INSTABILITY IN JORDAN

Long taken for granted, Jordan plays a key role in the stability of the Middle East. The ruling Hashemite monarchy has been in power for nearly a century and it enjoys close relations with the West, the Arab Gulf States, and even Israel. But as events over the past few years indicate, no regime in the Middle East is safe. With growing economic problems, political discontent, and the raging civil war in neighboring Syria, Jordan’s King Abdullah faces myriad issues during increasingly uncertain times. JNS.org examines whether Jordan’s monarchy will hold on, or become the next casualty of the Arab Spring. Read more here.

THE ARAB SPRING LIVES ON

By MONDHER BEN HAMIDA, WAFA BEN HASSINE and MOHAMED MALOUCHE

By now, most people with access to the news have heard that once again, the Arab world is in major turmoil.

The events that took place on 14 September, when mobs of protesters attacked the US embassies in Tunis, Cairo, Khartoum and Sana’a, have undoubtedly undermined the transformative democratic wind blowing in the region. The tragic loss of a distinguished American diplomat and three members of his staff in Benghazi – the Libyan city that came to symbolise a new approach to American foreign policy in the Arab world – has tarnished the image of the fledgling Arab Spring.

Later, a group of extremists attacked the American school in Tunis. These attacks greatly damaged the image and economic prospects of a country – Tunisia – that has been enjoying a great deal of sympathy and support, both in the United States and throughout the world.

It has been particularly disheartening to watch a number of US politicians and policy experts rushing to write the obituary of the Arab Spring. Their arguments insinuate that all it took was a mere 20 months for the dream to go from cradle to grave, ironically in the same city: Tunis.

The reality is obviously much more complex. Arab Spring countries are undergoing a much-delayed and much-needed political and societal transformation, but the Arab Spring is still very much alive.

The chaotic scenes broadcast all over US cable networks the past two weeks could not be more misleading.

Partly thanks to the strong moral leadership and material support of President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton, evidenced by their early support for the interim Tunisian government last year, the MENA region is undergoing an irreversible transformation into a vibrant democracy.

As a group of young Tunisian Americans hailing from diverse professional backgrounds, we share two main objectives: to ensure a successful democratic transition in our home country, and to see democratic values and principles, such as freedom of speech and support for human rights, flourish in Tunisia.

We remain convinced that Tunisia, in particular, has all the ingredients necessary to succeed: strong institutions, a large middle-class, an active intellectual elite, advanced women’s status and geographic and cultural proximity to Europe. These ingredients nurture the thirst for democracy. Today, there is no going back to a domineering institution, be it a dictatorship or a theocracy.

Systems theory teaches us that the initial phase of a transformation is usually the most painful, fragile, and critical, as many forces, which are often at odds, come into play and jostle for domination. Tunisia’s experience is no exception. We should not expect a country where freedom of speech was nonexistent, civil society shackled and corruption widespread to suddenly become a perfect model of democracy.

By siding with the Tunisian youth against the regime of the long-time US ally President Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali, the image of the United States experienced an historic upgrade.

Arabs followed this shift in policy, which also contributed to the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and led to the overthrow of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, with a mix of incredulity, gratefulness and naturally, suspicion.

The biggest loser throughout these historic events was al-Qaeda and its various affiliates, as this new US policy of supporting the democratic aspirations of Arab youth greatly undermined their recruiting efforts.

However, despite all the challenges, this new experiment is well worth it for the Tunisian people and the Arab world, as well as for the stability of Western economies. Tunisian democracy is starting to function. Fair and free elections were held for the first time ever in October 2011. Subjects that would have warranted arrests and torture if broached in public two years ago are now being openly debated on television.

For the sake of millions of people who deserve and need democracy, and for the sake of America’s own ideals and geo-strategic interests, Americans should be steadfast in supporting Tunisia. Let’s not allow the senseless violence of a few to put a historical process at risk. History will tell us that our efforts today will translate into one of the best investments we ever made.

Mondher Ben Hamida, Wafa Ben Hassine and Mohamed Malouche are members of the Tunisian American Young Professionals (www.tayp.org) which supports American-Tunisian partnerships and entrepreneurship in Tunisia. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

 

Survey: Most Muslims seek democracy

D.Y.C. Music photo

More than a year after the first stirrings of the Arab Spring, there continues to be a strong desire for democracy in Arab and other predominantly Muslim nations, a new Pew Research Center poll finds.  Solid majorities in Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia and Jordan believe democracy is the best form of government, as do a plurality of Pakistanis. These publics do not just support the general notion of democracy – they also embrace specific features of a democratic system, such as competitive elections and free speech.  Meanwhile, the United States is not seen as promoting democracy in the Middle East.

A substantial number in key Muslim countries want a large role for Islam in political life. However, there are significant differences over the degree to which the legal system should be based on Islam.

While democratic rights and institutions are popular, they are clearly not the only priorities. In particular, the economy is a top concern.  Views about the economic situation in these countries are grim, although Turkey is an exception.

Majorities in all six nations polled believe women should have equal rights as men, and more than eight-in-ten hold this view in Lebanon and Turkey.  However, while many support the general principle of gender equality, there is less enthusiasm for gender parity in politics, economics and family life.

Extremist groups are largely rejected in predominantly Muslim nations, although significant numbers do express support for radical groups in several countries.

The survey was conducted in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Tunisia and Turkey from March 19 to April 20.  This report includes a special section on public opinion in Tunisia, where the Arab Spring began.

 

Is the Arab Spring good or bad for the Palestinian cause?

Photo by angrywhitekid/Flickr

By DAWOUD ABU LEBEDEH

JERUSALEM – It’s been over a year since the start of a wave of revolutions that brought down the rulers of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, one after another. In Syria dozens die by the day, hoping to achieve the same goals of freedom and dignity under a democratic regime. Many Palestinians are now wondering what effect this past year’s developments in the Arab world will have on their own struggle for independence.

After the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, which marked the dissolution of a pan-Arab identity, many Palestinians came to feel that their struggle was theirs alone. A recent poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion (PCPO) shows that Palestinians have not changed their perceptions of how their cause is viewed by the greater Arab world. Of those polled, most (65 percent) feel that the Arab Spring will have a negative impact on the Palestinian cause. Dr Nabil Kukali, President of the PCPO, says that most Palestinians view the Arab Spring as the “Palestinian Fall”. Kukali explains that the new Arab regimes and their peoples are now concerned more with internal issues than with the Palestinians’ future.

Of course the internal situation in Arab Spring countries is still one of turmoil, and it is to be expected that each country is trying to put its own house in order, giving priority to domestic affairs like the economy and security.

But for Palestinians this has meant that their leaders’ bid to gain recognition for a Palestinian state in the UN last fall was virtually ignored by the Arab street. Had the Arab street raised its voice and called on the world to recognise the Palestinian state as a member of the UN, it might have influenced the larger players, such as Britain and the United States, to think more favorably about admitting Palestine – particularly as these countries have relationships with the Arab world based on vital interests.

It will take time for the dust of revolution to settle and for the Arab countries in transition to arrive at a point where they can attend to restructuring their foreign policy and diplomatic relations. One only has to look to Egypt to understand how its standing in the region has been affected by the revolution. Prior to it, Egypt was arguably the major Arab power in the Middle East, playing an important role in mediating between the Arab world and the West. This was the reason US President Barack Obama chose Egypt as the platform from which to deliver his first speech to the Muslim world as president in June 2009.

But today the role played by Egypt in the political arena is marginal because Egypt’s internal affairs are in flux. When dozens can die in a football match in Egypt, there is not much room to attend to foreign policy.

The Palestinians don’t have time to wait for the Arab street to take a greater interest in their affairs, and must push forward and build the foundations of their future state. Self-reliance at this time is key for the future of an independent Palestinian state. One only needs to look at the steps the Zionists took to found the state of Israel. They did not wait for the world to wake up. Decades before 1948 they were working hard to build the infrastructure for their state. It is only once the main components of a state were in place that the world gave its support.

The young generations of Palestinians have the potential to do the same. The Arab youth who initiated the Arab Spring may have drawn their inspiration from the Palestinian struggle, particularly the first intifada and the nonviolent movement of recent years. I believe that young Palestinians now have the potential to bring about their own Spring.

Of course Arab support, were it to come soon, would no doubt strengthen the Palestinian position and create more favourable conditions for negotiations with the Israeli government. Diplomatic pressure from these countries – particularly from the Gulf states but also from Jordan and Egypt, who have economic and military agreements with larger world powers – could change the rules of the game sooner. This would be particularly effective if Arab countries were to formulate a unified approach to the Palestinian cause.

But even without the support of the Arab world, one can take hope in the enormous potential of young Palestinians to effect change on the ground and achieve freedom for their people.

Dawoud Abu Lebdeh is a Palestinian living in East Jerusalem. He is currently an MA student for Political Science and Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is also one of the founders of the Watan student movement, and writes about the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a Palestinian perspective. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service.

Arab Spring an opportunity for Israel

By NATALIA SIMANOVSKY

TEL AVIV – The Israeli government and security establishment are viewing the sweeping changes in the Middle East and North African region with apprehension. While it is human nature to fear the unknown, the recent developments represent a window of opportunity for reshaping the region.

That is not to say that the dangers facing Israel are imagined; Israel must now contend with the consequences of the removal of its biggest ally in the region, Hosni Mubarak, and face a newly-elected government whose position on matters relating to the Jewish state are uncertain at best.

While not underestimating the challenges facing Israel as it tries to navigate its way through uncharted territory, the new regional order could present Israel with interesting strategic opportunities. Israel, however, has to be cognisant of the nuances being presented.

The Arab Spring and the new landscape that has emerged in its wake have led to a number of developments, including genuine free elections in Tunisia. Yet many in Israel see the rise of the Islamic political party Al Nahda as the precursor to strong anti-Western and anti-Israel sentiment, viewing Al Nahda as an ideological ally with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. But parties which use Islam as the backdrop to their policies are not monolithic as many incorrectly assume.

In Tunisia, the elections resulted in a majority win for both liberal and moderate Islamic parties. Yes, Al Nahda won 40 per cent of the vote, but it has to share power with secular and centre-left parties. That Tunisia may witness a resurgence of religious values in the public sphere is not an existential threat to Israel.

As for Egypt, its elections have resulted in a victory for the Muslim Brotherhood, with the hardline Salafist Al Nour Party coming in second. While the victory of Al Nour could be worrisome, there is reason for cautious optimism. First, the Muslim Brotherhood of 2012 is not the same party it was 10 or 50 years ago. The evolution of the organisation over the years is marked by a pragmatic approach with regard to gender equality and other democratic principles – and with regard to peace with Israel.

As for reports in the media that once in power the organisation will revoke the Israeli-Egyptian treaty or put it to a referendum, this is far from certain. Frequently parties make pledges, yet internal and external considerations lead to changed strategies once in power. Moreover one of the biggest incentives to ensure the peace treaty continues is the approximately $2 billion worth of aid given to Egypt every year by the United States, especially useful for the new government.

Rather than perceive the handover of power from the military to the civilian government as a threat, Israel could form a relationship with the new government, most notably in the area of security. Continued security cooperation between Israel and the Egyptian military (as they strive to drive out insurgents in the Sinai) could serve as a conduit for positive long-term change for both countries.

Closer to home, Israel would also be wise to take advantage of the uncertainty enveloping Hamas. The difference in opinion over moderating Hamas policies as a consequence of the instability of the Assad regime have led to power struggles between the leadership in Damascus, who advocate a more moderate line and the leadership in Gaza, who do not.

Reportedly, Egypt, Qatar and Turkey are playing a key role in persuading Hamas to end the armed resistance against Israel. Khalid Meshaal, who was the leader of the Hamas political bureau in Syria and promoted a moderate line in regard to relations with Israel, resigned a few days ago. But this does not necessarily mean an abdication of the moderate approach. Even in March 2011 when I conducted an interview with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, Fatah was working toward getting Hamas to implicitly abandon violence against Israel as one of the objectives for reconciliation.

With Meshaal’s deputy chief, Gaza-born Mousa Abu Marzouq, as his likely successor, the trend toward moderation may not be in peril – as he too is believed to support Fatah-Hamas reconciliation and moderation. Marzouq has been a senior Hamas official since the early 1990s and his stance regarding the occupation borders on pragmatism, as demonstrated by his articles published in the Western press.

The challenges for Israel in this unsteady and dynamic environment are certainly formidable, but with challenges come opportunities. If Israel can approach the developments creatively as well as cautiously, the changing landscape may herald the potential for favourable developments for Israel in particular, and the wider Middle East.

Natalia Simanovsky has worked as a research officer at various think tanks in North America and the Middle East. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service.

The Arab Spring: Change we can believe in

By PRINCE EL HASSAN BIN TALAL of JORDAN

AMMAN – Regionally and globally we are coming to the end of a significant year. Manifold “awakenings” have altered the strategic, social and political context of a region I refer to as “West Asia North Africa” (commonly known as the Middle East and North Africa).

On a global level, profound stresses in the world economy – which are not solely confined to Western countries – have exposed a hyper-globalised age in which opportunity, equality, fairness and social mobility appear to have been compromised to an unacceptable degree. Deficits in national budgets around the world have created and accentuated a trust deficit, as well as a human dignity deficit in both the West and West Asia North Africa. This reality has resulted in the Occupy movement in London and the United States, and the “Indignant” movement in Spain, both of which were influenced by, and find common cause with, the Arab Awakening.

What we may be seeing is the birth of a new global rhetoric born in the West Asia North Africa region. This rhetoric essentially argues that human beings are “too big to fail”. In 2012 it will, however, require further articulating: none of the demonstrations in Tahrir Square in Cairo, on Wall Street in New York City, or elsewhere, have been intellectually or politically codified. The concept of human security has instead been vindicated by events on the ground: a critical mass, made up of a once-silenced majority, has surfaced.

But Tweeting – which is so closely associated with recent protests – is no substitute for thought, and passion no substitute for discipline.

We have become a region of a million accents; decades of divide and rule have rendered us incapable of speaking with one single voice. Because of this, others from outside of the region, too often do the talking for us.

Its time to develop new narratives – and a greater sense of unity. A year ago, on 1 January 2011, 21 people were killed in an attack on a Coptic church in Alexandria; 25 days later Muslims and Christians prayed beside each other in Tahrir Square. It did not last long – sectarian tensions have resurfaced in Egypt, in Bahrain and across the region as a whole. It did however suggest that the frictions which so often seem to split this region asunder are, in the final estimation, far more brittle than they appear.

The Arab world is often depicted as a place fighting against everything, particularly progress. But over the past few months it has been the men and women of this region who have led the way in fighting for what has been described as universal rights: for justice, transparency and accountability, for the right to have both a career and a family and for the right of Palestinians to become citizens in their own sovereign territory. The future of West Asia North Africa is being re-engineered, contested and heavily fought across a wide range of arenas. That future remains uncertain and its contours opaque – but its embers are glowing.

Our region requires a bill of rights that prohibits all forms of discrimination, but also outlines responsibilities. We need to engage what I refer to as ‘third sphere’ communities – made up of civic organisations, government and the private sector –to engender meaningful models of social cohesion and social inclusion. We need to invest in research and development – and incubate not just businesses but educated human beings.

In 1987, I was part of a commission which presented to the UN General Assembly a report which called for a “new international humanitarian order”. The report, entitled “Winning the Human Race”, argued that economic growth and national security were overwhelmingly dependent on individuals and community well-being.

The conclusions which can be drawn over the past 12 months seem to accord with the findings of this 24 year-old report. In a sense both suggest that the real “change you can believe in” comes not from governments, armies nor institutions – but from individual human beings.

His Royal Highness Prince El Hassan bin Talal is chairman and founder of the Arab Thought Forum and the West Asia North Africa Forum. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service .

Rule of law priority in post-Arab Spring

Egyptians lining up to vote

By NASSER AL-SARAMI
Common Ground News Service

Dubai – As I write this article, a television screen in my office at Al Arabiya broadcasts images of brave Egyptians lining up, in the face of intimidation and uncertainty, to elect a new parliament. It’s a spectacle I wouldn’t have imagined only a year ago – but it’s also consistent with the unprecedented elections in Tunisia and the now realistic hopes for future democratic strides in Libya and perhaps Syria and Yemen.

I’m troubled, however, by the widespread fears that come along with these laudable democratic experiments. Arabs everywhere wonder whether Egypt’s military rulers will deny the new parliament its due authority, and whether Tunisia’s newly elected leaders from an Islamic political movement, having won their right to govern, will seek to deny others the right to compete with them in a free marketplace of ideas. Political activists region-wide have the right instincts on these issues: they want the democratic experiments to be both real and sustainable. But so far, few have articulated a coherent platform or strategy by which to reach these goals.

Meanwhile, another spectacle that riveted the region only a few months earlier has largely receded from the public discussion: the trial of former regime elites, from Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and his family to stalwarts of Tunisia’s former regime. There is general agreement in the region that it is right and just to hold corrupt elites accountable for their abuses – but in doing so, to grant them the right to a fair trial that they would never have granted to their own citizens.

There is a relationship between the region’s new electoral experiments and its experience with retributive justice: the need to establish the rule of law. This concept encompasses equality before the law, establishment of law and order, efficient and predictable application of justice, and protection of human rights. By “rule of law,” I mean a system in which all of a country’s citizens are held equally accountable to just laws written and overseen by the people.

These are relevant to the burning issue of the day: how to ensure good governance and an ongoing rotation of power after elections are held. At first, free elections may seem to be a sure manifestation of democracy, but they may be nothing but a symbol – unless the rule of law is applied to consolidate and guarantee the democratic way of life.

In the long run, the rule of law is the ideal framework for a culture that is committed to tolerance and open to diverse viewpoints. It can prevent “political thuggery” used to intimidate opponents and competitors, and/or the misuse of religion as a policy instrument to prohibit freedom of expression.

During the voting process itself, there is nothing to allow competing political parties to jointly supervise a fair electoral process and vote counting (or to allow international observers unrestricted access to voting mechanisms) except the principles of the rule of law. These principles are there to prevent unfair domination of voting mechanisms or the manipulation of the results. Furthermore, such principles can also play an essential role after the results of the election by empowering opposition parties to play a role in publicly critiquing the ruling party for its mishandling of the country’s affairs, if this is indeed the case.

Looking ahead to the days following Arab elections, we know that the rule of law remains weak in most Arab countries. Arabs now have a golden opportunity to begin reshaping their future by evaluating candidates and new ruling parties in accordance with their commitment to these principles. This would be a way to prevent winners from abusing their new found powers by building a new dictatorship and thus blocking future free elections, or prejudicing their outcomes. Without striving for the rule of law, we effectively guarantee a return to the starting point – and new monopolies on power in the Arab world.

Nasser Al-Sarami is head of media at the Al Arabiya News Channel in Dubai.

Egyptian liberals say Muslim Brotherhood in control of Arab Spring

ISRAEL TODAY

JERUSALEM – The Muslim Brotherhood’s exploitation of Egypt’s pro-democracy revolution is nearly complete, leading Egyptian liberals complained to one of Egypt’s top newspapers on Sunday.

Members of various secular parties told Al-Masry Al-Youm that Egypt’s temporary ruling military regime has now allied itself with the Muslim Brotherhood after the Islamist group scored a big victory in the first round of voting for Egypt’s parliament.

Estimates are that the Muslim Brotherhood won control of 40 percent of the parliament when voters from Egypt’s largest districts went to the polls earlier this month. Other Islamist groups allied with the Brotherhood won another 20 percent of the vote, while various secular and liberal parties combined took the remaining 40 percent.

With those results in hand, the ruling military council is allowing the Muslim Brotherhood to control the writing of Egypt’s new constitution, Mohammed Abul Ghar, leader of the Egyptian Democratic Party, told the newspaper.

“The council has ignored calls by the majority for a balanced civil constitution that protects the country’s future,” said Abul Ghar. “The military council is now weaker than the Brotherhood.”

Abul Ghar said that because of the way things are going, he refused to even sit on the advisory committee that will supposedly be in charge of writing the new constitution. Other liberal leaders say they weren’t even invited to take part.

In possibly related news, The Jerusalem Post claimed on Sunday that Hamas had established missile production facilities in the Egyptian Sinai in order to protect its arsenal from Israeli air strikes. Hamas was birthed from the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, and the two groups share an ideology concerning Israel and future Islamic domination of not only the Middle East, but the whole world.

An Egyptian military official later denied that Hamas had been allowed to operate in an organized manner in Sinai, but many of this year’s Hamas attacks on southern Israel have emanated or been facilitated from Sinai.