I have suspended writing new posts for this blog. I watch the Republican presidential debates and listen to the debate about bombing Iran and am speechless. There is hardly anything left to say.
Yesterday, Egyptian security forces raided about a dozen NGO offices. It appears the affected NGOs worked on human rights or democracy promotion. At least two prominent US-funded NGOs, ‘loosely affiliated’ with the Democratic and Republican parties, were targeted.
Everything about this NGO raid hits sour or contradictory notes:
There are three plausible explanations behind the raid:
1. The military council is thumbing its nose at the US, a benefactor that contributes $1.5 billion/year to the military’s existence, sending a signal for the US to butt out of Egyptian politics or at least stop imposing itself as a referee between the military and competing political interests.
2. The military once again took dramatic action with little thought, foresight or purpose in an attempt to frighten its domestic opposition.
3. The NGO raid is purely a diversion, like the Israeli Embassy attack by soccer thugs or the ‘clash’ between Christians and Muslims this summer. Nobody in a targeted NGO is going to be killed. A few Egyptians, though no foreign nationals, might be arrested in connection with the raids. That would compare with the thousands of activists jailed by the regime since last Spring.
It’s in the Generals’ interests to focus world opinion on a relatively soft ball conflict (that they can easily resolve) and away from the repressive tactics used by SCAF against pro-democracy groups as well as SCAF’s anti-democratic plans for writing a new constitution.
I’ll take the third. These NGOs are no more a threat to today’s military council’s leadership than they were to Mubarak yesterday. The only real threats to the military council is the potential of democratic forces to effectively use upcoming elections and claim legitimacy for a new government. Forcing the State Department to respond to the NGO raids takes the spotlight off State’s ineffective demand that SCAF hold early elections and a quickly complete a full turnover of power to civilian authority.
BTW, the US government shouldn’t be funding ‘democracy institutes’ and other such groups in foreign countries. Period. Beginning with the post WW2 Italian elections, the CIA poured huge amounts of clandestine funding to determine the outcome of elections in both the developed and developing world. Such funding only gives credibility to the Assad’s and Qaddafi’s who accuse home-grown protest movements of being controlled by foreign forces.
Quite frankly, I’d also like to know what ‘democracy promotion’ programs the US government carries out, as well as why and how.
Thousands of Egyptian women took to the streets Tuesday to protest their brutal beatings and repression at the hands of the military council. Historians had to look back almost a century to find any precedent for the rally for and by women in opposition to the SCAF governing council.
So far, at least, I haven’t heard of any response from the US government regarding the escalating violence and suppression by the SCAF, or military council, in Egypt. Demonstrators at Tahrir Square now call for the military council to step down and let the newly elected (last round of voting in January) Parliament choose an interim civilian government to oversee the drafting of a new constitution.
The violence is some of the worst of the last year, as the video below shows. And the state-run media, despite scenes like these, are claiming the demonstrators are rioting and killing each other (!). Egyptian propagandists are creating the same ‘blame the demonstrators’ narrative that Mubarak tried to derail democratic demands.
Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood, is not participating in the demonstrations but focusing on another strong showing in the third round of voting. But both the Tahrir groups and the Brotherhood are demanding that a civilian government, not the military council, draft the new constitution.
The timing of the military crackdown is skillful. Knowing that the Brotherhood would likely focus on elections, they have viciously confronted Tahrir groups temporarily isolated from allies.
Below is one of the most graphic, explicit videos to come out of Egypt since Mubarak thugs rode camels and horses through Tahrir Square last winter.
In some ways, Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street merchant whose business was confiscated by the Tunisian police, is like Rosa Parks. Both were apolitical citizens living under oppressive conditions. Both had enough of the humiliation and injustice that followed them since birth.
Both took one dramatic step against the local power structure. Parks refused to move to the back of a segregated bus and unknowingly sparked the 1950s civil rights movement in the US.
Mr. Bouazizi set himself afire, a more dramatic protest against an Arab autocracy that ruled on behalf of its elite supporters and against the millions of Tunisians trying to make a living in a society stacked against them.
Comparing the two, of course, is somewhat ham-fisted. A modern, developed, democratic country is far different from a post-colonial Norther African state that achieved formal independence from France a few decades ago. Refusing to move to the back of a bus is not the same as self-immolation. Yet the actions of both – as the most ordinary of citizens in their society – changed the worlds they lived in.
This week’s article in Foreign Policy by Hernando De Soto does justice to the martyrdom of Bouazizi. It does justice to the Arab Spring. The hundreds of millions of Arabs who rallied for democratic change over the last year weren’t inspired by politicians and elites but by the brave and desperate act of someone they didn’t even know, a no-body, just as Rosa Parks sparked an out pouring that no US politician could
This article demonstrates what’s at stake in American foreign policy.
After the largest and one of the most deadly Friday afternoon demonstrations against the Assad government, the death toll has reached 5,000. The Syrian opposition has increased its demand that the Arab League take action against Assad, including sanctions. The League announced it would meet Wednesday, call for Assad to stop violence and begin negotiations and push for him to allow League representatives into Syria to monitor the situation and ensure compliance.
In the meantime, Russia offered its own Security Council resolution calling for all parties to cease violence and begin negotiations. Neither asks for sanctions or foreign help. Russian and China vetoed anti-Assad resolutions proposed by the European Union in October.
Assad has simply blown off all attempts by the Arab League to stop the violent clashed, first agreeing to a cease-fire and then clamping down on demonstrators the next day. But the Syrian economy is hurting and Turkey, its neighbor and one-time ally, has even hinted about sending troops into Syria to prevent a wave of expected refugees entering Turkey as the situation worsens.
Members of the opposition and international communities are split on whether Russia’s proposal marks a real step on Russia’s part to rein in Assad or is window dressing. If Assad goes down, Russia will emerged substantially weakened in its influence across the region.
Once again, blogs are on fire. This week, Andrew Sullivan, the maestro of the blogsphere, endorsed Ron Paul for the GOP nomination. (He still supports Obama for the general elections.) Others, including other media, criticized Fox News for their condescending and unfair coverage of Paul’s campaign, and Fox ended up giving Paul an unusual amount of time in this week’s debate to explain his ideas.
Jonathan Chait is astounded that many left-of-center politicos or pundits so appreciate a man whom he chronicles as promoting some serious racist views. Frum blames everything sectarian about today’s GOP on the libertarian trend that Paul represents.
Wow! The ‘intellectuals’ -both right and left – seem obsessed with Paul. Why? After all, Paul had an intense and vocal following in 2008 which got him into the GOP debates as a sid-show.
This year is different. He may even win Iowa and has shown stamina in other states leading up to the primaries. More importantly, at a time when it’s downright embarrassing to listen to what comes out of the mouths of each GOP candidate for the presidential nomination, Paul is at least consistent, humble and genuine. This in itself is attracking attention.
But Paul’s real contribution to American politics in 2011 is his uncompromising anti-interventionist foreign policy framework.
In 2008, Obama held out the promise of the new path for US foreign policy. He was against the Iraq war and pledged to ‘talk to’ enemies like Iran and to solve the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
Obama instead has proved a ‘realist’ without the scope and vision that once defined realism nor does he offer an integral, unique vision arising from his own views.
Here comes Paul. The Iraq war was a huge waste of money. So are all the other costs of America policing of the world. Iran isn’t a threat; it doesn’t even have the flying ability to reach the US. In fact, Iran reacts to what it sees as American military moves all around it, primarily American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, but this summer NATO actions in Libya, with threats against its ally, Syria. Iraq is in defensive, not offensive, mode.
Israel is more a problem than an asset for the United States. Why should the US stay involved in the ‘peace process’? Let them figure it out on their own.
Paul is the only politician within the Democrats or Republicans who can and does consistently advocate a new way of looking at the US role in the world. His world view counters establishment ‘realism’, ‘neoconservatism’ , ‘liberal imperialism’, an ill-define and muffled ‘Obama’ doctrine and other theories so in vogue in America since it became a Great Power after WW2 – a phenomenal rise for a country not yet 200 years old!
Paul appealed to strong sentiments within the American electorate in last night’s GOP debate. Why are we trying to change the world: we have too many problems here. All the money going into war would be better spent here.
Paul ignores ‘popular’ intellectual discussions about, say, Iran. He offers up a completely different world view. It’s no longer ‘should we have given more support to the Green movement’ or ‘how close are the Mullahs to possessing a nuclear bomb’?
It’s ‘why are we in this conflict with Iran in the first place’? Maybe Iran is reacting to the Anglo-American coup against their democratically-elected government in 1953; the forced installation of a brutal Shah; support for Iraq during the Iraq/Iran war; the rejection of Iran’s olive branch to the US after 9/11?
I voted for Obama because I thought he would put American foreign policy on a new track. I thought he might actually do something with Iran on the same level that Nixon did with China. But that takes skill, patience and sometimes years of preparation, not to mention a clear understanding on both sides of what each gets out of it. It didn’t happen.
I thought Obama would actually work behind the scenes for a regional solution to Iraq and Afghanistan. Deals with Assad. Deals with Saudi Arabia. That did not take off.
Paul dismisses all that. As a candidate he asks: could America help build an international order based on trade that could move beyond the balance of power politics that has been the foundation of international relations for several centuries.
I may be reading too much into Paul’s views as well as Obama’s. But the world went from a regional balance of power framework for understanding foreign policy relations, into a two superpowers framework, and now into something variously described as a’unipolar’ model, a ‘multi-polar’ world or a ‘hyper power’ framework. If not these, then the foundation is ‘American decline’ and paralysis among everyone else.
This is too much, too fast. Someone who can get the stage has to advocate for a competing world view. That wasn’t Obama. At least for a moment, it’s Paul
In the first round of parliamentary elections, the Muslim Brotherhood is expected to win 40% of the vote. The shocker comes from the arch conservative Salafis who may win almost a quarter, followed by almost as many votes for the liberal, secular forces.
In case anyone hasn’t heard the Muslim Brotherhood promised a democratic, representative parliament, not only distancing itself from the Salafis but saying it had always thought it would form a coalition government with the liberal parties. The Brotherhood renounced violence decades ago and does not want to impose Islamic law on the nation.
In another claim to its stake, the Brotherhood said:
…that Parliament should try to wrest the power to name a new prime minister from Egypt’s interim military rulers — an assertion of authority that the military council has so far rebuffed. But on Thursday the party also reiterated, as it has throughout the campaign, that it hoped to form a unity government with the more liberal parties in Parliament. The elections, it said in another statement, “will most likely lead to a balanced Parliament that reflects the various components of the Egyptian public.”
A united front within Parliament between the highly organized Brotherhood and liberal allies would be a formidable challenge to the ruling military council, SCAF
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