Bahrain's Sunni Awakening

by Justin Gengler | published January 17, 2012

Bahrain’s bout with political unrest is nearing its one-year anniversary. Though there are multiple parties to the protracted conflict, analysts continue to focus almost exclusively on a single dyad, Sunni vs. Shi‘i. To some, the ongoing mobilization of Bahraini Shi‘a since February 14, 2011 is a continuation of a decades-long struggle for basic social reform. To others, it is an opportunistic attempt at wholesale takeover of the country, supported in spirit if not in deed by foreign sympathizers. By either of these readings, the heart of the matter in Bahrain is the standoff between the Sunni state and the Shi‘i-led opposition. Many see the revolt on this small island as but a microcosm of the competition for regional dominance between the Arab Gulf monarchies and Iran, as well as their respective great power patrons.

Sightings of the Egyptian Deep State

by Issandr El Amrani | published January 1, 2012

The turbulence that has hit Egypt since mid-November seems, at first glance, mostly a testament to the poor performance of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) in handling the transition away from the rule of Husni Mubarak. Having assumed power on February 10, the SCAF moved quickly to attain the stamp of popular legitimacy through a March 19 referendum on constitutional amendments. Since then, however, the conclave of generals has stumbled over the flawed logic of its own plan for the transition, as well as ad hoc decision making and a high-handed, dismissive attitude toward the new politics of the country. The SCAF’s plan, in brief, was to engineer a restoration of civilian rule that shielded the army’s political and economic prerogatives from civilian oversight, and perhaps bolstered those roles, yielding a system not unlike the “deep state” that prevailed for decades in Turkey. Such was the system in Egypt, in fact, under Mubarak.

Narrowing the Options on the Table

by Farideh Farhi | published December 8, 2011

Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran’s foreign minister and former representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is not usually a sarcastic man. But he became one in early November following several days of leaks about the negative content of a pending IAEA report on Iran. “Marg yek bar, shivan yek bar,” he said, using an age-old Persian expression. Literally, the phrase means “You die once, you are mourned once,” but here it might be translated, “Get it over with.”

Egypt's Intense Election Eve

by Nate Wright | published November 10, 2011

Residents of Cairo’s Darb al-Ahmar neighborhood have gathered at a streetside café on a late October Friday night to get their first glimpse of a political party founded by revolutionary activists. Men play backgammon and sip from their glasses of tea as members of al-‘Adl, one of 35 new parties vying for a role in Egypt’s next government, rush to set up a table and microphone at the café entrance. The first round of parliamentary elections, scheduled to commence November 28, is only a month away, but the campaign season has just begun. In the eight months since widespread demonstrations and Egypt’s military leadership forced former President Husni Mubarak to flee to Sharm al-Sheikh, the country’s political class has been caught up in divisive battles over election laws, party alliances and timetables -- all complicated by the ruling military council’s thorough mishandling of the rocky transition. As a result, many parties have turned to electioneering with the sudden intensity of a student doing his homework on the morning ride to school. When it makes its debut at the Nasif café, al-‘Adl will be only the fourth party that Darb al-Ahmar residents have seen in their area. The others -- the Muslim Brothers, al-Wafd and al-Ghad -- are all Mubarak-era opposition parties with experience running in parliamentary elections.

Tunisia Moves to the Next Stage

by Issandr El Amrani , Ursula Lindsey | published November 8, 2011

Tunisia was the first Arab country to have a pro-democracy uprising in the winter of 2010-2011, and now it is the first to have held an election. Tunisians took to the polls on October 23 to choose a constituent assembly that will be tasked with drafting the country’s first democratic constitution and appointing a new transitional government. The elections were judged free and fair by a record number of domestic and foreign observers, testimony to the seriousness with which the interim government approached the poll. In the eyes of many observers, Tunisia is lighting the way forward where others -- notably Egypt -- are faltering.

Debunking the Iran "Terror Plot"

by Gareth Porter | published November 3, 2011

At a press conference on October 11, the Obama administration unveiled a spectacular charge against the government of Iran: The Qods Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps had plotted to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Adel al-Jubeir, right in Washington, DC, in a place where large numbers of innocent bystanders could have been killed. High-level officials of the Qods Force were said to be involved, the only question being how far up in the Iranian government the complicity went.

The Negev's Hot Wind Blowing

by Jonathan Cook | published October 25, 2011

Over the past 15 months the dusty plains of the northern Negev desert in Israel have been witness to a ritual of destruction, part of a police operation known as Hot Wind. On 29 occasions since June 2010, hundreds of Israeli paramilitary officers have made the pilgrimage over a dirt track near the city of Beersheva to the zinc sheds and hemp tents of al-‘Araqib. Within hours of their arrival, the 45 ramshackle structures -- home to some 300 Bedouin villagers -- are pulled down and al-‘Araqib is wiped off the map once again. All that remains to mark the area’s inhabitation by generations of the al-Turi tribe are the stone graves in the cemetery.

Tawakkul Karman as Cause and Effect

by Stacey Philbrick Yadav | published October 21, 2011

Political activist Tawakkul Karman has brought Yemen’s revolution to New York, speaking directly on October 20 with Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and organizing rallies at the United Nations headquarters in lower Manhattan, the largest of which is slated for the afternoon of October 21. The purpose of her visit is to keep pressure on the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution that reflects the aspirations of the overwhelming numbers of Yemenis who have sustained peaceful calls for change for the nine long months since protests began in late January. Arriving newly anointed by the Nobel Committee, which named her as one of three recipients of the 2011 Peace Prize, Karman fears -- as does much of the Yemeni opposition, in its many forms -- that the UN will merely reiterate the approximate parameters of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative put forth in April. That plan, which has enjoyed support from the United States, as well as Yemen’s GCC neighbors, would allow legal immunity for President ‘Ali ‘Abdallah Salih, whose crimes against Yemeni protesters have multiplied in the months since the spring. For this reason, Karman will end her week in New York as she has ended so many weeks in Sanaa in recent months -- at the head of a protest.  

Egypt's Bloody Sunday

by Mariz Tadros | published October 13, 2011

At first, it looked like a repeat of the worst state brutality during the January 25 uprisings that unseated the ex-president of Egypt, Husni Mubarak: On Sunday, October 9, security forces deployed tear gas, live bullets and armored vehicles in an effort to disperse peaceful protesters in downtown Cairo. Joined by Muslim sympathizers, thousands of Coptic Christians had gathered that afternoon in front of the capital’s state television and radio building, known as Maspero, and in many other parts of Egypt, to protest the burning of a church in the Upper Egyptian village of al-Marinab. A few days earlier, their initial demonstrations had also been met with violence.

The Middle Powers Amid the Arab Revolts

by Imad Mansour | published September 29, 2011

The UN Security Council has been a key arbiter of international action regarding the upheavals in the Arab world in 2011. In late February, the Council issued Resolution 1970 calling for an “immediate end to the violence” in Libya, imposing sanctions and an arms embargo, and asking the International Criminal Court to investigate the regime of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi. Less than a month later, on March 17, the Council passed Resolution 1973 authorizing NATO “to take all necessary measures” to protect Libyan civilians, leading to Qaddafi’s eventual fall from power. In late September, the Security Council will also take up the request of Palestinian leader Mahmoud ‘Abbas for full UN membership for a state of Palestine.

As If There Is No Occupation

The Limits of Palestinian Authority Strategy

by Nu'man Kanafani | published September 22, 2011

For many months, the streets of downtown Ramallah, seat of the Palestinian Authority (PA), have literally been heaps of earth. Workers have labored intensively to replace water and sewage pipes, repave roads, lay beautiful carved stones at roadsides and install thick chains along the edges of sidewalks in order to better separate pedestrian and automotive traffic. Shopkeepers have been told to reduce the size of their storefront signs; specially designed electricity poles jut skyward. Not every town resident is impressed. As they navigate the mounds of dirt, cynics joke: “The PA is covering the road to self-determination in asphalt.” “We have the sewers; all that’s left is the sovereignty.” “The streets of Ramallah are paved with white stones -- who needs Jerusalem?”

The Question of Palestine in Miniature

by The Editors | published September 16, 2011

The countdown to September 23 has begun. On that day, if he does not renege on his September 16 speech, Mahmoud ‘Abbas will present a formal request for full UN membership for a state of Palestine. The UN Security Council, which must approve such requests, will not do so, because the United States will act upon its repeated vows to exercise its veto. And then?

Libya, the Colonel's Yoke Lifted

by Nicolas Pelham | published September 7, 2011

Half an hour’s drive east of Tripoli, a solitary interim government soldier peers through binoculars, scouring Col. Muammar Qaddafi’s hunting ranch -- known as the farms -- for signs of life. Detritus of war litters the savannah, the remains of recent fighting as Qaddafi’s forces fled east from the Libyan capital to their strongholds in the center of the country. Flies swarm around parts of bodies dismembered when a NATO bomb flattened the colonel’s Moorish villa, replete with its nests for hawks. Wooden cases are strewn amidst the olive trees; all the boxes are empty, save two that house unused heat-seeking missiles six feet long. The cages of the predatory animals raised for hunting lie open, and the anti-Qaddafi fighter seems as concerned by their escape as their owner’s.

The Evolution of Kurdish Politics in Syria

by Christian Sinclair , Sirwan Kajjo | published August 31, 2011

Over the weekend of July 16-17, representatives of the opposition to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Asad met in Istanbul to choose a “National Salvation Council.” Among the diverse attendees were delegates speaking for Syria’s Kurds, the largest ethnic minority in the country at more than 2 million people, some 10 percent of the population. All of the multiple Kurdish parties in Syria envision a pluralistic state in which their cultural and linguistic rights are recognized. Those at the Istanbul gathering wanted the name of the country changed from the Syrian Arab Republic to the “Republic of Syria.” When the other delegates at the conference refused this request, these Kurds walked out in protest.

Of "Instructors" and Interests in Iraq

by Reidar Visser | published August 22, 2011

The Obama administration repeatedly declares that it is “on track” to withdraw all US military forces from Iraq by the end of 2011, in keeping with candidate Barack Obama’s signature promise to “end the war in Iraq.” But, even as the White House avows this intention, policymakers in Washington repeatedly express their hope that the Iraqi government will ask some US troops, perhaps 10,000 or more, to stay past December. In an ideal world, US strategists would like the Iraqis to decide to extend the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) signed in late 2008, which provides legal cover for the US military presence in post-invasion Iraq. A series of summertime developments in Iraq have now made it clear that no such straightforward extension is forthcoming.