The Washington Post this morning ponders a portion of President Obama’s Sunday night speech that likely made many Americans take pause — the portion in which the president explicitly said “bin Laden was not a Muslim leader.” This key phrase directly counters an integral tenet of the “war on terror” narrative: the vision of the current era as an epic conflict between the United States and a global Muslim population supposedly guided by the al-Qaida mastermind.
However, despite the ubiquity of this kind of Islamophobic “us-versus-them” framing, and despite the Post’s perseverating, Obama was exactly right, and not just because, as the president correctly noted, bin Laden was “a mass murderer of Muslims” — but because bin Laden doesn’t meet a basic definition of “Muslim leader” in terms of mass support and following in the Muslim world.
That’s right, as the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project reports, “In the months leading up to Osama bin Laden’s death, a survey of Muslim publics around the world found little support for the al-Qaida leader [and] al-Qaida also received largely negative ratings among Muslim publics.”
In fact, a comparison of these results with Pew’s larger study from 2010 shows that in terms of favorability ratings, Obama outpolled bin Laden and the United States outpolled al-Qaida in almost every Muslim nation surveyed.
Of course, just because bin Laden and al-Qaida are wildly unpopular in the Muslim world doesn’t mean the United States is winning over those populations in the long haul.
As America occupies Iraq and Afghanistan, bombs Libya and Yemen, conducts drone strikes in Pakistan and props up repressive dictators in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, Pew’s data shows the Muslim world still conflicted as to whether the United States is an ally or an aggressor. So, a recent Zogby poll finding that “a majority of the public across the [Middle East] — including a sizable minority in Saudi Arabia — believes a nuclear-armed Iran would be a positive development in the Middle East.” That’s not because Muslims necessarily support the Iranian regime at large, but because, as one of the pollsters noted, many Muslims see nuclear arms as the only deterrent to U.S. aggression in the region.
The bottom line, then, is clear: While insinuations that the Muslim world monolithically loved bin Laden and continues to love al-Qaida are absurd, it’s perfectly reasonable to suggest that our current occupations and bombing raids aren’t winning the “war on terror” — that is, as long as you consider the “war on terror” as much a long-term battle for hearts and minds as a short-term exercise of military maneuvers.
By: David Sirota, Salon, May4, 2011
Before she was arrested, tortured, stripped and subjected to a “virginity exam” — all for her pro-democracy activities — Salwa al-Housiny Gouda admired the Egyptian Army.
Her odyssey is a reminder that the Egyptian revolution that exhilarated so many around the world in January and February remains unfinished. The army is as much in charge as ever, and it has taken over from the police the task of torturing dissidents. President Hosni Mubarak is gone, but in some ways Mubarakism continues.
Ms. Gouda, a 20-year-old hairdresser, is unmarried and strong-willed. She threw herself into the democracy movement early this year, sleeping in a tent on Tahrir Square, also known as Liberation Square, the movement’s epicenter.
Like the other activists, she focused her rage initially on Mr. Mubarak and on the police, rather than the army. “I trusted the army,” she told me, and she and other protesters often chanted slogans like, “The army and the people are one.”
But that was an illusion. Never squeaky clean, the army has increasingly taken over the role of domestic security from the police and seems fed up with disorder. On March 9, it moved in to clear Tahrir Square, pulling down tents and detaining more than 190 demonstrators.
Ms. Gouda was one of about 19 women arrested that day. Though the army has denied all such accusations, her testimony is confirmed by other detainees and by human rights groups. They say that the women were taken to the Egyptian Museum, a tourist landmark beside Tahrir Square, tied up or handcuffed to the gate outside it, and then slapped, beaten and subjected to electric shocks.
“They didn’t give us a chance to speak,” Ms. Gouda said. “They used an electric prod whenever we tried to speak.”
The prisoners were later taken to the military prosecutor’s office, where the men were photographed as criminals beside a table full of clubs and Molotov cocktails supposedly confiscated from them. (In my experience, the people with such weapons in Egypt are usually plainclothes police officers.) The women were paraded before cameras and told that they faced charges of prostitution — leaving them terrified at the thought of the accusations being broadcast on state television.
Ms. Gouda was extraordinarily strong in telling her story. But at one point she broke down in tears. “They know that the way they can harm a woman the most is by accusing her of prostitution,” she said.
Later, the detainees were taken to a military prison. Ms. Gouda said that the women were strip-searched by a female guard, but — perhaps to add to the humiliation — the search was conducted in a room with doors and windows wide open. She said she did not know if anybody looked in.
Then the unmarried women were subjected to a forced “virginity exam,” conducted on a bed in a prison hallway, by a man. When the women pleaded to be examined by a woman instead, they were threatened with cattle prods, Ms. Gouda said.
“I was shattered,” she recalled. “My whole body was shaking.” Her legs were covered with a blanket, but a half-dozen military men stood behind her as she was examined, Ms. Gouda said.
“I was ready to be beaten,” she added. “But the worst moment was when I was stripped and examined.”
Heba Morayef of Human Rights Watch said that such exams were not customary in prisons and that the point was to humiliate female activists. “In this context, they’re sexual assaults,” she noted — but added that the military is above the law.
Ms. Gouda and the other women were all released after a few days, and in the end none were actually charged with prostitution. But many male democracy activists have been sentenced to prison terms.
A Cairo human rights lawyer, Ragia Omran, estimates that perhaps 1,000 Egyptians who have been arrested by the military since the protests began remain in detention today. Some have been sentenced to five years in prison after military trials lasting 30 minutes or less, without any right to choose their own lawyers, she said.
Ms. Omran is accustomed to representing other detainees. But during a referendum on constitutional changes this month, she herself was seized by soldiers while observing the polls. By her account, she was roughed up, strip-searched, shouted at and detained for hours until her well-connected family and friends managed to get her released.
All this is a huge letdown from the triumph when “people power” toppled President Mubarak. The lesson may be that revolution is not a moment but a process, a gritty contest of wills that unfolds painstakingly long after the celebrations have died and the television lights have dimmed.
“The revolution isn’t over yet,” Ms. Omran told me. “Freedom isn’t for free.”
By: Nicholas D. Kristof, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, March 26, 2011
There’s been a lot of criticism of President Obama for being too slow to support the Mideast’s popular uprisings, especially in Libya.
“Feeble,” “incoherent” and “not showing leadership” are some of the complaints I get from readers from both sides of the political spectrum. At moments, I’ve felt the same: The White House’s Mideast team is weak, his “peace process” diplomacy has failed, his support of pro-democracy rebels is conflicted.
Yet, after reflecting on a recent visit to Egypt and conversations with experts in the region, I’ve concluded that no U.S. administration could have acted more decisively to aid Arab rebels. Any president would have been constricted by the same factors Obama faced.
Let’s start with Libya, where Obama hesitated for weeks to intervene, but has now agreed to a U.N.-backed no-fly zone that aims to stop Col. Moammar Gadhafi from slaughtering his own people.
In deciding how to act, Obama was haunted by the legacy of the Iraq war. That ill-conceived conflict and failed occupation turned the entire Middle East, including democrats, against U.S. interventions. Egyptian rebel leaders made that point to me over and over. Imposing democracy from above, a la Iraq, is out.
So unilateral U.S. intervention in Libya was out of the question. Moreover, the Pentagon strongly opposed intervention in another Muslim country. U.S. generals feared it would take ground forces to get rid of Gadhafi.
Only after the Arab League endorsed a no-fly zone March 12 (and called for United Nations support) could the White House press for a vote by the U.N. Security Council. The vote meant – in theory, at least – that Arab countries could provide cover for action by France and Britain, with the United States in a supporting role. Even so, had Gadhafi not been on the verge of committing large-scale atrocities against civilians in full view of the world, Obama might not have concurred.
However, the Libya story is but a tragic sideshow. The fate of the region will turn on the results of democratic experiments in Egypt and events in Yemen, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia.
The Obama-ites were slow to support Egyptian rebels, but that may have been a godsend. Much of Egypt’s newfound pride lies with the fact that its rebels made their revolution on their own.
Now is the moment when U.S. officials should back democratic Egyptians (and Tunisians) in their push for fair elections and an open constitutional process. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who just visited both countries, seems to get it. But in their eagerness to avoid interference in Egypt’s politics, U.S. officials may be taking an approach that’s too hands-off.
The president’s ambivalence has also stemmed, however, from the fact that we have sharply conflicting interests in the region.
In theory, we back political reform in the Middle East, in the hope that Arab states can build democratic institutions in the long run. If they succeed, terrorists may find less fertile ground in the region.
Yet in the short run, the United States still faces crucial security threats from Iran and from Islamist terrorists. Our autocratic Arab allies helped us fight these threats. Their demise is likely to create instability in coming months or years that will enable those threats to increase.
This conflict underlay the slow support for change in Egypt. Hosni Mubarak’s intelligence service was aggressive in pursuit of Islamist terrorists, and he was a key Sunni ally in containing Shiite Tehran. In the new Egypt (and Tunisia, and Libya, if Gadhafi falls), intelligence services will be curbed. This is a good thing, as the secret police repressed their own people. But it will also make it easier for terrorist networks to regroup in the region.
At least in Egypt, the White House can still rely on a close relationship with the army, which will remain a power center for the foreseeable future. In the Arabian Peninsula and the gulf, however, the democracy-vs.-security conflict makes it almost impossible to shape a coherent policy.
Gulf rulers like Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah want Obama to forget about democracy and focus on security. Such a choice seemed possible in the last decade: George W. Bush promoted Mideast democracy in his first term; then, when that backfired, he emphasized Mideast security in his second term. But that choice is not possible now.
The administration has tried, unsuccessfully, to encourage the president of Yemen to usher in peaceful democratic change. Neither ruler nor rebels seem able to make the necessary compromises, which means U.S. officials probably can’t save Ali Abdullah Saleh. Yet if he falls, this country, just below Saudi Arabia, may relapse into tribal warfare. This would make it easier for al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula to flourish.
In Bahrain, the revolt of a largely Shiite population against its Sunni rulers presents the greatest danger to U.S. interests. This island kingdom is connected by a causeway to Saudi Arabia, whose eastern oil region is dominated by its Shiite minority. The Saudis fear that if Bahrain’s rulers fall, Iran will have the perfect base from which to push Saudi Shiites to rebel.
Last week, over Obama’s objections, the Saudi monarch sent troops across the causeway to help crush Bahrain’s rebels. He won’t listen when U.S. officials urge him (and Bahrain’s ruler) to give more representation to their Shiites. Obama’s team says this will head off trouble; Abdullah believes it will create more.
The Saudis think Obama is too strong on democracy and weak on security. Obama’s critics slam him for being too weak on democracy – or on security. Few realize he is caught in a historical bind that requires him to be strong on both, even though the two contradict each other – at least in the short term. Bush couldn’t resolve that contradiction; Obama has no choice but to try.
By: Trudy Rubin, Columnist, The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 22, 2011
Meet The Press had a very interesting cast of characters today for their round table discussion on the events occuring in Libya. Panelists included Helen Cooper, White House Correspondent for the New York Times; Andrea Mitchell, NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent; Michael Hayden, Former Director of the NSA and CIA; John Miklaszewski, NBC News Chief Pentagon Correspondent; and Richard Haass, President of The Council on Foreign Relations.
None of the input by these elitist panelist’s came as a surprise. In fact many of their responses were predictable. Cooper, Mitchell and Miklaszewski obviously wanted to use their airtime to promote their next story..to keep the news cycle going. That’s their job so more power to them. Hayden, as a George W. Bush appointee, surely would not suddenly have a change of heart and say anything contrary to the proven failed policies of that administration. Richard Haass, in symphony with Hayden, played his “bad cop” role to the hilt. Haass never seemed to miss a step in his criticism of the Obama administrations handling of Libya (excerpted comments):
David Gregory, the host (and I use that term lightly) of Meet The Press, Began the discussion: I want to talk, however, about how much is on the president’s plate right now. You talk about crisis management and a confluence of crisis. We’ve pulled together some cover stories from Time magazine–I want to put it up there on the screen–”Target Gaddafi.” The next one, “Hitting Home: Tripoli Under Attack.” And the next one, “Meltdown.”
MR. RICHARD HAASS: It’s a lot to manage, but also it raises the importance of an administration having its priorities. You’ve got a lot to manage with Japan, you’ve got a lot to manage with what’s going on in the broader Middle East, you’ve got a lot to manage what’s going on in the United States in terms of our economy and our deficit. So one of the real questions is why are we doing as much are we are doing in Libya? So many of your guests are talking about too little too late. Let me give you another idea, David, too much too late. In times of crisis and multiple crisis, administrations have to figure out their priorities. They got to do some triage. The–to me, the big problem is not what we haven’t done, it is what we are doing.
MR. GREGORY: Richard, you, you just have broad concerns as you, as you penned a piece in the Wall Street Journal earlier this month, “The US should keep out of Libya.”
MR. HAASS: Again, our interests aren’t vital. We’re talking about 2 percent of the world’s oil. Yes, there’s a humanitarian situation on, but at the risk of seeming a bit cold, it is not a humanitarian crisis on the scale say of Rwanda. We don’t have nearly 100–a million people, innocent men, women and children whose lives are threatened. This is something much more modest. This is a civil war. In civil wars, people get killed, unfortunately. But we shouldn’t kid ourselves. This is not a humanitarian intervention, this is U.S. political, military intervention in a civil conflict which, by the way, history suggests, often prolongs the civil conflict. And, as several people have already pointed out, what is step B? Whether Gadhafi complies with what we want or whether he resists successfully, either way, we are going to be stuck with the aftermath of essentially having to take ownership of Libya with others. And just because others are willing to share in something, as so many people point out, doesn’t make it a better policy. It just means the costs are going to be distributed. But the policy itself is seriously flawed.
MR. GREGORY: The big ideas and are we getting them right?
MR. HAASS: Mike Mullen says the big idea, the biggest single national security threat facing the United States is our economy, it’s our fiscal situation. This will not make it better. Instead, we are ignoring a previous secretary of state, John Quincy Adams, someone you haven’t had on the show in awhile. We are going abroad in search of monsters to destroy. There’s any number of monsters. But is this, right now, something that’s strategically necessary and vital for the United States, given all that’s happening in places like Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, around the world, with all that we need to repair at home? The answer, I would think, is not. And that’s the big idea the administration’s missing. It’s not enough to simply want to do good around the world wherever we see bad. We’ve got to ask ourselves, where can we do good, at what cost, against what else we might have to do?
All of Haass’ comments gave me a flashback. Iran immediately came to mind. Haass, Iran..Haass, Iran. When is enough actually enough..when is enough not enough?
The answer is Mr. Haass, you’ve got a credibility problem. The following article appeared in Newsweek on January 22, 2010. It was written by none other than Richard Haass:
Enough Is Enough
Why we can no longer remain on the sidelines in the struggle for regime change in Iran.
Two schools of thought have traditionally competed to determine how America should approach the world. Realists believe we should care most about what states do beyond their borders—that influencing their foreign policy ought to be Washington’s priority. Neoconservatives often contend the opposite: they argue that what matters most is the nature of other countries, what happens inside their borders. The neocons believe this both for moral reasons and because democracies (at least mature ones) treat their neighbors better than do authoritarian regimes.
I am a card-carrying realist on the grounds that ousting regimes and replacing them with something better is easier said than done. I also believe that Washington, in most cases, doesn’t have the luxury of trying. The United States must, for example, work with undemocratic China to rein in North Korea and with autocratic Russia to reduce each side’s nuclear arsenal. This debate is anything but academic. It’s at the core of what is likely to be the most compelling international story of 2010: Iran.
In the wake of 9/11, the Bush administration judged incorrectly that Iran was on the verge of revolution and decided that dealing directly with Tehran would provide a lifeline to an evil government soon to be swept away by history’s tide. A valuable opportunity to limit Iran’s nuclear program may have been lost as a result. The incoming Obama administration reversed this approach and expressed a willingness to talk to Iran without preconditions. This president (like George H.W. Bush, whose emissaries met with Chinese leaders soon after Tiananmen Square) is cut more from the realist cloth. Diplomacy and negotiations are seen not as favors to bestow but as tools to employ. The other options—using military force against Iranian nuclear facilities or living with an Iranian nuclear bomb—were judged to be tremendously unattractive. And if diplomacy failed, Obama reasoned, it would be easier to build domestic and international support for more robust sanctions. At the time, I agreed with him.
I’ve changed my mind. The nuclear talks are going nowhere. The Iranians appear intent on developing the means to produce a nuclear weapon; there is no other explanation for the secret uranium-enrichment facility discovered near the holy city of Qum. Fortunately, their nuclear program appears to have hit some technical snags, which puts off the need to decide whether to launch a preventive strike. Instead we should be focusing on another fact: Iran may be closer to profound political change than at any time since the revolution that ousted the shah 30 years ago.
The authorities overreached in their blatant manipulation of last June’s presidential election, and then made matters worse by brutally repressing those who protested. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has lost much of his legitimacy, as has the “elected” president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The opposition Green Movement has grown larger and stronger than many predicted.
The United States, European governments, and others should shift their Iran policy toward increasing the prospects for political change. Leaders should speak out for the Iranian people and their rights. President Obama did this on Dec. 28 after several protesters were killed on the Shia holy day of Ashura, and he should do so again. So should congressional and world leaders. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards should be singled out for sanctions. Lists of their extensive financial holdings can be published on the Internet. The United States should press the European Union and others not to trade or provide financing to selected entities controlled by the Guards. Just to cite one example: the Revolutionary Guards now own a majority share of Iran’s principal telecommunications firm; no company should furnish it the technology to deny or monitor Internet use.
New funding for the project housed at Yale University that documents human-rights abuses in Iran is warranted. If the U.S. government won’t reverse its decision not to provide the money, then a foundation or wealthy individuals should step in. Such a registry might deter some members of the Guards or the million-strong Basij militia it controls from attacking or torturing members of the opposition. And even if not, the gesture will signal to Iranians that the world is taking note of their struggle.
It is essential to bolster what people in Iran know. Outsiders can help to provide access to the Internet, the medium that may be the most important means for getting information into Iran and facilitating communication among the opposition. The opposition also needs financial support from the Iranian diaspora so that dissidents can stay politically active once they have lost their jobs.
Just as important as what to do is what to avoid. Congressmen and senior administration figures should avoid meeting with the regime. Any and all help for Iran’s opposition should be nonviolent. Iran’s opposition should be supported by Western governments, not led. In this vein, outsiders should refrain from articulating specific political objectives other than support for democracy and an end to violence and unlawful detention. Sanctions on Iran’s gasoline imports and refining, currently being debated in Congress, should be pursued at the United Nations so international focus does not switch from the illegality of Iran’s behavior to the legality of unilateral American sanctions. Working-level negotiations on the nuclear question should continue. But if there is an unexpected breakthrough, Iran’s reward should be limited. Full normalization of relations should be linked to meaningful reform of Iran’s politics and an end to Tehran’s support of terrorism.
Critics will say promoting regime change will encourage Iranian authorities to tar the opposition as pawns of the West. But the regime is already doing so. Outsiders should act to strengthen the opposition and to deepen rifts among the rulers. This process is underway, and while it will take time, it promises the first good chance in decades to bring about an Iran that, even if less than a model country, would nonetheless act considerably better at home and abroad. Even a realist should recognize that it’s an opportunity not to be missed.
Which is it Mr. Haass…Is the humanitarian crisis in Libya too small or is there just too little oil? Are you a realist or just another political hack?
By: raemd95: Excerpts are quotes from Meet The Press, March 20, 2011; Enough is Enough: By Richard N. Haass, originally published in Newsweek, January 22, 2010
When I was a young man in Cairo, we voiced our political views in whispers, if at all, and only to friends we could trust. We lived in an atmosphere of fear and repression. As far back as I can remember, I felt outrage as I witnessed the misery of Egyptians struggling to put food on the table, keep a roof over their heads and get medical care. I saw firsthand how poverty and repression can destroy values and crush dignity, self-worth and hope.
Half a century later, the freedoms of the Egyptian people remain largely denied. Egypt, the land of the Library of Alexandria, of a culture that contributed groundbreaking advances in mathematics, medicine and science, has fallen far behind. More than 40 percent of our people live on less than $2 per day. Nearly 30 percent are illiterate, and Egypt is on the list of failed states.
Under the three decades of Hosni Mubarak’s rule, Egyptian society has lived under a draconian “emergency law” that strips people of their most basic rights, including freedom of association and of assembly, and has imprisoned tens of thousands of political dissidents. While this Orwellian regime has been valued by some of Egypt’s Western allies as “stable,” providing, among other assets, a convenient location for rendition, it has been in reality a ticking bomb and a vehicle for radicalism.
But one aspect of Egyptian society has changed in recent years. Young Egyptians, gazing through the windows of the Internet, have gained a keener sense than many of their elders of the freedoms and opportunities they lack. They have found in social media a way to interact and share ideas, bypassing, in virtual space, the restrictions placed on physical freedom of assembly.
The world has witnessed their courage and determination in recent weeks, but democracy is not a cause that first occurred to them on Jan. 25. Propelled by a passionate belief in democratic ideals and the yearning for a better future, they have long been mobilizing and laying the groundwork for change that they view as inevitable.
The tipping point came with the Tunisian revolution, which sent a powerful psychological message: “Yes, we can.” These young leaders are the future of Egypt. They are too intelligent, too aware of what is at stake, too weary of promises long unfulfilled, to settle for anything less than the departure of the old regime. I am humbled by their bravery and resolve.
Many, particularly in the West, have bought the Mubarak regime’s fiction that a democratic Egypt will turn into chaos or a religious state, abrogate the fragile peace with Israel and become hostile to the West. But the people of Egypt — the grandmothers in veils who have dared to share Tahrir Square with army tanks, the jubilant young people who have risked their lives for their first taste of these new freedoms — are not so easily fooled.
The United States and its allies have spent the better part of the last decade, at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars and countless lives, fighting wars to establish democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now that the youth of Cairo, armed with nothing but Facebook and the power of their convictions, have drawn millions into the street to demand a true Egyptian democracy, it would be absurd to continue to tacitly endorse the rule of a regime that has lost its own people’s trust.
Egypt will not wait forever on this caricature of a leader we witnessed on television yesterday evening, deaf to the voice of the people, hanging on obsessively to power that is no longer his to keep.
What needs to happen instead is a peaceful and orderly transition of power, to channel the revolutionary fervor into concrete steps for a new Egypt based on freedom and social justice. The new leaders will have to guarantee the rights of all Egyptians. They will need to dissolve the current Parliament, no longer remotely representative of the people. They will also need to abolish the Constitution, which has become an instrument of repression, and replace it with a provisional Constitution, a three-person presidential council and a transitional government of national unity.
The presidential council should include a representative of the military, embodying the sharing of power needed to ensure continuity and stability during this critical transition. The job of the presidential council and the interim government during this period should be to set in motion the process that will turn Egypt into a free and democratic society. This includes drafting a democratic Constitution to be put to a referendum, and preparing for free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections within one year.
We are at the dawn of a new Egypt. A free and democratic society, at peace with itself and with its neighbors, will be a bulwark of stability in the Middle East and a worthy partner in the international community. The rebirth of Egypt represents the hope of a new era in which Arab society, Muslim culture and the Middle East are no longer viewed through the lens of war and radicalism, but as contributors to the forward march of humanity, modernized by advanced science and technology, enriched by our diversity of art and culture and united by shared universal values.
We have nothing to fear but the shadow of a repressive past.
By: Mohamed ElBaradei, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times-February 11, 2011