In the wake of the Gulf war, the question of democracy in the Middle East has finally caught up with Washington, but in ways that reinforce dominant strains of Cold War thought and action. Witness the regular depiction of Islam and Islamist movements in terms once reserved for communism, reflecting an artful mix of representation and prescription meant to discourage meddling with the authoritarian status quo. Within the community of Middle East scholars and academic experts, though, one finds people less ready to write off the region as an “exception” to global trends. To varying degrees, this current believes that US policy can strengthen a second wave of liberalism in the Middle East.
Mark Duffield visited Croatia and Bosnia between January 9 and 22, 1994, as part of a study of complex political emergencies. Joe Stork spoke with him on January 28, 1994.
In your field report you refer to the failure to provide protection as representing a political failure of historic consequences.
Mark Duffield was in Bosnia and Croatia from January 9 to January 22, 1994 as part of a larger study of complex emergencies. The following is condensed from his “first impression” field report.
The war in former Yugoslavia has displaced over 4 million people. Nearly 3 million of these are in Bosnia, where half the population has been uprooted. From a humanitarian perspective, the war in Bosnia presents itself as the blockade and terrorization of civilian populations. While access can be negotiated, as the war has spread across central Bosnia this has become increasingly difficult. Food supplies have fallen to critical conditions.
Over the past several years, the perception has become widespread that the world has entered a period of profound change. A main feature of this change has been some erosion of the principle of state sovereignty as a major structural feature of international relations. The new activism of the United Nations and the trend toward selective military intervention for humanitarian purposes and as a means of international crisis management have been the most prominent features of this development.
In mid-October 1993, the New York Times ran a series exploring in detail how influential agribusiness firms have managed to reap huge profits from Agriculture Department programs designed to promote US exports. One case in point was Comet Rice, a subsidiary of Los Angeles-based Erly Industries, whose chairman, Gerald D. Murphy, is a conservative Republican with many friends among Reagan-Bush administration officials.
Images of African famine once again scan Western television screens, prompting a renewed search for causes and solutions. In this worried atmosphere it is easy to overlook that international relief operations have now become a widespread and accepted response to this unfolding crisis. While Sudan and Ethiopia spring to mind, such interventions have also occurred in Uganda, Mozambique, Angola and Liberia.
Open almost any study of Egypt produced by an American or an international development agency and you are likely to find it starting with the same simple image. The question of Egypt’s economic development is almost invariably introduced as a problem of geography versus demography, pictured by describing the narrow valley of the Nile River, surrounded by desert, crowded with rapidly multiplying millions of inhabitants.
A 1980 World Bank report on Egypt provides a typical example. “The geographical and demographic characteristics of Egypt delineate its basic economic problem,” the book begins:
Gayle Smith coordinates the Africa program at the Washington-based Development Group for Alternative Policies. In the past ten years she has worked extensively in the Horn of Africa on relief and development issues. Her most recent trip to Ethiopia and Sudan was in June 1990. She spoke with Joe Stork in Washington.
Compared to the famine of 1984-1985, what is the scope of the problem in the Horn today?
In terms of numbers, the famine is somewhat less severe than it was five years ago. There are an estimated 5 million in need as opposed to 7-9 million in 1984-1985. Just over 1 million of these people are in Eritrea; another 2.2 million live in Tigray. The rest live elsewhere in the north of Ethiopia, areas now also affected by the war.
Most discussion of the food crisis in Africa is a model in which subsistence economies remain essentially intact and food insecurity is a transitory phenomenon, the result of external factors such as drought or war which temporarily upset the normal balance between sufficiency and dearth. My experience suggests that in Sudan subsistence economies have all but disappeared. Food insecurity no longer defines one or another period but is a constant condition of the market economy that has come to dominate the country.
I arrived in Khartoum on April 15, nine days after the coup, as soon as the borders opened. In Cairo, I had watched film clips of the noisy, jubilant crowds that had brought down Numairi, but Khartoum was eerily silent now. The high of the revolution” had given way to the sense of crisis that once again grips this country. While political skirmishes went on concerning who would be in the civilian cabinet, the abiding, bedrock realities that pervaded the country were the civil war in the south and the drought and famine in the west and northeast.
The General Accounting Office (GAO), often referred to as “the congressional watchdog agency,” began a full-scale investigation of US aid to Israel in early 1982, without any public announcement or official congressional sponsor. The report was completed in early 1983 and circulated to the relevant government agencies for comment, as is customary. These included the State and Defense Departments, the Agency for International Development (AID) and the Central Intelligence Agency. The Israeli Embassy also had the opportunity to review the text, on the grounds that some information had been obtained from classified Israeli sources.
Richard Butler is director of the Middle East office for the National Council of Churches. Jim Paul interviewed him in New York in August 1982.
When were you in Lebanon?