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Project on Middle East Democracy
The POMED Wire Archives
Month: April, 2009
“The View From Damascus”
April 30th, 2009 by Eoghan
Fouad Ajami, professor of Middle East Studies at SAIS, heaps praise on Itamar Rabinovich​’s new book, The View From Damascus: State, Political Community, and Foreign Relations in Twentieth-Century Syria, in the new issue of Foreign Affairs. Rabinovich, an Israeli scholar who served as Yitzhak Rabin’s chief negotiator with Syria, discusses why the modern Syrian state has been perpetually “weak and beleagured.” Guided by nationalistic dreams of a “greater Syria,” Damascus “has had adversarial relations with all its neighbors — Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinians.” Domestically, Syria contends with ethnic tensions and runaway population growth. Bashar Assad, Syria’s president since 2000, has struggled to rule the country as assuredly as his father Hafez Assad did for three decades.
According to Ajami, Rabinovich’s “knowing and authoritative historical account of the origins and the predicament of the Syrian state offers cause for caution — and for limited expectations on the part of those who turn up at Assad’s doorstep. Assad has not been brilliant in the way he has handled the inheritance his father bequeathed to him, but the Assad dynasty and the intelligence barons and the brigade commanders who sustain the regime can be relied on to fight for what they usurped.”
Posted in Syria | Comment »
Administration Vague on Funding a Palestinian Unity Government
April 30th, 2009 by Eoghan
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates were on Capitol Hill today to convince Congress to pass the administration’s 2009 supplemental war budget. Along with funds for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the administration’s proposal also contains a provision that would  allow the U.S. to continue funding the Palestinian Authority if Fatah and Hamas form a unity government and Hamas meets three conditions: recognizing Israel’s right to exist, abiding by all previous Palestinian agreements with Israel, and ending its involvement in terrorist activity. The question is: which Hamas is the administration referring to?
Would it be sufficient for the unity government of which Hamas would be a part to meet these conditions, or would the Obama administration require the entire political organization of Hamas - inside and outside of the Palestinian government - to accept peaceful coexistence with Israel before the PA can receive U.S. funds? The Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006, which the administration cites in the supplemental proposal, requires only that “the Hamas-controlled Palestinian Authority” meet the three conditions. David Kenner at FP Passport interprets this to mean that “the Obama administration’s plan would allow the PA to receive American aid as long as the Hamas members of the coalition government met America’s three criteria, even if Hamas as an organization did not.”
Pressed on this point by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) when she testified before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs last week, Secretary Clinton said, without qualification, that a unity Palestinian government would only receive U.S. funds if Hamas accepted the three conditions, implying that she meant Hamas as a whole. Likewise, in an interview Saturday with Fox News’ James Rosen, Clinton bluntly stated that “we will not deal with Hamas unless they renounce violence, recognize Israel, and agree to abide by prior Palestinian Authority agreements.”
In the end, under the Anti-Terrorism Act, it is the president who must certify that the PA has met the conditions for receiving U.S. funding. So it will be up to President Obama to decide whether all of Hamas or just its cabinet ministers must meet U.S. demands before he releases the funds.
Posted in Foreign Aid, Hamas, Israel, Palestine, Terrorism, US foreign policy | Comment »
High Stakes in Afghanistan
April 30th, 2009 by Eoghan
Bruce Riedel, who chaired the Obama administration’s review of U.S. strategy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan, outlines the dire consequences if the U.S. does not devote sufficient resources to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan, in an article for the Middle East Progress Bulletin. “If the Taliban consolidate their position in southern and eastern Afghanistan,” he writes, “it is certain they will again give Al Qaeda safe haven to plot against America.” Moreover, if the Taliban triumph in Afghanistan, the Taliban in Pakistan would be encouraged in their effort to take over much or all of the country, potentially giving Al Qaeda access to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.
Riedel also notes that “the entire Muslim world also has a stake in Afghanistan’s future. Jihadist terrorists, from Algeria to Indonesia and from Uzbekistan to Somalia, have been trained in Afghanistan in the past and will be again if the Taliban and Al Qaeda triumph.” The U.S. should therefore enlist the help of Islamic countries in its fight against extremists in Afghanistan.
Posted in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Taliban, US foreign policy, al-Qaeda | Comment »
POMED Notes: Iran’s Presidential Election
April 30th, 2009 by Cecile
Yesterday evening, the Middle East Policy Forum at George Washington University hosted a discussion on Iran’s upcoming presidential election. Focusing on the dynamic personalities of the candidates, the breakdown of power within the Islamic Republic, and the current issues being discussed in the campaign, panelists sought to shed light on this highly unpredictable process. Engaging in the debate were Paola Rivetti, Ph.D. candidate at the University of Siena, Italy; Mohammad Tabaar, lecturer in International Affairs at GW and a Ph.D. candidate at Georgetown; Naghmeh Soharabi, Assistant Director for Research at the Crown Center for Middle East Studies, Brandeis University; with Robin Wright, award-winning journalist and author as moderator.
For POMED’s notes on this event click here.
Posted in DC Event Notes, Elections, Iran | Comment »
Obama and Democracy Promotion in the Arab World
April 30th, 2009 by Eoghan
Democracy Digest links to a review article [subscription required] in the Middle East Journal by Steven Cook on three books on democracy in the Arab world. Cook argues that democracy promotion will remain a U.S. priority, if only because such efforts are institutionalized in the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), NSC’s Directorate for Democracy and Human Rights, and the National Endowment for Democracy.
But Cook also relates “an important argument” that Tamara Cofman Wittes makes in her book Freedom’s Unsteady March. As Cook summarizes her argument: “Without sustained American diplomatic investment in promoting basic freedoms - association, press, religion - all the funding in the world to Arab civil society organizations would do little to pry open Arab political orders.”
He also reviews The Arab Center: The Promise of Moderation by Marwan Muasher, Jordan’s former Minister of Reform, whose efforts produced little substantive change because “at moments of maximal pressure, the King fell back on the use of non-democratic measures like special decrees and amendments to ensure political control.” Lastly, Cook reviews a RAND publication, More Freedom, Less Terror?, authored by Dalia Dassa Kaye, Frederic Wehrey, Audra K. Grant, and Dale Stahl. The authors explore the relationship between political liberalization and terrorism using case studies from throughout the Middle East and North Africa, and find mixed results. “In the end, the authors find that liberalization does not promote tolerance, and limited reforms are not always destabilizing. Moreover, their work clearly demonstrates that backtracking on reforms or cosmetic changes erodes regime legitimacy, which contributes to violence.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post inaccurately attributed an argument made by Tamara Cofman Wittes to Steven Cook. We apologize for the error.
 
Posted in Democracy Promotion, Diplomacy, US foreign policy | Comment »
“Moving Beyond Black and White on the Armenian Genocide”
April 30th, 2009 by Cecile
In a recent article in the American Prospect, POMED’s Nick Danforth writes that if “the ultimate goal [in formally recognizing Armenian genocide] is for Turkey to recognize it, Turkish views cannot continue to be dismissed as nothing more than the byproduct of censorship and nationalist lunacy.” He argues that this is the one thing missing from debate over the issue - and if this is to be a genuine debate one must account for how it is understood in Turkey.
Danforth explains that “while no one would claim it is easy to discuss the fate of the Armenians openly in Turkey, the once formidable legal and social obastacles to doing so are gradually eroding.” As the space for discussion slowly opens in Turkey, he asserts that efforts such as a Congressional resolution recognizing the genocide are counterproductive as they feed into Turkish denial. Instead, “fears that explanation would imply justification” should be cast aside and debates should delve deeper into the historical causes of the issue. Because “if those who accuse Turkey of genocide ignore evidence of Armenian crimes it only encourages Turks to believe that in fact this evidence negates the charge of genocide.”
Posted in Congress, Turkey, US foreign policy | Comment »
Pakistani Democracy versus the Taliban
April 30th, 2009 by Eoghan
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, defends Pakistan’s efforts to fight the Taliban, pointing to the military’s recent counterattack after Taliban fighters captured the town of Buner, 60 miles from Islamabad. “Now that the Taliban have been driven out of Buner, and Pakistani forces have militarily engaged them just outside their Swat Valley stronghold, it should be clear to all that Pakistan can and will defeat the Taliban.” At the same time, Pakistan has been negotiating with “native Taliban” in the Swat valley who “supported Islamic law but did not join the Taliban’s violent campaign,” a strategy Haqqani compares to U.S. policy in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Haqqani calls on the U.S. to aid Pakistan’s fight against Al Qaeda and other unreconcilable militants by providing “modern technology in antiterrorist engagement” and supporting “Pakistan’s economic viability” by, for instance, passing “the Kerry-Lugar legislation currently before Congress, which would establish a 10-year, multibillion dollar commitment to Pakistan’s economic and social system.” The ambassador claims that “an economically prosperous Pakistan will be less susceptible to the ideology of international terrorism — and it will become a model to a billion Muslims across the world that Islam and modernity under democracy are not only compatible, but can thrive together.”
But Michael Allen at Democracy Digest argues that Pakistan has deeper problems than Haqqani acknowledges. “Such a scenario appears rather distant given that the Taliban’s recent advances in the Swat valley have been based in part on their success in exploiting class divisions and popular resentment at widespread corruption.” He also points to “the weakness and factionalism of the country’s political parties, still largely based on feudal patronage and personalized leaderships.” Allen quotes Brian Joseph, head of programs in South and Southeast Asia for the National Endowment for Democracy, who says that “without strong, transparent, idea-based political parties and strong, independent political institutions, Pakistan will continue to be ripe for military interventions.”
UPDATE: The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies brings our attention to two posts by Bill Roggio, who is skeptical of Islamabad’s claims that it is successfully beating back the Taliban. At the Weekly Standard blog, Roggio points out a worrisome pattern: ”The Pakistani military declares victory after each operation, yet curiously the Taliban move closer and closer to Peshawar and Islamabad and gain more and more ground.” He predicts that Pakistan’s “military will declare victory in a few weeks or months, then a ‘peace agreement’ will be reached with the Taliban. And the Taliban will continue to take over more territory.” And at the Long War Journal blog, Roggio reports that “the Taliban are in control of much of the northern district of Dir despite claims by senior Pakistani officials that the region was secured after a day’s fighting.”
Posted in Foreign Aid, Pakistan, Taliban, al-Qaeda | Comment »
A New Way Forward for the U.S. and Iran?
April 30th, 2009 by Cecile
This week’s edition of Bitterlemons discusses the emerging dynamic in U.S.-Iranian relations. The election of Barack Obama has set a new course of engagement between the two countries and Sadegh Zibakalam, Michael Rubin, Mark Perry, and Arshin Adib-Moghaddam weigh in on the topic. Highlighting Obama’s Nowruz message and subsequent Iranian response, the centrality of the Israel-Palestine issue, and the long history of failed attempts at reconciliation, each commentator tackles the subject from a unique perspective. While some are more optimistic about this new direction than others, all agree that the true test will come from Iranian and American actions, and not just words.
Posted in Diplomacy, Iran, US foreign policy | Comment »
Taking a Page From the Taliban Playbook
April 30th, 2009 by Eoghan
Writing in the Christian Science Monitor, an anonymous American aid worker based in Afghanistan and Pakistan urges America to take a lesson from the Taliban and show zero tolerance for official corruption. The writer suggests withholding international funds from  corrupt ministries, prosecuting organizations that pay bribes, and naming and shaming individuals who request bribes.
Posted in Afghanistan, Taliban | Comment »
Folly and the Fight Against Corruption in Iraq
April 29th, 2009 by Cecile
Austan Mogharabi at The Democratic Piece alerts us to an article in Mother Jones discussing rampant corruption in Iraq and the U.S. government’s seeming unwillingness to deal with the problem. Salam Adhoob, an Iraqi lawyer tasked with investigating official corruption and the focus of the article, testified before Congress that based on the cases he had pursued he believed that at least $18 billion in aid money has been lost in Iraq due to corruption and waste, “more than half of which was American taxpayer money.” The article leads Mogharabi to conclude that the “State Department should not control development assistance [and] credible commitment is crucial to success.”
He points out that Adhoob, “met stiff resistance at the State Department when he sought their help in doing his job…Even more disconcerting is that State actively worked against Adhoob’s attempts to claim asylum in the U.S. after he became the target of death squads for his work in Iraq. Have we sunk so low that maintaining a few good contacts in government outweigh the importance of protecting those that stood up with us to rebuild the Iraqi state?”
Furthermore, “[w]hen the State Department makes it clear through its actions that rooting out corruption is less important than cordial relations and contacts in government, development aid will only fuel more government corruption - as this article demonstrates. When applied to other facets of development - democratic governance, for instance - the same applies. If the State Department’s action suggest to their counterparts that reform is less important than good relations, then the government will manipulate funding to pay off their supporters and punish opponents.”
Posted in Democracy Promotion, Foreign Aid, Iraq, US foreign policy, US politics | Comment »
Tribal Revolt in Iraq?
April 29th, 2009 by Cecile
Babylon and Beyond reports that Sheik Ali Hatem Sulaiman, prince of Iraq’s largest tribe has been “trying to rally the support of tribes across Iraq for a tribal conference whose goal, he says, will be to replace the government of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki unless certain, as yet unspecified, demands are met.” Threatening Americans that may get in the way, Sulaiman proclaimed, “I warn anyone who says this is a democracy that we will pour a gallon of gasoline into his mouth and set him on fire.”
However, “its highly unlikely any of this will actually come off. Iraqi tribal leader are as renowned for their inability to agree on anything as they are for making wild threats whenever they are crossed.” It was pointed out that “[w]hat makes his threats interesting, though, is that until recently he was an ardent supporter of the U.S. military and a staunch ally of the Maliki.”
Posted in Iraq | Comment »
Egypt After Mubarak
April 29th, 2009 by Cecile
At Middle East Online, Stephen Glain speculates who will succeed the aging Hosni Mubarak. While Mubarak’s son Gamal is a prime choice, Glain’s got his money on a military man. He writes, “Egypt has no system for renewal; it has a host of competing constituencies but no institution to emulsify them. Gamal is a political orphan who lacks the influence and authenticity that could sustain a dynastic transfer of authority. So it will likely be the military, not Gamal Mubarak, that fills the void.”
Glain also touches on the Muslim Brotherhood as “the greatest potential threat to Mubarak’s rule [and also] his guarantor of survival.” While controlling the largest opposition bloc in Parliament, the Brotherhood also serves as “the trump card [Mubarak] plays whenever foreigners call for a democratic Egypt;” therefore, he “cannot afford to neutralize [them] entirely.”
Posted in Egypt, Muslim Brotherhood, Political Islam | Comment »
Blaming the Schools
April 28th, 2009 by Eoghan
Writing for Beirut’s Daily Star, Raja Kamal, an associate dean at the University of Chicago, and Tom G. Palmer, a fellow at the Cato Institute say: “The Saudi religious curriculum, which couples rote memorization of texts with uncritical acceptance of tribal practices … does not prepare students to cope with modernity, nor to be productive participants in an increasingly global economy.”
The Washington Times‘ Arnaud de Borchgrave says that Pakistan’s 12,500 madrassas are graduating 2 million teenage boys a year who are largely sympathetic to fundamentalist groups like the Taliban. Between Pakistan’s radicalized education system, discontent among landless Pakistanis in the “feudal” countryside, and frustration with “the inept government of President Asif Ali Zardari,” the Taliban are becoming dangerously popular, to the point that “Pakistan is increasingly a rerun of the Islamist fundamentalist revolution in Iran that ousted the pro-Western regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in 1979.”
Meanwhile, Salma Hasan Ali argues in Daily News Egypt that the Obama administration can learn a lesson about AfPak counterinsurgency from Greg Mortenson , the American author of “Three Cups of Tea,” who has overseen the construction of over 80 schools in remote areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. “Long-term success in the region takes patience, resilience and the ability to listen. It takes understanding people’s culture and faith and involving them in shaping their own futures. This approach is the best defense against the advancement of extremism. Ultimately, it takes building relationships.”
Posted in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Taliban, US foreign policy | Comment »
Clinton Discusses Democracy Promotion in Baghdad
April 28th, 2009 by Eoghan
Visiting the U.S. embassy in Baghdad Saturday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested that by showcasing America’s ideals, U.S. foreign policy can enhance the appeal of democracy around the world. She told the American diplomatic staff in Baghdad: “I see diplomacy, development and defense as each supporting the core components of American foreign policy: to protect our nation, to advance our interests, and to represent our best values, which is the greatest case we have to make to those who might wonder whether a future of democracy is in their best interests.”
Posted in Democracy Promotion, Diplomacy, Foreign Aid, Iraq, US foreign policy | Comment »
POMED Notes: An Egyptian Perspective on Middle East Peace
April 28th, 2009 by Eoghan
The Protection Project at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) hosted a panel today on Egypt’s role in the Middle East peace process. The discussion also explored Egypt’s domestic political situation. The panelists were Professor Hossam Badrawi, a member of the reformist wing of the ruling National Democratic Party and a member of the National Council for Human Rights, Mr. Mounir Fakhri AbdelNour​, Secretary General of Al Wafd Party and also a member of the National Council for Human Rights, and Dr. Abdel Monem Said, Director of Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. Mohamed Mattar, Executive Director of the Protection Project and a professor at Georgetown’s Elliott School of International Affairs, moderated.
To view POMED’s notes on this discussion click here.
Posted in Arab League, Egypt, Event Notes, Hamas, Hezbollah, Human Rights, Iran, Israel, Mideast Peace Plan, Muslim Brotherhood, Palestine, Political Parties, Secularism, Syria | Comment »
POMED Notes: The Future of the Muslim Brotherhood
April 28th, 2009 by Cecile
The Hudson Institute hosted an all-day event addressing the future of the Muslim Brotherhood in light of recent developments, such as the election of Hamas and Iran’s new regional assertiveness. Panel topics included “The Brotherhood within the Sunni-Shiite Rivalry,” “The Brotherhood State in Gaza and Its Impact on Islamist Politics” “The Brotherhood and the Turkish Model,” and “The Brotherhood in an Era of Al-Qaeda’s Relative Decline.” The following notes are focused on the second panel, “The Brotherhood State in Gaza,” which included Jonathan Schanzer, Ahmed al-Rahim, and Hassan Mneimneh​.
To view POMED’s notes on this discussion click here.
Posted in DC Event Notes, Islamist movements, Political Islam | Comment »
Delegation Claims Egyptian Political Progress, Criticizes Muslim Brotherhood
April 28th, 2009 by Eoghan
On the Abu Aardvark blog, Marc Lynch summarizes a panel discussion that took place at Georgetown’s Elliott School yesterday involving Hossam Badrawi of Egypt’s ruling National Democratic Party, Mounir Abd al-Nour of the opposition Wafd Party, and Abd al-Monem Said Aly, director of the al-Ahram Center for Strategic Studies and a member of NDP. All three speakers claimed Egypt’s political system is moving in a more liberal direction, a point on which they received a lot of criticism from their audience, who pointed to the many ways Egypt’s security personnel repress dissent.
The speakers were also of like mind in condemning the Muslim Brotherhood, although Aly noted that Brotherhood’s Members of parliament were more moderate than other party leaders in their response to the government’s apparent discovery of a Hezbollah network inside its borders. As Lynch points out: “Isn’t the fact that its elected officials were so much more ‘responsible’ actually a strong argument for legalizing the Brotherhood and letting it participate fully in the political system?”
Aly also has an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal, arguing that the Hezbollah plot (Cairo claims the cell was planning terrorist attacks against Egyptian targets as well as smuggling arms, money, and personnel to Hamas in Gaza) shows that Iran is targeting Egypt in order to derail the Middle East peace process. Aly, Nour, and Badrawi will also be discussing the peace process from 12 pm to 2pm today at a panel hosted by the Protection Project at SAIS. Check back later today for POMED’s notes on the event.
Posted in Egypt, Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, Mideast Peace Plan, Muslim Brotherhood | Comment »
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