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 Archive.org 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.