The Happy Arab News Service

Saturday, June 18, 2011

History is not about to repeat itself

History does not repeat itself except in the minds of those who do not know history

Khalil Gibran

The Arab Spring is frequently compared to the Berlin Wall, the Prague Spring and such events in Eastern Europe. By association it's exciting expectations of a similar outcome, namely, that liberal democracy and prosperity are on the verge to triumph in the Middle East. As one who both was exposed to the anti communist dissidence in Eastern Europe and is following closely the so called Arab Spring, let me state it in the most clear terms possible: The Arab Spring resembles East European anti Communist movements only to those who either have no idea what it was like in Eastern Europe, or have no idea what the Arab Spring is about, or both.

Basically, the prospects of the Arab Spring vary from country to country. The one that holds most promise in my view is Tunisia. Egypt is already on the border of hopelessness. The rest are disasters waiting to happen. In fact, Eastern Europe has also had very different transitions from the Communist rule. Not all of them were as inspirational as the Berlin Wall. In this sense, if the general Arab Spring resembles something, it's some kind of a hybrid between Yugoslavia, Romania and Kyrgyzstan. The last one is not exactly Eastern Europe but is illustrative as a Muslim former Soviet republic. And the hybrid example is not meant to say that the Arab Spring combines the best of the afore mentioned transitions, but rather their worst parts. From now on when I say Eastern Europe, it would mean by understanding only success stories such as Poland, the Baltic states or Czechoslovakia.

The first difference between the Arab Spring and Eastern Europe lies in the fact that the most impressive East European anti Communist uprisings did not happen as an act of desperation. It's not that people in those countries did not have expectations for a better economic future, or did not pin hopes on free market economy as a way to catch up with the West. But these uprisings were not carried out by hungry people who were driven to the edge by pervasive abuse by security forces. Eastern Europe was not starved or abused into rebellion. In many places there was a genuine and long standing popular longing for a more open and liberal regime.

That's why neither Eastern Europe was chasing after its former communist rulers the style of the Middle East where revolutions often look like tribal vendettas against the elites and ruling parties. In many East European countries Communist parties have reformed and their new reincarnations became part of the political landscape. There was simply not enough bitterness and petty vengeance in Eastern Europe to unleash paranoid witch hunts and settling of scores which are rapidly becoming the staple of Arab Springs in the Middle East.

Two, these anti Communist movements were just as much anti Communist as they were pro Western. I mean they were usually both to the same degree. Whole generations of East European dissidents grew on badly jammed broadcasts of the Voice of America and Radio Liberty. The readiness with which Eastern Europe takes part in US military missions abroad, Poland provided the third largest contingent of forces in Iraq, goes well beyond short term alliances of convenience. It reflects the genuine sense of strategic partnership and ideological affinity many East European nations feel towards the US as the leader of the Western World. To adopt the Western political model and to be integrated into the West was the same thing for the leaders of anti Communist movements in Eastern Europe. East European revolutionaries would have been unlikely guests on the Guardian or al-Jazeera sites.

Compared to Eastern Europe, the Arab Spring is blessed with a certain schizophrenic quality. On one hand, the revolutionaries basically want to adopt democracy, a model of society that originated, matured in and is promoted by the West. On the other hand, the bulk of revolutionaries remain deeply suspicious, if not outright hostile, to the West. The Western political model is good, but the West itself is bad, neocolonialist and imperialistic.

Shortly after the Arab Spring hit Egypt, Wikileaks published a series of leaks that revealed that the US was actually constantly pressuring Mubarak behind the scenes to liberalize the political system in Egypt. In fact, it transpired from the leaks that the US was funding and training Egyptian activists. These leaks even inspired certain conspiracy theories about America orchestrating the revolution in Egypt. It's noteworthy that these leaks were ignored or downplayed by the Egyptian opposition, even though they provided a perfect opportunity for both sides to mend their relations. The simple truth is that the Egyptian opposition, even the secular one, is simply not interested in such revelations because it shares the same paranoid anti Western mindset with the rest of the population.

One reason for this state of affairs is of course the simple fact that Eastern Europe may be Eastern, but it's still Europe. Another reason is that the West has changed since Eastern Europe. The Berlin Wall was facing the West of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, a very self confident and full of the sense of mission West. The Arab Spring was greeted by a very different, heavily demoralized and self hating West, which is crumbling economically and struggling to recover its sense of identity after decades of experiments with multiculturalism and other lunacies. Nevertheless, without a doubt the anti Western conspiratorial paranoia, which is an integral part of the Arab mentality in the Middle East, plays a role here as well.

Three. One thing that the whole Middle East and Libya in North Africa share with Yugoslavia and Kyrgyzia are impossible sectarian and tribal configurations and fragmentation. This makes creation of functional democratic societies in many countries impossible in principle. The Arab Spring is bound to make quite a few states disappear. Yet, it's not even this small technical detail that makes the Arab Spring so unlikely to transition to the Arab Summer. What the East European post Communist economic success stories like Poland and Estonia shared with each other was the elevated degree of enthusiasm for free markets and supply side economics. In some countries post Communist economic shock therapies were carried out with passion. There was an ideological counter reaction against Communism that in many quarters made the word socialism socially unacceptable.

The Arab Spring, on the other hand, is in part a reaction to the pains of the transition to market economy initiated by the Arab regimes during the last two decades. In some countries, the transition was obviously mismanaged and the reforms only partially implemented, but this is beyond the point. Market reforms are usually painful and it can take up to 2-3 years into the transition for the economy to finally take off. In the Arab World the transition to market economy was exacerbated by a simple demographic fact. Economically and socially the Arab World is currently reliving the peak of its demographic explosion that happened 20-30 year ago. As that generation is currently entering the labor market and searching for housing, the system frays. The pain, however, came to be habitually associated with the reforms and corruption. In the Middle East the notion of free market does not enjoy any particular popularity in revolutionary circles. But re-nationalization of already privatized industries can be quite a hit.

It's this anti capitalist and anti market populist streak of the Arab Spring that makes it so prone to turn into fiasco. The Arab World can afford no populist adventures right now because the demographic, and in some places plain Malthusian, pressures would quickly make the society explode and disintegrate. The primary reason that Tunisia is not as hopeless as the rest lies in the fact that its demographic situation is better. The number of new entrees on the labor market should soon start declining. The rest of the Arab World has at least another decade of pain to go through. No socialist shortcuts are possible here. But expectations of such shortcuts are very much what the Arab Spring is about.

To put it short, history is unlikely to repeat itself and it's not the Prague Spring which is currently on rampage around the Middle East. I am sure this should be quite a devastating piece of news for those people who were foolish enough to let themselves get hooked on the notion of history endlessly going through the same boring routines. As a gesture of good will on my part, I invite these people instead to contemplate the image attached below. It's not about the Berlin Wall coming down in Cairo, but nevertheless it's still something which is definitely trying to repeat itself.

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Proclaimed un monstruooo muy monstruoso at 5:27 PM


Monday, June 6, 2011

Roses in the Desert

Update: Vogue removed the infamous eulogy of Asma al-Assad from its site. No worry. Use this link.

The Closet Reformer

April 05, 2007 | Zeina Karam, Associated Press

DAMASCUS -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi challenged the White House on Middle East policy yesterday, meeting with Syria's leader and insisting "the road to Damascus is a road to peace."

Source: The Boston Globe

April 8, 2010

John Kerry: Syria is an essential player in bringing peace and stability to the region... I am very committed to working on a continued effort to achieve progress in our bilateral relationship.

Source: AP via Haaretz

March 27, 2011
Interview With Bob Schieffer of CBS's Face the Nation

Hillary Clinton: There’s a different leader in Syria now. Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer.

Source: U.S. State Department

The good old days and the good old friends - Secretary Clinton and Mutassim, one of Gaddafi's kids, otherwise Libyan National Security Adviser

By BASSEM MROUE, Associated Press – Tue Apr 26

BEIRUT – Gunfire reverberated Tuesday in the southern Syrian city of Daraa where the dead still lay unclaimed in the streets a day after a brutal government crackdown on the popular revolt against President Bashar Assad, residents said.

. . .

A Daraa resident said on Tuesday that "dead bodies were still in the streets because no one has been able to remove them."

"We are being subjected to a massacre," the man screamed over the telephone as gunfire crackled in the background. "Children are being killed. We have been without electricity for three days. We have no water."

Making the World a Better Place

(AP) – Mar 30, 2011

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syrian President Bashar Assad blamed "conspirators" Wednesday for an extraordinary wave of dissent against his authoritarian rule, but he failed to lift the country's despised emergency law or offer any concessions in his first speech since the protests began nearly two weeks ago.

Within hours of Assad's speech, residents of the port city of Latakia said troops opened fire during a protest by about 100 people — although it was not immediately clear whether they were firing in the air or at the protesters. The residents asked that their names not be published for fear of reprisals.

Assad said Wednesday that Syria is facing "a major conspiracy" that aims to weaken this country of 23 million.

Pity a dictator who is running short on excuses to keep shooting people. Fortunately, there are always well intentioned folks around who are only happy to oblige. Perfect timing, Assange!

April 18, 2011 | Gary Thomas

Citing leaked cables released by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, The Washington Post newspaper reported Monday that the United States funneled at least $6 million to the Movement for Justice and Development, a London-based umbrella group of Syrian exiles. The report quotes diplomatic cables as saying some of the funds went to TV Barada, a satellite TV channel also based in London that began beaming anti-government programming to Syria in 2009.

. . .

Murhaf Jouejati, a Syrian-born analyst at the Middle East Institute, says just the news of the funding will give Syrian President Bashar Assad ammunition to try to discredit the growing anti-government movement and stem the protests gripping the country.

"I think that it is significant in as far as the Syrian government is probably going to use this in order to show its people that, yes, not only is this unrest foreign-backed, but foreign-sponsored," said Jouejati.

Source: VOANews

Watching Human Rights in the Middle East

They say the IMF missed the Arab revolution with its upbeat reports about the economies of Tunisia and Egypt. But what do they have to say about this?

So What Was Human Rights Watch Up to in 2010?
Alana Goodman 01.12.2011

In 2010, HRW published 51 documents on “Israel and the Occupied Territories,” more than on any other country in the Middle East. Compare that to the organization’s research on some of the most notorious human rights abusers — it published only 44 documents on Iran, 34 on Egypt, and 33 on Saudi Arabia.

The group overlooks some of the worst human rights abuses in closed countries, like Syria and Libya and Algeria. NGO Monitor writes that “One of three major reports on Israel in 2010 consisted of 166 pages, while ten years of research on human rights violations in Syria produced a 35-page report.” (!!!)

Source: Commentary Magazine

Banner from the Human Rights Watch site

The Fool-in-Chief and the Brotherhood of Arabs

Fri Apr 8

CAMP MAREZ, Iraq (AFP) – US military action in Libya did not set a precedent for future American intervention in other Middle Eastern countries facing uprisings or unrest, Pentagon chief Robert Gates said on Friday.

"What has made Libya unique is first of all a request, which is unprecedented in my experience, of the Arab League actually asking for an intervention in the Middle East, to take on an Arab government mistreating its own people," the US defence secretary said.

Source: AFP via Yahoo News

The Arab League - The ultimate source of international legitimacy

Posted By Colum Lynch | Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Last week, ambassadors from the Arab League issued a letter supporting Damascus's bid for a seat on the Human Rights Council (HRC). The U.N.'s Asia Group had already announced in January its endorsement of Syria's candidacy for the rights council, and the group plans to push for a vote in the General Assembly next month....

"Syria's campaign for a seat on the Human Rights Council is a slap in the face to the victims of the current crackdown, and an embarrassment to those who have supported its candidacy," said Philippe Bolopion, the U.N. director for Human Rights Watch. "By supporting Syria's candidacy, the Asian Group and the Arab League risk emboldening Syria's bloody crackdown and making a mockery of the Human Rights Council."

Source: Foreign Policy

Posted By David Bosco | Thursday, April 28, 2011

Is this the same Arab League whose support of a Libya no-fly zone was treated by the Obama administration and the West generally as legitimizing international intervention there? Could it be that this regional organization was in fact not acting on high principle--or motivated by the "responbility to protect"--but was instead simply seizing an opportunity to skewer the hated Gaddafi? It's safe to say that the Arab League's brief moment of being treated as Fount of International Legitimacy and Gateway to a Security Council Resolution has ended. Now it's back to just being the Arab League.

Source: Foreign Policy

A Rose in the Desert


23.04.2011 @ 10:33 CET

. . .

"Given the level of violence, the EU should impose targeted sanctions against key figures in the regime. Visa bans, asset freezes - no more business as usual, no more glossy spreads in Vogue about Louboutin shoes," Houry said.

Source: EUobserver

Asma al-Assad: A Rose in the Desert
by Joan Juliet Buck | photographed by James Nachtwey

Asma al-Assad, Syria’s dynamic first lady, is on a mission to create a beacon of culture and secularism in a powder-keg region—and to put a modern face on her husband’s regime.

. . .

The 35-year-old first lady’s central mission is to change the mind-set of six million Syrians under eighteen, encourage them to engage in what she calls “active citizenship.” “It’s about everyone taking shared responsibility in moving this country forward, about empowerment in a civil society. We all have a stake in this country; it will be what we make it.”

. . .

The presidential family lives surrounded by neighbors in a modern apartment in Malki. On Friday, the Muslim day of rest, Asma al-Assad opens the door herself in jeans and old suede stiletto boots, hair in a ponytail, the word happiness spelled out across the back of her T-shirt. At the bottom of the stairs stands the off-duty president in jeans—tall, long-necked, blue-eyed. A precise man who takes photographs and talks lovingly about his first computer, he says he was attracted to studying eye surgery “because it’s very precise, it’s almost never an emergency, and there is very little blood.”

The Core Issue

JANUARY 31, 2011
Interview With Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

President Assad: I am not talking here on behalf of the Tunisians or the Egyptians. I am talking on behalf of the Syrians. It is something we always adopt. We have more difficult circumstances than most of the Arab countries but in spite of that Syria is stable. Why? Because you have to be very closely linked to the beliefs of the people. This is the core issue.

Source: WSJ

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