Posts Tagged ‘Arab Spring’

English history offers a parallel for Egyptian political reform (1)

July 5, 2013

A revolution against Stuart tyranny erupted in England in 1642. Following a violent civil war, King Charles 1 was executed by Parliament in 1649 on the instructions of Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell’s Model Army then instituted a newly-empowered parliament. That parliament quickly fell under the dictatorship of Lord Protector Cromwell. When Cromwell died in 1658, and his son Richard (Tumbledown Dick) assumed the position of Lord Protector, the English army, split and its leading generals rebelled against parliament. In 1660, a repentant parliament, acting under military orders, restored Charles II to the throne. Charles II, followed by his brother James, ruled England as Divine Right autocrats until James was deposed in a bloodless revolution in 1688. An outside army from Holland then re-established order and introduced a new constitutional order.

Thus far a parallel with Egypt is clear, though the Egyptian time line is dramatically shorter. President Mubarak played the role of Charles I of England, and was deposed by popular revolution, aided by the Egyptian army. The army played a transitional role in arranging for a president and a parliament to be elected. As with England in 1649, the Egyptian electorate proved to be insufficiently mature to support a pluralistic democracy. As with Tumbledown Dick in 1660 England, the Egyptian army once again intervened to depose the utterly incompetent, religious bigot, President Morsi.

In tomorrow’s column, I shall briefly outline the error made by England in the 1660 restoration, an error that resulted in 28 further years of autocracy before England eventually resolved its political quandary. I shall then outline hoe the Egyptian army might usefully proceed to shorten the time-horizon for evolution to effective governance.

Islam’s incompatibility with democracy: lesson of the Arab Spring

January 28, 2013

In December 2010, the self-immolation of a Tunisian street vendor, protesting unjust treatment by the government, ignited a wildfire that became known as the Arab Spring. Now, some two years later, that Arab Spring must be renamed the Arab Winter of Our Discontent, as each and every country torched by that wildfire has collapsed into political chaos blended with religious dictatorship, ruthlessly imposed by Sharia law.

In Tunisia – where it all started – a relatively benign secular autocracy has been replaced by malign Islamic governance. The Islamist Nahda Party captured a 41 per cent plurality of the total vote for the Constituent Assembly in October 2011. Following this capture, the tourist trade has fallen dramatically in that region of North Africa. Similar Islamist victories have followed in Morocco, Libya and beyond.

Military materiel have fallen into the hands of insurgents in Mali, threatening an al qaeda subjugation of the North, that has triggered French armed intervention.Egypt has fallen under Muslim fundamentalist political control, with President Morsi naming Isaelis as the descendants of dogs and pigs. His usurpation of political power is triggering riots and violent demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, in Suez, Alexandria and elsewhere. Iraq and Afghanistan are riddled with sectarian violence, instability and corruption. Israel, the only stable democracy in the entire region, is preparing for what may easily end up as a nuclear defense of its country against Islamist barbarians.

The Obama administration should have understood, from the outset of the Arab Spring, that secular dictatorship by declared allies of the United States was the least worst outcome for that benighted region of the globe. Countries populated by under-educated, brain-washed Muslims of varying degrees of fundamentalism are resistant to any kind of democracy. Democracy requires religious freedom. And Islam will not tolerate such a condition. Even in Turkey, it remains difficult to apostasize against Islam, despite the secularization officially imposed upon that country by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk during the 1920’s.

Islam is a religion that does not recognize any separation between Mosque and State. Sharia law rules and democracy cannot legitimately challenge its dictates.

Hat Tip: Thane Rosenbaum, ‘A Bleak Anniversary for the Arab Spring’, The Wall Street Journal, January 28, 2013

Obama of Arabia

July 13, 2012

“the self-styled modernism of the Arab-nationalist dictators proved to be a dismal failure.  It produced dysfunctional, semisocialist , bureaucratic, corrupt regimes that left the citizenry (except where papered over by oil bounties) mired in poverty, indignity and repression.  Hence the Arab Spring, serial uprisings that spread east from Tunisia in early 2011.  Many Westerners naively believed the future belonged to the hip, secular, tweeting kids of Tahrir Square.  Alas, this sliver of Westernization was no match for the highly organized, widely supported, politically serious Islamists who effortlessly swept them aside in national elections.” Charles Krauthammer, ‘The Islamist ascendancy’, The Washington Post, July 13, 2012

More than any other individual, President Barack Obama was responsible for translating the Arab Spring into Arab Islamist governance. In this sense, Obama rivals Lawrence of Arabia, with the single difference that Obama was not betrayed by much wiser national governments of Britain and France, who knew well what Arab Islamist nationalism really implied.

So, Tunisia and Morocco, the most Westernized of all Arab countries, elected Islamist governments.  Egypt, the largest and most influential Arab nation, has experienced an Islamist sweep.  The Muslim Brotherhood not only won the presidency. It won nearly 50 per cent of the seats in parliament, while more openly radical Islamists won a further 25 per cent. Now only the Egyptian military stands between radical Islam and the imposition of Sharia Law across Egypt.

In Syria, when Bashar al-Assad falls, the Brotherhood almost certainly will inherit power  Jordan well may follow. And the Brotherhood’s Palestinian wing – Hamas – already controls Gaza.

“What does this mean?  That the Arab Spring is a misnomer. This is an Islamist ascendancy, likely to dominate Arab politics for a generation….Radical Islam is the answer to nothing, as demonstrated by the repression, social backwardness and civil strife of Taliban Afghanistan, Islamist Sudan and clerical Iran. Charles Krauthammer, ‘The Islamist ascendancy’, ibid.

Obama of Arabia claims to be the savior of American women from the alleged predations of  Governor Romney and the Republican Party. I wonder how well he will be regarded among the women of Arabia as they are driven back behind the veil, restricted from outside activities in the absence of chaperones, barred from formal education, and stoned to death for adultery.

Moammar Gadhafi- ‘sic semper tyrannis’

October 21, 2011

The term sic semper tyrannis is Latin for  ‘thus always to tyrants’.  These are the words attributed to Marcus Junius Brutus as he helped to stab Julius Caesar to death on March 15, 44  B.C. The words are sometimes mis-translated to mean  ‘death always to tyrants’.

In the singular case of Moammar Gadhafi, the mis-translation held, as he was executed by Libyan revolutionaries while attempting to flee the sewers of  his home town of Sirte on October 20, 2011. 

Gadhafi so far is the only Arab dictator to have been executed as a consequence of the Arab Spring.  Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali had the good sense to flee into comfortable exile.  Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak fled too late and insufficiently far, and is now on trial for his life.  Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh had the good sense to flee to safety in Saudi Arabia, but then decided to return  to Yemen where it remains to be determined whether he will recover his autocracy, and at what cost in terms of repression. 

Political economists who specialize in the study of autocracy used to argue – with a lot of evidence in support of their hypothesis – that successful revolutions are rare and that, for the most part, autocrats are removed by coups d’etat, where the benefits are largely privatized, and the free-rider problem associated with revolutionary behavior does not apply.  The Arab Spring  challenges that hypothesis.

The institutional change that now favors revolution is the collapse in organizational costs associated with the Internet and modern communications technology.  Revolutionaries are now able to find their way to relevant weak spots in the dictator’s defenses and to group themselves accordingly.

The unpopular dictator, in consequence, confronts an unpleasant dilemma. To remain in office against well-organized uprisings, his army must be prepared to kill on a massive scale. In so doing,  if the dictator eventually loses, he and his military leaders, if they survive the bloodshed , will find themselves on trial in international courts.

Gadhafi’s forces showed this willingness to kill, but ultimately failed to retain power because of outside intervention.  Mubarak’s forces deserted his command.  So far Bassar Assad appears able to control his Syrian forces – albeit with powerful support from Iran.  It is now increasingly likely, nevertheless,  that Assad will meet his death fleeing from a Damascus sewer before the Arab Spring runs its full course.

Even if dictatorship survives across most of Arabia – as may prove to be the case,  this is good news for Arabs who  find themselves living under new oppressors.   For water tends to run downhill.  As the  marginal cost of repression increases relative to the marginal  cost of loyalty, rational autocrats will substitute loyalty for repression at all relevant margins of behavior.

And that will make for a better world.

Egypt lurches towards theocracy

October 4, 2011

President Obama appears to be one more step on his chosen path towards encouraging Muslim theocracies across the Middle East.  As I have predicted for some time in these columns, the Egyptian army – heavily reliant on U.S. subsidies – has entered into a deal designed to ensure that an Islamic theocracy will succeed its own military dictatorship once ‘elections’ take place.

“The pact seemed to benefit the Muslim Brotherhood by effectively ending an effort by secularists intended to guarantee that Islamist precepts are kept out of Egypt’s new constitution.  The secularists’ fear is that Islamists will win the largest bloc in the next legislature – and with it the power to shape a theocratic charter.”  Matt Bradley, ‘Egyptian Pact Aids The Army, Irks Voters’, The Wall Street Journal, October 4, 2011

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces – the junta that currently rules Egypt – cut this deal with a small minority of the 60 parties that are currently engaged in the election process.  The pact effectively prohibits former members of the Mubarek government from running as independent candidates, thereby limiting any political ambitions by members of the deposed ruling party. 

The pact also prohibits any monitoring of the elections by domestic or foreign bodies, though it does allow such bodies  to ‘view and follow’ the elections – whatever that may imply!

The meeting and pact with SCAF arose from an election-boycott threat last week posed by the Muslim Brotherhood-led Democratic Alliance.  The outcome of the negotiations outraged members of the youth-oriented parties whose aspirations for liberty and job opportunities had fueled the Egyptian spring.

The future for Egypt is now increasingly clear: a theocratic socialist government closely allied to an Egyptian army that already controls most of the wealth of Egypt.  The real impact of the Egyptian spring? The replacement of a secular with a theocratic socialist dictatorship – just the medicine that Dr. Obama has ordered. Next in line?  Libya!

Death on the Nile

September 10, 2011

On September 9, 2011, in a clear breach of the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, Egyptian security forces stood down, allowing Islamic fundamentalists to storm the Cairo embassy of the State of Israel. During the violence perpetrated on Israeli sovereign territory, three people died and more than 1,000 were injured.  Protesters set fire to police trucks and attacked regional police headquarters.  They also pelted soldiers with stones and refuse.

Only when President Obama urged the Egyptian ‘government’ to honor its international obligations by keeping the Israeli embassy secure did Egypt move several hundred Egyptian soldiers, backed by armored cars, to the scene of  carnage and destruction. Such is the early fruit of the so-called Arab Spring.

The Israeli Ambassador, Yitzhak Levanon, and his family and staff, were taken to the airport where a military plane evacuated them.  Only the Deputy Ambassador remains in Egypt. In a late telephone call to Israeli Prime Minister,  Binyamin Netanyahu, President Obama emphasized that the U.S. was acting ‘at all levels’ to resolve the situation.  What security that provides for Israel is highly debatable, given the Obama administration’s active role in destabilizing the politics of the Middle East and the President’s manifest distaste for Mr. Netanyahu.

Arab spring moves into deep winter

July 28, 2011

The Arab Spring is now long gone.  The blossoms are off the trees, the buds and tender shoots of the desert spring were all stillborn. The landscape itself is all but lifeless, a desert sand, bereft of  life-giving irrigation. All that remain are a few deep-rooted, little-valued weeds, holding on in Tahrir Square.

Six months after popular unrest, supported by Western intervention, began spreading across North Africa and into the Gulf, only two autocratic leaders have been toppled – both former allies of the West – in Egypt and Tunisia. Serious questions remain concerning who will wield power in both countries – and none of the likely suspects show signs of wanting an alliance with the West. In the meantime, uprisings in Syria and Bahrain have been brutally repressed – with no intervention by the West – and Nato military action in Libya has proved incapable of removing a tinpot dictator who would have been rubbed out within three days by a General Patton and his U.S. tank-cavalry.

Those who continue to occupy Egypt’s  Tahrir Square  suggest indeed that the corrupt, property-endowed elite military junta has cut a deal with the Islamic Brotherhood in order to retain its own pre-revolutionary loot while sharing any additional  revolutionary spoils with Islamic militants:

“the outburst against the generals is partly fuelled by suspicion of a secret deal with the Brotherhood intended to deliver political influence to the Islamists in exchange for guarantees for the generals.” Roula Khalaf, ‘Transition to democracy suffers painful birth pangs’, Financial Times, July 28, 2011

Any initial democratic gains of the Arab Spring have been overwhelmed by sectarian strife, struggling increasingly socialistic economies, and counter-revolutions.  So warned British Foreign Minister, William Hague, on July 27, 2011.  Fledgling democracies produced by waves of people power might well prove too weak to deal with the deep-rooted problems that they now confront, the Foreign Minister told The London Times.  ‘There are a lot of problems and even convulsions to come in the region’, he suggests. Worse still, he warns of bloodshed across the Middle East and the Maghreb as religious groups turn against each other: ‘One of the risks in the Arab Spring is the unleashing of sectarian divisions.’  Progress is bound to be uncertain, and will take up to 30 years to unfold. ‘We are going to be working at this for the rest of our lives.’

Well, I have a response to these words by William Hague – a response that I suspect is shared by many Westerners:

 ‘You may choose to work at this for the rest of your years, Mr. Foreign Minister. But we shall not stand shoulder to shoulder with you. If the Arab Spring should fail – as fail it already has – that is a problem for the Middle East, and not for us. We in the West  now fully understand that the more we try to help, the more we flagellate ourselves, like President Obama, for the sins of our ancestors, the more we are hated and despised by those who receive our aid and shrug off our apologies. So, let us awaken to realities and seek to help ourselves and to leave others free to follow suit.’