Tag Archives: Arab spring

Commentary–A Moral Response to Violence

Arab Spring: In December 2010 it all began. But the scenes that remain vivid in my mind begin in January 2011 and Tahir Square, Egypt when the wave of Arab Spring came into my home via CNN on an hourly basis. As the Arab Spring movement grew across northern Africa and Middle East, the Syrians rose up on March 15th against their minority masters– one of the many in the Middle East. The man at the center in Syria had the right DNA as a dictator-president. Medically trained Bashar Hafez al-Assad and his father, Hafez al-Assad before him have ruled Syria with an iron fist and cold heart.

Politics in the Middle East had finally exploded. The political will of the majority across northern Africa and the Middle East was grabbing for its part of the political pot. Arab Spring protesters were met in many cases by a violent governmental response. In Syria it became a “civil war”, in Egypt there was a “coup”, then there was the Libyan and Yemen “crisis”. In these movements there was a call for a new form of government and recognition of rights. And that power struggle continues.   In Syria, as I write this commentary, the fighting has gone on for more than six years with over four hundred thousand dead and counting and untold numbers in the millions seeking shelter however and wherever it may be found. Some found floating dead at sea.

In Syria, the dictator Assad emulates his father’s core philosophy: you meet a demand for a voice at the ballot box by the force of a bullet. Clearly, Assad could not win at the ballot box if he had been open to the idea of a referendum, and so he would try to murder his way to control and his sense of “victory”. His simple plan to victory became politically and strategically complex for the United States.

It started in July 2011; defectors from Assad’s regime formed an organized militia called the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to protect protesters and strike back at Assad. By January 2012, the Syrian “uprising” had disintegrated and fragmented into a full-blown civil war pitting the FSA and other assorted rebel groups against Assad and his supporters. It is the “assorted rebel groups” and Assad’s supporters that make this war both a humanitarian blood bath and an international nightmare. Today, The United States is in the middle of this conflict facing its modern historical enemy: Russia. How we got here starts much earlier than the Arab Spring.

In 1980, Iran was using its deep financial resources to further not only its regional control and power but also to destroy Israel. To accomplish its objective it needed to supply its proxies Hezbollah (in Lebanon to control that troubled government and gain control of its common border with Israel in the south) and Hamas (in Gaza bordering in the southwest corner of Israel) with its military and financial needs. To further accomplish this object Iran needed a transfer point for all of this aid. Syria would be that transfer vehicle for conveying whatever military needs and supplies its proxy militias/allies –Hezbollah and Hamas –might require. Assad, in return for his help, would receive enormous military and political largess from Iran. Iran became the Assad’s regime benefactor. Then things changed; the minority population in Syria began their demands. A revolt in Syria is a revolt against Assad, and that clearly would upend Iran’s grand plans for the region. The logical result was that Iran sent Hezbollah to fight alongside of Assad against the rebels. Thus, the beginning of a maze of interventions on both sides.

In early 2013, the Arab League gave its member organizations permission to arm the Syrian rebels; in May of 2013, Qatar alone provided 3 billion dollars in aid to the rebel forces. The rebel pushback against Assad then became a “proxy war” between Iran and Assad on one side against those Gulf states that sided with the United States’ interests. By simple extension, the   “proxy war” morphed into a conflict between Russia, who had financed and in fact built the Syrian army in the 1960s, and the United States.

We have witnessed thousands of airstrikes with American pilots along with United States Special Forces on the ground to accomplish cutting the supply lines to ISIS and to assist the Kurdish army in its fight with ISIS. Notwithstanding the disabling politics (the number of assorted supporters fighting for each side requires a complex chart to understand the dynamics of the situation) and the airstrikes, the on-the- ground reality is that the rebels are far from toppling Assad’s regime. In truth, the rebels could be in crises mode. A major rebel stronghold fell to Assad, and although they are not at the precipice of defeat, they are a long way from any victory against the dictator’s hold on his country.

Then there was a sarin gas attack and a United States’ response– April 4th gas attack by Assad and Trump’s one-shot Tomahawk response against a Syrian military airport. Has anything changed? The short answer is: No. Don’t forget Assad has used Sarin gas in the past against his people. Has it changed Trump’s tweeting tone regarding Moscow? Yes. Does it really matter in the scheme of things, and remember Trump’s reasons for authorizing the air strike are totally irrelevant.   The pressing question is – Was the strike permissible under our laws and morally responsible?

I will leave the constitutional questions of a single air strike to others more qualified than I to discuss that issue. I am more concerned with those who now condemn the strike as involving us in a battle not on our own lawn. And these very vocal people are on both the left and right of the political spectrum.

Many years ago, I was visiting a friend in a high-rise in Manhattan, and in looking out his window across a one block construction site I noticed what appeared to be a Christmas tree on fire in an apartment two blocks away. I called the fire department, and within seconds I could hear the sirens of the fire engines. It took another three seconds to realize that what I was seeing was a reflection in the apartment window of a Christmas tree on fire in the construction site. The fire department told me that I had done the right thing. The “right thing”. Not what was legally right but what was morally right. It was the responsible thing to do, even though it was not my apartment on fire, not the building I was in at the moment, not my life in danger. I thought there was a fire.

I have never been to Syria, I know no one from that country, and I buy no items made in Syria. I can argue either way that what happens in Syria has no effect on my life in Manhattan. It is not a fire on the next block in New York. The issues are more complex, but the logic remains. One person—a stranger to me — is using an illegal weapon causing horrendous death and injury against another—also a person I do not know. The question is: do I, should I, must I intervene in some manner, or do I just “mind my own business”, and walk away. Animals kill for food. Human beings kill for territory and hate. Neither reason is acceptable. Nor is it acceptable to walk away.

In the late 1930s, the world walked away, and in doing so millions of people died that need not have. The world was a moral coward. American, until it was attacked, did little if anything. Had it acted morally, and when Hitler’s message was clear and unambiguous, cities would not have been left in ruins, millions of people would not have been displaced across the globe, and millions whose lives were destroyed would have lived. The question is not how you could possibly permit Assad to gas his own people. The question is how do you allow anyone to gas anyone else, anywhere in the world? The answer is: You don’t. Period.

Richard Allan

The Editor

 

 

 

 

Global Incidents and Commentary

[column]Global Events

The CIA thwarted an ambitious plot by al-Qaida’s connection in Yemen to destroy a U.S.-bound airliner using a bomb with a sophisticated new design to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden. This new bomb was also designed to be used in a passenger’s underwear, but of a different design. The question is whether it could have passed though airport security and the indication was that since there was no metal in its construction it could. What is not that clear is whether new body scanners used in many airports would have detected it. The would-be new type underwear bomber, who was based in Yemen, had not yet picked his target or purchased his plane tickets when he and his bomb were detained. (See below for further comments.)
• NEW DELHI (Reuters) – “Standing next to India’s foreign minister, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pressed neighboring Pakistan on Tuesday to do more to stamp out homegrown terrorism, in comments likely to please the Indian government but annoy Pakistani leaders.” Editor’s Note: Pakistani leaders always get annoyed, and then go their own way ignoring our pleas because they know we will not react.
Editor’s Note: The Election in France will change the tone of the dialogue between and among those in both the euro zone and beyond. Although it is thought that the impact on the financial structure of the euro zone maybe minimum, national and international security issues will be view though very different prism then presently exists. Close attention to the dialogue should be looked at not as reality but the actions of all the parties as they move forward to their individual national goals.
• The Israeli Prime Minister has agreed to form a political coalition government with the leading opposition party and thus canceling his early election plans. The platform was that it would restore political and economic stability for the people of Israel. The real question is what does this do the hot public and publicity talk of bombing or not bombing Iran? Have the two parties come to an agreement concerning that very difficult issue and its implications far beyond the region?
• Yemen – One of the continuing hot spots in the world of violence with political instability and ongoing issue of terrorism (see Event below) has once again been partially sanitized by the US Defense Department with the reintroduction of a small number of military trainers. Much more than that will be necessary to stabilize that country.
• The Yemen branch of al Qaeda, on the Arabian Peninsula, was the home of the latest suicide underwear bomber. This time—surprise – it was actually a double-agent who delivered the non-metallic upgraded underwear bomb. The agent spent, what is described as weeks, inside Yemen’s al Qaeda affiliate which provided him access to information that has yet to be released and probably will not. The question remains that although the plot to blow up the bomb on an American plane was foiled well prior to its execution, was the other and equally important mission to find and kill the well-known and very well skilled bomb maker who remains at large…and untouched?
• Algerians opened their election polls for the first time since their independence from France in 1962. One would have expected a flood at the door to the voting booth, but only 35 percent of those eligible to vote will probably show up. The boycott is the result of the not unfounded belief that the real power to govern will be held by the security forces.
• Turkey—In its latest “stand alone stance”, the Turkish government has said it would not answer an international call for the arrest of one of Iraq’s senior Sunni Arab officials, hiding out in that country, on suspicion of directing and providing finance for alleged terrorist attacks. The reason given was that will not extradite someone whom they have always supported. The real reason has a tic-for-tack basis: Turkey would like Iraq to turnover alleged terrorist it wish to place under arrest who are ensconced in northern Iraq.
• And Last: Under the title of “that’s unfair”– a man who was involved in a domestic dispute was traveling with his young child. When he and the child attempted to board a domestic flight, the child’s teddy bear was placed on the conveyer belt for inspection (and why not?) and—low-and-behold, the teddy bear contained a gun toting armed hand gun.[/column]

[column]Commentary—Be Careful What You Wish For.

The truth is I have never asked myself the question: what is democracy? After some thought and an attempt for an all-inclusive answer, what I arrived at was: Democracy is a form of government wherein all the people of a nation or state vote to determine the form or type of government they wish, and to elect those people who will decide the details and carry their wishes to fruition. Encompassed in that mandate is that the newly elected officials will then enact laws and regulations that provide a format or method for the new government to govern. What would flow from that directive would be laws that would be enacted to protect the population from a harsh government, and that each person subject to the laws would be treated not merely fairly but as equals. Obviously, this approach would change from culture to culture, but the underlying principals would remain the same.
When the Arab or “Spring” Revolution began its shattering race across the Middle East in late 2010 early 2011, a popular uprising began in late January of 2011 in Cairo and then in Alexandria, Egypt. Although Egypt has seen revolutions in the past, what occurred in Cairo differed in form from what had occurred weeks earlier in Tunisia. The Egyptian revolution began as non-violent acts of civil disobedience, supported by labor strikes, to not merely protest the regime of President Hosni Mubarak but to overthrow his repressive dictatorship with its crippling economic conditions and widespread corruption. The protestors quickly grew in size, and within a matter of days it was estimated that 2 million people –from a wide variety of social, economic and religious backgrounds–were protesting in Tahrir square. But violence did erupt, and over 800 people died with 6000 injured. The scene day after day and night viewed on CNN as it unfolded was as dramatic as one could wish to see in the hope that ultimately there would be the birth of a new democracy. The West stood on the sidelines throwing roses at those in the street of Cairo seeking democracy.
Nevertheless, the Mubarak dictatorship, although an overtly repressive regime, had its special place in the world order because of its friendly and financial ties to the West and the United States in particular. It had joined and partnered with the West in its fight against terrorism.
The world quickly came to terms, viewing President Hosni Mubarak as defendant Mubarak and in the dock fighting for his life in a court of law. As that event unfolded, if you did not watch closely enough, the revolution and “democracy” took a different turn in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood, the world’s oldest and one of the largest Islamist movements, moved to the forefront of the political discussion, and contrary to its public face during the height of street protest and violence, did a double turn and announced through its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), that it would move to fill the political void created by the demise of a Mubarak Government. At that moment and simply stated, its well known positions regarding sharia law, women’s rights, and Egypt’s relations with Israel should have sent a shudder though the West.
The election process began in a move toward a new government. However, of the newly elected 100 member Egyptian Assembly, there were only six women and six Christians who were elected. Christians comprise about 10 percent of Egypt’s 85 million people, and within all those elected, there were almost none, it is claimed, who could be defined as skillful or knowledgeable in either constitutional or human rights issues.
When, thereafter, the newly elected Assembly convened for the first time to vote for those who would draft the country’s new constitution—it’s very first and most important and substantial act, one quarter of the Assembly (the lower house) walked out in protest. Walked out because they complained that the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, the FJP, along with an ultraconservative Islamist Nour Party, effectively froze out of the legislative process a group of liberal and non-Muslim legislators. The liberal bloc of the elected members consisted of three separate parties who along with the non-Muslim legislators stated their objection that the Islamist-dominated law makers had imposed their will on the minority in the process of choosing who would draft the new constitution. In other words, no voice was given to the religious and political minority in the constitutional process. The political process then began to tumble almost uncontrollably.
Under this scenario, a series of fundamental—indispensible– questions flowed from the international press: What will happen to the secularists within and without the government? What of the non-Muslim but religious minority and their individual religious rights, their freedom of speech? Gays? What of women’s rights, unveiled women in public, women traveling without a male guardian? Is blasphemy punishable by death? Five months ago, thousands of supporters of the FJP marched in Cairo chanting: “Death to the Jews” and pledged to continue the jihad against Israel. The principles, beliefs, doctrine of the Brotherhood were and remain: “Allah is our objective, the Quran is our constitution, the Prophet is our leader, jihad is our way and death for the sake of Allah is the highest of our aspirations.”
Mubarak was exchanged, at great cost, for a chance at democracy. Can the uncompromising imposition of the majority, backed Brotherhood’s narrow litany of “these highest of our (religious) aspirations” be forced upon a diversified country and be deemed or acknowledged as “democracy in action”? Or is it merely that a “new government” through fortuitous and unanticipated events, has been hijacked by religious zeal?
“Is democracy foreclosed” might have been a better title for this Commentary. Upon reflection, the ultimate and disturbing question is: Can a democracy –in any form – be viable in the Middle East because of the ever present constraints on its political development? Part of the complicated answer can be discovered by recognizing that not only the regions very long and deep-seated cultural way of life has become part of its basic fabric, but that very complex ingredient has also been integrated into its zealous and fanatical religious ideals. The consequences of that permutation are that every aspect of individual and national life has become inexorably and inescapably entwined, with no room for political evolution.
Richard Allan,
The Editor[/column]