Tag Archives: Egypt

Egyptian Chaos: a European Problem

Europe’s role could be crucial to the stabilisation of Egypt. Adding political action to the provision of financial aid, the ‘Old Continent’ could help the country find the stability lost due to its serious economic drift.

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[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hilst Europe attempts to define a role in the Mediterranean, Egypt again finds itself at the centre of international attention due to its political instability, resulting from the fall of Morsi. After the gains of the 2011 revolution were progressively mobilised by the Muslim Brotherhood, due to their victory in the presidential elections, the country’s internal situation progressively deteriorated. This resulted in a coup carried out by the military which seems to have found, for the moment, the support of the population. At this point its western neighbours are presented with a dilemma that is not easy to resolve. It is a matter of understanding which are the real demands of the Egyptian people and which is the correct approach to ‘communicate’ with an Egypt in continuous evolution.

The Egyptian uprising helps to challenge a paradigm rooted in the West, that of electoral infallibility, according to which electoral results are a fundamental-and therefore immutable-element of civic life. As seen in Gaza in 2006, however, in the political realities in which democracy begins to take root, elections often yield results which are opposite to those expected-or rather, hoped for. In a sense, what is happening today in the Middle East previously occurred in Europe in the first half of the twentieth century. If on one hand this opens up legal dialogues, on the strength of which there is no reason to boycott a government which has legitimately come to power, on the other there are numerous voices which contest the electoral result due to hypothetical pressures or ‘financial patronage’ exerted by the Muslim Brotherhood. It seems clear, however, that room for reflection is very limited and that it is instead necessary to act as soon as possible in order to facilitate a process of transition with as little trauma as possible. It is in fact in the common interest that the region finds its own equilibrium.

In this sense Europe’s role could be crucial to the stabilisation of Egypt. Adding political action to the provision of financial aid, the ‘Old Continent’ could help the country find the stability lost due to its serious economic drift. An economy which, moreover, is characterised by structural elements which make internal change difficult. Among them, the importance of the tourist industry, which is now affected by political instability; a strong tradition of high public subsidies, which do not, however, generate positive outcomes in terms of employment; and an elevated degree of military control over the economy. These factors result in very limited opportunities for an imminent recovery. Europe, on the other hand, could have a more incisive role through the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM), created in 2008 by the Barcelona Process and driven by the French, and which in recent years has been found to be a very effective card in relating to the Arab Spring. To find a greater influence in the region, however, the UfM requires renewed confidence and momentum in terms of its capacity for action.

Looking closely, in contrast, what one perceives is a sense of disorientation experienced by western governments, which appear unable to understand the path along which Egypt is directed. Of course, this understanding is far from easy to achieve, and the regional scenario certainly does not make the picture clearer. In fact, the situation in Syria is becoming progressively more explosive, and risks being the subject of a bitter clash between the West and Russia, which has seen Damascus as its only decisive partner in the Middle East since the late seventies.

Ultimately, signs of openness towards a more secular Egypt, which is crucially able to equip itself with a stable and credible democratic system, are coming from the West. To date, however, it is precisely this choice of mediation which seems to be the greatest challenge faced by Cairo. In such a scenario, marked by the fluidity and succession of events, the questions of Europeans are, perhaps, identical to those of Egyptians themselves.

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Original Article: Il caos egiziano: un problema europeo

Translated by Lois Bond


The ‘Arab Spring’ Backfire

Egypt looks set for a battle between religious fundamentalists and secularists, with the military seemingly also attempting to pull strings. 

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[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen the ‘Arab Spring’ began, with Mohammed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in Tunisia, many Western countries and their overzealous administrations were quick to jump on the democracy bandwagon; quick was the change of discourse – away from decades of tolerable autocratic alliances, to outright denunciations of their friends of the past. Fair enough, dictatorship seems a much outdated concept with no place in the modern world; the evolution of political science has left no scope for debate in this regard. Yet, championing the cause of democracy so fervently was a mistake – the administrations of the Western world showed little tact and forward-thinking in their actions, as it has been made evident following the ousting of Mohammed Morsi.

The vehemence of external support empowered the people to act, perhaps not physically, but certainly psychologically. Concessions made by leaders in the Middle-East and, in certain cases, their deposition, meant that something which bore vague resemblance to democracy was born. The world rejoiced at the apparent demise of despotism. However, to revisit the self-immolation of Bouazizi, this almost completely missed the point. The man did not light himself on fire out of some uppity desire for democracy or political representation – this is a yearning of the intelligentsia. The masses, out in the past few weeks in Tahrir Square, belong to what would be categorised as the working class and their primary concern is often directed by necessity over want. In other words, people like Bouazizi would have appreciated the luxury of a vote, but they are much more inclined towards their own sufficiency. An end to corruption and a fair chance to make an honest living are what the masses desire; this was proved when the Egyptian military ousted the democratically elected President, to the rejoice of a nation. As Fraser Nelson of the Daily Telegraph identifies, what the people of the Middle-East needed was not democracy but instead capitalism.

In truth, democracy is nothing but a quixotic concept in the context of the near future of the Middle-East. Stability is needed before democracy can be introduced. William Hague’s insistence that stability comes from democratic institutions is correct, but not in a situation as complex as that particular region. By starting the democracy bandwagon too early, the Western powers have enabled the Egyptian public to recognise their true potency. They have learnt that laws can be broken, that the constitution can be changed, whenever they so desire. Stability is becoming an object shrinking in the distance.

Now, Egypt finds itself in a difficult place, as do America and the UK. To call the military junta it is now dealing with a consequence of a coup d’état would rescind approximately $1.6 billion of aid to Egypt and plunge it further into instability. Simultaneously, these administrations fear that Egypt is to return to its past of a political battleground between corrupt military leaders and staunch Islamists. Whilst its generals maintain they want nothing for themselves, their actions suggest otherwise: the Egyptian military already rejected a draft constitution, fundamentally because it suggested an elected civilian authority to control the armed forces. Effectively, Egypt has slipped out of the control of the Western powers; its fate rests, and power lies, in the hands of its military. The US and UK may look on and observe, but they missed their chance; whole-hearted intervention may well have been practiced a few years before but with the economic downturn and memories of past failures, both the UK and the US were reluctant to intervene in a region crying out for the establishment of a genuine capitalist system.

As for the future of Egypt? It looks set for a battle between religious fundamentalists and secularists, with the military seemingly also attempting to pull strings. What’s to stop them usurping another legitimate President? It’s a dire situation that’s just screaming out impasse.

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Photo Credit: Diariocritico de Venezuela

Revolution Is A Messy Business

So 2012 is over and we are looking ahead to 2013. A lot has happened during the last year as the Middle East plodded on through the late stages of the Arab Spring. Now there is talk of an Arab Fall (or an Islamist Spring) due to the rise of Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates as well as Salafists in Egypt, Tunisia, etc..

Among many there was a vague expectation of a liberal democratic turn in the Middle East when the first regimes fell. However – especially in Egypt – the Muslim Brotherhood was simply the most organized organization with the most clout. It was obvious that it would gain a strong role in post-Mubarak Egypt.

A swift and easy transformation was equally unlikely. The Arab Spring in its historical dimension can be compared to the end of the evil empire; the Soviet Union and its satellites. Gregory Gause, III makes a good point when he says that after the fall of Communism, Eastern Europeans had no other ideological paradigm than capitalist democracy to turn to. This is very different to the Arab Spring.

In the Middle East Islam is an alternative program, and the result is the aforementioned rise of Islamists. However, recent events in some Eastern European states might suggest a surprising resurgence of nationalism. Furthermore, the conflicts in the Balkans and in Moldova reveal that the fall of the Iron Curtain did not go over as easily and without violence as suggested by Gause. Hence, if we poke around a little it becomes clear that historic shifts often work out similarly.

We need to keep in mind when dealing with such shifts that the results will be diverse and depend a lot on the circumstances in the respective countries. Revolutions are often connected to violence, and continued conflict after the old regime has been removed is a by-product. We know from empirical studies that transformative regimes are more prone to internal conflict. This is obvious for Syria and Libya, but keep an eye on Egypt as the country faces huge obstacles in the immediate future and holds a lot of potential for conflict that might escape the recent events of street violence. What will happen when politics in Egypt become unhinged?

This does not mean that the Arab Spring will be in vain. Simply that transformative periods are almost never short-lived and countries face numerous possible outcomes.

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Photo credit: Denis Bocquet

Resistance and Retribution: Israel’s Follies in Gaza

The IDF is entering another endless rabbit warren from which it will emerge victory-less after it inevitably fails to achieve its aims. Gaza will be left in a considerably worse shape. Of course, it will be the international community’s fault for not letting them finish the job.

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After reports of 30,000 Israeli reservists mobilising after a day of tit-for-tat attacks between the IDF and Hamas, some commentators are predicting an ‘Operation Cast Lead 2.0’. The situation in Gaza has exploded since the assassination (or targeted killing, whichever your sensibilities prefer) of Ahmed al-Jabari, the commander of Hamas’military wing and many of us have been left trying to comprehend the course of the events.

Despite the tragedy unravelling before us across a multitude of news and social media platforms, swarming us with swathes of information and subtle misinformation. Already journalists are noting the ‘cyber battlefield’ between Hamas and the IDF, and now even Netanyahu himself is jumping into the Twitter front line, unsurprisingly denouncing Hamas as cowards for using their fellow Palestinians as improvised body armour. However, we see a shining example of how too much information is even more debilitating than too little and it has become near impossible to see through the fog of the information war to understand what is going on

Rather than attempt to tackle the course of events from an unfamiliar perspective, if we approach the IDF’s counterinsurgency strategy towards Gaza then we can gain valuable insight into some of the factors at play.

First and foremost, Gaza is not an existential threat to Israel. Short of Hamas acquiring a nuclear bomb, there is very little that could develop in Gaza that could alter Israel’s threat picture. Existential threats are a classification reserved only for threats such as a hostile Egypt – the linchpin in any conventional assault on Israel – and the Iranian nuclear programme. Hamas’ rockets, however, do pose and existential threat to the government. While sporadic rocket attacks on southern Israeli settlements closest to the border with Gaza are to be expected, Fajr-5 rockets falling on Tel Aviv will start making people question their government’s ability to protect its citizens.

Second, there are number of international factors at play whose influences are still obscured by the ‘shock of capture’ from the rapid deterioration of events. There’s the ongoing chaos in Syria, which has started to draw in the IDF after exchanges of mortar bombs and tank shells in the Golan. In early October, Hizbollah flew an Iranian-made reconnaissance drone into southern Israel, while the rest of Lebanon simmers from the tension exacerbated by the Syrian conflict. There is the ongoing crisis over Iran’s nuclear programme and the international sanctions, combined with the drop in the Rial, are straining Iran’s ability to support the Assad regime, Hizbollah and Hamas. In the US, Obama’s re-election has foiled Netanyahu’s hopes of a Romney-Ryan presidency.

What is the IDF trying to achieve? It is blatantly clear that their assassination of al-Jabari has escalated the situation. Fajr rockets dropping on Tel Aviv is a very significant development. The fact that Hamas has only decided now to bring them to bear on the cosmopolitan Israeli city indicates a red line has been crossed. There are two possible conclusions: the Israeli government underestimated Hamas’ reaction or they intentionally provoked a reaction out of the organisation. Considering the reported competence of Israel’s intelligence organisations, the former is very unlikely and there is little chance the IDF was caught off guard. The latter is far more likely to be the case. Furthermore, they will have calculated Hamas’ most dangerous course of action as firing Fajrs onto Israelis cities and have considered it as an acceptable risk to their larger aims.

We need to backtrack to Lebanon in 2006 to get a better sense of what is going on. In 2006, after a month of heavy fighting with Hizbollah, Israel withdrew from Lebanon defeated. Both the Israeli civilian and military leadership were shocked at the IDF’s poor performance against an enemy they had badly underestimated. After the war, the government conducted a probing investigation into what went wrong.

Israeli operations in Lebanon and Gaza show the reality of COIN doctrine without all the fuzzy frills of ‘winning hearts and minds’. The doctrine determined the IDF’s operations in Lebanon during its occupation from 1982 to 2000, again in 2006 and once more in Gaza in 2009 in Operation Cast Lead. Not-so-coincidentally, Israel failed to achieve any of its aims in these operations. But while US and British thinkers are beginning to criticise COIN as a viable strategy after NATO’s experience in Afghanistan, it seems that 6 years on from Lebanon the only visible adjustment the Israeli government has made towards it strategy on the Palestinian issue is to set up the IDF with a Twitter and You Tube account.

According to an IDF tweet, one of their objectives is to ‘cripple Hamas’ terrorist infrastructure in Gaza’. There is no single, universally accepted definition of a terrorist. If you cannot agree upon the definition of a terrorist, then it is impossible to define the limits of ‘terrorist infrastructure;. It is an ambiguous (presumably intentionally) term that could be applied to Hamas’ leadership, their rocket launch sites, roads, mosques and the list goes on. It does not define the end state for IDF’s operations and gives them considerable scope to cause significant damage across the Strip.

The IDF’s actions are the most telling sign that the conflict is even further from peace, and not just because of another explosion of violence. After a moment of national introspection following the 2006 war, the Israeli government has decided to stick with a military solution to the Palestinian issue. The IDF is entering another endless rabbit warren from which it will emerge victory-less after it inevitably fails to achieve its aims. Gaza will be left in a considerably worse shape. Of course, it will be the international community’s fault for not letting them finish the job.

And, of course, the operation has nothing to do with the Israeli elections in January.

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Photo Credit: Rahuldlucca

Good Luck President Obama, You Need It!

Most of Obama’s policies are completely unchanged from those of his predecessor. The War on Terror continues, the drone program has expanded, relations with western Europe remain strong whilst those with Russia remain hostile. But what of the second term?

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“The best is still to come” was the soundbite which has resonated from Obama’s victory speech last night. Time will tell if this is the case, but the facts are that the US public has overwhelmingly supported the status quo in this time of economic trouble. The President remains in office, the Democrats keep the Senate and the  Republicans keep the House of Representatives. In that respect nothing has changed. But with no future election to worry about, will Obama’s foreign policy change from the Bush spillover which dominated his first term?

In 2001 George W. Bush faced one of the most dramatic changes in international affairs since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Faced with two falling towers and thousands of dead Bush was faced by a US public desperate for answers, for justice and for vengeance. The result of this was the first term of the War on Terror, 2001 in Afghanistan, 2003 in Iraq. Wars that were supposed to be short interventions to create a change in the Middle East became festering pools of suffering for almost a decade. Tens of thousands died across the Middle East, and by his second term Bush was desperately trying to hold together a mission that was going from bad to worse.

Obama inherited that mission. Bush’s surge in Iraq had already stabilised the country ready for a withdrawal Obama only had to keep on target. However, the ongoing mission to attempt to stabilise the Middle East, destroy the leadership of Al-Qaeda and mend relations damaged by the 2003 invasion of Iraq remained the same.

What Obama faced in taking office was a battle between his lofty ideals and promises and reality. His compromise was pragmatic, driving towards aims slowly and cautiously and making no significant and unbalancing changes to the foreign affairs of the second term of Bush.

What did change was so gradual the world’s population at large barely noticed it. There was a shift from the Middle East to the Pacific with troop deployments in Australia and a new agreement with Japan over Guam and further military cooperation. Although this shift has been slowed by the Arab Spring and the continued fighting in Syria, it is symbolic enough to prompt China’s own challenges for the South and East China Sea. There were significant defense cuts which have placed an emphasis on less of everything, but a greater emphasis on technological and training superiority. Obama has orchestrated a gradual lean to a more impartial role in the Middle East than under Bush, one aided by his faux-pas with Nicholas Sarkozy and the intervention in Libya against a secular dictator on the side of Islamists as well as liberals. More generally there has been a shift away from democratic transition by pressure or force and towards a focus on stability. Transition is now pushed towards supporting stable governments and pushing them towards liberal reform. Again, the Arab Spring was an unexpected reversal of this trend. And, of course, Osama Bin laden is dead.

However, most of Obama’s policies are completely unchanged from those of his predecessor. The War on Terror continues, the drone program has expanded exponentially, relations with western Europe remain strong whilst those with Russia remain hostile. But what of the second term? What of 2012-2016?

Well the answer is: Probably much of the same, but don’t expect the US foreign policy world to look the same in 2016 to 2008. The track of Obama’s presidency has been a gently-gently turn from Bush’s policies to Obama’s, and the US should look very much like Obama’s legacy by the end of the next four years. A turn from the Middle East to East Asia, from military intervention to diplomatic and economic pressure, from antagonism of Muslim states to partnerships based on the national interest of influence.These policies have already proved fruitful and will continue to do so. Japanese support for military bases was prevented from collapse just long enough to actually step up cooperation important to limit China’s expanding Pacific potential. Sanctions in Iran have its economy on the verge of collapse and popular support of Ahmadinejad beginning to turn against him. The intervention in Libya and support for the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions has given Obama political capital there not seen for decades. Despite the Benghazi attacks popular support is actually for the US as militant groups were forced out of Eastern towns across the country by anti-extremist protesters.

That said, just like the Arab Spring revolutions, the 9/11 attacks and the fall of the Soviet Union, sudden and unexpected events can throw the best plans into disarray. How Obama deals with potentially disastrous events could change his foreign policy dramatically.

  • Afghanistan: Withdrawal in 2014, if too soon, could devastate the region and NATO’s influence.
  • Syria: The conflict must be restrained to the country to avoid regional collapse.
  • Iran: Although sanctions are working, should Iran turn to desperate measures or should Israel overplay its hand things could turn very dangerous.
  • Yemen: A potential second Afghanistan/Somalia. Though the risk is smaller should the state collapse, the threat of a new front could give extremists a valuable new refuge.
  • South/East China Seas: The competition between the South-Eastern/Eastern Asian powers over the seas is not a battle the US can involve itself in overtly or risk facing backlash. However it is one which needs to be carefully monitored and one where soft power could be at its most important.
  • West Africa: The continued rise of Bokko Haram, Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQM) and other extremist Islamist groups in this region could be a new front in the most need for intervention but with the least popular support for it. So far the US has only been able to give token support for these states, but as things go from bad to worse in Mali this cannot be expected to be the end of the conflicts.

Congratulations Barack Obama, but I don’t envy you in the four years to come. You will face a hostile House of Representatives and a demanding public. You will face the challenge of keeping North Africa on your side and yet still combat Islamic extremism, of limiting China without antagonising it, of realising your potential without ceasing to be pragmatic. Good luck President Obama, you need it.

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Photo Credit: US Army

#4: Shiraz Maher on Islamists, al Qaeda & the Arab Spring

In this episode of Debrief, Tom Hashemi is joined by Shiraz Maher, Senior Research Fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR).

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Shiraz Maher and Tom Hashemi

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You can subscribe to our podcasts on iTunes.

Shiraz & Tom discuss the effect that the uprisings across the Middle East have had on Islamism, and in particular on al Qaeda’s recruitment ability. The conflict in Syria is considered, and Shiraz affirms his belief that military intervention offers the best solution to the destruction that is currently pervasive in the Arab nation.

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Shiraz Maher is a Senior Research Fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR). He is currently writing an intellectual history of al-Qaeda, exploring the development of its political thought by drawing on hitherto unexamined material. Prior to joining ICSR, Shiraz was a Senior Fellow at Policy Exchange where he worked on Foreign Policy and Security.

Follow Shiraz (@shirazmaher) and theriskyshift.com (@theriskyshift).

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Photo credit: Katie Rothman / theriskyshift.com

‘Innocence of Muslims’ Rioting Has Nothing To Do With Religion

The protests and rioting in the Middle East are not, as is argued, a result of the film ‘Innocence of Muslims’. Instead, they demonstrate the lack of legitimate authority in the region following the Arab Spring.

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Continuing protests and rioting in front of Western embassies in the Middle East are not a testament to the ability of Muslims to be exceptionally touchy to religious insult, but an underscoring of the formula Charles Tilly opens with in his The Politics of Collective Violence:

(x + y) occasionally to the power of z = collective violence
[where x = young men; y = lack of supervision and z = a stimulant]

To say that the deaths of American embassy workers in Libya is because of exceptional Muslim touchiness to the ‘Innocence of Muslims’, is to say that the riots in London two years ago were a series of cogent protests to a police state.

In the case of ongoing violence in the Middle East, while media sources dwell upon the ‘z’ element – here the perceived honour infraction dealt by a film that received most of its publicity from Salafist media sources and must now be the worst most watched film ever after Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – as apparently the sole cause of unrest, this element of the formula is optional and of uncertain statistical significance. What is surely more interesting to the scenario is the crucial ‘y’ factor.

What do Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen have in common? Exactly. Lebanon, Afghanistan and Sudan are more chronic sufferers of what ails these four Arab Spring nations. Supervision, authority and a perception that violent actions will have consequences for the young man in his subjective opinion (apologies if this appears sexist, but the under 30 and male thing is ubiquitous) are the cures to prevent rioting on a regular basis. To what extent these elements are present in the new executives of Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia is becoming apparent. To what extent they have ever been present in the others is also telling.

We should also look at the ‘x’ factor. Why these young men have so much pent up frustration and time on their hands is a psychosocial-economic study for another day. Men in Cairo are becoming an issue as disenfranchisement rises and the dismal prospects for their economic future unravel. That sexual molestation is on the rise (and take it from an ex-Cairo-ex-pat, that it could rise from the situation before is a horrific prospect in itself) is also an indicator of young men thinking that they can get away with going with any urge that reveals itself to them. These young men are ripe for collective violence. The point is that this rioting would happen at the hands of male youths of any religion – or lack thereof – given the opportunity and some kind of stimulant.

This kind of violence – due to its stimulant factor, granted – like we saw at Bagram in February with the stimulant of the Quran desecrations always leads to Western commentators singling out the Islamic: why are Musilms so easily offended? Which is to be willfully blind to the universality of this tendency as a human trait that we can see everywhere. So keen is the West to ‘other’ the Muslim, that it is forgotten that the seminal work explaining this formula for violence was not developed looking at the violent characteristics of brown people of a different religion, but of Americans – of cowboys.

This violence, therefore, says everything about the status of authority where it occurs. Therein lies the means for peace, not in teaching Muslims a lesson about free speech, nor in teaching American film-makers about Islam, but in concentrating authority in a legitimate state apparatus. In this way, no TV Islamist could sow such unrest. Though it should be made clear that not even the instigators were authorities at the scene of the violence – in fact some Islamists present at some of the riots did try to prevent violence, but by then the ‘x’ + ‘y’ factor was cemented and nobody was in control.

The reaction to the recent unrest shows Western commentators for what they are: totally obsessed with Islam; but the unrest itself shows something very sad indeed about legitimate authority and statehood following the Arab Spring.

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Photo credit: agoolapulapu

US Presidential Election Roundup 9/9 – 15/9

This week’s roundup of the US presidential elections…

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Romney discusses Mormonism [Huffington Post] US Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has spoken about how his faith helped get him into politics.

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Romney coin comments criticised [Huffington Post] The White House has criticised Mitt Romney’s remarks about the status of God on United States currency.

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Republican candidates dodge tax specifics [Huffington Post] Both Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan struggled to say which tax loopholes they would close if they win the election.

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Obama beats Romney in fundraising [CNN] For the first time since April, President Obama’s re-election campaign has raised more than that of Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

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Romney comments on health care policy [Talking Points Memo] Mitt Romney has spoken about his health care proposals.

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Ad attacks Ann Romney [The Hill] An online ad from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee has criticised Ann Romney for comments about her and her husband’s finances.

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Planned Parenthood in $3.2 million ad buy [The Hill] Planned Parenthood has attacked Mitt Romney’s stance on abortion with new ads.

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Ryan supports Emanuel over strike [CNN] Republican VP-nominee Paul Ryan has said that he agrees with former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s criticisms of a teachers’ strike in Chicago.

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Poll suggests close race [Washington Post] A new poll of registered voters gives President Obama 49% of the vote while Mitt Romney receives 48% of the vote.

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Romney criticises Obama over embassy attacks [NBC] Mitt Romney has accused President Obama of sympathising with individuals who attacked US embassies in Egypt and Libya.

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Christian groups to focus on policy [Huffington Post] Leaders of the Christian right have said they will focus on Mitt Romney’s political agenda rather than on his Mormonism.

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Romney’s response to riots criticised [Huffington Post] Various members of the media have criticised Mitt Romney for his attacks on President Obama over the violence towards US diplomatic missions.

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Ryan campaigns for congressional seat [ABC] The first ad for Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s campaign for re-election to the House of Representatives has been aired.

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Obama expands ad campaign in Florida [NBC] NBC reports that the Obama campaign is making a large ad buy in Florida.

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Romney has ‘ tendency to shoot first and aim later’ says Obama [The Hill] President Obama has criticised Mitt Romney’s response to violence in Egypt and Libya.

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McCain comments on Obama’s foreign policy [Huffington Post] Former Republican presidential candidate John McCain has described President Obama’s foreign policy as ‘feckless’.

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Poll gives Obama slight edge [New York Times] A new poll gives President Obama a lead of three points over his Republican rival.

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Republicans attack Obama [CNN] Mitt Romney and other Republicans have launched a series of attacks on President Obama.

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Ryan comments on foreign policy [Los Angeles Times] Paul Ryan has criticised President Obama’s foreign policy in a speech in Washington.

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Poll gives Obama economy lead [New York Times] A new poll has given President Obama a lead over Mitt Romney with regards to handling the economy.

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Compiled by Patrick McGhee.

Telling Muslims To ‘Do One’ Is Not Pragmatism

A pragmatist would work to understand the drivers for jihadism and extreme Islamism. Telling Islamists to fuck off does not feature, and it will not work.

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This is a response to ‘Innocence of Muslims’ ‘offends’ Muslims: ‘Well So Fucking What?

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In 2006 Karl Rove, the Bush-era White House Deputy Chief of Staff, delivered a speech denoting the achievements of American conservatives. He argued that the most important distinction between conservatives and liberals was the former’s desire for revenge:

Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers.

For Rove, any attempt to comprehend the reasons for 9/11 was illogical and unnecessary: America had been attacked and the only possible response was war. It was unthinkable for the Republican to consider why terrorism had struck American shores in such a destructive and horrific fashion. By responding with the invasions of the Middle East, especially Iraq, the West acted to further catalyse anti-Western sentiment, grievances, and ultimately terrorism. In short, the response distinctly lacked any semblance of pragmatism.

Peter Kelly’s recent piece considering the film ‘Innocence of Muslims’ shares this quality. The inference that protesters should be taking offence over the poor quality of the film rather than its content is as laughable as it is perverse, but the all the more serious issue is the representation that his arguments represent pragmatism: they do not.

Kelly argues that the statements made by Morsi and Karzai are “beyond wrong, they are dangerous”. Seemingly therefore, no national leader should take into account domestic political considerations and constraints when responding to an issue. Is this a pragmatist speaking?

The statements by both Morsi and Karzai are intended to allay further protests. Each leader’s respective country has recently undergone drastic and strenuous political changes, both leaders suffer from challenges to their leadership, and both preside over populations that have proven to be easily fired up. Is it more pragmatic to deliver a message in the hope that it will minimize further protests and casualties (likely targeting foreigners), or to persevere with a message that would only work to antagonize, irrespective of its (neo-liberal) ideological ‘correctness’?

Kelly goes on to denounce claims that the US embassy in Cairo’s statement was pragmatic, yet he fails to locate the statement within the broader timeline of the protests. The statement in question was made before both the murder of Christopher Stevens and members of his staff in Libya, as well as the storming of the US embassy in Cairo. It was not a response to the violence but an attempt to allay violence and protests given the effects of previous similar productions attacking Islam. One would hope that should Kelly inhabit the role of UK ambassador at some point during his career he would take every possible precaution to ensure the safety of his staff, even if by doing so his ideological message is weakened. When there is a threat to diplomatic personnel it is irresponsible and illogical to put politics before life. The US embassy’s statement was entirely pragmatic in that it attempted to ensure the safety of its staff. Would a pragmatist not have taken such a route?

The all the more deplorable position presented however, is that of a Manichean framework through which to view this issue. In much the same way that the Bush administration and al Qaeda promoted an “Us versus Them” vision of the post-9/11 world, Kelly asserts that either we “bend over and give over our rights” or we tell Islamists to fuck off. Such a binary only serves to consolidate the hand of those that hold values antithetical to the modern universalist values of freedom of speech, of equality, of political freedoms. The combating of such ideologues does not occur by presenting the wider population with the choice of ‘you’re either with us or against us’. If we tell the Muslim world to ‘do one’ every time we have a cultural conflict, well, is the result not obvious?

In The Art of War, the military strategist Sun Tzu wrote:

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

The Rove/Kelly vision argues against knowing your enemy and reacting on the basis of ideological foundation. A pragmatist would work to understand the drivers for jihadism and extreme Islamism, working to spread modern universalist values by taking into account, and working against, the factors that aid and abet it. Telling Islamists to fuck off does not feature, and it will not work.

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Photo credit: sjgibss80

‘Innocence of Muslims’ ‘offends’ Muslims. ‘Well So Fucking What?’

There should be, there must be, no compromise, no backing off the rhetoric of freedom of speech. There is no such thing as the “abuse” of human rights to the freedom of speech.

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censorship offends me

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This week we have seen the killing of Christopher Stevens, the US ambassador to Libya, as well as several of his staff. His embassy building was burned, the US embassy in Cairo was raided, its flag destroyed, and one proclaiming the supremacy of God placed in its place. In Tunisia tear gas was fired into crowds to prevent a repeat of those events. In Afghanistan President Karzai condemned not the attackers but the cause, in Egypt President Morsi did not launch an investigation into the failure of Egyptian forces to protect the US embassy but instead prepared to launch legal action against those who provoked the attackers in the US.

The cause of all this? “Innocence of Muslims“. A film. A really bad film. I’ve seen it, it’s horrendous, one of the worst films I have ever seen. The production quality is dreadful, it looks like it was filmed in my closet using a mobile phone by a homeless man and some of his mates from the next alley.

How could the cause and effect possibly be reconciled? Well, because the film was about Mohammed, and it was not complimentary. He was depicted as a brute, a paedophile, a sadistic, egotistical idiot who understood only violence and how to convince people to support him.

Sadly the protesters in the Islamic world are not attacking embassies over the insult to the entire film industry in its butchering of the art which has become film-making. Instead they were attacking and killing people over the offensive they took at this depiction of their prophet. All because the maker was a US-citizen. Just because the maker was a US citizen, an envoy who had done his best to aid the democratic revolution in Libya is dead and so are three of his aides.

How exactly did the western world react to that? Generally, with widespread condemnation. US forces are on-route to Benghazi to heighten security (a little late) and Barack Obama has declared he will bring the guilty to justice.

But the reactions of the Presidents of Afghanistan and Egypt are out of line, they are beyond wrong, they are dangerous. They are validating violence as an acceptable reaction to the crime of “offence”. They are saying that it was right for the Muslims of Europe to riot and kill in reaction to the cartoons and again against the publication of this film. But it gets much worse, because they are not the only ones to react in this way. This is the statement released by the US embassy in Cairo:

The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions… Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.

I don’t think the embassy knows what a universal right is, else the word “abuse” could not possibly have been used in that phrase. Can you “abuse” the right to freedom from torture or death? Can you lead a life that is an “abuse” of life itself and so would it be perfectly valid for Islamists to lop off your head? Of course not, and why should freedom of speech be any different? How could the Cairo embassy possibly have validated and sympathised with those Islamists who believe the appropriate response to being offended is to kill innocents?

This goes further than simply a violation of the idea of “universal rights”, it is also a pragmatic nightmare. Too many people have suggested the statement was “pragmatic” in that it may improve relations with Muslims and protect the embassy.

Apparently the term “we do not negotiate with terrorists” is a dead phrase in US diplomacy. Apparently it is perfectly reasonable to respond to irrational acts of violence by attacking the very values your own state stands upon and promotes worldwide. Apparently the best course of action to protect yourselves from further attacks is to give a sympathetic hand to those most likely to attack you by simply joining their side of the argument. Apparently we should just bend over and give over our rights one by one in response to every murderous rampage by those who wish to bind the whole world in the dogmatic and intolerant chains of their extremist interpretation of religion.

I think all of this is best responded to by one of the champions of the educated culture of rights and tolerance we are trying to build, Stephen Fry:

It’s now very common to hear people say, ‘I’m rather offended by that.’ As if that gives them certain rights; it’s actually nothing more….. It’s simply a whine. It’s no more than a whine. ‘I find that offensive,’ it has no meaning, it has no purpose, it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘I am offended by that.’ Well so fucking what?

Our reaction to the protests in the Middle East should be exactly that. There should be, there must be, no compromise, no backing off the rhetoric of freedom of speech. There is no such thing as the “abuse” of human rights to the freedom of speech. So what if you are offended? Grow a tougher skin. If your only possible reaction to being offended is violence it is you who has made the act of aggression and should be responded to in kind.

Our reaction to the demands of the Islamists who claim “we are offended” should be a very clear and resounding “Well so fucking what?”

Read a response to this piece: Telling Muslims to ‘Do One’ Is Not Pragmatism.

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Photo credit: jbcurio

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Comments on this piece are strictly monitored. If you do not have anything constructive to say, do not say it.

Pan-Islamism & The Interwar Period

Islam, international politics & mass mobilization: an analysis over the interwar period.
{Department of International Relations, London School of Economics & Political Science}

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World Muslim Population

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The interwar era, namely the period between 1919 and 1938, showed impressive and large-scale forms of Islamic mass mobilization, along with the strengthening and consolidation of Islamic movements and congresses. These unprecedented kinds of mass mobilization manifestations were prompted “by broader developments in world politics and in the world economy” and, as a result, today they still represent an “enduring infrastructure for Muslim politics”[1] for millions of Muslim scattered across the world.

In this essay, I would like to describe and to analyze rise and decline of the above-mentioned forms of collective action, explaining why some of them declined promptly after a few years, for example the transnational Khilafat movement in India, while other national movements continued to grow up and to play a central role in shaping political and institutional transformations which occurred in the countries where they flourished, as in the case of Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Sarekat in Indonesia.

First of all, would be useful to underscore the significance of the first political ideas connected with the Pan-Islamism ideology, which has been identified as a relevant driver for Muslim unity calls during the late 19th century. Coined in Europe in the 1870s in order to connote anti-modernism movements and Islamic fanaticism, according to Khalid the term of Pan-Islamism was deeply characterized by a “series of local, territorially defined, Muslim nationalisms with anti-colonial agendas” and, in opposition to the cultural definition provided by Landau, Pan-Islamism is “better located in the realm of nationalism than of religion”[2], by re-affirming the author a strong political connotation to such a phenomenon. Furthermore, Pan-Islamism was defined by an external threat, as for several nationalist movements, and it involved different national groups with their own political instances, as well as a diverse spectrum of participants, from religious leaders to travellers, most of them were modernists, deeply influenced by Western political and social values but seriously motivated in changing the status quo of their societies.[3] In this last category Sayyid Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani (1838 – 1897) was the most prominent architect of the alliance between religious and radical thinkers. His great commitment in feeding and spreading and conveying the Pan-Islam ideology across the Ottoman Empire and in the Western colonies of the Middle East and Central Asia during the late 19th century, was a powerful and ideal model in the subsequent period of political mass mobilization.[4]

As a matter of fact, as of 1919 the disciples of al-Afghani like Rashid Rida and Ibn Sa’ud recalled for a new Muslim unity having the same political objectives of the Pan-Islam ideology but set in a more complex social backdrop (primarily the First World War, followed by the “secularization” of Islamic authority by the Ottoman Empire, unprecedented forms of Islamic schooling, recent weakening of the most powerful imperial countries like Great Britain and France because of their impressive war efforts) that, according to Sidel, provided the ideal conditions for a revival of the Muslim mobilization in at least five ways[5]:

  • As suggested by the German government in the years that preceded the Great War there was the promotion of an instrumental use of Islam for warfare purposes by the Ottoman leaders in order to mobilize Muslims against British and French colonial rulers;
  • Social disorders and de-mobilization in the colonial territories during the war and in its aftermath created windows of opportunity in terms of political reforms;
  • End of aristocratic hegemony not only in Europe but also in the Ottoman Empire, Persia and China and consequent replacement with republican regimes;
  • Foundation of Muslim organizations in Russia after the Revolutions in 1917 and 1918: Muskom and Narkomnats, headed by Sultangaliev and Stalin respectively, with the former that elaborated a “Muslim national communism” vision;
  • End of the Ottoman Empire, abolition of Sultanate in 1922 and Caliphate in 1924: thrust to reorganize the Islamic identity, community and ideology.

In the next paragraphs will be analyzed the historical and political patterns that led to the foundation of three significant Islamic mass movements, namely Khilafat in India, Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Sarekat in Indonesia, and how such organizations gained popularity and later lost their own political relevance.

Khilafat between transnational aims and political misunderstandings 

The end of the Ottoman Empire was ratified with the armistice of Mundros on 30 October 1918 in which the Ottoman Sultan gave his total and unconditional surrender and allowed the military occupation of Istanbul by the Allied forces. Later, the Treaty of Sevres that came out from the peace settlements in Paris in 1920 reduced the Empire to Turkey, even if its full implementation was avoided by the growing national resistance led by Mustafa Kemal, who started his campaign for Turkish independence on 19 May 1919 in the city of Samsun in the North of Anatolia.[6]

On the background of these events, Indian Pan-Islamic movements recorded an increase in popularity and interest in the years following the end of the Great War, due to a number of factors: a better off and more educated India’s Muslim middle class; an unprecedented public role of Ulemas who got involved in the Pan-Islamic politics and in recruiting support; a growing awareness among Muslims in India that an international and strong political and religious centre abroad could guarantee their own life as a minority group.[7] Such cultural and political considerations, along with the contemporary historical events in the former Ottoman Empire, were on the basis of the foundation of the Khilafat Movement by December 1918, whose political programme envisaged the salvation of the Ottoman integrity and sovereignty. In fact, as effectively summarized by Alavi, the demand of the Indian Khilafatists for a preserved and protected Caliphate was based on three main claims: comparison of the Ottoman Caliph with the “Universal Caliph” which deserved allegiance from all Muslims; ongoing religious war between Christianity and Islam; expulsion of Great Britain from the Middle East because it was deemed to threat the Caliphate and its colonies.[8]

The Khilafat movement fulfilled a twofold political activity. First of all, its Central Committee fostered a continuous propaganda by the publishing of two periodicals, in English and Urdu, and it was also busy in organizing mass meetings in order to collect funds as much as possible. Secondly, the Movement accomplished to an external activity, creating offices and dispatching delegations abroad to promote its political aims. Actually, this second operation was less successful than the internal one and revealed to Indian Muslims a shocking and meaningless lack of interest by European governments and their public opinions toward their claims.[9]  However, while the secular republicanism emerged as an alternative political way for the national renaissance of Turkey, the Khilafat movement was about to be stricken by a more destabilizing shock, resulted in the separation of the sultanate and caliphate in November 1922, given that this division meant the permanent separation between spiritual and temporal powers, embodied in the Sultan and the Caliph respectively. Suddenly, one of the most important claim of the movement was nullified by the supposed protector of spiritual Islam, Mustafa Kemal. The process of secularization in Turkey was completed with the abolition of the Caliphate in 1924, which provoked a sense of confusion and furore in the Khilafatists. According to Ozcan, Kemal, that was previously and publicly urged by the Indian Muslims to restore the Sultanate, approved this measure for five political reasons: refusal to share its authority with a Caliph; the Caliph could become the principal political antagonist of Kemal because of the resistance showed by pro-Caliph people to his secular policies; clear incompatibility between secular reforms and a powerful religious authority; avoiding to be identified as a Pan-Islamist supporter by the Christian Europe; diplomatic measure that hopefully would influence the British about the question of Mosul.[10]

In the wake of secularization, the Khilafat Movement lost its political force and failed in preserving the Caliphate. Reasons for explaining the unsuccessful attempt to revive a more organized and ambitious Pan-Islamism were not solely linked to external factors, such as the rise of Mustafa Kemal but they were also intertwined with internal misperceptions and more crucial misunderstandings that ratified its own death: “In accusing Britain of being hostile to the Caliph, the Khilafatists were fighting an imaginary enemy. The real threat came from the Turkish Republican Nationalism … The Khilafatists proved to be quite incapable of perceiving the nature and significance of that historic conflict between the monarchical rule of the Caliph and the democratic aspirations of the Republican Nationalists. Paradoxically they glorified the arc-adversary of the Caliphate, Mustafa Kemal, while at the same time they also glorified their venerated Caliph.”[11]

The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Sarekat in Indonesia

The Indian Khilafat didn’t represent the only example of Islamic mass-movement during the interwar period, although it was certainly the most popular and modern transnational expression of the Pan-Islamic ideology in those years. As a matter of fact, even if it tried to merge a universalist cause with the Indian Muslims’ nationalist interest in preserving their minority identity in the country, the Khilafat was also deeply concerned with Islamic affairs in Iran, Iraq, Libya and Marocco.[12] This sensitiveness toward the whole Islamic world wasn’t shared in the same way by other Islamic organizations. Nonetheless, historically speaking two more Islamic mass-movements emerged soon after the defeat of the Central Powers: Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Sarekat in Indonesia.

The Muslim Brotherhood, founded in 1928 by Hasan al-Banna, has been one of the most influential Islamic movements in the history of modern Egypt, bringing about a radical transformation in that society. The relationship between nationalist instances, the need for a deep social change and Islam was originally re-elaborated by al-Banna. He initially rejected the Western model of political participation and liberal nationalism in order to provide political Islam with a new and independent narration, through the ambitious effort to make it an “all-encompassing religion”.[13] As Lia underlines, “writing [of Hasan al-Banna] marked a watershed in modern Islamic discourse by making the successful transition of Islam into an ideology, thus providing an ideological map of ‘what is’ in society and a ‘report’ of how it is working”.[14] For this reason, Islam was conceived more as an ideological framework than just a parochial religion, as an useful interpretative paradigm for changing Egypt society and a guide in the formulation of reform programmes.[15] However, even the Muslim Brotherhood movement was not an isolated outgrowth  of Islam politics, but another example of the process of gradual secularization of Islam that in this case meant its own politicization. In fact, its ideology was greatly affected by the need for social justice, political, social and economic reforms and, last but not least, it reflected the interests of the lower and well-educated classes. Accordingly, this secular and Western-rooted feature, along with the conceptual shift of Islam  “from the sentimental enthusiasm of purely inert admirers… into an operative force actively [and instrumentally] actively at work on modern problems”[16], assigned to the Muslim Brotherhood a pillar role in democratizing the Egyptian society in the late 1930s. The military coup of 1952 by Nassir confirms such a view: after having overthrown the monarchy and multiparty system, Nassir banned the Muslim Brotherhood that, as an autonomous movement, was identified as a danger for his regime.[17] This Islamic mass-movement, reached an estimated total membership of 500.000 after the Second World War but most importantly the al-Banna’s “political reinterpretation” of Islam remained the most influential in the 20th century, capable to merge the idea of Islam as an all-inclusive societal system with its later politicization in 1938 which became the core of the Society’s ideology.[18]

The Sarekat Islam was founded in Indonesia on 11 November 1911 basically for facing domestic and commercial competition issues involving China.  In its peak period, namely between 1916 and 1921, Sarekat summoned a number of ‘national’ congresses in the attempt to spread the idea of nationalism and the struggle for independence against the Dutch rule. In the mind of its founding fathers, Islam as a religious belief played a pedagogical role as the “preacher of democratic ideas” and the “religion for the spiritual education of the people”. Sarekat had a liberal approach to religious and political matters: promotion of civil rights, separation between state and religious matters, rejection of racial domination, freedoms and equal rights of all citizens, need for social and educational reforms.[19] On the one hand, this political programme, largely influenced by  European socialist ideas, gained popular support even outside the Islam community and it was on the basis of several strikes and boycotts.[20]  On the other hand, penetration of Communist ideas represented a destabilizing element within a party which had adopted Islam as its main basis for unity. This change brought about a split of the Sarekat Islam in 1921 in two smaller groups, the pro-Communist and the anti-Communist.[21]

As a result, the Islamic branch adopted in the same year the so-called ‘Basic Principles of the Sarekat Islam’, which emphasized Islam as the unique source and inspiration for its policies and activities, without losing neither the major objective of national independence nor its original egalitarian vocation: “Complete national independence [was] a condition for the full realization of Islamic ideals, assuming that power is in the hands of the Muslims”. In addition, the party “aimed at the creation of a democratic government … in an Islamic state”, and it recognized and guaranteed “individual initiative in the economic field” and “the equality of (Muslim) men and women and the equality of husband and wife”[22] In comparison with other Islamic political parties working in those years, the above-mentioned principles and the role of the Quran as its main conceptual framework, make the Sarekat party one of the most astounding example of the large diversity of Islamic mass-movements existing in the interwar period, which were all deeply affected by the spread of new ideologies (such as Socialism and Communism) and by the resilience of older and unresolved colonial issues.

Conclusion

The Pan-Islamic mass-movements so far analyzed show a great deal of different features while threads which connect them together are the call to Islam as a universal religion and the need for national independences. Interwar years were undoubtedly characterized by social tensions, turmoil, revolutions and political unrests all over the world but, according to the religious and peculiar political issues, such revolts took different shapes. The recovery of the Pan-Islam ideology by mass-movements’ leaders was a political choice rather than a religious one, promoted in order to claim their instances against colonial rulers more effectively. In addition, calling for an Islamic unity helped these leaders to obtain a massive and unprecedented popular support. Finally, the declining trajectory of such movements could be explained looking at basic misunderstandings, as for the Khilafat movement, or just by political repressions, as in the cases of Muslim Brotherhood and Serakat: all the movements taken into account weren’t able to pursue their original political aims because they lacked real and effective political power to impose their willingness in the contest in which they operated.

Conversely, each of them was able to promote unprecedented political awareness and participation among their supporters and to recognize and using Islam as a powerful driver in international politics: all elements that would be extremely useful to the next generations of Islamic leaders.

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[1] Sidel, John. Class Lecture. Pan-Islamism, the Caliphate, and New Islamic Movements, LSE, London, 3 November 2011.

[2] Adeeb Khalid, “Pan-Islamism in Pratice: The Rhetoric of Muslim Unity and its Uses,” in Elizabeth Özdalga (ed.), Late Ottoman Society: The Intellectual Legacy (London: Routledge Curzon, 2005), pp. 202 and 207.

[3] As Moaddel reports, the most affected countries by the expansion of Islamic modernism were under the direct colonial rule of Great Britain (a Western power): namely Egypt and India. Mansoor Moaddel, Islamic Modernism, Nationalism and Fundamentalism: Episode and Discourse (Chicago University Press, 2005), p. 27.

[4] Nikki R. Keddie, “The Origins of the Religious-Radical Alliance in Iran,” Past and Present 34 (July 1966), p. 75.

[5] Sidel, John. Class Lecture. Pan-Islamism, the Caliphate, and New Islamic Movements, LSE, London, 3 November 2011.

[6] Azmi Ozcan, Pan-Islamism: Indian Muslims, the Ottomans and Britain, 1877 – 1924 (Leiden: Brill, 1997), p. 186.

[7] Jacob Landau, “Turkey Opts Out, while India’s Muslims Get Involved”, in The Politics of Pan-Islam (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), p. 203.

[8] Hamza Alavi, “Ironies of History: Contradictions of the Khilafat Movement”, Comparative Studies in South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Volume 17, Number 1 (1997), p. 1.

[9] Azmi Ozcan, p. 191.

[10] Azmi Ozcan, p. 202.

[11] Hamza Alavi, p. 11.

[12] Jacob Landau, p. 213.

[13] Mansoor Moaddel, p. 197.

[14] Brynjar Lia, The Society of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt: The Rise of an Islamic Mass Movement, 1928 – 1982 (Reading: Ithaca Press, 1998), p. 72.

[15] Lia describes this new approach in referring to an idea of “Islam applied”, p. 74.

[16] Wilfred Cantwell Smith, Islam in Modern History, (Princeton University Press, 1957), p. 157

[17] Mansoor Moaddel, p. 216.

[18] Brynjar Lia, p. 286.

[19] Deliar Noer, The Modernist Muslim Movement in Indonesia, 1900 – 1942 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1973), p. 113.

[20] Sidel, John. Class Lecture. Pan-Islamism, the Caliphate, and New Islamic Movements, LSE, London, 3 November 2011.

[21] Deliar Noer, p. 126.

[22] Deliar Noer, pp. 140 – 141.

 

Adeeb Khalid, “Pan-Islamism in Pratice: The Rhetoric of Muslim Unity and its Uses,” in Elizabeth Özdalga (ed.), Late Ottoman Society: The Intellectual Legacy (London: Routledge Curzon, 2005)

Azmi Ozcan, Pan-Islamism: Indian Muslims, the Ottomans and Britain, 1877 – 1924 (Leiden: Brill, 1997)

Brynjar Lia, The Society of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt: The Rise of an Islamic Mass Movement, 1928 – 1982 (Reading: Ithaca Press, 1998)

Deliar Noer, The Modernist Muslim Movement in Indonesia, 1900 – 1942 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1973)

Hamza Alavi, “Ironies of History: Contradictions of the Khilafat Movement”, Comparative Studies in South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Volume 17, Number 1 (1997)

Jacob Landau, “Turkey Opts Out, while India’s Muslims Get Involved”, in The Politics of Pan-Islam (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994)

Mansoor Moaddel, Islamic Modernism, Nationalism and Fundamentalism: Episode and Discourse (Chicago University Press, 2005)

Nikki R. Keddie, “The Origins of the Religious-Radical Alliance in Iran,” Past and Present 34 (July 1966)

Sidel, John. Class Lecture. Pan-Islamism, the Caliphate, and New Islamic Movements, LSE, London, 3 November 2011.

Wilfred Cantwell Smith, Islam in Modern History, (Princeton University Press, 1957)
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Could There Be Another Iranian Revolution? (Part 2)

Will the Green Movement pull off a second Iranian revolution? The second of a two part series examining the feasibility and probability of such an occurrence taking place.

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You can read the first part of this series here.

The dynamics of the Republic’s politics are another advantage to the regime. Under the monarchy, the Shah was the regime and the regime was the Shah. His micromanagement of the state meant that he was ultimately responsible for every decision made, which bred a culture of decision-making deference that worked toward his downfall in the times of his indecision during the revolution. As a consequence, every mismanagement eventually became the fault of Reza Shah’s autocracy and made him an easy target for the opposition. Today, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s fragmented politics diffuse frustration and anger, as it is never really clear who is involved in the decision-making. If you were to look at an Iranian news agency’s websites, their home pages are filled with seemingly insignificant politicians making various seemingly insignificant statements. This doesn’t exist in autocracies or dictatorships, in which the only politician that counts is the ruler. It simply comes to this: when the opposition rallies, whose caricature do they draw on their placards? Who do they direct their slogans against? Rallying against a system is far more difficult than rallying against a person, as everyone will disagree as to who is the source of the country’s problems.

The important point to remember is that the Islamic Republic’s legitimacy is primarily based on two pillars: anti-imperialism and anti-capitalism. The cronyism that emerged in the 1990s during the post-war reconstruction has made a small Islamic elite very, very rich (Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is reportedly the richest man in Iran). The regime has had to wean the population off state handouts and the pillar of anti-capitalism is wavering. Despite this, the regime’s championing of anti-imperialism could not be stronger. For a country that has been invaded by the Greeks, the Arabs, the Mongols, the Timurids, the Russians and the British, Iranians are not likely to open itself to foreign influences dictating the future of their country – which includes ideology. Khomeini’s vision may be based upon a foreign religion, however its Shi‘a identity allows Iranians to distance themselves from the rest of the Islamic world. It may not be perfect, but it is the line of best fit.

Could there be another revolution? With the above points in mind, it seems highly unlikely that any sort of revolution could occur that would recreate as profound a change as 1979. Any hope of total regime change should be shelved next to those of the England football team winning an international competition. People may be frustrated and angry with the government, but there are no indications the IRI is anywhere near as unpopular as the Shah. However, it is hard to imagine that the continuous pressure of the sanctions will not deepen the fissures in Iranian society.

In the wake of the elections in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, the fear of a neo-Islamic Empire sans Caliphate under Islamist parties in nation-states is appearing to be unfounded. What the people of the Middle East want for their future is far more nuanced and could be the next step for Islam and governance. Whilst many want some sort of general Islamic direction, most are far too consumerist to want something like Iran’s or Saudi Arabia’s model of an Islamic state. The notion of replacing secular state penetration of their daily lives with an Islamic one cannot be an appealing prospect, nor can the international isolation and condemnation that accompanies Iran’s system. Within this context, should a reform movement really develop in Iran it could very well be in the Arab Spring’s image – a ‘yes’ to Khomeini but a ‘no’ to the current system. How Velayat-e Faqih would fit into this concept is difficult to imagine, but it would certainly be subject to serious re-interpretation to reconcile Khomeini’s vision with a more democratic, transparent system.

Time is against the Islamic Republic. Iran’s population is young and as the new generations age the memories of the chaos of the 1980s will fade from their collective consciousness. Perhaps the most important aspect of the Tunisian Spring was that people were no longer afraid to take to the streets, unlike their parents’ generation who were witness to the brutal crackdowns of the 1980s. No government can rely solely on the use of force to hold a country together, but the bitter internal divisions between the reformists and the conservatives, who currently hold a de facto control of the state, will prevent the country from achieving the reform it needs to adjust to the daily realities of everyday life. However, the current conservative leadership sees such reform as a second imperialist onslaught, which in its essence is an affront to their power but simultaneously a product of Iran’s acrid interaction with the West. The enforcement of the Islamic code is now less an ideological belief rather an attempt to crackdown on dissent, hence why the brutality of the codes’ enforcement tends to intensify with the heightening of political pressure.

The final thought to leave with is this: this is not the first time Iran been subject to severe economic punishment for the sake of nationalism. The movement to nationalise the oil industry brought a similar international response where British-led sanctions attempted to strangle the Iranians into giving up their demands to wrestle control for the oil industry from the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. Unlike today, however, there has not emerged as skilled, eloquent and popular a politician such as Mohammad Mossadegh that could unite the country rather than divide it. When Mossadegh blamed the ‘imperialist powers’ for Iran’s ills, the people cheered. Now, when an IRI official blames the West for all of Iran’s problems, it seems more and more people are rolling their eyes. Mossadegh was welcomed as exuberantly in Cairo as he was in Tehran. None of the IRI’s politicians can boast the same popularity. The honeymoon of the post-colonial era has long ended since Mossadegh’s premiership and Islamic Republic has failed to translate the nationalistic issue of its era into enduring unity.

Top 10 Middle Eastern Developments To Watch (Part 2)

The second part of a two-part piece providing the top 10 Middle Eastern developments to keep your eye on. In this section:  the Egyptian constitution, oil and gas in Cyprus and Israel, Indo-Pakistani relations, Afghanistan, and terrorism in the Yemen and the Sinai.

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Middle Eastern[dhr]

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his piece follows on from Top 10 Middle Eastern Developments To Watch (Part 1).

5. Egyptian constitution

This issue should be at the top of Israel’s security agenda. Two important things to watch out for: the timing of the new constitution’s inception and the division of powers between president, parliament and the military. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) might want to delay the passing of the constitution for as long as possible in order to buy some time and attempt to undermine Muslim Brotherhood’s legitimacy in Egyptian society’s eyes. Such efforts would ultimately prove to be fruitless, but they might just be enough to keep Egypt under control for long enough to wait for the Iranian crisis to fade away. The last thing the Egyptian military would want to deal with is a president letting Iranian warships through the Suez Canal bound for Tel Aviv to avenge bombarded nuclear facilities. Or, more likely, an Egyptian president happily letting through cargo ships loaded with guns destined for Hezbollah and Hamas. Unlike the Muslim Brotherhood or the Salafis, SCAF understands very well that Egypt cannot afford an open conflict with Israel.

The new constitution will stipulate the division of powers in Egypt – the presidential system is likely to be preserved. However some of the powers might be kept by SCAF, transforming the Egyptian system to resemble the Turkish model of division of power. Nevertheless, parliamentary control over state-owned enterprises has already had some repercussions for Egypt’s gas trade with Israel: Cairo has scrapped the deal according to which Israel would buy gas for prices below the market value and has stopped delivering gas. Israel points out, and rightly so, that the supply shutdown is in violation of the economic annex to the peace treaty of 1979.

Leaving Israel aside, the constitution of Egypt will permanently change the course of Levantine and North African politics. Egyptian society has always played the pioneering role in the Arab World, and once again it will be leading the way. The legal framework of the constitution might determine the future success or failure of the Muslim Brotherhood in mending the country’s crippling economy and society, troubled with deep sectarian divides. This success or failure will also determine whether Islamism is just another stop, after Arab nationalism, on the Arab journey to seek its identity’s final destination.

4. Oil and gas bonanza in Israel, Jordan and Cyprus

Cyprus and Israel are soon to become new gas Eldorado. The discovery of natural gas in the Israeli and Cypriot exclusive economic zone (EEZ) waters, some 50km west of Haifa, as well as the discovery of world’s second biggest reserve in of oil shale in Israel and Jordan can bring a huge cash flow to these countries and permanently change the geopolitics of the Levant. Cyprus and Israel are already working on unitization of gas extraction in Aphrodite deposit, which lies on the border between the Israeli and Cypriot EEZ. Extraction at Israel’s Tamar and Leviathan gas deposits are planned to be fully operational by 2020. Israelis intend to use the FLNG technology – a floating extraction plant – or simply put a ship, which extracts, liquefies and pumps gas onto tank ships, which then sail off to ports.

Russia and South East Asian countries are already interested in buying, but the EU might also be keen to get the goods, since now, more than ever, it seeks to diversify from its main energy source (yes, I mean Russia). Cyprus also plans to build a pipeline, starting at Aphrodite deposit, going to the Cypriot coast, then to Crete and finishing in Greece. Nicosia hopes the revenue will stabilize its economy and free it from all future economic shakedowns in Greece, to which it is currently dangerously tied.

There is, as always, a dark side to these new discoveries. History teaches us that there is a well-documented proportionate correlation between rivers of cash and rivers of blood. It would be far-fetched to claim the new gas and oil deposits will precipitate a major war, but conflicts, so far only diplomatic, have already started. Lebanon unilaterally announced that Israel’s water border should be moved 22m (!) south. Moving the border south gets Lebanon roughly 500 square kilometers extra sea territory for their exclusive exploration, and the sole rights to profits from any resources, live or fossilized. Cypriot activities are already causing irritation in Ankara, which claims that by signing EEZ agreements, Cyprus opens Pandora’s box with regard to its northern neighbours’ claims. Turkey sees no good in Cyprus bathing in gas dollars and might step up its diplomacy to limit Greek Cypriot profits.

Shale oil is a different story. Luckily enough, most of Israel’s shale oil reserves lay in Israel proper, not in the West Bank, hence no need to launch another campaign to “explain” her actions in the Palestinian territories. Israel and Jordan are in an early stage of negotiations (read: declarations were made and everybody went home) with Jordan regarding potential cooperation in oil extraction in order to increase profits. Israel is blessed in that matter, as natural gas is necessary to vaporize oil trapped in shale stones and having both resources, it makes the future Israeli industry self-sustainable and insulated from global market’s price fluctuations.

Altogether, Israel’s combined oil and gas resources are worth a striking $717 billion, and Cypriot Aphrodite $129 billion. This fortune will undoubtedly have an impact on the Middle East for at least the rest of this century.

3. Indo-Pakistani rapprochement

Pakistan and India will have friendly and warm relations – and it’s not just a fantasy of a college student reading too many IR books on international dialogue. This April Manmohan Singh and Asif Ali Zardari met in New Delhi. Although the meeting lasted only 30 minutes, cautiously and proportionately to the current state of bilateral relations, it fairs well for the future of the two countries. Both governments have already considered opening more border crossings to encourage trade exchange (currently limited to one land border crossing in Wagah – a crossing which rather serves tourists coming to watch the odd daily show of nationalism and popular rivalry, then cargo trucks). Banks are also supposed to have exchange offices in order to facilitate investments and, most importantly, peace negotiations have finally resumed first time since their suspension following the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

One may wonder why have India and Pakistan decided right this moment to amend relations. For India, the main motivations is the potential threat from China. As Beijing becomes a global superpower, New Delhi wants to divert its efforts from the half a century old conflict with its western neighbour to counter growing Chinese influence. A similar story can be drawn from Pakistan’s rationale, but for Islamabad the threat comes from the Spin Ghar mountains and the Taliban hiding in their caves. Pakistan has virtually no authority in the Federally Administered Tribal Territories (FATT) and obviously wishes to change it. Terrorism in the FATT is raging, causing strife with the US and undermining the Pakistani government’s prestige in international arena. However, a two front conflict is beyond anyone’s capability (Germany tried it twice: it didn’t work out) and rapprochement with India seems like a natural move if Pakistan genuinely wants to step up its counterterrorism campaign.

2. Post-war Afghanistan

NATO leaves Afghanistan in 2014. It’s a fact: the decision has been made and there is no coming back. It is going to leave an Afghan government controlling Kabul’s government district and maybe few streets nearby whilst the Taliban are more powerful than ever since the invasion in 2001. This topic does not require much deliberation – post-war Afghanistan will turn into the same kind of extremist state as it did after Soviet troops left in 1989. The country has, in essence, a failed economy, lacking in infrastructure and possessing a society that has hardly developed since the initial American action.

1.  Yemen and the Sinai Peninsula – new havens of terrorism

Yemen has suffered from domestic turmoil for quite some time. It wasn’t only the anti-government protests, which erupted after the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, but even earlier there were reports of tribal conflicts over water supplies.

Yemen is virtually on the verge of becoming a failed state. Just a couple of days ago, terrorists detonated a bomb at the Policy Academy in Saana. President Saleh might be gone, but Yemen has to face much bigger challenges than Libya, Tunisia or Egypt. The State’s authority over its territories is limited to major cities, leaving terrorists, financed by Iran, thriving in the North and the South of the country. Hadi’s new government has virtually no resources to increase its presence in rebellious provinces or to undertake reforms, which would revive the non-existent economy. And since Yemen has minute natural resources, none of the Western states is keen on entering a substantial and comprehensive development aid project. Since half of Yemen’s population already lives for less then $2 a day, the country can already be seen as a giant harvesting ground for terrorist organizations. Yemen might draw attention of the West, when it will be already infested with Al-Qaeda and Iran-backed terrorist cells. It is an extremely volatile situation right now which can go from bad to extremely dangerous within a few years if the US is not willing to step up its counter-terrorism activities in Yemen.

A threat on a different but still very serious level comes from the Sinai Peninsula. The Egyptian territory east of the Suez Canal has virtually become an outlawed territory after Mubarak’s downfall, falling into the hands of gangs of Bedouin smugglers. It is already estimated that the smuggling industry in Sinai is worth around $0,5 bln. Everything can be contraband – from food and weapons to sex slaves and drugs. Indeed, the Sinai has become one of the major human trafficking spots, where Bedouins kidnap Sudanese refugees desperate to reach Israel, and sell them to Europe and elsewhere. These gangs operate technicals – the Somali-“Black Hawk Down” type – as well as anti-tank missiles, machine guns, RPGs and many more. A development severely worsening the situation is the progressing radicalization of traditionally religion-neutral Bedouins. The culprit for this is Hamas in the nearby Gaza Strip, who trade with Bedouins and recruits operatives to mount attacks on Israel from Egyptian territory. Since Mubarak left the government, there were around 200 incidents of terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians in Eilat or the Negev desert, as well as sabotage attacks on pipelines, which supply gas to Israel. The gas flow has already been suspended a couple of times leaving Israel with gas shortages over the year. This picture indicates that the Sinai might become, alongside Yemen, another haven for Al-Qaeda and Hamas terrorists. The result might be a regional disaster – any major attack on Israel from Egyptian territory will shred the peace treaty into tatters.

Top 10 Middle Eastern Developments To Watch (Part 1)

The first of a two-part piece providing the top 10 Middle Eastern developments to keep your eye on. In this section:  Azeri-Iranian relations, the rise of Islamism, changing Israeli demographics, the Chinese economy and Brazil’s oilfields.

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Middle East

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[dropcap]N[/dropcap]obody knows better than policy analysts that predicting international relations is like stepping on ice, and when it comes to the Middle East the chances of getting it right are as low as being struck by lightning, not once, but ten times. With that caveat, this piece will attempt to identify the 10 most important developments, within and outside of the Middle East, that will occur or are already starting to affect the region.

10. Azeri – Iranian deteriorating relations

Few, if any, would consider Azerbaijan to have any political weight in regional, even less so, global, politics. However, the oil-rich Transcaucasian country may soon draw attention due its growing impatience with what it perceives as an Iranian interference in its domestic affairs. In January 2012, while the world’s attention was drawn to the Syrian Civil War, three men were arrested in Baku on suspicion of attempting to carry out a terrorist attack on a Jewish School in the Azeri capital. The Ministry responsible for their arrest claimed that the weapons, funds and all the necessary training for the terrorists-to-be came in from Iranian sources. Only two months later, 22 men were arrested on suspicion of plotting to attack the US Embassy in Baku. Again, the support was to come from Iran. STRATFOR has also reported that Iran secretly supports the outlawed Shiite Islamic Party of Azerbaijan. These events however, should be clearly separated from the recent allegations of Baku’s approval for Israel to use its airbases to attack Iran. The Azeris are not mad enough to voluntarily bring the Ayatollahs’ wrath on themselves, nor are they so naïve to agree to carry the costs of Israel’s war with their powerful neighbour. What might be the consequence of deteriorating relations between Baku and Tehran is closer cooperation between Azerbaijan and Israel (which is already relatively close). Jerusalem will use all its might to reduce Iranian influence, be it through financial assistance or the supply of military equipment. In fact, Israel already has some experience in arms trade within that region – Israeli drones were sold to Georgia, to Russia’s disappointment, as early as 2008.

9. Islamists consolidating power

It should come as no surprise: political Islam is gaining power all over the Arab World. Moderate Islamists in Tunisia, Egypt, potentially even in Syria, have gained political ground and, being supported by the majority of their constituencies, heralded the dawn of the third political era in the Arab World: an Islamic democracy (the previous two being the post-colonial monarchism and Arab nationalism). To some extent this new force was spearheaded by the Turkish AKP by providing encouragement through its successful reconciliation of Islamic and democratic values coupled with rapid economic growth. However, one should be careful about making premature judgments on Turkey becoming ‘the Germany of Arab World’. There is no doubt Erdoğan’s administration does have such ambitions, but an important aspect, which quite often is left unmentioned, is the fact that Middle East is not as nearly globalized and interdependent as Europe and the outreach of the Turkish economy to the Middle East is very limited. On the other hand, there is a good chance it might change in the middle- to long-term and Europe and America should definitely not rule out such a scenario. The EU may end up regretting its poor decision to not permit Turkey to join the Union.

8. Israeli demographic trends

The Jewish State has seen better days, soon there might not be anyone who still believes in the Zionist dream of Jews becoming a nation as any other. The growing Palestinian population is one thing, but the emigration of the middle class secular Jewish population and a fast growing population of Ultra-Orthodox Jews is another. Right now 50% of Israeli children are Arab or Ultra-Orthodox. By 2040, this number is supposed to rise to 78%. Emigration has now regularly been exceeding immigration. Those who emigrate, or in Hebrew ‘descend’, are usually highly skilled, productive and well-off seculars, who have had enough of living under constant threat, intensified by the ongoing Netanyahu government’s right-wing gibberish paranoia, as well its failure to provide the welfare reforms it promised at the last elections. Instead, they choose better living standards in Berlin or New York, where the neighbouring countries do not want to see them drown in the ocean.

And so, year after year, the left-wing secular constituency base slowly diminishes, letting the religious and ultra-nationalists fill in the political vacuum. In the 1980’s, the European Jewish Israelis were afraid that soon they will be flooded by the Sephardi ‘Orientals’ – Jews from the Arab World – but then the ex-Soviet Jews came to save Israel’s demographic balance; the last large Jewish population outside of Israel lives in America, but an en masse immigration from the Land of the Free to the Land of the Prophets is unlikely to materialise.

7. Future Chinese economic downturn

The Chinese economy is going to enter recession, the question is when it is going to happen. A number of experts have predicted that a major crisis in China will bring about social unrest and a push for liberal reforms and democracy. I will leave the probability of such a scenario to those more fluent in the subject; what is of greater importance for this article is the impact of the Chinese crisis on Iranian exports. Iran is one of China’s biggest oil suppliers and the Iranian budget is highly dependent on Chinese sales.

To spice things up, China is paying for Iranian oil with Yuan, due to the UN sanctions on Iran’s international trade, which is then used by Tehran to buy Chinese goods. Should China suffer a sharp rise in inflation in the future, Iranian exports might turn out not to be so profitable any more and might need to look for a bigger diversification of its export partners, which would mean convincing the Security Council to lift its sanctions. China has acted so far as Iran’s financial guarantor, but if Beijing is consumed with its own crisis, Iran won’t be so readily launching tirades against the Great and the Little Satans.

6. Brazil’s new oilfields

When this news arrived in Riyadh and Tehran, the princes of Al-Saud and the Ayatollahs alike must have shaken in terror. Petrobras, a Brazilian oil company, announced in February the discovery of off-shore pre-salt oil reserves. The actual volumes are not yet known, but, given that Brazil is not part of the OPEC cartel, the amount might easily bring down oil prices, thus cutting Middle Eastern oil giants short of revenue. The extent to which a Brazilian oil bonanza will affect the global economy is yet to be revealed, but it might bring Brazil to the top of the list of oil exporting countries, further deteriorating Iranian economic isolation and bringing the Saudis more worries about budget balancing, while dealing with the unrest in the Shia dominated Eastern Province.

View the second half of this piece here.

A Revolution On Sexual Violence In Egypt

Talk of democracy, civil liberties, and human rights should not be carried out in vain; Egyptians need to come out and speak up against the barbarity of sexual violence.

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Tahrir Square

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[dropcap]N[/dropcap]atasha Smith is one of the many reasons why I am a feminist and why Egypt still has a long way to go as it continues its revolutionary journey.

The detailed and harrowing account of Natasha’s unfortunate ordeal has left many women reeling, ashamed and disgusted. Prominent journalists and feminists took to twitter to express their disgust at the sexual assault which took place in the very heart of Egypt’s revolution – Tahrir Square.

Her brave and courageous openness about her experience should not be called an eye opener. The eyes are already open, but, in Egypt, sexual harassment, assault, rape and other forms of sexual violence are unfortunately ignored or selectively dismissed. Some are ignored for risk of shame and tarnishing the reputation of the girl or man, and in many cases, there is utter denial of the incident. Just as Natasha’s piece describes, the apathetic reaction and subsequent attitude of doctors and nurses, at the hospital where she was being treated in the aftermath, means many Egyptian women are forced to remain silent about their own experiences for fear or certainty that their story will fall on deaf ears. Add to that the risk of interrogation regarding their marital status and whether one is a virgin or not: such questions can only further add insult to injury and alludes to the idea that the victim could be blamed.

Natasha’s experience, with that of Lara Logan and countless other western and Egyptian women who endure sexual harassment, is also indicative of the attitude of a religiously and culturally conservative society that has overlooked the severity of the nature of sexual violence and its implications. A society and culture that advocates a sense of purity and shame with regards to the treatment of oneself and of its fellow human beings, informed by Islamic tradition and principles, has some serious deep underlying issues which need to be addressed if Egypt is to move forward and make solid progress.

If denial of incidents of sexual violence and blaming the victim is the norm of how these incidents are viewed and consequently dealt with, then if anything has to change, it is society’s awareness of and attitude towards sexual violence, support and counsel for victims and punishment of perpetrators. However, Natasha’s account and Egyptian women fearful of voicing their own experiences demonstrates the rarity of such resolve.

A common notion of feminists and commentators of the Arab world claims, that, the underlying cause of this behaviour of men towards vulnerable women goes much deeper to the male psyche in the Arab world where women are still treated as second class citizens against their male counterparts. This understanding is also informed by misinterpreted and man-made Islamic traditions juxtaposed with old Bedouin ideas where women are subjugated to obey, and their individual freedom is curtailed.

The reverence of man in religion and culture has culminated in a centuries old attitude, which has only purported to obstinate the progress of women in wider society. Additionally, the evolution of religious forces over time has tightened man’s grip and control over women. Consequentially creating a society where some men feel women are at their disposal, and therefore, can treat a woman how they please: an attitude that is deeply entrenched in their mind and will be very difficult to eradicate.

To counter such attitudes, feminists, and women have worked hard to depict their image of how a woman should be perceived. Religious fanatics and Islamists have all spurted rhetoric about the vulnerability and value of a woman, and how she needs to be protected. The veil is symbolic of these ideals, but has only further caged women to another submissive religious role – many have adopted this wilfully. However, the progressive cultural and social status of women in Egypt and the Arab world still remains far out of reach. Women also carry the burden of responsibility to make sure her reputation remains intact and that of her family’s. However, when a man lays a hand on a woman, what happens to his reputation?

On the whole, the acts of a few bad apples do not represent Egypt. Natasha attests to this, so can many Egyptians and I can too, having experienced life in Egypt and gauging the cultural lifestyles of many Egyptians.

However, sexual assault in Egypt is endemic and chronic. It is not just someone groping a lady on the street, or on a busy tram or bus, it also functions as a form of torture. Sex as a subject matter is increasingly suppressed in Egypt, it is still very taboo, hence the rarity of open discussion about sexual violence. Egyptians can change their attitudes, and can change how they choose to perceive sexual violence as a menace in their society. Again, this is up to the nation that has just democratically elected their first President in nearly 30 years. So talk of democracy, civil liberties, and human rights should not be carried out in vain and Egyptians need to come out and speak up against this barbarity.

It is therefore encouraging to know that Natasha has not allowed this incident to cease her mission to expose sexual violence and increase awareness of it. She is indeed a courageous young girl, who despite her own experience will hopefully be a catalyst for real change in Egypt and the rest of the Arab world in countering sexual violence and empowering more women to fight it.