Syria's Torment

by The Editors | published August 10, 2011

There are two political-intellectual prisms through which the recurrent conflagrations of the modern Middle East are conventionally seen. One casts the region’s stubborn ills as internally caused -- by the outsize role of religion in public life, the persistence of primordial identities like sect and tribe, and the centuries-long accretion of patriarchal norms. The other espies the root of all evils in external interference, from European colonialism to the creation of Israel and assorted ventures of the imperial United States.

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and the Arab Awakening

by Joel Beinin | published August 1, 2011

The March 15 Youth Movement, whose name comes from demonstrations held in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that day to demand unity between Fatah and Hamas, is the most direct Palestinian expression of the “Arab awakening” of 2010-2011. The next day, March 16, Fatah’s leader, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud ‘Abbas, announced his willingness to travel to Gaza to conduct unity talks with Hamas. A reconciliation agreement was signed in Cairo on May 4.

Pakistan, the Army and the Conflict Within

by Pervez Hoodbhoy , Zia Mian | published July 12, 2011

Pakistan’s generals are besieged on all sides. Like never before, they are at odds with their own rank and file. According to the New York Times, the discontent with the top brass is so great as to evoke concerns of a colonels’ coup. The army also is losing support from its domestic political allies and subject to the increasing hostility of the Pakistani public. The generals are even at risk of being dumped by their oldest and most generous supporter, the United States.

Weighing Morocco's New Constitution

by Paul Silverstein | published July 5, 2011

2011 has been a year of unprecedented political tumult in Morocco. As neighboring North African regimes collapsed under the weight of popular pressure, demonstrators have convened in Moroccan cities as well, naming their uprising after the day of their largest initial gathering, February 20, and calling for greater democracy.

The Fateful Choice

by The Editors | published May 6, 2011

When 19 al-Qaeda hijackers attacked New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, the United States faced a strategic dilemma that was unique in magnitude, but not in kind. Terrorists had killed numerous civilians before, in the US and elsewhere, with and without state sponsorship. Al-Qaeda was not the first non-state actor to present no coherent demands alongside its propaganda of the deed or to have no single fixed address. Nor were Americans the first victims of unprovoked terrorist assault to set aside political differences, at least for a time, in search of a unified self-defense.

No Exit

Yemen's Existential Crisis

by Sheila Carapico | published May 3, 2011

A venal dictatorship three decades old, mutinous army officers, dissident tribal sheikhs, a parliamentary opposition coalition, youthful pro-democracy activists, gray-haired Socialists, gun-toting cowboys, veiled women protesters, northern carpetbaggers, Shi‘i insurgents, tear gas canisters, leaked State Department cables, foreign-born jihadis—Yemen’s demi-revolutionary spring has it all. The mass uprising in southern Arabia blends features of the peaceful popular revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia with elements of the state repression in Libya and Syria in a gaudy, fast-paced, multi-layered theater of revolt verging on the absurd.

The Reawakening of Nahda in Tunisia

by Graham Usher | published April 30, 2011

Casbah Square in Tunis has the feel of the morning after. Strewn around the plaza are the odd, drooping Tunisian flag and other relics of the mass demonstrations that forced the fall of the ex-dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January and then two “interim governments” deemed too closely associated with his regime. There are still a few protests in the Tunisian capital. But they are no longer transformative of the political order. They are small, sectional, partisan -- almost routine.

The Colonel, the Rebels and the Heavenly Arbiter

by Nicolas Pelham | published April 20, 2011

To the average American, the NATO intervention in Libya may look like another Iraq: another US-led adventure aiming to dislodge a would-be totalitarian Middle Eastern state with lots of oil and sand. The topography of the two countries is similar: The land is flat and parched, and the architecture dun and unloved. Even the terminology sounds the same, with the “no-fly zone” subject to “mission creep” that is rapidly turning its goal into “regime change.”

Asad's Lost Chances

by Carsten Wieland | published April 13, 2011

On January 31, the Wall Street Journal printed words that Bashar al-Asad must wince to recall. In an interview with the newspaper, the Syrian president said that Arab rulers would need to move faster to accommodate the rising political and economic aspirations of Arab peoples. “If you didn’t see the need for reform before what happened in Egypt and Tunisia, it’s too late to do any reform,” he chided his fellow leaders. But Asad went on to assure the interviewer (and perhaps himself): “Syria is stable. Why? Because you have to be very closely linked to the beliefs of the people. This is the core issue. When there is divergence…you will have this vacuum that creates disturbances.”

Egypt Without Mubarak

by Joshua Stacher | published April 7, 2011

Save the worsening snarls of traffic, March 19 was a near perfect day in Egypt’s capital city of Cairo. The sun shone gently down upon orderly, sex-segregated queues of Egyptians who stood for hours to vote “yes” or “no” on emergency amendments to the country’s constitution. Although there have been three other constitutional referenda in the past six years, the plebiscite of 2011 was the first to capture the time and attention of the multitudes. It seemed that no one wanted to miss the historic, hope-filled occasion -- for many of those who patiently waited, March 19 was the first time they had voted at all. Later, official estimates put the turnout at 41 percent, a rate completely unheard of in a country where citizens, many of them given material incentives, had dribbled in to rubber-stamp a predetermined outcome, usually, yet another presidential term for Husni Mubarak. The winding lines in and of themselves set off sparks of national pride. One young woman smiled when asked about the long wait, joking, “Lines are more organized after the revolution.”

Of Principle and Peril

by The Editors | published March 22, 2011

Reasonable, principled people can disagree about whether, in an ideal world, Western military intervention in Libya’s internal war would be a moral imperative. With Saddam Hussein dead and gone, there is arguably no more capricious and overbearing dictator in the Arab world than Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi. The uprising of the Libyan people against him, beginning on February 17, was courageous beyond measure. It seems certain that, absent outside help, the subsequent armed insurrection would have been doomed to sputter amidst the colonel’s bloody reprisals. 

Libya in the Balance

by Nicolas Pelham | published March 15, 2011

Since the rule of Col. Muammar Qaddafi had been even more gruesome than that of neighboring dictators, the Libyan people’s release from captivity by the February 17 uprising pulsated with an unparalleled hope. Freed from a ban on public assembly of four or more persons, rebel-held towns across Libya thronged with celebrants late into the night. Benghazi, Libya’s second city, which the colonel had stripped of its museums, cinemas and cultural symbols, including the mausoleum of its anti-colonial hero, ‘Umar Mukhtar, buzzed with impromptu memorials to Qaddafi’s victims, political theater, songs and art, and mass open-air prayers. And after four decades in which one man had appropriated the right to speak on behalf of a country, Libyans in their hundreds of thousands recovered their voice. “Your place, Muammar,” scrawl protesters on upturned rubbish bins.

Algeria's Rebellion by Installments

by Azzedine Layachi | published March 12, 2011

In mid-February, with autocratic rulers deposed in Tunisia and Egypt, and another tottering in Libya, the National Coordination for Change and Democracy took to the streets in the capital of Algeria. The organization, which was created on January 21, following a series of riots in several cities across the country, is led by the Rally for Democracy and Culture (RCD), an opposition party whose narrow constituency includes mainly Berber-speaking people in Algiers and the nearby Kabylia region. The Coordination includes other small political parties, as well as the National League for the Defense of Human Rights, the National Association of Families of Missing Persons (those who “disappeared” during the internal war of the 1990s), an association of the unemployed and many other groups. It called for “change and democracy, the lifting of the state of emergency, the liberalization of the political and media fields, and the release of people who were jailed for having protested or for their opinions.”

A Revolution Paused in Bahrain

by Cortni Kerr , Toby Jones | published February 23, 2011

An uncertain calm has settled over the small island kingdom of Bahrain. The wave of peaceful pro-democracy protests from February 14-17 culminated in bloodshed, including the brutal murder of seven activists, some of whom were asleep in tents, by the armed forces. On orders from above, the army withdrew from the roundabout on the outskirts of the capital of Manama where the protests have been centered, and since shortly after the seven deaths it has observed calls for restraint. Thousands of jubilant protesters seized the moment to reoccupy the roundabout, the now infamous Pearl Circle. In commemoration of the dead, the demonstrators have renamed it Martyrs’ Circle.

Jordan's Balancing Act

by Nicolas Pelham | published February 22, 2011

When anti-monarchical revolution swept the Middle East in the 1950s, Jordan was one of the few populous Arab states to keep its king. King ‘Abdallah II, son of Hussein, the sole Hashemite royal to ride out the republican wave, has all the credentials to perform a similar balancing act. Aged 49, he has been in charge for a dozen years, unlike his father, who was just 17 and only a few months into his reign when the Egyptian potentate abdicated in 1952. And the son has grown accustomed to weathering storms on the borders, whether the Palestinian intifada to the west or the US invasion of Iraq to the east.