The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged malley
The pessimist's take on the Arab uprisings

Rob Malley and Hussein Agha, in a NYRB essay well worth reading for its many insights into the regional situation — most notably that it will continue to be extremely chaotic and could well result in a regional war — offer a grim prognostic about revolution:

Revolutions devour their children. The spoils go to the resolute, the patient, who know what they are pursuing and how to achieve it. Revolutions almost invariably are short-lived affairs, bursts of energy that destroy much on their pathway, including the people and ideas that inspired them. So it is with the Arab uprising. It will bring about radical changes. It will empower new forces and marginalize others. But the young activists who first rush onto the streets tend to lose out in the skirmishes that follow. Members of the general public might be grateful for what they have done. They often admire them and hold them in high esteem. But they do not feel they are part of them. The usual condition of a revolutionary is to be tossed aside.

The Arab world’s immediate future will very likely unfold in a complex tussle between the army, remnants of old regimes, and the Islamists, all of them with roots, resources, as well as the ability and willpower to shape events. Regional parties will have influence and international powers will not refrain from involvement. There are many possible outcomes—from restoration of the old order to military takeover, from unruly fragmentation and civil war to creeping Islamization. But the result that many outsiders had hoped for—a victory by the original protesters—is almost certainly foreclosed.

I think he's wrong, or rather than this is an unnecessarily pessimistic view of the long-term processes unleashed by what happened this year. Things could get very grim, especially in Yemen and Syria, but the picture is not one of universal despair.  

Malley and Harding on "Obamanichaeism"

It's not all black or white, you know

I will probably continue to be a terrible correspondent for another week, when I will be done traveling. In the meantime do take a look at Rob Malley and Peter Harling's piece in Foreign Affairs (subscription-only I'm afraid): Beyond Moderates and Militants: How to chart a new course in the Middle East. Much of it is, as the title suggests, a critique of a holdover of binary ideas about Middle East politics derived from the Cold War as well as Bush-like manicheaism. But they also make a good point about timing:

The Obama administration has shown some signs of adjustment. Conscious of the United States' declining credibility in the Middle East and of its inability to resolve crises independently of one another, Obama has sought to reinvigorate the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, reach out to Iran and Syria, and forsake the simplistic "war on terror" mentality inherited from the Bush administration. It has redefined U.S. national security doctrine to make room for a more multipolar world.
Indeed, Obama is pursuing policies that, had Bush implemented them during his administration, may well have worked. But the region has not stood still, and at the current pace of change, the United States risks making vital policy adjustments only after it is too late.
The Obama administration will push for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement but will likely recognize the importance of intra-Palestinian unity for that goal only after spending several more years playing Fatah against Hamas and only after differences between the two movements have hardened beyond repair. Washington is engaging with Damascus, but by postponing a serious, high-level strategic dialogue about Syria's future regional role in a post-peace-deal environment, it risks making it immeasurably more costly for Damascus to relax its ties with Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah. Similarly, Washington might formally accept Iran's right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes only after Tehran has reached the point of no return in its nuclear weapons program.

The Obama administration has shown some signs of adjustment. Conscious of the United States' declining credibility in the Middle East and of its inability to resolve crises independently of one another, Obama has sought to reinvigorate the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, reach out to Iran and Syria, and forsake the simplistic "war on terror" mentality inherited from the Bush administration. It has redefined U.S. national security doctrine to make room for a more multipolar world.Indeed, Obama is pursuing policies that, had Bush implemented them during his administration, may well have worked. But the region has not stood still, and at the current pace of change, the United States risks making vital policy adjustments only after it is too late.The Obama administration will push for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement but will likely recognize the importance of intra-Palestinian unity for that goal only after spending several more years playing Fatah against Hamas and only after differences between the two movements have hardened beyond repair. Washington is engaging with Damascus, but by postponing a serious, high-level strategic dialogue about Syria's future regional role in a post-peace-deal environment, it risks making it immeasurably more costly for Damascus to relax its ties with Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah. Similarly, Washington might formally accept Iran's right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes only after Tehran has reached the point of no return in its nuclear weapons program.

At bottom, Washington still sees the Middle East as divided between moderates and militants--an understanding that blinds it to much of what currently fuels the region's dynamics. After all, on issues deemed central to U.S. interests, Washington's nominal allies in the region often pursue objectives that are not aligned with the United States', and its foes sometimes promote goals compatible with Washington's. For example, even though Iran and Saudi Arabia are bitter enemies, both tend to view Iraq through a similar confessional prism (albeit taking different sides in the sectarian competition), while Washington's vision of Iraq as a nonsectarian state is closer to Syria's and Turkey's. Even so, when it comes to Iraq, the U.S. government's inclination is to condemn Iran and Syria while praising Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Israel's undeclared nuclear program, foot-dragging approach to peace, and often single-minded reliance on military means to resolve conflicts are hard to reconcile with Obama's intention to restore the United States' standing in the Arab and Muslim worlds. And as Bush quickly discovered and as his successor knows, the United States' democracy and human rights agenda finds few takers among friendly regimes while resonating with the Islamist parties Washington is loath to empower.

Regional actors simply do not fit into a recognizable moderate-versus-militant template. Syria, one of the Arab world's most secular countries, is also the one most closely aligned with militant Islamist movements. Hezbollah, a symbol of Shiite militancy, has adapted to Lebanon's political system, which, with its pluralistic confessional makeup, liberal economic leanings, and endemic corruption, defies the movement's self-proclaimed principles. One can be a secular, liberal Arab democrat and still be profoundly hostile to Washington and the West, just as one can be an ally of the West and find common cause with certain jihadist groups.

Do read the piece if you get the chance.

Links for 11.09.09 to 11.12.09
Report: Angelina Jolie planning to adopt child from Syria - Haaretz - Israel News | Jolie and Pitt thinking of adopting an Iraqi refugee baby in Syria. They also met with Bashar and his wife, apparently. United Colors of Adoption... this will cause a stir.
Israel & Palestine: Can They Start Over? - The New York Review of Books | Malley & Agha's latest, in which they criticize the two-state solution, criticize alternatives to it (notably one-state), and sketch out the alternative: a hudna, a long-term interim truce while work on fundamental questions is carried out. Not entirely convincing, too vague at times, but there's something interesting there nonetheless. I wish they could be more straightforward.
UN: Gaza needs construction material before winter - Yahoo! News | Even greater humanitarian crisis looming.
Palestinian borders could solve settlements row: Fatah - Yahoo! News | Muhammad Dahlan picks up Daniel Levy's line about deciding on borders. Worrying.
Israeli flights over Lebanon break resolution: UN - Yahoo! News | "UNITED NATIONS (AFP) – All Israeli military flights over Lebanon break a resolution aimed at ending the 2006 hostilities between the two neighbors, a UN envoy said Tuesday." So let's have the UN set up air defenses, then!
Abbas slams Israel on settlements at mass Arafat rally - Yahoo! News | Funny pic of Abbas alongside this story. Well he's shown he can have some balls, at least, and highlight the dismal failure of the Israelis and Americans on the settlement question.
Israel mulls draft refugee law - Yahoo! News | "JERUSALEM (AFP) – A draft law stipulating that any Middle East peace treaty must mention compensation for Jews forced to leave Arab states has passed a preliminary reading in the Israeli parliament, a spokesman said on Wednesday."
Gaza, Gilad Shalit, Hamas, and Israel : The New Yorker | Somewhat flawed piece by Lawrence Wright, but nice descriptions of the misery of Gaza. Too much Gilad Shalit for my taste.
Arab Reform Bulletin - Brotherhood Faces Leadership Challenge | Ibrahim al-Hudaiby about the MB's internal dispute and its need to institutionalize decision-making.
Memo From Riyadh - Influence of Egypt and Saudi Arabia Fades - NYTimes.com | An interesting story on Egypt and Saudi Arabia's dwindling relative power to influence regional affairs. Except I would not put Cairo and Riyadh in the same basket: Egypt is in absolute decline, Saudi in relative decline. Also interesting stuff on differences between the two on how to handle Syria.
6 Guantanamo detainees resettle in Palau Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | The absurdities of the war on terror: "KOROR, Palau (AP) - Six Chinese Muslims released from Guantanamo Bay but still wanted at home as separatists arrived Sunday on their new tropical island home of Palau after the tiny Pacific nation agreed to a U.S. request to resettle the men."
Géopolitique des médias arabes (1/2) : Rotana, mondialisation et normalisation | Culture et politique arabes | First post in a series of the geopolitics of Arab media. This one largely focuses on Kingdom Holdings and Saudi Prince al-Waleed bin Talal.
الرئيس جمال عبد الناصر، الصفحة الرئيسية | Gamal Abdel Nasser archives at the Alexandria Library.
In Turkey, fertile ground for creationism - washingtonpost.com | On Islamist creationists in Turkey.
Al-Ahram Weekly | Egypt | Obituary Amin Howeidi (1921-2009) Vexed, not villainous | Gamal Nkrumah's obituary of former Egyptian spy chief Amin Howeidy.
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