The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged strikes
More on Syria

Damascenes were clearly taking the threat of U.S. bombardment seriously this past week. As the UN CW investigators were leaving for Lebanon, Syrian state television replaced its usual diet of fashion and food puff pieces with talk show coverage on whether or not the U.S. would strike, as well as emergency broadcasting information (such as whether or not bakeries would be kept open).

But after airing Obama's speech in which he announced he would seek Congressional approval first, the tone of Syrian state newscasters changed to a much more buoyant mood, as did government officials' pronouncements.

Then, the army reportedly renewed artillery strikes against rebel positions near Damascus.

The President's speech, combined with the telegraphing of U.S. plans beforehand defanged the underlying political message that operations like these are meant to convey: there will be more, much more, of this unless you agree to our terms.

The larger problem with that kind of message, though, is that the U.S. does not seem to have any idea what terms it will dictate to Assad. Forty-eight hours to leave his bunker? Accept a 100,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission? New diplomatic talks fully involving the Iranians? A no-fly zone?

For Syrians, the debate has made little difference on the the ground since the CW attacks took place. Many activists, bystanders, and fighters will not lose sleep over how squeaky clean U.S. motives are or are not if a two-day cruise missile bombardment gives Assad a moment of pause (or leads to something bigger) as his forces grind down rebel-held towns.

While some activists fear that further intervention will only worsen the conflict:

"In the course of the revolutionary process, many other actors have also appeared on the scene to work against the struggle for self-determination. Iran and its militias, with the backing of Russia, came to the aid of the regime, to ensure the Syrian people would not be given this right. The jihadis of the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham and others, under the guise of “fighting the Assad regime,” worked against this right as well. And I feel the same way about any Western intervention."

Others are at the end of their ropes:

"it’s not like they’re unconscious of the pros of nonviolent resistance that they began revolting with, … or don’t know about what amerikkan military occupation means after years of hosting traumatized iraqi refugees … it’s a matter of desperate, last resort, life or death yearning for some kind of international reaction, some where, some how."

Despite the promised influx of foreign military assistance, there is little evidence that all of this promised aid has brought the rebels much further than where they have gotten themselves (with some help from the Saudis and Jordanians) in northern Syria, and near Damascus itself, where the CW attack(s) took place.

It is likely that the Syrian regime will frown and bear the cruise missiles just as it has on the occasions this past year when the IAF attacked targets of opportunity. Lebanon is the country most likely to pay a new price in such a scenario of escalation - as Syrians continue to pay an ongoing, very heavy price.

The reason Iran and Russia hold an advantage in this regard is because they have no compunctions about supporting the Assad regime, which is not the case with the rebels, given that there is no comparable rebel government to support, and US allies in the region are worried about further spillover, don't trust each other (Saudi Arabia and Qatar in particular) or some of the rebels themselves (Turkey and Israel especially). Iran, Russia, Hezbollah, and Assad (and Assad's domestic supporters) want the regime to win, to stay in power. The alternative to that is not agreed upon by any of the other non-Syrian players - most of whom would prefer the U.S. do most of the work for them, while the U.S. itself would prefer the "good" fighters sort things out and take care of the "bad" fighters themselves.

What we are seeing here in the Western capitals are the aluminum tube and yellowcake chickens coming home to roost. Everyone has Iraq on their mind. While it is the use of WMDs that has prompted the impetus for direct action, it is precisely because WMDs are being cited that the debate has led to the UK's stated abstention from a future attack and to President Obama seeking political cover from Congress.

Right now, the way the Administration is putting its foot forward makes clear that the strike (if it happens) will be more like President Clinton's bombing of the pharmaceutical factory in Sudan in 1998 than his air war over Kosovo in 1999, or even the NATO campaign in Libya two years ago.

Kosovo is a model under discussion in the news, but it is not the one this Administration appears to be considering. The ceasefire terms in Kosovo that ended the 78-day bombing campaign included the deployment of 50,000 peacekeepers. Intervening was a multi-year, multi-national deployment that required setting up checkpoints, monitoring disarmament, and guarding IDP camps with the implied threat that this force's existence presented to the Serbian regime. Doing something similar in Syria would require an undertaking on par with the Occupation of Iraq, or bigger.

The Administration is having a hard time ignoring the "red line" Obama declared a year ago on chemical weapons - but it is now qualifying its promise that it "will" take action as "should" and "can" take action. No Western power has hinted, either through leaks or public declarations, it is up for much beyond punitive strikes and arms/training missions via Jordan.

PostsPaul Muttersyria, strikes
Beinin on Egypt's workers

Joel Beinin has a new paper out at Carnegie on the labor movement in Egypt, his field of expertise for something like three decades at least now. He writes:

[W]orkers were quick to mobilize in the early stages of the groundswell that eventually unseated Hosni Mubarak, and they deserve more credit for his ouster than they typically receive. Soon after the uprising began, workers violated ETUF’s legal monopoly on trade union organization and formed the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU)—the first new institution to emerge from the revolt. Labor mobilization continued at an unprecedented level during 2011 and early 2012, and workers established hundreds of new, independent enterprise-level unions. They also secured a substantially higher minimum wage.

Yet, though the labor movement has made headway, problems persist. New unions face funding difficulties and the independent labor movement is internally divided. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF)—the ultimate power in Egypt since Mubarak’s demise—and ETUF have both repeatedly asserted their power to oppose independent unions and have scored some successes. The movement has a very limited presence in the emerging institutions of the post-Mubarak state and is thus left without much leverage to fend off attacks from its political opponents.

Going forward, the independent labor movement should consider looking beyond street protests over immediate grievances, where it has achieved its greatest successes, and begin training enterprise-level leaderships and forging political coalitions with sympathetic sections of the intelligentsia. Independent trade unions remain the strongest nationally organized force confronting the autocratic tendencies of the old order. If they can solidify and expand their gains, they could be an important force leading Egypt toward a more democratic future.

Timely reading considering a recent upsurge in labor actions across Egypt — in CairoMahalla al-KubraBeni SuefMarsa Matruh and elsewhere — and those are just from today. (via the two leading sources of Egypt labor info on Twitter, @3arabawy and @egystrikes.

Links for 08.22.09 to 08.30.09
Eric Hobsbawm's On Empire: when Hobsbawm writes, Angry Arab reads carefully | I just read this book and completely agree with Angry Arab's praise.
Global BDS Movement | Website of the Boycott - Divestment - Sanctions movement.
How settlements in the West Bank are creating a new reality, brick by brick | World news | The Guardian | Good story on the settlements by Rory McCarthy.
Boycott Israel -- | An Israeli's call.
Privatization by other means: How the Public Transport sector was “murdered” at 3arabawy | How five years ago, eager to justify the privatization of public sector transport, the government stopped making spare parts available for Cairo's buses. Outrageous and worthy of more digging.
Important Film | A cartoon for children against sexual harassment.
Israeli watchdog sees no settlement freeze | "The construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank is continuing 'as usual', a group reported, despite the Israeli government's announcement that it has stopped initiating new housing projects."
Ramadan under siege « In Gaza | On the pauperization of Gaza: there is food, because of the tunnels, but only for the few who can afford it.
Mehdi Karoubi, un mollah atypique et réformateur, devenu le porte-parole de la contestation en Iran - Asie-Pacifique - Le | On the other reformist candidate in Iran.
مدونة محمد بن عبد الكريم الخطابي | A new blog dedicated to the Moroccan anti-colonial hero Abdel Krim.

Links for 08.18.09 to 08.19.09
THE CIA, SIBERIA AND THE $5M BAR BILL - New York Post | Funny story about a weird CIA operation to buy Russian choppers for use in Afghanistan, corruption, etc.
Some of Obama's Actions Linked to Anti-Semitism - Special Report w/ Bret Baier - | Israeli minister says Obama is anti-Semite. Does the word "anti-Semite" mean anything anymore?
EGYPT: Union Eyes the Silver Bullet - IPS | A nice detailed story on the property tax collectors by Cam McGrath, interviewing our own Hossam.
Egypt's Next Strongman | Foreign Policy | My piece on Omar Suleiman.
Mubarak on the Potomac | The Cable | Laura Rozen wonders whether the timing of the Mubarak visit, during a dead time in DC, isn't convenient to both sides who don't want a public airing out of democracy and governance issues -- for the Egyptians it lowers the profile, for Obama it avoids scrutiny on rights.

Links for 08.17.09 to 08.18.09
Back to Business as usual | Hozz in DC, triumphant.
Michele Dunne - Standing Up to Mubarak | Dunne has been one of the strongest voices among DC think-tankers shining a spotlight on the degradation of Egyptian politics and the problem posed by succession for US interests. Here she calls on Obama to voice strong concern about the succession process. I'll write more about this.
Huckabee defies Obama | To think I once thought Huckabee was funny. But apparently he backs settlements and thinks Palestinians should go and get a country "elsewhere." Not amusing at all, Mr Failed Chat-Show Host.
Middle East Diary | Rush transcript of Mubarak on Charlie Rose | Hannah has the goods. The man is obsessed with stability - he says it 14 times.
Egypt labor strikes point to desperate conditions -- | I wonder what this company's profit margin is: "They were told to be patient; salaries would rise and conditions improve. The men breathe phosphates, ammonia and other toxins six days a week. One died in a machine accident. Five were informed by doctors that exposure to chemicals has left them sterile."