In a Turbulent Egypt, Progress Depends on Responsible Opposition Leadership

jp-egypt1-articleLargeThe past turbulent weekend was rife with aggressive expressions of civic discontent in numerous cities throughout Egypt, not only in response to the recent court verdict on the 2012 Port Said football massacre, but against current president Mohammad Morsey. Protests rocked the cities of Cairo, Ismailia, Port Said, Alexandria, and Suez, resulting in hundreds of injuries and over thirty casualties (the majority occurring in Port Said). While many demonstrators maintained a stance of non-violence, the numerous accounts of forceful protestors vandalizing private and public property, provoking the police, and using weaponry are particularly troubling and certainly should not fare well for the public image of the president’s opposition.

Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood’s activity this weekend demonstrated a commendable degree of responsibility, with leadership commanding MB adherents and supporters of the president to commemorate the 2nd anniversary of the 2011 revolution by planting trees and doing works of public service. In accordance to MB requests, Morsey supporters did not mobilize in response to the opposition, though individual MB members were free to attend protests should they wish.

On the evening of 27 Janaury, as extreme violence ensued in Ismailia, Port Said, and Suez, President Morsey established emergency law in these three cities, a last resort measure to re-establish order after the police had failed to do so. While many recognize the necessity of these extreme measures in such exceptional situations, this writer fears that Morsey’s opposition may misunderstand the decree. Clashes continue for the fifth day today in Cairo, leaving us to wonder if emergency law will spread to the capital as well.

The opposition’s size is formidable, but we must not overlook the vast majority of Egyptians, who are either apathetic or eager for the current instability to finally cease so the nation may begin moving towards the political and economic stability essential for reform. These are the citizens who spent the weekend at home, either watching the news reports in disappointment, trying not to think about it, or cut off by the isolation of village life.

Tensions this past weekend only further demonstrate one of the greatest challenges Egypt’s transition faces: the dichotomy between the supporters of president Morsey – who include not only the Muslim Brotherhood but also citizens who respect the democratic process which brought the current president to power – and the petulant opposition, who are calling for Morsey’s abdication of power. While not all citizens are taking sides, the existing social rift between millions of nationals truly showed its potential for destruction last December, when Morsey supporters mobilized at an anti-Morsey demonstration outside the presidential palace in Heliopolis. The ensuing melee resulted in hundreds of casualties, several deaths, and even greater animosity between the two camps.

What is the key to restoring stability, establishing a balance of political ideologies in the new government, and moving towards the reform that the nation so desperately needs as it teeters on the edge of bankruptcy and as poverty and disenfranchisement continue to plague the majority of society?

A responsible shift in the strategies of opposition leadership is the key. In a recent article, analyst Hani Sabra wisely points out the following:

“The prevalence of undecided potential voters means that Egypt’s divided non-Islamists could make electoral progress if they successfully appeal to new voters beyond their own bloc of five to six million, mostly urban supporters. However, to date, Egypt’s non-Islamist movement remains incoherent. Thus far, their strategy has been to be the party of “no” and to try to pressure authorities through street protests. This will not work. Non-Islamists can certainly win Egyptian elections, but they have to work twice as hard. They have yet to hone an appealing message, focused on the economy, for example, that would attract voters in places like Upper Egypt or other rural parts of the country, where they are particularly weak.”

Were the liberal parties to shift their focus away from streets and towards internal development and campaigning; if they developed coherent messages aside from their current platform of “no” and appealed to voters throughout the country, then these parties would fare well in the upcoming Parliamentary election, potentially winning enough seats to established a balanced legislative body, one that would represent Egypt’s diverse political persuasions.

Yet liberal party leadership remains unwilling to take such steps. Last weekend, opposition leader Mohammad el-Baradei encouraged protestors via his Twitter account to “go out into the squares to finally achieve the objectives of the revolution.” This approach from opposition leadership will bring no good to their cause or the country: continued disturbance will only impede on progress, and now that emergency law has been imposed, such tactics could potentially create a vicious circle where the fervor and disobedience of the opposition will only be fueled by increased governmental attempts to regain order by force.

While the opposition’s chants the past weekend called for Morsey to step down, it is difficult to imagine this being a positive outcome. Remember, the majority is not with the opposition, with millions either unaligned or in active support of the President.  The Brotherhood and Morsey’s supporters would not take well to a forced abdication of power, which would cause dangerous tensions in a political dichotomy that has already shown its potential for violence.  Moreover, abdication of power would undermine the democratic process that brought Morsey to power, complicating Egypt’s future elections.

Considering the dangers of the “step down” option, it seems necessary that responsible leadership on the side of the opposition wake up to the reality of the current political situation and shift their energies away from transgression and towards collaboration, organization, campaigning, and spreading a message stronger and more appealing than, “no Morsey”. Doing so offers the promise of a balanced Parliament representing the diverse political identities of Egypt, which would usher in a degree of stability where necessary social and economic reforms can finally be addressed, moving Egypt forward in its transition.

Colette Salemi graduated from Williams College in 2010 with a BA in Political Science. She has spent the past two and a half years working and studying Arabic in the Middle East and has lived in Jordan, the West Bank, and Egypt. An educator, she has been living in Cairo the past year teaching at a local NGO focused on youth empowerment through professional skills.

Photo from New York Times

More Thoughts on the UN Bid


I was asked by a friend to provide some commentary on the Palestine UN bid for the Washington Monthly blog. Check out the site, but in the meantime, here is what I wrote:

Despite the supposed significance of this week’s UNGA vote that led to the admittance of Palestine to the UN (observer status), there has been very little excitement in Palestine leading up to the vote. Certainly, receiving observer status in the UN is a significant victory for Mahmoud Abbas and his supporters; on Thursday night, as the results of the vote were announced, Palestinians gathered in the recently renamed Yasser Arafat Square in the center of Ramallah, waving flags and singing the national anthem.* Yet, for such a major step towards statehood, the Palestinian reaction was tempered. Many of the Palestinians I spoke to on Thursday night were on the streets to simply observe, rather than celebrate. Earlier that day, journalists entered one of the most popular coffee shops in Ramallah, looking for reactions from Ramallah-ites. Yet most Palestinians could not be bothered to look up from their games of cards.

The general apathy, outside of the few hardcore Fatah supporters, is a reflection of the true insignificance of this vote. Many Palestinians see the UN vote as yet another political distraction that will ultimately fail to end the occupation. Unending negotiations and repeated UN actions and resolutions have numbed many Palestinians to the political track. Futility in past political moves leaves Palestinians realistic about the significance of the vote.

Other Palestinians see the moves by Abbas as betraying the true Palestinian cause. Abbas’ recent comments about his right to return to his ancient village** (Safed, now in Israel) have led many to think that he has given up fighting for the rights of Palestinian refugees. They see the recent vote as another political move that has ignored the refugees.

Finally, many Palestinians have given up on the prospects of a two-state solution. With over 500,000 Israeli settlers throughout the West Bank, many Palestinians feel that a true Palestinian state would be impossible. These, typically younger, Palestinians regard the UN vote as a positive step down the wrong road. Pushing for a two-state solution, according to this group, is only distracting from the fight for equality within one state. The Israeli reaction—announcing the construction of 3000 more settler homes in the West Bank—is seen as proof that Israel is not interested in the creation of a Palestinian state.

These different groups have come together to create a general apathy surrounding the UN vote in Ramallah. Despite Al Jazeera images giving the sense that there are major celebrations in response to the new UN status, Ramallah has remained tepid. Most Palestinians see little evidence that this new development will lead to anything other than more disappointment. Yesterday, the day after the UN vote and the ‘major Palestinian celebrations’ clock square was quiet. The stage and screen were taken down unceremoniously and life returned to normal. Today, two days later, there is little talk about the UN. For most Palestinians, such political games mean very little as there is little chance the new status of the UN will end the occupation or improve their lives in any tangible way.

* Technically now named Arafat Square, all Palestinians I know still refer to it by its original name, Clock Square

** “I visited Safed before once. But I want to see Safed. It’s my right to see it, but not to live there,” Abbas said, speaking in English from the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Statehood for Palestine?

The recent vote in the UN General Assembly recognizing Palestine as a non-member observer status is getting a long look from around the world as an important step towards full Palestinian statehood. Unfortunately, the vote means very little for the Palestinian people. In fact, the push for this vote from the Palestinian Authority and the reactions from Israel demonstrate that the vote is, at best, insignificant – little more than a reminder that two states are no longer possible.

To see how meaningless this vote is, just take a look at Ali Abunimah, above, on Al Jazeera. There is nothing about this UN vote that condemns Israel for continuing the occupation and there is nothing there that will help end the occupation. Being recognized in this way by the UN does nothing to help the situation in Gaza and ignores the issue of Palestinian refugees. The most important aspect of this vote, however, is that it shows just how dead and gone the two state solution is. I have talked about the issue of one vs two states many times over the years – and, fittingly, there has been no improvement in prospects for two states. There are 500,000 illegal Israeli settlers living in the West Bank, including Jerusalem. If the PA were to do the unthinkable and completely give up Jerusalem, there would still be 300,000 settlers on Palestinian land. If land swaps allowed Israel to keep the settlement blocs surrounding Jerusalem, there would still be around 150,000 – 200,000 settlers that would need to be evacuated. Let’s say that 75% (a hilariously high percentage) would leave voluntarily for monetary compensation. There would still be around 40,000 nationalist, hardcore settlers to evacuate. And that is if the PA completely gives in to all of Israel’s demands. In Gaza in 2005, around 8,000 settlers were removed, causing mass protests around Israel. Forcible removal of five times that many from more religiously important land would likely result in much more serious and potentially violent civil unrest.

More important, though, is the Israeli response to the move. Immediately after the UN vote, Netanyahu announced the construction of another 3,000 settler homes in and around Jerusalem – a move that would “signal the end of the two state-solution.”  That Israel would use construction of settlement homes as punishment for the PA pursuing a two state strategy (and it certainly was punishment as Israeli officials warned, after the vote, that there would be swift consequences) demonstrates without a doubt that Israel has no desire to make peace with a Palestinian state. Interestingly, if the Palestinian Authority actually had a peace partner that truly supported a two state solution, this week’s vote would have been significant. Unfortunately, though, the only significant factor was a demonstration of just how dead two states are.

For a good view on the role of the US in this disaster, check out MJ Rosenberg

Book Review of Norman Finkelstein’s “Knowing too Much”


Norman Finkelstein released his newest book approximately a week ago and eagerly I ordered it and began reading it. I have been interested in Norman Finkelstein for about five years when I first became involved in the Israel-Palestine conflict and his books have been a beneficial tool in deciphering the conflict. Even at one point I actively worked to get him to speak at my Alma Mater (University of Massachusetts Lowell) about what happened during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-9.

Since living in Palestine since the beginning of 2010, his books have hit a point with me that cannot be explained. Studying at Hebrew University in Jerusalem opens up many racist facets in the American Jewish community. Having been disconnected to American live, unfortunately this community here has reminded me of the many problems within my home country.

All this being said, Finkelstein’s new book “Knowing too Much” is about the American Jewish community specifically and its role in the conflict. He begins by analyzing it from the founding of the State of Israel and its relationship with it. He documents rather extensively the passive attitude the vast majority of American Jews had towards Israel during this time. The shift, which he correctly sees, begins with the 1967 war when Israel carried out an extremely premeditated attack on its Arab neighbors while at the same time maintaining a sense of innocence and constant threat upon it. The subsequent occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, Sinai, and the Golan became invisible to the American Jewish community as compared to the “great achievements” the Israeli army carried out. Finally, American Jews were able to be “proud” of Israel and this manifested into many various forms.

All of the sudden Israel became a source of inspiration and a leading factor in American Jewish life. Often it was heralded as the “light unto nations” and various narratives at this time sprang up with great proliferation. Criticism of Israel and its policies within the community and within the world in general was kept hidden to a point that criticism was (and still now) considered anti-Semitic or “self hating.” This newly found love affair produced a plethora of “authoritative” works by prominent American Jews and their sympathizers that were held in high regard. Miraculously these books coincided with key events in the history where Israel was rightly being condemned for massive atrocities in the occupied territories and foreign countries such as Lebanon.

Unfortunately for the American Jewish community, since the first Intifada in 1987, it has become impossible to ignore the massive and gross violations of basic human rights of Palestinians in particular and Arabs living under constant Israeli domination on the other. The springing up of human rights groups in Israel, Europe, the United Nations, and beyond have simply made it impossible to maintain the same fantasy of a “light unto nations” that so forcefully dictated the framework of which one has discussed Israel since 1967.

As this being the basic framework, Finkelstein forcefully maintains that the American Jewish community cannot maintain the ignorance or high opinion of Israel anymore. Specifically he holds that due to Israel’s rightward shift and extremely fatalistic propaganda war it unleashes on any criticism of it, the American Jewish community has a very near dilemma to deal with. Does the American Jewish community maintain its liberal values that has allowed it to become the most prosperous and powerful ethnic group in the United States for the defense of Israel, or does it abandon Israel to maintain these liberal values and forego the charge of dual loyalty? Finkelstein is of the mind that the vast majority of American Jews will choose their liberal values and prominent positions in the United States instead of remaining diehard Israel supporters.

Finkelstein believes specifically that the second Intifada, the 34 day war with Hizballah, and the massacres of Gaza and the Freedom Flotilla in 2010 have simply become a catalyst for a potential turn of the American Jewish community to abandoning their support for Israel in favor of human rights. He states that various polls showing the support and importance of Israel constantly decreasing, especially among young adults, within the American Jewish community. He attributes this to the above mentioned situations. As he says:

“Twenty years ago Israeli soldiers toured US college campuses to be feted by Jewish students as war heroes, now the campus Hillels drag them on tours to persuade Jewish students that Israeli soldiers are not war criminals. Twenty years ago pro-Israel Jewish students aggressively interrogated critics of Israel at public events, now they sit silently in the audience or do not bother to even show up.”

As stated, he does not believe the whole community will get behind accepting the fact that Israel is an oppressive occupier, as he says “the likes of Alan Dershowitz will continue to laud Israel’s ‘generally superb’ human rights record even after Israelis themselves look back upon it with shame.” In fact, he states that (mostly) American Jewish apologists for Israel have had to change their discourse of ‘scholarly’ work. The likes of “From Time Immemorial” and “Exodus” simply cannot manipulate the Jewish community anymore and new forms of propaganda have been developed, mostly futile attempts, and he goes on to document a number of them.

Any reader of Finkelstein knows that he likes to deconstruct ‘popular’ literature on a specified topic to further drive home his point and this book is no different. To prove the ‘new propaganda’ theory he analyzes Jeffrey Goldberg’s book “Prisoners,” Dennis Ross’ “A Missing Peace,” Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez’s “Foxbats over Dimona,” Michael Oren’s “Six Days of War,” and Benny Morris’ “One State, Two States.” In every analysis he goes point by point proving how utterly false, but ‘creative,’ these new narratives for apologizing for Israel’s crimes have become. He documents all the various lies used in each one to cover up various topics such as 1967, Camp David, the Intifadas, and more in order to deceive the readers. Each one of these deconstructions brought me great joy to read, having read all of these lies and distortions. This to me personally is Finkelstein at his best and he does not let down in his thorough analyses of the topics.

The last topic in which I will bring up about the book is two other deconstructions he carries out in great detail. First he uses his framework of the abandoning of the American Jewish community to go through Walt and Mearsheimer’s book “The Israel Lobby.” He contends that although they are correct on many key aspects, their hyping of the power of the lobby is potentially dangerous and rather off point. By creating connections to things such as the war in Iraq, they actually give it too much credit and misdirect where attention should be about the lobby. Second, he discusses a couple of Human Rights Watch reports about the bombing in Lebanon by Israel and the inconsistencies involved in the documentation. He states that Israel’s pressure, in addition to local lobbies, watered down and even caused great distortions about what happened in the war between Hizballah and Israel in order to white wash Israel’s massive human rights violations including the dropping of four million cluster munitions in Lebanon in the last days. He uses vast sources to prove massive inaccuracies, all the while further proving his point about the actual power of the Israel lobby in the world.

Overall the book is fantastic and a must read for anyone who enjoys reading Finkelstein’s work or wanting a very detailed and well researched book about the topics mentioned above. Although Finkelstein has recently many complaints and even allegations regarding his stances on BDS and solving the conflict, his book stays true to his consistent scholarly standard. The book is available on OR Books on e-book and hard copy, both for reasonable prices. I would rate the book a solid 9/10 due to its consistency, scholarship, and detailed analysis. If you have read Finkelstein before, you will not be disappointed or if you like well documented writing on the Israel-Palestine conflict, you will be greatly pleased. If anyone has any questions about the book, since 1,400 words can hardly do justice to a 500 page book, please ask.

Guest Post: Colonial Shadow Over Algiers and Paris: Memories of the Algerian War

2012 will mark the 50th anniversary of Algerian independence. Both Paris and Algiers are having a hard time sincerely confronting the colonial era and the war, while the politicized cultures of remembrance prevent reconciliation.


Fifty years have passed since the Algerian independence from France, and the old wounds haven’t healed – on the contrary. Both countries’ political classes still find it difficult to free their bilateral relations of the long-established colonial discourse. The Front Libération National’s (FLN) struggle for liberation that started in 1954 has left deep scars in the national identity of both societies that even today regularly reappear on the surface. Algeria’s close economic, administrative and ideological ties with France during the 132 years of colonial rule play a major role in this, as does the domestic utilization of fragments of their common history that form the collective culture of remembrance in both countries. To this day, France has a hard time dealing with its colonial heritage. The strong influence of the right-wing Front National (FN) on French politics closely relates to the collapse of L’Algérie française. On the other hand, Algeria, every year exuberantly celebrates the disengagement from France on July 5th.

The FLN, who has been in control of the executive authority since 1962, draws its legitimacy and its special status in the Algerian political system solely from its leading role during the fight against the colonial regime. Therefore, the memory of the colonial period is of existential significance for the FLN. At the same time, Paris still has to cope with the loss of its most important colony. Algeria was no ordinary colony but the prototype of a French settlement colony, and was considered an elementary component of the republic[S1] . Up until the 1990s, the Algerian war of independence was only a minor part of French literature and mass media, and regularly caused domestic disputes in France. The Algerian War was deliberately ignored in school books for a long time. But why does Paris find it so difficult to cope with its past? And what are the reasons for Algiers’ authoritarian regime to engage in such an aggressive policy of commemoration even today?

L’Algérie, c’est la France” – France’s last colonial war

On November 1st, 1954, the Algerian war of liberation, led by the FLN, started with coordinated bomb attacks all over Algeria. For Paris, Algeria’s self-determination was not up for debate – quite the opposite. The loss of Indochina shortly before questioned the ideological foundations of the colonial power France, which continued to define itself as the Grande Nation; hence France was determined not to relinquish Algeria whatever the circumstances. The colonial empire was the last remaining anchor for Paris’ fantasies of world power while France was facing an economical and military decline during the first half of the 20th century. By 1954, the number of settlers living in Algeria had risen to one million. The systematical dispossession of the autochthonous population and the monopolization of the economy in the hands of the pied noir de facto brought about a ‘two-class’ system. Despite its republican laicism, France established a special status defined along religious and ethnic lines for Berbers and Arabs in Algeria, who were French subjects but not French citizens.

Algerian nationalism did not dawn until the end of the Second World War, and was sparked by the events of May 8th, 1945. On this day, French settlers and the army bloodily suppressed demonstrations by Algerian nationalists in Sétif and Guelma. In the fall of 1954, shortly after the start of the nationwide uprising, French Minister of the Interior François Mitterand still stated, “L’Algérie, c’est la France.” The FLN gradually was annihilated after the Battle of Algiers in 1954 by the massive French military contingent and moved its activities to France. The first signs of a turn from the dogma of “French-Algeria” led to the collapse of the Fourth Republic under the burden of the war. On May 13th, 1958, the French generals that were stationed in Algeria organized a coup and brought Charles de Gaulle into the highest office of the state. The constitution of the Fifth Republic was a turning point for France’s political system as it transformed the parliamentarian Fourth Republic into an authoritarian presidential democracy.

Even in France, the French government wasn’t in charge of the situation anymore. This was illustrated by the violent clashes [S2] that occurred in Paris in December 1961 after a demonstration for Algeria’s independence. In addition to that, a protest organized by some unions and the French Communist Party against the Organisation de l’armée secréte (OAS) was suppressed in February 1962. The OAS was an extreme right-wing terrorist group that fought for the preservation of L’Algérie française. The OAS, made up mainly of radical settlers, carried out numerous bomb attacks in Algeria and committed assassinations of FLN officials. The consequences of the Algerian independence in 1962 were disastrous for France. Violent riots against Algiers-Frenchmen which occurred after the official independence on July 5th led to a mass exodus of the pied noir. In 1962 alone, 800,000 settlers emigrated to France, most of whom settled in the south of the country – a fact that explains the strong influence of the FN in this region up until today.

The Fifth Republic and the Algerian War

The Algerian War vanished from public discourse during the 1960s. Only in the 1970s, the milieu in favor of L’Algérie française – formed around the OAS and the Algiers-Frenchmen – started to gather again after years of parliamentarian disorientation. After initial criminal prosecution, the OAS leadership was rehabilitated under president Mitterand. The putschists received compensation for their material losses. As can be established retrospectively, the amnesty for the OAS supported the rise of the FN which was founded in 1972. The party achieved its first communal-political success shortly after the indemnification by Mitterand. In June 1984, the FN gained 11% of the votes in the European elections. Associations close to OAS and FN conjured up a ‘stab-in-the-back-legend’ concerning the loss of Algeria, which enabled the extreme right to pose as an advocate for the greater national cause and by that put pressure on the conservative establishment. French Foreign Minister Claude Cheysson’s visit to Algeria in 1984 on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the outbreak of the war provoked sharp criticism by Gaullist politicians (e.g. by then mayor of Paris Jaques Chirac and by right-wing revisionist-oriented settler associations). Since the mid 1980s, the Front National is a constituent part of the Fifth Republic.

Tense Relationship Between Algiers and Paris

Europe’s efforts to receive access to the Libyan oil fields in the fall of 2008 created a sensation. Silvio Berlusconi, then Italian prime minister, apologized for the colonial crimes committed by Italy [S3] and promised compensations to Tripoli. The French process of coming to terms with its past is a slow one, despite demands voiced by Algeria asking Paris to assume responsibility for the atrocities committed during the colonial era. Not earlier than 1999, the French national assembly passed a law that provided an official recognition of the Algerian War. The term ‘War’ replaced the term ‘Operation for the Maintenance of Order’ that had been common usage until then. The public discussion about the French role in Algeria sparked off a new debate about torture, the center of which turned out to be Jean-Marie Le Pen[S4] , former chair of the Front National. Le Pen had worked for the French intelligence during the Algerian War. In several court proceedings, he denied having been personally involved in torture – contrary to his own confirmation in the magazine Combat in 1962.

The evaluation of the colonial history is contested until today, which is illustrated by the public rhetoric by the French executive bodies. During his visit to Algiers in 1981, President François Mitterand declared, speaking in front of the Algerian parliament: “The past is the past. Let us now, firmly, look towards the future.” Jaques Chirac took a stand concerning the relationship between the two states as well during his official visit to Algeria in 2003, but unlike his predecessor he avoided to formulate an admission of guilt. Rather, he stated that both sides had received scars and emphasized the importance of foundations for a common future yet to be built. As historian Frank Renken [S5] describes in his book “Frankreich im Schatten des Algerienkrieges,” (France in the Shadow of the Algerian War) Paris still avoids admitting that the pain on both sides was a result of the colonial subjection and was in no way distributed equally. Nicolas Sarkozy uses similar terms when dealing with Algeria. In 2007, he stated in Algiers that he “neither came to hurt nor to apologize.” He emphasized the necessity to bring an end to the past and to “determinedly turn towards the future.”

No one had expected a Pardon by Sarkozy. Nevertheless, his visit served to pour oil on troubled waters. In February 2005, a new French law had stirred irritation as it highlighted France’s positive role in its colonies[S6] . The preamble of the law states that “The nation expresses its appreciation to the men and women who took part (…) in the work carried out by France in the former French Départements in Algeria.” Article 4 of this law aimed to influence educational policy turned out especially tricky, as it requests the academic and school system to emphasize “the positive role of the French presence overseas and especially in North Africa.” The text was approved by the National Assembly and is still in effect, although Chirac declared Article 4 to be unconstitutional and had it removed. The Union pour un mouvement populaire (UMP) tried to snatch away votes from the strengthened FN, especially so since Chirac had to unexpectedly face right-wing Le Pen in the 2002 presidential elections. Chirac as well as Sarkozy repeatedly used right-wing rhetoric to have a voice in the influential settler lobby. The presidential elections in 2012 again are devoted to ballot box maneuvers between conservatives and right-wingers. Marine Le Pen, daughter of Jean-Marie and head of FN since 2011, received far more than 20% in recently conducted polls. The milieu around the pied noir that came back to France in 1962 still forms the electoral base of FN and constitutes a burden for the Algerian-French relations.

The Reception of the War in Algeria

After independence, the FLN enjoyed undisputed authority in Algeria. The military putsch by Houari Boumediénne in 1965 allowed for the government to implement an authoritarian Islamic policy. Since 1954, the FLN propagated the slogan “Islam is my religion, Arabic is my language, Algeria is my homeland” and since 1965 the Boumediénne government carried out a policy of islamization. The French language was banned from schools, an Arab-religious rhetoric was intensified, and the opposition was suppressed. The FLN monopolized economical and political power and used the anti-French colonial discourse to consolidate its rule. Until today, the FLN draws its legitimacy solely from the anti-colonial struggle. In “Poste restante: Alger,” Algerian author Boualem Sansal writes: “This case is the bank robbery of the century. The struggle of the Algerian people for their independence was privatized on the day of the cessation of fire, this famous 19th of March, 1962, and (…) transformed into the sole property of the FLN.” In view of the Islamist terror during the 1990s, regulatory measures were added to the FLN’s legitimacy strategy, and the civil war facilitated a renaissance of the FLN rule. The FLN impressively demonstrated that the political instability could not be ended without them. Nevertheless, the struggle against colonialism stays a constituent element of its ideology. President Bouteflika was not able to overcome the long-established party codex and became part of the driving forces that started a new colonial discourse in 2010. He demanded an apology by the people of France for the crimes committed in their name, and initiated a law [S7] criminalizing the French colonial crimes[S8] . Even today, Algerian domestic policy is determined by an agenda which aims at securing the FLN’s dominant position, rather than trying to solve the country’s social and political problems. It remains questionable whether the regime will be able to utilize the country’s colonial past in the future as the majority of the Algerian population was born after the end of the colonial era and has only been socialized under the authoritarian rule by the FLN. So far, the Arab Spring has largely rolled past Algeria but the country is expecting critical times in view of the parliamentary elections on May 10th.

Article by Sofian Philip Naceur (,

also published here

Photo taken from

Translation: Svej

Arming the FSA in Syria

Could arming the FSA work?

A relatively large debate has been launched over whether the west should be providing arms to the Free Syrian Army (FSA) after Dan Drezner and Marc Lynch  published pieces arguing the point. Drezner, who supports the move (in addition to John McCain and Elliott Abrams – no surprise there,) points to the fact that Syria is already in a civil war and notes that the point of the western action should be political – i.e. to overthrow Assad. There are number of reasons why arming the FSA is a terrible idea. i have covered this possibility twice already, so there is little original insight that I have here. Fortunately,  there are plenty of others who see such a policy as foolish.

Greg Scoblete, over at The Compass at RealClearWorld, openly admits that he has no idea what the right path in Syria should be, but nonetheless falls squarely against the provision of arms:

There is absolutely no reason to believe that Syria’s rebel forces will be any less brutal than the regime they are seeking to overthrow. There is no way to know how they will govern (and there is obviously no reason to trust declarations made explicitly to court foreign assistance). Nor is there any way U.S. or NATO assistance can ensure a democratic outcome. The U.S. couldn’t steer Iraqi politics to its liking while it was an occupying power – it would have even less leverage in a post-Assad Syria.

Of course, fear over the next government is not enough to avoid action. It is, however, only one argument against the arming the FSA. In his article mentioned above, Lynch notes that the FSA is probably best characterized by disunity and divisions, a characteristic that will likely be exacerbated by the influx of weapons. Moreover, per Lynch:

Third, what will the weapons be intended to achieve? I can see at least three answers. Perhaps they’ll be meant to be purely defensive, to stop the regime’s onslaught and protect civilians. But this relatively passive goal does not seem a likely stable endpoint once the weapons start flooding in. A second possibility is that they’ll be meant to give the rebels the power to defeat the regime on the battlefield and overthrow it. But that does not seem realistic, since it would require far more fire power than would likely be on offer to reverse the immense imbalance in favor of regime forces. A third possibility is that they’ll be meant to even the balance of power sufficiently to force Assad to the bargaining table once he realizes that he can’t win. But the violence of the escalating civil war will make such talks very difficult politically. The provision of arms probably won’t be intended to create a protracted, militarized stalemate — but that does seem the most likely outcome. Is that the goal we hope to achieve?

Fourth, how will Assad and his allies respond to the arming of the opposition? Perhaps they will immediately realize their imminent defeat and rush to make amends. But more likely, they will take this as license to escalate their attacks, to deploy an ever greater arsenal, and to discard whatever restraint they have thus far shown in order to stay below the threshold of international action. It would also be very difficult to stop Russia, Iran, or anyone else from supplying fresh arms and aid to Assad once the opposition’s backers are openly doing so. Providing arms to a relatively weak opposition will not necessarily close the military gap, then — it might simply push the same gap up to a higher level of militarized conflict.

Fifth, what will we do when the provision of weapons fails to solve the conflict? Arming the opposition is held out as an alternative to direct military intervention. When it fails to solve the crisis relatively quickly — and it most likely will fail — there will inevitably then be new calls to escalate Western military support to airstrikes in the Libya-style. In other words, what is presented as an alternative to military intervention is more likely to pave the way to such intervention once it fails.

In his response to Drezner, Daniel Larison writes that the arming of the FSA will simply increase regime violence against civilians in order to bring about the collapse of the regime. As I wrote yesterday, this policy would likely lead to a prolonged civil war in which the militarily superior Syrian army (even after military aid to the opposition) would be more able to release its full might on the Syrian people. While it is difficult to imagine violence getting worse, there is every indication that the Syrian government has not yet ‘gone all in.’

Meanwhile, Andrew Exum looks at some basic figures to point out that arming the FSA would certainly help in a guerrilla-style civil war, it would do little to quickly bring down the regime. Arming the FSA, in other words, would still leave it overwhelmed by the military might of the government:

 Did Drezner or anyone else consult an actual order of battle before talking about “evening the odds?” According to the 2011 Military Balance, Syria has:

  1. 4,950 main battle tanks.
  2. 2,450 BMPs.
  3. 1,500 more armored personnel carriers.
  4. 3,440+ pieces of artillery.
  5. 600,000 men under arms in the active and reserve forces.

Now, for the sake of argument, let’s say Syria can only field half of the above equipment and personnel due to maintenance issues and defections or whatever. We’re still talking about a ridiculous amount of advanced weaponry. What arms, then, are we talking about giving these guerrilla groups? Nukes?

The balance in Libya was only tipped when NATO warplanes began “enforcing the no-fly zone” by destroying Libyan tanks and armored personnel carriers. (I know those things don’t actually fly, but the only way you can be really sure they won’t grow wings is by dropping a GBU-31 on top of them.) If a scheme to train and equip the Syrians is not matched with a similar effort to degrade the capabilities of the Syrian army, I fail to see how arming the rebel groups will even any odds.

That doesn’t mean the rebels don’t stand a chance — they can always carry out a guerrlla campaign using raids, ambushes and IEDs. But it does mean that schemes to train and equip the rebel groups will be more about doing something that makes us feel better about ourselves rather than an act that seriously changes the game in Syria.

Moreover, Larison, in a second post, notes that arming the opposition could quite possibly alienate a major number of Syrians:

James Traub cites a remarkable piece of evidence about Syrian public opinion:

‘A poll conducted by the Doha Debates in mid-December found that 55 percent of Syrians wanted Assad to remain in power.’

Let’s suppose that there is not as much support for Assad remaining in power now as there was two months ago. Maybe there is a narrow Syrian majority for removing Assad at this point. Even if that were true, it would still mean that the country is evenly split in half. Pushing for Assad’s removal may sound good, but it is a solution that half of the population does not want.

Certainly, support for the regime has decreased tremendously since the poll was conducted, but it still points to a significant percentage of Syrians who would prefer to keep Assad. Should the west arm the FSA, and should the FSA overthrow Assad, there will be many Syrians who would be both against the new government and also open to reprisal attacks, thus further complicating what is certain to be a devastatingly complex situation. [Edit: Brian Whitaker shows that the poll cited above is pretty useless – 97 Syrians of 20 million participated. I would still be inclined to believe that there are sections of the population that support Assad – particularly Alawites – due to religious solidarity or fear of reprisals.]

Drezner himself talks about the major pitfalls involved in arming the FSA, but maintains that its is one of two viable options (the other being negotiation with Assad.) However, in his defense of the option, Drezner relies on the fact that: a) the Syrian population wants regime change and b) most palatable options are exhausted. As we saw above, many Syrians do want regime change, but many don’t. More importantly, wanting regime change and wanting peace are very different. If I were to bet, I would say that most Syrians would rather keep Assad and stop the killing. Arming the FSA would prolong and exacerbate the violence.

Despite the myriad reasons why arming the FSA is a bad idea and could potentially backfire, I can easily see the powers that be taking this route. This seems to be the kind of decision that is made under pressure to do something, anything, regardless of the consequences. Like Scoblete, I really have no idea what the best option would be. (Hence, I blog for free and am not properly compensated for my rants.)  However, of Drezner’s two viable options, negotiation with the Syrian government is a far better option. Though negotiations would undoubtedly be complicated by the rhetoric of the west in the last few months, it would end the killing quicker – which, I suppose, is what Syrians really want – and would avoid all of the many complications that would arise from a rash policy.

Photo from American Everyman

“It would need a savant to work out the geopolitical implications of a post-Assad Syria”

Is intervention humanitarian?

At the risk of focusing too much on one topic, I want to bring up two great articles that were published over at RUSI debating a potential intervention in Syria. David Roberts argues against intervention (and donates the title of this post) while Michael Stephens offers some support for the idea. I align myself solidly in Roberts’ camp and find the various alternatives he offers to be intriguing. Stephens offers a far more intelligent argument for intervention than what we saw yesterday, but still makes the same fundamental error by conflating political and humanitarian motives for intervention.

After making some arguments against intervention (read his article for more,) Roberts offers some viable alternatives to intervention, including the use of energy supplies by Arab states as a means of persuasion as well as “the darker side of diplomacy.” That, for Roberts, putting an end to the killing is a priority (along with concern of the unknown that would follow Assad) “there may be room for a grand bargain” that would keep Assad in power, but end the killing. Such a move, of course, would be sacrificing the political for the humanitarian.

Stephens, on the other hand, speaks of the humanitarian and political motives as inseparable. For him, the best option would be to arm the Free Syrian Army (FSA) with the means to fight a guerrilla war against the state: “if the West agrees Assad should be removed, as has been stated now on numerous occasions. Then it follows that, given Assad’s continued intransigence and use of force to extinguish the rebellion militarily, that Western powers not assisting the FSA would be  working against their stated goal of removing Assad from power.” Such a quasi-intervention, however, would inevitably prolong the civil war. Guerrilla wars are wars of attrition; while it is probable that such a tactic would eventually lead to the fall of Assad, it would allow the regime more time to continue killing Syrians.

This is exactly where we find the fault line between political motives and humanitarian motives: to remove Assad or to stop the killing. It is an impossible situation, to be sure. The only way to truly reconcile these two motives is undesirable and politically impossible: direct, large scale intervention to crush Assad’s regime immediately. Yet even here, the post-Assad situation – particularly if he was removed by a foreign power – would resemble post-Saddam Iraq. There would likely be post-war violence, violent religious disputes, revenge killings, and – if there was a sustained foreign presence, potential insurgencies. Inevitably, many more Syrians would be killed after such an intervention.

The best option, then, is to find the best balance between morals, political goals, and national interests. In the case of Syria, these factors best align through the use of non-military methods to pressure Syria and its backers while looking for an ugly deal to be made with Assad. Energy resources can easily be used to pressure regimes through both stick and carrot means. The experiences in regime change throughout the Middle East – Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya… – while all unique in many ways, show that the political goal of removing a dictator more often than not creates a humanitarian crisis. The chance of this happening in Syria is greater than elsewhere due to the demographic complexities of the country. There is no doubt in my mind that Assad and his regime are evil and must, at some point, lose power. However, intervening in Syria now – either directly, through military intervention, or indirectly, by arming the FSA, would only prolong and deepen the  humanitarian problems in Syria.

Photo from Power and Justice; h/t to The Gulf Blog

Intervention in Syria? Better Not Think First.

Is intervention in Syria political, humanitarian, or just unwise?

Now, despite the double veto by Russia and China, folks are beginning to debate the possibility of intervening in Syria to stop the bloodshed. Certainly, stopping Assad would be great, but I cannot think of a worse option. Undoubtedly, Russia and China would also block UN authorization of such an intervention while the geographical scope of the country would make Syria far more dangerous than Libya. The complex demographics, on the other hand, would make a post-Assad Syria better resemble a post-Saddam Iraq than a post-Qaddafi Libya. Yet the discussion continues.

Michael Collins Dunn remarks that such a move would lead to a regional war, Emre Uslo contemplates whether Turkey would intervene, and Nicolas Noe suggests dialogue over intervention. Jasmin Ramsey has a nice overview of the intervention debate, including the humorous thoughts of Michael Weiss. Weiss is strongly in favor of the West gearing up and jumping into Syria. Certainly, his heart is in the right place, but his ideas for how to end the bloodshed seemingly appeared without any thought at all:

• Humanitarian “safe areas” to provide food, aid and medical supplies to the civilian population and give the various opposition groups a headquarters inside their own country
• Advanced weapons and communication devices for the Syrian rebels
• A no-fly zone to stop the regime from using its aircraft to conduct reconnaissance, offload security personnel and – yes – strafe rebel strongholds from the sky.

First of all, if the west took control of Syrian land from the Syrian government (forget for a moment that this would require a major military presence) and allowed, say, the Free Syrian Army to use it as a base, one cannot realistically call it a humanitarian area. If opposition groups were not allowed to use the area for political or military activities, then perhaps it is a humanitarian area, but giving access to opposition groups makes such a move more political than humanitarian. It is an attempt to openly choose sides in a civil war and define it as humanitarian. In addition to the billions of dollars and millions of military personnel needed to secure an area, how would such a move not be seen as colonialist, even if it is meant to displace Assad?

Secondly – and Daniel Larison has a nice post about this – arming the FSA would be (once again) a conflation of political and humanitarian goals. Does Weiss want to help the Syrian people (I would give serious thought to Noe’s suggestions,) or does he want to topple Assad (in which case how can we blame Russia and China for the vetoes)? Arming the FSA would inevitably prolong the suffering in Syria, increase the violence and completely eliminate any type of negotiation. Moreover, it seems unlikely that the west would commit to supporting the FSA enough to guarantee a quick victory, meaning that Syria’s civil war would likely look more like Lebanon’s than anything else. From Larison:

Indeed, the reason why some interventionists are proposing military aid for the FSA is that the armed rebels will most likely fail without that aid. The danger that interventionists see is not really that there will be a “disastrous stalemate,” but that the opposition will lose. Interventionists are invoking the specter of the Lebanese civil war as a warning of what might happen if there is no support for the opposition, but what they propose seems more likely to put Syria through an experience very much like Lebanon’s. Even if it is a more limited, indirect intervention in support of Syrian rebels, that seems guaranteed to deepen the conflict and risk the fragmentation of the country into enclaves, which could in turn hasten the beginning of forced expulsions and massacres of populations.

Finally, a no fly zone (NFZ) over Syria would be far more costly and logistically complicated than in Libya (where the NFZ and major activity was limited to the coastal region). Instead of getting into details, I’ll link to a couple of articles that were written during the Libya NFZ debate, showing that a NFZ by itself is ineffective, costly and illegal. Pursuing this strategy in Syria – particularly in conjunction with Weiss’ other suggestions would clearly be an open act of war that would inevitably be rejected by Russia and China (if not others.)

Intervention in Syria is a bad idea. Supporting intervention with poorly thought-out strategies may be even worse.

Photo from Laaska

More on Russia’s Syrian Stance

Probably should have seen this coming

Since Russia and China vetoed the UNSC resolution on Syria, a lot has been said about the “disgusting and shameful” decision to “align…with a dictator.” Unsurprisingly, much of the western scorn has been directed at Russia – but without any real understanding of why Russia decided to veto the resolution. To be sure, the resolution was aiming to condemn the actions of a reprehensible government that had effectively declared war on its own people. However, the Russian decision to reject the resolution makes perfect sense from a Russian point of view. Western press has chastised the Russian government, but Russia simply acted to support its own national interests while allowing morality to take a back seat. Looking at such a position out of context, it looks pretty heartless – and perhaps it is. However, this is what governments do; they protect their own interests while allowing their moral compass to guide them only when such action is not detrimental to their interests. Every government has taken the same path (how many UNSC resolutions on Israel/Palestine has the United States vetoed?) Moreover, after what happened in Libya, it was easy to see these vetoes coming.

There are a number of very understandable reasons why Russia refused to agree to the UN resolution. First of all, the upcoming Russian elections have left Putin campaigning not against the left, but against the right.  Like anywhere else, this means that Putin must prove himself to be a strong nationalist; domestically, it makes sense for Putin to take a stand against the west. The veto looks strong and does not actually risk Russian (or the government’s) interests. Moreover, there are the significant political and financial links that Russia has to the Syrian regime as well as arguments that this veto will lead to a new Cold War type proxy battle between Russia and the West for influence in the Middle East.

Yet, the most interesting argument being made – for me at least – is that Russia is rejecting the international  consensus on Syria because of how the intervention in Libya evolved into a regime change operation. Russia abstained from the UN vote on Libya because it was assured that this international intervention was humanitarian, not political. When it turned political, it eliminated the willingness of Moscow to agree on other examples of what Russia may consider ‘messing with domestic affairs.’ This is the most interesting argument for me because, well, I made it. A long time ago. Last year, I repeatedly noted that one of the major consequences of the Libyan intervention would be future could-have-been interventions:

If economic considerations and a fear of setting precedents were not enough to push Russia, China et al. towards the intervention veto, the evolution of the Libya intervention/regime change operation certainly breaks that camel’s back. TheRussian opposition to the western UNSC resolution on Syria and the submission of the competing Russian resolution is proof enough that – as Joshi says – “Libya is one of [the pro-interventionists’] last hurrahs.”

The expansion of the Libyan intervention into a regime change operation clearly upset many of the BRICS countries – particularly Russia, who was very vocal about its displeasure. Now Stephen Walt is asking whether “victory in Libya will cause defeat in Syria” [though, looking at the mess in Libya, it certainly doesn’t feel like victory…] Paul Pillar and Joshua Foust pile on as well. From Walt:

But what if the Libyan precedent is one of the reasons why Russia and China aren’t playing ball today? They supported Resolution 1973 back in 2011, and then watched NATO and a few others make a mockery of multilateralism in the quest to topple Qaddafi. The Syrian tragedy is pay-back time, and neither Beijing nor Moscow want to be party to another effort at Western-sponsored “regime change.”

Of course, there are many reasons why Russia vetoed the resolution, and not one can be taken independently, but it seems to me that the results in Libya certainly played a role. I find it odd that so many in the west are acting shocked that this resolution was vetoed. The writing was clear and the outcome was predictable.

Photo from the Liberal

“1980s Lebanon on Steroids”

Where to now for Syria?

At least that is what Marc Lynch imagines Syria could become now that the Chinese and Russian UN vetoes have all but eliminated the peaceful transition option. While the resolution explicitly ruled out military intervention (due to fears of another Libya-esque regime change operation) the Russian and China vetoes, according to Lynch, are likely to paved the way for a protracted civil war. Of course, the evolution of the Syrian situation from protests to armed civil war should have been obvious months ago; Assad’s overtures to negotiations and reform and, more recently, Syria’s “cooperation” with the Arab League mission should have made it clear that the Syria president had no intention to truly consider peaceful change. Now that Russia and China have made it clear that not even symbolic support for the Syria opposition will pass through the UNSC, Lynch is correct in surmising that a violent civil war is the most likely outcome.

The important question now becomes how long would the Syrian government be able to stand up to an armed uprising – or, perhaps, how long an armed uprising would be able to survive facing the Syrian army? On the one hand, reports of Gulf support for the Free Syrian Army means that the armed opposition is not alone in facing the Syrian regime. Moreover, General Mustafa al-Sheikh, the most senior military defector, has claimed that disorganization, poor mobilization and readiness, and  continued defections means that the military support for Assad will crumble within the next month. On the other hand, the Free Syrian Army is greatly weakened by ongoing divisions within the political opposition and the lack of a geographical base in Syria from which to work. As Josh Landis notes, the Syrian army certainly has some weaknesses – Landis points specifically to the effects of the sanctions – but it is unlikely that the opposition forces would be able to immediately defeat the military or to separate the Alawite-dominated institution from the government.

In other words, a violent, bloody, and drawn-out conflict is far more likely than an immediate end. Yezid Sayigh of the Carnegie Endowment aptly summed up the situation well when he wrote:

That the government’s days are numbered can no longer be in serious doubt, but just how many it has left remains an open question. The regime cannot win, but it certainly can resist and prolong the conflict.

The Chinese and Russian vetoes may have reduced the relevance of the United Nations (as Lynch argues) but considering the myriad complications, various interests and past events, the failure of the UNSC to condemn the Syrian government ultimately changes little in what has long-been a tragic situation. Rather, it is simply another step in the slow descent into civil war.

Photo from Voices from Russia