change is possible - as we saw in for example Poland - but it has to be explicit decision that makes the internal structure of the party more democratic.
- These movements tend to attract alienated youth who feel that their life is on a dead track. For some this is literally so: they are unemployed in some poor neighborhood and are dazzled when the movement opens for them opportunities to study in Cairo or go to Mecca. Other may be outwardly successful but miss a goal in their life.

These kinds of parties can be very lethal to democracies. There is not only the possibility that once they have won election they will never give it up again or that they may use a government position to grab power. But this threat also forces the other parties to become careful. As a result countries like Italy and Japan were for some 40 years ruled by the same party out of fear that if communists would be allowed to govern they might never release power. We see the same in the Arab world. The repression in Syria is the direct legacy of Brotherhood uprisings. In the case of Syria this was worse than elsewhere because it had a sectarian hue.

The polarization between untrustworthy Islamists/communists and the government also removes the space for other opposition parties. Normally under a dictatorship you see the rise of civil society organizations that are a-political and just represent people wanting their road paved or better public transport for their neighborhood. With Islamists or communists around such organizations tend to be hijacked by them.

The threat of violence has from the beginning hung over the Arab Spring. Everyone remembers how the Muslim Brotherhood threw Algeria into a civil war. Before the elections in Egypt and Tunisia the Brotherhood similarly made threats that they would take up arms if they got less support than they expected. In Libya the threats have gone even further and the democratic government seems there incapable of making decisions that go against the wishes of the Islamists.

We know how communism worked. Each "converted" country became a communist dictatorship that tried to export its ideology to its neighbors while making it impossible for its own citizens to get rid of communism. Just as communism Islamism has already been a powerful exporter of terrorism - with Osama bin Laden as its greatest success story - and of ideological fanaticism - as can be seen in many extremist mosques in Europe and the US. If this ideology is allowed to expand things will only get worse.

The Brotherhood has been accused of giving radicals a free hand - both to make hateful speeches and to commit violence, from pressuring women to cover their face to murdering opponents. When one reads about Chili under Allende one encounters similar - although less extreme - accusations.

The problem with this kinds of movements is that they stay around until the source has disappeared. Communism ended with the Soviet Union and similarly Islamism will only end once the Gulf States have become democracies.

Countries where such movements are important face an unsolvable dilemma. On the one hand they represent a large part of the population. Yet on the other hand they can not be expected to respect democratic rules. In my opinion in such circumstances it might be more important to focus on other aspects of democracy than elections - like freedom of speech and gathering and economic liberalization.

One example from a recent Debka report (Obama frowns on Egyptian army’s alignment with Gulf regimes, coming crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood): Our intelligence sources disclose that the generals in Cairo now believe the Muslim Brotherhood regime deliberately turned a blind eye in the past year to the massive flow of weapons smuggled in from Libya into Sinai and onto the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. The Brotherhood, it appears, had been quietly accumulating an arsenal for the contingency of its downfall by setting up a clandestine armed "Center of Revolt" for resistance operations against any takeover of rule in Cairo. This Center of Revolt has set up a coalition with the armed Islamist gangs terrorizing Sinai. This was confirmed in the last 24 hours by Salafist statements, such as: “Sinai is the center of revolt against the military coup which deposed Mohamed Morsi as president.” The generals realize the urgency of cutting down this Islamist terrorist-backed revolt before it spreads out of control to Cairo and the Suez cities of Port Said, Suez and Ismailia - not to mention the threat of sabotage to the international cargo and oil shipping traffic passing through the Suez Canal.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Civilian authority in rebel held areas in Syria

Some article about how rebel held areas are governed:

U.S. weapons reaching Syrian rebels: about Mark S. Ward, the State Department’s senior adviser on assistance to Syria, who coordinates nonlethal aid to rebels from southern Turkey. Ward’s team — working primarily out of hotel lobbies — has spent the past few months studying the demographics and dynamics of communities where extremists are making inroads. Targeted U.S. aid, he said, can be used to empower emerging local leaders who are moderate and to jump-start basic services while dimming the appeal of extremists.
See also The Delivery Man

How Syria's mould-breaking al-Nusra Front is winning hearts and minds. Guardian. 10 July 2013. About Al Nusra rule in Shadadi near Hassaka - a region rich in oil an grain.

Special Report: How Syria's Islamists govern with guile and guns Reuters, 20 June 2013

Aiding Opposition Civilian Authority in Syria; Small Wars Journal, 7 June 2013

Hassan Hassan, “All (Syrian) Politics Is Local,”, 20 December 2012

Karin Laub, “Syrian Rebels Struggle to Run Broke Town,” Associated Press, 17 December 2012.

Aleppo’s Winter of Discontent,” BBC News, 12 December 2012.

Ben Hubbard, “Syrian Rebels, Civilians Brace for Long Civil War,” Associated Press, 27 November 2012.

Kristin Chick, “In Rebel-Held Aleppo, Syrian Civilians Try to Impose Law Through Courts, Not Guns,” Christian Science Monitor, 3 November 2012.

Ilhan Tanir, “In the Land of the Free Syrian Army,” Sada, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 4 October 2012

The Manbij Experiment: Rebels Make a Go of Governing in Liberated City; Spiegel, 2 October 2012.

Anand Gopal, “Welcome to Free Syria,” Harper’s Magazine, August 2012.

Erika Solomon, “Aleppo Residents Have Mixed Reactions  to  Syria Rebels,” Reuters, 31 July 2012.

Jane Ferguson, “Inside Homs with the Free Syrian Army,” Al Jazeera, 8 February 2012.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The demise of "moderate" rebels

Special Report: Syria's Islamists seize control as moderates dither tells the story of Ghurabaa al-Sham, a rebel group in Aleppo that was attacked by Islamist groups and reduced from 2000 to 100 fighters. The Islamists claim that Ghurabaa al-Sham - that controlled the industrial area - was pilfering and didn't want to talk.

I believe that the demise of moderate rebels in Syria is unavoidable. Most moderate rebel fighters who care about democracy and freedom will at some point come to the conclusion that it just isn't worth it. Too many people are dying and too many things are destroyed while at the same time the likelihood of a desirable outcome is only shrinking with the rise of Islamists. And so the idealists quit. That means that you keep two remaining kinds of people: those primarily motivated by hatred for Assad and opportunists motivated by greed or hunger for power.

That means that over time the moderate groups tend to loose their soul and risk to be taken over by opportunists. That makes those still fighting moving towards the Islamists. But like all idealists Islamist groups tend to be pure in the beginning but to get contaminated by greed and opportunism when the group acquires more money and power.

Why Rebels and Islamists Are Pitted Against Each Other in Aleppo Province’s Manbij tells the story of the criminal gang leader Abu Hashish near the town Manbij (about 80 km north east of Aleppo). He appeared affiliated to Ahrar al-Sham and Islamist groups refused to arrest him, so the FSA affiliated Golan battalion did it, what led to fights with Islamists that killed about 20 people.

Free Syrian Army rebels defect to Islamist group Jabhat al-Nusra: Abu Ahmed and others say the FSA has lost fighters to al-Nusra in Aleppo, Hama, Idlib and Deir al-Zor and the Damascus region. Ala'a al-Basha, commander of the Sayyida Aisha brigade, warned the FSA chief of staff, General Salim Idriss, about the issue last month. Basha said 3,000 FSA men have joined al-Nusra in the last few months, mainly because of a lack of weapons and ammunition. Looks like propaganda for more arms for the FSA.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

A changing role for Syria's mukhabarat?

And the army is taking over???

President Assad's army is starting to call the shots in Syria: There are also some intriguing signs that the government army, so keen to appear as the foundation stone of the state – which it is – without the dark stain of fear left by the mukhabarat, is taking its own steps to push back the "terror" men. The military security forces, now that they have – for the first time – to deal directly with their own civilians, are giving orders over the heads of the intelligence agencies. In 2010, Assad himself took a decision to ban security agents from carrying weapons covertly – a highly contentious rule for the secret police – and the army has now followed on from this.

The army, for example, is today in command of security in battle. In the past, military intelligence men would give instructions to the army. But the Syrian army is now in charge. Field commanders – not cops – make decisions. There have been many cases, according to those involved with the military, where plain-clothes security agents witnessed brutalising civilians have been arrested and – incredibly – put before military courts. The generals and the colonels, in other words, are no longer prepared to play patsy to the regime's thugs.

Robert Fisk: The war has reached Damascus, but for now it is not a warzone: The mukhabarat, the torturers, beaters, threateners, killers of the regime, are to blame. It’s surprising how many within the steadily diminishing circle of government Damascus say this. Soldiers say the same. The mukhabarat are to blame, they started this wretched business by assaulting the teenagers who painted graffiti on the walls of Deraa, they went beserk, they thought they were kings. It’s said that Assad wanted to rid himself of these thugs – there are tens of thousands of them – and that quite a few soldiers in the still-loyal army want to destroy them. But whose side would the mukhabarat then join?

How Bill Clinton damages Obama

There is an informal rule that former presidents don't comment the acts of their successors.

And now we have here Bill Clinton. He is not only criticizing Obama's Syria policy. He is also suggesting that Obama's only reason for his policies are the opinion polls and suggesting that that makes him into a "complete fool".

His only excuse is that it happened in a closed meeting. But Clinton hasn't apologized and instead continued his statement in the full public eye. Never mind that Obama is a fellow democrat.

It certainly doesn't enhance the credibility of Clinton's wife as presidential candidate. And as for Obama, it doesn't enhance his credibility that he takes action because Clinton called him a "fool" and a "wuzz".

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Zaatari refugee camp

FountainInk, an Indian magazine, has an interesting - very long - article (DESERT REFUGE) about Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan.

Some excerpts: All she says is that sheikhs from Module 5 and Module 7 come and collect rent. Not paying or revealing identities will make her disappear, she says. Za’atari is not that different from the shadowy system Assad has in place in Syria. People disappear in the night, never to return again.
Abu Abdullah is part of the electricity mafia. He’s got a TV in his caravan, he’s got another caravan that is used for entertaining. He looks like a Don Corleone, one that the police and the UN appease. No one bothers him. To do that would be to sever ties with clans that are finally working with the officials in Za’atari. He is a part of the network that provides electricity to homes and shops along the Champs Elysees.
Almost all homes in Phase 1 have lights, as do all the stores. They operate a system entrenched in fear and retribution. Abu Abdullah rolls his eyes when I ask if he thinks his work is thieving.
“I feel no guilt. For too long I’ve been stolen from in Syria by Assad and his Alawites. This is payback and the international community will bear the burden. They could have acted to stop the bloodshed but they just hosted conferences. Israel is better than our Arab brothers, at least it attacked Bashar,” he spewed.
Mafia and FSA fighter are virtually indistinguishable. There exists an unspoken unholy alliance between the VIP refugees and the FSA fighters. A high-level FSA general, Colonel Idris resides in between two camps. He spends time at Za’atari. Should there be an issue, it is the Colonel that will beat out a resolution. Many FSA fighters are living a life of luxury they only dreamed of.
When she first arrived in Za’atari she was foolish and didn’t stand up for herself. The currency mafia took her for a ride. For almost all new arrivals the mafia devalued the price of the Syrian pound. They bought it cheap and sold it expensive. Suddenly her money was halved.
There are 60,000 children in the camp. Half of them are school-going age, yet only 3,000 are registered to attend. Many are fighting battles elders are involved in and are running into trouble with the police. Too often they cut the fences and act as guides for smugglers and runaways.
An aid worker with an NGO worked double shifts to keep the children off the streets. Football, music and other activities had kept the children busy. There was a brief period when Za’atari looked like a normal village. Two weeks later, she had to stop.
A man had accosted her on the street. He shouted at her and later threatened her. “Too happy,” is how he described the children.
He lashed out at her: didn’t she know a civil war was going on, he had asked. “Young dissatisfied youth” was what the man with the long beard has ordered.
Many children look like street children. Their skin has been dried by the bitter winter and then burnt under the summer sun. Some have jobs selling chai and cigarettes, others work as porters and move luggage on wheelbarrows.
According to the new UNHCR plan, the camp will be divided into 12 administrative units. Each unit will have a council. This will bring the camp under authoritative umbrella. There will be greater monitoring and accountability. It is after this reorganisation that businesses, mafia and smugglers will feel the heat of Za’atari.
Already, members of the FSA network have been giving officials working on this project some trouble. They don’t want the system changed. They don’t want their power checked. Za’atari is the largest pro-FSA base in the world. FSA flags are scattered over the camp: tied to tent poles and wedged in nooks and crannies of shops. People openly talk of their support, openly celebrate victories. There are tents with FSA graffiti. A UN-built toilet reads: “Bashar lives here.”

Another article about Zaatari is Chaos and Crime: The Trials of Running a Syrian Refugee Camp

The Syrian Crisis in Jordan (24 June 2013): discusses Zaatari camp and other refugees in Jordan.

The article of the National Post (Syrians grappling with persistant crime problem in refugee camp in Jordan after fleeing vicious civil war) has also a photo report with overviews from the air.

The BBC made a page where you can visually explore the camp (Zaatari refugee camp: The children living in limbo)

Le Figaro wrote on 22 october 2013 Le camp de Zaatari entre mafias et detresse.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Syria's Lebanese villages

Hezbollah's present involvement began when rebels started attacking the "Lebanese villages" in the region near Qusair. Here some links about that:

Hezbollah Defends Shiite Villages In Syria War

On the Frontline of the Battle for Syria’s Lebanese Villages

Having helped to conquer Qusair - and with that protecting the "Lebanese" villages - raises the question about what next. This article (For Hezbollah, What is Victory In Syria?) discusses that question. In one speech Nasrallah anounced as his goal to end rebel presence in three regions: the Damascus’ countryside, which is home to the Sayyida Zaynab shrine; the Homs’ countryside, which includes the city of Qusair and surrounding villages; and the Qalamoun area, which includes the Zabadani region from where Lebanese Shiite areas are now regularly shelled. That raises the question whether it will be easy to quit once Hezbollah has gotten involved.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Saudi's taking over control of rebels?

According to Foreign Policy (Syria Is Now Saudi Arabia's Problem) Saudi Arabia has - under pressure from the US - taken over from Qatar as the main force controlling Syria's rebels. They are believed to have pressured the last SNC conference to diminish the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and to increase the influence of Idriss.

Postscript July 2013: According to Al Monitor (West, Saudi Arabia Step Up Efforts to Arm Syrian Rebels) After three days in Istanbul last week, the National Coalition seems more like a coalition of Syrian tribes and north-east families. The tribe of al-Shimri, which is Jarba’s tribe, belongs to the area of Hasakah. Jarba’s deputy is Salem al-Maslat, a sheikh from the al-Jubur tribe in the al-Jazeera region of Syria. His other deputy is Mohammad Farouq Tayfour. He comes from a prominent Hama family and is a main Brotherhood figure. Suhair al-Atassi, despite her utter failure in her previous position and the harsh criticisms against her, was made a third vice president to the National Coalition’s president to strengthen the tribal and familial alliance and to show solidarity with besieged Homs. The new opposition leadership is a conglomeration of Syrian tribes and Saudi Arabia enjoys significant influence among them.

Monday, June 03, 2013

The myth of the nation state as a cause of war

It is an old myth that the nation-state is a major source of trouble. And in Europe the EU has been brought as a solution of that problem.

In fact the nation state is a logical consequence of modernization. In modern society in most jobs language proficiency is needed and as a consequence people pay a major price when they will in a country where the national language is not their mother tongue. Another facet of modern life is that most people are employed by some organization. This makes them vulnerable to discrimination. Most nation states follow indeed linguistic borders and where that is not the case there is often a history of discrimination.

In fact the trouble caused by the rise of the nation state is mainly friction trouble. Every change causes winners and losers and the transition towards a nation state is no exception. When you have border changes there is always one party losing something. And when you have new borders there are always some people who suddenly find themselves on the wrong side of those borders.

As Europe has mostly been through this phase of transition its nation states are no longer a source of trouble but rather a source of stability. Sure, there are still some trouble points - mainly in the East - but we have established sound procedures to handle them (for example with the Helsinki Accords). When problems do arise - see Yugoslavia - it is because we blatantly ignore those rules.

This brings me to the EU. One can have different ideas about its viability as nowhere else in the world one can find a similar super state. But one thing is sure: the road towards European unity is change and change causes friction and possibly war.

Initially the EU was mainly a cooperation between nation states that allowed these nation states to function better in world where some of their markets were too small to allow sound competition. But in the last decades the EU has become a power in itself that actively tries to dismantle the nation states. And since then it has become increasingly a source of trouble.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The limited effect of a no-fly zone in Syria

Why Pentagon has doubts about no-fly zone over Syria.

In Libya having a "no fly zone" was not enough to let the rebels win. It took active and very destructive involvement of NATO in bombing government positions. As for Syria: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey has noted that only 10 percent of casualties sustained by Syrian opposition forces are being imposed by air power. The other 90 percent come from direct fire or artillery.

U.N. investigators say most Syria rebels not seeking democracy

U.N. investigators say most Syria rebels not seeking democracy:

So much for supporting democracy...

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Israel's role in the Syria war

This post contains info about Israel's role in the Syrian war. Initially this part of the foreign involvement post where I keep track of developments in foreign involvement in the Syrian uprising. But as Israel is getting more involved by the day I believe it deserves a separate page.

18 September 2014: Syrian Rebel Commander says he Collaborated with Israel: "Times Of Israel" -- A Free Syrian Army commander, arrested last month by the Islamist militia Al-Nusra Front, told his captors he collaborated with Israel in return for medical and military support, in a video released this week.
>In a video uploaded to YouTube Monday by the
Executive Sharia Council in the eastern Daraa Region, an Islamic court established by Al-Nusra in southern Syria, Sharif As-Safouri, the commander of the Free Syrian Army’s Al-Haramein Battalion, admitted to having entered Israel five times to meet with Israeli officers who later provided him with Soviet anti-tank weapons and light arms. Safouri was abducted by the al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front in the Quneitra area, near the Israeli border, on July 22.

24 Februari 2014 :Military option against Syria is alive: According to reports, Israel has also been involved, and even provided active assistance in at least one attack by rebel troops four months ago, when its communications and intelligence base on Mount Hermon jammed the Syrian army’s communications system and the information relayed between its fighting forces and their headquarters.

18 September 2013: Israeli general says Assad could survive in Syria for years: Interviewed by the Jerusalem Post, ambassador Oren described Assad's defeat as welcome even if it were at the hands of al Qaeda-linked rebels more hostile to the Jewish state.

7 September 2013: Getting sucked in?: At the same time, Israel's army is letting people know more about the help it is giving Syria's rebels. An Israeli military field hospital on opposition-held territory on the Golan Heights frontier has treated hundreds of rebels, says Yediot Ahronot, Israel's biggest-selling paper, and some civilians for whom the Free Syria Army has co-ordinated passage. The army has also moved some 150 war-wounded for treatment in Israel proper.
A couple of dozen Israeli aid workers in Syria have also helped drum up funds and support for the rebels back home. A former flight-attendant has led teams of up to eight Israelis into Syria. She says that she has delivered satellite phones, chemical suits and 300,000 dry meals since arriving in Deraa, the southern city where the uprising began in March 2011, and has succeeded in airlifting some Syrian injured to Tel Aviv. Nir Boms, an academic who used to work at Israel's embassy in Washington, says that he has helped deliver hundreds of tonnes of aid to Syrian refugees. "Syrians had no idea who Israelis were for 65 years," says Moti Kahana, a computer entrepreneur who has spent time with the rebels at their office in Washington as well as in Syria. "We've built a bridge." Amongst his successes, he counts arranging the visit to Syria last May of Senator John McCain, who has argued vigorously in favour of an American strike against the Assad regime. "In 1943 the world could have bombed Auschwitz," says Mr Kahana. "It's my duty as an Israeli and as a Jew to ensure that it never happens again."

6 September 2013: Israel Backs Limited Strike Against Syria: Israel favor for the being a policy that lets neither side win. A prolonged conflict is perceived as hurting Iran, which finances Mr. Assad’s war effort. Whether Mr. Obama follows through on his promise to retaliate for the use of chemical weapons is a test of his commitment, ultimately, to prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb — as long as the retaliation does not become a full-scale intervention in Syria. “If it’s Iran-first policy, then any diversion to Syria is not fruitful,” said Aluf Benn, editor of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. “From the Israeli point of view, the worst scenario is mission-creep in Syria and America gets entangled in a third war in the Middle East, which paralyzes its ability to strike Iran and limits Israel’s ability to strike Iran as well.”

2 September 2013: Obama’s Syria Decision Greeted Silently by Israel: while Israel's preference for attack is clear for anyone involved it goes to great lengths to stay quiet in public.

6 August 2013: Across Forbidden Border, Doctors in Israel Quietly Tend to Syria’s Wounded

30 July 2013: Israel, allies trying to hold onto Aleppo by arming militants: Redwan Rizk: ...a report in Israeli media that says Israel has made a 50 million dollar arms deal to supply Saudi Arabia with weapons and equipment for the insurgency in Syria.

28 July 2013: Report: Israel Bombs Another Syrian Weapons Convoy

15 July 2013: Israel tones down opposition to Western arming of Syrian rebels

29 May 2013: Russia to deliver arms to Syria as fears rise of proxy war: Russia said on Tuesday that it would supply one of its most advanced anti-aircraft missiles to the Syrian government hours after the EU ended its arms embargo on the country's rebels, raising the prospect of a rapidly escalating proxy war in the region if peace talks fail in Geneva next month. Israel quickly issued a thinly veiled warning that it would bomb the Russian S-300s if they were deployed in Syria as such a move would bring the advanced guided missiles within range of civilian and military planes in Israeli air space.

24 May 2013: Israel Finding Itself Drawn Into Syria’s Turmoil: Several Israelis who follow Syria closely said Israeli security forces had already been quietly working with villagers who support neither the government nor the rebels, supplying moderate humanitarian aid and maintaining intense intelligence activity. But they said any notion of arming such villagers was far off if not far-fetched, noting that the main Druse leadership in Syria has so far stayed steadfastly out of the conflict.

15 May 2013: Israel ‘will bring down Assad’ if he retaliates for future airstrikes: Israeli source tells NY Times further raids contemplated on weapons shipments. Israel has warned Damascus that if President Assad chooses to hit back at Israel for any further Israeli military strikes, Israel will bring down his regime.

5 May 2013: Syria Blames Israel for Fiery Attack in Damascus
4 May 2013: Israel Targeted Iranian Missiles in Syria Attack

22 March 2013: CIA Expands Role in Syria Fight: The Central Intelligence Agency is expanding its role in the campaign against the Syrian regime by feeding intelligence to select rebel fighters to use against government forces, current and former U.S. officials said. [..] The U.S. also relies on Israeli and Jordanian spy agencies, which have extensive spy networks inside Syria, U.S. and European officials said.

27 February 2013: Six Syrian rebels hospitalized in Israel returned to Syria: The men were wounded Feb. 16 near Israel's security fence with Syria in the Golan Heights during clashes between the Syrian army and rebel forces in Syria's 2-year-old civil war. Israeli soldiers brought the Syrians to Ziv Hospital in Safed. One of the Syrians was severely wounded and the rest were injured from bullets and shrapnel, with some requiring surgery.
Israel may be operating in Syria goes further and claims that Israeli troops are operating inside Syria to help. Later on Israel gave the rebels also entropine and other antidotes against chemical warfare.
Debka (Israeli- and Hizballah-controlled enclaves inside Syria) claims that Israel has set up a large field hospital near the Tel Hazakah observation and military post on Golan which overlooks southern Syria and northern Jordan. There, incoming Syrian war wounded are vetted and examined by Israeli army medics who decide whether to patch them up and send them back, or judge them badly hurt enough for hospital care. The seriously hurt are moved to one of the the nearest Israeli hospitals in Safed or Haifa.

12 december 2012: For those not believing that Israel considers Assad's fall in its interest: Israeli Envoy Sees Radicals Risk Preferable to Assad: (Bloomberg) — Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren said the fall of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would be a boon to Israel and the Mideast, even if radical Islamists try to fill the vacuum left by his departure. “There’s the possibility that you’ll have Sunni extremist elements who will try to come to the fore,” Oren said yesterday in Washington. “Our opinion is that any situation would be better than the current situation” in which the Syrian regime has a strategic alliance with Iran and the Lebanese Shiite Muslim terrorist group Hezbollah, he said. In this context this article ( is also interesting. It claims that this is a battle against the PFLP, a radical Palestinian faction.

This article (Israeli commandos act in Syria, Jihadists on Jordan border) from a Jordanian (Dubai affiliated) site claims that Syria has arrested 49 Turkish officers who were taking part in the rebellion and that some of them had admitted being trained by Israeli. It also claims that there are 11,000 foreign fighters (mostly Libyans) in the Jordan border zone and that there is some Israeli involvement there too.

Syria's nonviolent opposition

It still exists: a Syrian nonviolent opposition.

In July 2012 they emitted the Sant’Egidio call for peace.

However, not all who advertise as nonviolent are so. Many "non-violent" demonstrations inside Syria are in reality declarations of support for the armed uprising by those who for some reason don't want to go fighting themselves.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Give Syria Peace Talks a Chance

In their article Give Peace Talks a Chance Michael Quinn and Madhav Joshi discuss how peace negotiations in Syria could work. Although they start from a different perspective they come to similar conclusion as I did in previous articles.

They object against the announced global conference: Most peace processes begin with secret or else private pre-negotiations. In private talks, there is no audience, and the cost of joining or leaving is low. The primary function of these discussions is to overcome the psychological barriers to formal negotiations by addressing the warring parties’ major fears about the process. Each side expresses the problems as they see them. These perceptions are repeatedly reframed until a shared understanding of the issues that need to be addressed is developed.

They also warn against big demands and goals at this stage: Talks that bite off too much too early are likely to fail. In Nepal’s first round of formal peace talks in 2001, for example, the Maoists put forward a list of roughly 40 demands, which included dissolving the government and the constitution and holding elections for a constituent assembly. Government mediators balked. The talks failed, and the civil war entered its most violent period. Two years later, in 2003, the Maoists called a cease-fire and the government reciprocated. This time, the initial gambit was only three security-related requests that did not include dissolving the government. The government accepted and formal negotiations began. By 2006, the two sides were signing a comprehensive agreement that ended the war. They even agreed to form a constituent assembly to write a new constitution, which, in turn, abolished the monarchy.

They also argue against having a transitional government now: Transitional power-sharing arrangements are quite common in peace agreements. (Over half of the accords in the Peace Accords Matrix, a database of comprehensive peace agreements hosted by the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, establish a transitional power-sharing arrangement). Such provisions, however, typically entered into agreements later in the process, once the parties had decided what they were transitioning to.

They don't consider the fragmented nature of the opposition a major problem: But many successful negotiations do start out as bilateral talks between the government and one or more groups. They tend to expand to include more opposition groups over time because, as talks near their end, no one wants to be left out of the process that will shape new political institutions or even form a new government. If a group does not put down its guns, it runs the risk of being denied recognition as a legal party or, even worse, becoming the target of an increasingly focused military campaign under a unified government. In other words, starting negotiations with one or more groups tend to lead to negotiations with the other groups.

Syria does not need a transitional government

Last June the big powers gathered in Geneva to talk about a strategy for solving the Syrian conflict. They nearly agreed on a model where after short negotiations a transitional government is installed that should organize elections. It will now guide the newly planned negotiations.

The significance of this strategy is that it excludes the option of first negotiating and agreeing on how the country should look in the future and only then to have a formal transfer of power. As for example South Africa and El Salvador successfully resolved their armed conflicts this way adopting the transitional government model seriously handicaps the UN negotiators in their work.

the transitional government model
A transitional government is the usual option in a power vacuum when the incumbent government has quit. It is a rather common model in democracies where no one will put the legality of decisions by previous governments in question.

But as the problems of Northern Africa show, it is a rather problematic model as a replacement for dictatorships. While the “negotiations-first” model creates a transitional period where both parties are in power and they together introduce agreed-on reforms that were wished by the opposition and modeled so that the government can live with, the “transitional government” model creates a power vacuum. And where in democracies the bureaucracy is used to keep things going and there is a kind of consensus between the parties on what a transitional government is supposed to do this lacks in dictatorships.

So all parties keep pushing for their own demands and criticize the transitional government for anything that they don’t like. As a consequence such a government has very little legitimacy and struggles even to maintain order. This lack of control tends to persist after the transitional government has been replaced by an elected one. It allows violent groups (militia leaders in Libya, Salafist groups in all three countries) to become active and influence the situation. As a consequence all three countries are now adrift and might well end up again as dictatorships again. In the past similar things have happened in Iran (1979) and Russia (1917). Another effect of this power struggle is that there is little opportunity to introduce the kind of reforms that were the original goal of the revolution.

Every country is based on a quiet consensus that is laid down in the constitution. A revolution destroys this consensus but offers nothing instead. It is an illusion that this can be resolved by elections. Voters focus on economic issues and their own interests and most will ignore what their candidate thinks about issues like minority rights. Besides that , first elections after a dictatorship tend to be not very representative of how the country thinks. A third problem is that there often is no two-thirds majority for any specific position. Finally there is the problem that a constitution contains abstract principles of which no one can be certain how they will work out. For those reasons it can be better to start from an old constitution and improve it article by article.

the negotiations-first model
In the negotiations-first model the old government negotiates with the insurgents about the needed reforms and introduces those. So the power transfer is delayed but the reforms are speeded up. In South Africa and El Salvador the reforms were worked out in separate commissions while the old government stayed in power. Poland achieved a similar effect in 1989 by allowing elections for a minority of the parliament seats. Spain had a socialist prime minister while parliament and army were still under fascist control. Major reforms (abolishment of apartheid in South Africa, land reform in El Salvador and economic reforms in Poland) were achieved this way.

Being involved with the reform commits the old government and the civil servants to the reforms, makes it more likely that they will be done well and decreases the chance that they will be turned back later on. It also increases the likelihood that the civil servants will not obstruct a power transfer. As such it decreases the need for a purge of the civil servants that - as we have seen with the de-Baathification in Iraq – can seriously harm a country. In Syria – where even postmen have been killed for being government employees – this is a real risk. The cooperative introduction of reforms also shows that both parties can live and work together – a belief that tends to become questioned in a civil war.

In the negotiations-first model the government may include members of the opposition. It may even hand over the complete government – as we saw in Spain and Poland. But it will still keep the final power until a complete agreement is reached.

points for negotiation
Just as elsewhere in the Arab world the complaints that resulted in the uprising focused on economic policy and to a lesser extent on lack of freedom and police brutality. For some of these issues it shouldn’t be hard to find a solution in negotiations. For example import monopolies can be abolished and police education improved.

But the biggest issue in Syria is sectarian relations. Under Ottoman rule the Alawites had a kind of pariah status as some saw them as not Islamic. Such views are still rather popular: in the 1980s the Muslim Brotherhood waged a murder campaign against Alawite government officials and the present uprising thanks much of its popularity to television preachers like Arour who focused on the Alawite background of Assad and his regime and painted the uprising as a fight of Sunni’s against Alawite oppression. Jabhat Al-Nusra sometimes openly discriminates against and harasses Alawites. It is this tension between the Assad government on one side and the Muslim Brotherhood and extremists on the other side that poisons Syria. And to get real peace it needs to be resolved in a way with which most Syrians can live.

Negotiating with your adversaries is at the core of democracy. So – rather than being a concession to a dictatorship – negotiating with Assad is a good preparation for real democracy. It is the difference between the Magna Carta and the Russian revolution.