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JAPAN’S MULTIPLE DISASTERS – NUCLEAR ENERGY PROTESTS IN JAITAPUR – Pages 10 -11
APRIL 2011 N o 1104
THERE ARE NOW NO MIDDLE EASTERN CERTAINTIES
MOHAMMED KACIMI – From the series
‘Le Temps des conteurs’ (1994)
No good choices
The democratic Arab revolts are redrawing political, diplomatic and ideological boundaries in the Middle East. Repression in Libya threatened this dynamic process, and we do not know where the UN-approved actions of western forces in support of the Libyan rebels will lead y SERGE HALIMI
Even a broken watch tells the right time twice a day. So a UN Security Council resolution authorising the use of force against Libya is not necessarily wrong just because it was a US, French and UK initiative. Unarmed rebels facing a reign of terror may have to seek the assistance of an international force; preoccupied with their own sufferings, they will not refuse help just because the force may be deaf to appeals from other sufferers (for example, in Palestine). They may even forget that the alliance is better known for repression than aid.
But reasons that make sense to Libyan rebels in extreme danger cannot justify yet another western war on Arab land. Intervention by Nato member states is not an acceptable way to topple Muammar Gaddafi. If intervention seems the obvious solution – insofar as we are required to choose between western bombardment and the crushing of the Libyan uprising – that is only because other solutions, such as a joint intervention by UN, Egyptian or pan-Arab forces, have been dismissed.
Going by past record, it is impossible to believe the generous motives for sending in western troops that are currently being claimed. In fact, it is hard to believe that any state anywhere would spend money and deploy forces to achieve democratic goals. And recent history shows that battles fought for those goals may have widely acclaimed initial success, but what comes after is chaotic, more dangerous and less spectacular. The capitals of Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq fell years ago, yet the fighting goes on inside those countries.
The Libyans would have preferred, like their Tunisian and Egyptian neighbours, to end
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Is this an Arab spring?
Those who rose in revolt this year, whether successful, stalled or repressed, know what they want, socially, politically and economically. But they may not be able to get it
By Georges Corm
Georges Corm is an economist and historian of the Middle East, and author most recently of Le ProcheOrient éclaté, Gallimard, and Le Nouveau gouvernement du monde, La Découverte, both Paris, 2010
Mohammed Bouazizi’s suicide in a small town in Tunisia last December, a desperate political protest, marked the return of the people, a force that vanished from the Arab political stage decades ago. Since his death, the will of the people has been expressed on the placards of hundreds of thousands of demonstrators inTunis, Cairo, Baghdad, Manama, Benghazi, Sanaa, Rabat and Algiers. What had previously, and disdainfully, been called the “Arab street” is now “the people”, with all social classes and ages represented. Their demands are simple and clear, without ideological jargon or any split along partisan or religious lines. The slogans sum up their demands in plain, direct language. They want political freedom, free elections, an end to corruption and no more security apparatus; they also want social dignity, employment and a living wage.
Is this an Arab spring? The Arab world has waited a long time since the last one: in 1956, Egypt’s charismatic leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, who then symbolised resistance and anti-imperialism, was the victor in a clash with British and French colonial forces which, with Israel, opposed him during the Suez crisis. The post-Suez era abruptly ended when the Israelis defeated the Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian armies in 1967; Nasser died prematurely in 1970. Between 1975 and 1990, international attention was mostly paid to Lebanon, which had descended into chaos and violence, and bristled with armed militias, foreign armies and Israeli occupiers. Other bloody conflicts followed, notably in Algeria and Iraq, and regimes were empowered to behave in more authoritarian ways because they claimed to be bulwarks of political stability. The dread of going the way of Lebanon, and later Iraq, became ubiquitous.
Islamic identity-based ideologies replaced secular, anti-imperialist nationalism. They stemmed from the very active promotion of Salafism, backed by the oil-producing Gulf monarchies, especially Saudi Wahhabism. Arab nationalism was accused of being the source of all evils and pan-Islamic solidarity touted as the panacea. That solidarity is what the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) attempted to realise in the 1970s. It was created under the leadership of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and eclipsed in importance the Non-Aligned Movement as well as the League of Arab States, riven with infighting. By the end of the 1970s, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan succeeded in recruiting some Arab youth for the jihad against Soviet troops in Afghanistan, a jihad that later moved to Bosnia, then Chechnya and finally throughout the Caucasus. Part of this movement became takfiri, operating against fellow Muslims judged apostates. Their intellectual hero was Sayyid Qutb (1), their military one Osama bin Laden.
The Iranian revolution’s identity-based ideology also had an impact on the Arab world. It was very different from Wahhabism; it was Shia and adopted some modern constitutional principles. It claimed to be heir to the antiimperialism and socialism of the previous era, but used the language of Islam, and was virulently anti-Zionist. Saddam Hussein’s IraqIran war, which began in 1980, was meant to reduce Iran’s new influence on the Middle East, and became a major issue with effects that have lasted until now. It led to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, and the liberation of Kuwait by a western military coalition; and, in 2003, to the US invasion of Iraq, after which the country violently disintegrated, with endemic corruption and a retreat into conflict between communities.
The complications of religious identity created strong tensions in Arab countries, the most extreme being in Algeria between 1991 and 2000. Throughout the Arab world, the spectre of Islamism strengthened the powerful and made their police forces omnipotent. European states and the US were happy to support this. The spectacular 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington in 2001 by Bin Laden and al-Qaida were an even greater diversion, strengthening regimes described as “moderate”, as their foreign policy accorded with US and European wishes and fears, and they refrained from criticising Israeli violence against the Palestinians and Lebanese. The sole focus of western diplomacy became the Iranian-Syrian axis, which the US regarded as rebellious and supportive of resistance movements against Israel – Hizbullah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine. In this dark and frozen landscape, who would have predicted popular revolts on the scale of 2011?
Continued on page 6
inside this issue Privatising the national wealth: Arab regimes under fire Page 3 Dislodging Gaddafi: only rebellion could loosen his hold on power Page 4 Morocco: can the king lead his people to a negotiated reform process? Page 6 A history of violence: not all of Kosovo’s bodies have been counted Page 8
US: unchecked military deployment does not mean security Page 12 A more perfect union: Wisconsin’s battle over workers’ rights Page 13 China’s economy is on the up, but will the wealth trickle down? Page 14 Turning the tide: Venetians take action against modernity and decay Page 16