This week's window on the Middle East - February 4, 2013

Arab Awakening's columnists offer their weekly perspective on what is happening on the ground in the Middle East. Leading the week: I can’t believe it’s not Qatar!: addressing the Brotherhood’s other patron

  • I can’t believe it’s not Qatar!: addressing the Brotherhood’s other patron
  • The oneness of God and the plurality of Syria
  • Egypt: on glorifying violence
  • Three fallacies surrounding Gulf union
  • The Black-Mask Gang
  • The visit of a controversial Muslim to Tunisia sparks debate
  • Egypt: taking people for fools
  • For a national awakening in Algeria
  • Tunisia’s political dysfunction rests on a fierce power struggle
  • Qatar’s public diplomacy woes
  • I can’t believe it’s not Qatar!: addressing the Brotherhood’s other patron

    By Amro Ali

    Upon his arrival at the Al-Jazeera studio in Doha, Egypt’s former president Hosni Mubarak quipped his shock at the small office space of the news giant: “All that noise from this little matchbox?”

    That “noise” widened beyond the Doha studios to take in the peninsula’s foreign ministry and royal palaces, eventually drawing the ire of Egypt’s revolutionary forces as Qatar cozied up with their country’s Muslim Brotherhood. The patronage role that Qatar plays to the region’s Islamists has been well covered by Arab affairs commentator Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi. Also As'ad AbuKhalil and others have given a deal of attention to the issue, which therefore will not be discussed here.

    Qatar’s frequency on Egypt’s news and commentary radar has been reflected in everything from unconfirmed stories of Qatar buying the Suez Canal to frequent yarns about how much influence the tiny state is gaining in Egypt. A focus on Qatar and other Brotherhood patrons should continue to be scrutinized, but it risks enveloping the dynamics that started the revolutions.

    As a student of international relations I would hesitate to downplay the role of state actors, but if the Arab uprisings have taught us anything, it is that the Arab public represents a formidable challenge to power elites. Grievances should not limit Egypt’s revolutionary camp towards a reactionary anger at Arab governments at the expense of a proactive outreach to Arab societies – the very element that two years ago fuelled a trans-national Arab uprising or at the very least, demands for reform. One party in particular that requires examination is the large number of the Arab world’s passive supporters of Egypt’s Brotherhood which is a byproduct, if not of a pro-Brotherhood slanted Al-Jazeera (Arabic) and other media outlets, at least partly to the incoherent noise Egypt’s revolutionaries have unintentionally exported.

    To Arab outsiders, the revolutionary camp often looks like a ragtag bunch of hedonists and atheists who can never be satisfied with any sort of change. The extended Egyptian Revolution needs to acknowledge this external but critical constituency that provides the ideological underpinning of the Brotherhood’s international support. While it may not seem so dramatic, it reveals itself in everything from Arabic editorials to those calling into TV programmes.

    It is not unusual to hear Arabs say they support Egypt’s Brotherhood because, “there is no other choice”, “they know God”, or “they are the best to eventually unite the Arab world.” (See my article Brothers in the Hood: Egypt’s Soft Powers and Arab World)

    Some measures, an informal “foreign policy” of some sort, needs to be taken into account by the revolutionary camp to start beaming a compelling message to narrow the gap between the Arab world’s perception of Egypt’s Brotherhood and the reality on the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, Port Said and others. 

    First it will require empathy on Egypt’s part to see how Arab societies perceive Egypt’s role and the reasons why they might support the Brotherhood. It is not enough to take a condescending “none of your business” tone simply because they are at odds with a political position or lack an Egyptian identity. If intellectuals wish to push Egypt’s Om al dunya (mother of the world) role, then it has to accept some reciprocity in its relationships, just like “light-weight” Tunisia inspired (some would say shamed) Egypt into action. Egypt’s revolution did not happen in a vacuum and its struggles are surely interconnected with other Arab struggles with similar goals of bread, freedom and dignity. 

    Second, when I say Brotherhood supporters, I’m not talking about the types that would be swayed by a dispensation of vegetable oil and cooking gas, but by perceived ideological considerations for the wider Arab world. Arabs, disappointingly, do not see Egypt’s domestic concerns of unemployment, police brutality, corruption and so forth as important compared to Egypt’s role vis-à-vis the Arab world. However this perception still needs to be accommodated.

    Third, it needs to be made clear that Egypt’s civil forces do not equate to an anti-religious element in any way. The revolutionary camp needs to be clearly defined as a plurality of views and identities that can coexist, including liberal Islamists. I have yet to witness revolutionary/liberal demonstrations where a large number of protestors did not stop and pray when the mosque’s call to prayer sounded. This is just the nature of Egyptian society, irrespective of political or religious affiliations. It is also important to note that the venerated Al-Azhar’s political positioning is closer to the revolutionary camp than it is to the Islamists. Yet many Arabs express surprise when they discover this.

    Fourth, most critically, one should not fall into the Sharia trap by opposing it, to do so is to play the game of identity politics that has been deliberately set up so that only the Islamists can possibly benefit. Egypt’s struggle was never about Sharia as much as it was about anti-authoritarianism. As Khalil Al-Anani noted: “The Islamists are using Sharia to polarise opinion and control various aspects of public space. Proud of their ability to over-simplify Sharia through satellite broadcast, social networks, and other media outlets, the Islamists are turning Sharia into dogma.” Al-Alani argues that many have overlooked the fact that Sharia is a rich and pluralistic tradition of innovative ideas that historically was never imposed from above and in which the political and cultural concerns of any given time sensitively reflected the concerns of society. But a sophisticated reading of Islamic history and its nuances is too time-consuming for Islamists who in their theatrics have taken on Sharia as a “monolithic and abstract concept to wield like a baton against their opponents” as Al-Anani puts it. Sharia has been abused by Islamists much as Neo-Conservatives in the US once abused the word ‘democracy’ – hollowing out its meaning until it has become a despised buzzword.

    Fifth, a common language needs to be utilised that invokes Quranic verses and Hadiths (traditions) regarding deceit, hypocrisy, even sexual harassment, to counter the Brotherhood’s platform that does exactly what it preaches against (or turns a blind eye too). A cursory examination reveals the revolutionaries carry out (without fanfare) the Islamic precepts of social justice, fighting corruption, and fulfilling the timeless wisdom of the Prophet, who stated: “The best Jihad is to speak a word of truth to a tyrant ruler.” This was something today’s stage-strutting Islamists could barely bring themselves to do against Mubarak when the time came for Egypt to rise up. The Brotherhood’s policies can be their own undoing, such as the backlash from the proposed IMF loan. Such instances provide us with an excellent opportunity to mirror the Pro-Brotherhood view of a world riven between the sacred and forbidden, by framing the anti-IMF loan to Arab populations in the latter category.

    The lack of a counter-narrative keeps on reinforcing the Arab view that the Brotherhood might have to screw up in the short term in order to secure a “powerful Egypt” in the future. That there is no alternative. Yet as Sara Khorshid remarks: “Pro-Brotherhood Arabs need to realize that Egyptians are no longer ready to give a carte blanche to a ruler in the hope that he might prove to be good in the future.”

    Finally, more compelling than any Morsi presidency or Brotherhood appeal is what Egypt will do for the Palestinians? This is the Lingua Franca of the post-colonial Arab world and supporting evidence has shown that even hardened Islamists will abandon their strongholds in favour of any figure or group that will take up the mantle of the Palestinian cause. We have seen this time and time again, with Islamists abandoning their anti-secular stances to support Saddam Hussein in the 1991 Gulf War, abandoning their Anti-Shiite stances to support Hezbollah during the 2006 Lebanon War, and even internally with Egypt’s own former presidential candidate and self-styled Pro-Palestinian Nasserist, Hamdeen Sabahi, swaying traditional Islamist constituencies into his secular orbit. This is not to suggest that populism should be courted and exploited - but to advocate responsible articulation of the Palestinian cause woven into a tolerant pan-Arab and pan-Islamic narrative with international law as its bedrock.

    All the above does not discount the fact that Arab policy-makers will continue to pursue their realist interests and Qatar in particular will continue with its secret (and not so secret) backroom deals to prop up the Brotherhood, which in turn, will continue to make the Gulf state a lightning rod of Egypt’s revolutionary fury.

    But the Egyptian revolution’s best allies will be found in the populations that it inspired and was inspired by that can enable Egypt’s revolutionary forces to, once again, push ideas and principles into the international system that will resonate with the Arab public, help shape the parameters of the debate and constrain the hands of elites and decision-makers. This is a result of what Marc Lynch notes in his book, The Arab Uprising: The Unfinished Revolutions of the New Middle East “The Arab political space…[brings] together all regional issues into a common narrative of a shared fate and struggle. This new Arab public sphere is highly critical of most ruling regimes, extremely pan-Arabist in its orientation, and self-consciously celebratory of the power of a long-denied Arab street.”

    Egypt’s revolutionary groups are mired in internal divisions and the lack of a unified political force will stunt the development of a new narrative that it can potentially carry across into the Arab world. Yet it must be remembered that despite being in the service of states, soft power and cultural diplomacy are the reserve of civil society and it is as ancient as the Arab proverb that echoes “When you shoot an arrow of truth, dip its point in honey.” Egypt’s revolutionary camp has enough honey, it just needs the arrow and practice to shoot it effectively through the noise.

    The oneness of God and the plurality of Syria

    By Rita from Syria

    When in the 1960s the great Syrian poet Mohammed al-Maghout was arrested for the first time on charges of belonging to the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, his real crime was poverty. The local Syrian Social Nationalist Party office in the city of Salamiyeh was the only place that had a fireplace during those cold winter months, and it was in order to be able to feel the warmth rather than to practice politics that Maghout joined the party. Maghout – like most intellectuals and writers in Syria – was destined to live out a large part of his life in jail or in exile.

    This article is not about Maghout, about whom a lot has been written, but a city that gave birth to him: the city of poverty, infidelity and thought (a-faqr wa al-kufr wa al-fikr as locals call it) – Salamiyeh.

    During its history, Salamiyeh has long suffered from marginalization and government neglect and perhaps the main reason for this was the inability of the dictatorial governments that came to rule Syria to subdue a population prone to rebellion. This made it one of the poorest cities in Syria but at the same time it made its inhabitants known throughout Syria as a people who paid most attention to education, culture and politics.

    Tunis The famous 2000-year-old castle in Salamiyeh

    Over the decades the city has provided Syria with a considerable number of writers and intellectuals in addition to leading lights of the Ba'th Party who were quickly snuffed out when Hafez al-Assad seized power in 1970. The city is home to a sizeable Isma'ili population along with other minorities and is known as the gateway to the desert.

    Salamiyeh has been politically active for decades, but since the beginning of the current uprising it has played a special role. Its demonstrations led by secular parties were critical in exposing the regime's accusations of the revolution as being driven by Salafist elements or as a foreign conspiracy. Many of Salamiyeh's sons joined the Free Syrian Army, and some others established a battalion going by the name of 'Desert Shield". With the intensification of the armed conflict in the nearby cities of Hama and Homs, Salamiyeh has provided sanctuary and refuge to over two hundred  thousand displaced people. This is no small number given the fact that the population of Salamiyeh itself is no more than one hundred and fifty thousand – offering a great example of what national solidarity really means.

    Tunis The destroyed Salamiyeh security headquarter

    On January 21, 2013, the largest bombing of its kind shook the centre of Salamiyeh, leaving more than 50 people dead and dozens wounded. The explosion emanated from a car bomb targeting the local security headquarters, which housed a number of Shabiha, but the bombing took its toll on civilians – most of whom were women and children. The opposition was quick to accuse the regime of masterminding the bombing in order to incite sectarian strife and further divide an already splintered opposition, but a statement issued by Jubhat al-Nusra (representative of al Qaeda in Syria) confirmed that it was they who were in fact responsible for the bombing. And while we cannot yet confirm the statement's authenticity and the validity of its content, there have been no claims to the contrary.

    According to the statement released by Jubhat al-Nusra, the target was the Shabiha stationed at the site of the bombing and the adjacent headquarters of the Ba'th Party. In fact, the biggest casualties were civilians and the nearby National Hospital which has permanently closed because of the attack. Interestingly, the attack goes against the grain of previous Jubhat al-Nusra attacks; videos posted on YouTube show Jubhat al-Nusra fighters actually pulling out of suicide operations because of the nearby presence of civilians.

    In a series of suicide bombings seen in Syria, this bombing was the first that targeted areas where minorities have been opposed to al-Assad's regime. The Salamiyeh coordinating committee for the revolution condemned Jubhat al-Nusra for its suicide bombing. This is the first time that a member of the coordination committee - the political representative of the revolutionaries on the ground - has come out and openly  condemned Jubhat al-Nusra rather than placing the blame squarely on the regime.

    In all previous bombings, despite the statements of Jubhat al-Nusra claiming responsibility, the committees as well as many opposition actors sitting abroad have been quick to accuse the regime. With little apparent concern for the future, these actors (the National Council and the National Coalition) have blinded themselves to the truth in order to gain political support – which has yet to arrive. This has provided Jubhat al-Nusra with a degree of political legitimacy so that it has become one of the strongest and most effective armed groups on the ground.

    What then has changed today? Why have former allies been quick to put Jubhat al-Nusra in the dock?

    Minorities alongside lots of moderate and conservative Sunnis in the coordinating committees used to turn a blind eye to the violent actions of Jubhat al-Nusra. However, their patience has run out and they can no longer close their eyes for the sake of keeping up the appearances of a unified front. This has revealed new cleavages between the committees themselves regarding their position towards Jubhat al-Nusra, so that we have now started to see committees in support of Jihadi groups emerging alongside anti-Jihadi Committees.

    Till now, this fissure hasn't taken on a visible sectarian face, and we can still find people from minorities supporting Jubhat al-Nusra's " heroic exploits". However, the explosion in Salamiyeh has created growing fears among supporters of the armed opposition that anti-regime explosions may be unleashed against minority groups. This has presented the regime with a gilt-edged opportunity. The regime has already shown that it is a dab hand at playing the sectarian card. Instead of nullifying the regime's ability to do so, the so-called 'leadership' of the opposition have been busy building their personal glory. Syria has lots of politicians but no politics, and lots of clerics but no religion. As Mohammed al-Maghout once wrote:

    "Everyone agreed to the oneness of God, and to the plurality of the country"

    A thousand thanks to Tahir Zaman for editing this article

    Egypt: on glorifying violence

    By Tarek Amr

    Contrary to almost all of the younger generation of my fellow Egyptians nowadays, I hate this growing tone of glorifying violence. This post might be two years late, it might not be the perfect time for it, since the regime and its security forces are currently killing people. But still, I prefer to say it out loud right now. As it is usually better late than never. I am not just against the idea of glorifying and legitimising violence and considering it a revolutionary act, because of my natural hatred to violence. I am against it for pragmatic reasons as well. But let me first explain what I mean by "glorifying and legitimising violence".

    Two years ago, when the Egyptian people revolted against Mubarak’s regime, there existed two narratives for the revolution. One pictured it as a peaceful revolution taking places in Tahrir square, where people carried banners and chanted against the regime. The other side of the story are those rarely-filmed acts of burning police stations, official buildings and looting department stores. The argument now, is not whether one of them existed rather the other. Because both sides of that story are true. The more valid question now is to ask ourselves, whether we should blindly legitimise the second asset of tactics and value it as "the only" face of a multi-facade revolution or not.

    One reason for glorifying violence was because Mubarak, then SCAF followed by the Ikhwani government now, always find it plausible to accuse their opponents of being thugs and violent mobs who want to sabotage the country and its stability. This was always their favourite ploy for giving legitimacy to the state's brutality. And according to our friend Isaac Newton, "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction". Hence, the leftists on the other hand, decided to nullify the meaning of terms such as ‘thugs’ and ‘violence’ by mocking them sometimes, and glorifying them at other times. You can see people on twitter and facebook giving themselves names like "thug" and "mobs". Other than that, there also exists the radical ones who believe that peaceful protests will lead people nowhere. 

    Watching the security forces killing dozens of civilians in Port Said in less than 48 hours and taking an old man's clothes off in the streets yesterday and brutally hitting him with heavy sticks, makes part of me leap to legitimise violence as a sort of response to such acts by the state. However, as I said earlier, I still have my pragmatic reasons for rejecting it. They are these.

    On the one hand, such violence gives excuses for the regime to kill, beat and arrest more people, and convince the others that it has the right to do so. And it is obvious that in such a violent game, the regime can easily outnumber its opponents with its weapons, trained forces and media.  On the other hand, if you legitimise violence now, you cannot denounce it later when others such as the Salafies who have always been true believers in violent opposition, use it later on. In fact, they have  already exercised it numerous times during the past two years. 

    Do you think the current scene is going to make people less confident in the Ikhwani government and they are going to lose any upcoming elections? Damn wrong! The majority are going to vote for the Ikhwan, like they did earlier, and like they used to do during Mubarak's regime. They just vote for stability, for the authority and for those who play politics while others never learn and continue to play the wrong game in the wrong arena.

    Three fallacies surrounding Gulf union

    By Hasan Tariq Al Hasan

    The tsunami of political turmoil that hit the Arab world, whose waves soon reached the shores of Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in the Gulf, sparked talk of further consolidating the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) into a Gulf Union.

    Much controversy and uncertainty surrounded the proposal put forward by King Abdulla of Saudi Arabia in December 2011, a natural result of the opaque nature of the GCC summit discussions that take place behind closed doors. Speculation was rife initially as to whether or not Morocco and Jordan would potentially sign up as member countries of the GCC, and as to the form – economic or political, federal or confederal – that the proposed union would later adopt.

    Regardless of the exact modalities according to which the proposed union might be formed, officials and public figures in the Gulf sympathetic to the idea of a consolidated union have propagated three fallacies as part of an effort to promote the proposal’s public appeal.

    Sovereignty

    Most striking is the laughable notion that a Gulf union would lead to no loss of sovereignty on the part of its member states. This assertion negates the basic essence of any union or collectivity, which is the unavoidable tradeoff of some state sovereignty in exchange for greater collaboration, the effective collective action and lower transaction costs that result from a collective decision-making mechanism. In other words, a union that involves no loss of state sovereignty whatsoever is most likely to be purely ceremonial in nature, lacking the institutions and prerogatives to carry out its goals effectively. To illustrate, a common GCC foreign policy would in principle constrain the ability of member states to pursue goals independently of one another; while a common defense program might induce some discipline in spending and procurement patterns in order to guarantee complementarity, for instance.

    The loss of sovereignty would probably, however, affect member states differently, depending on their ability to exert influence and the degree to which they are aligned with the rest of the group. Saudi Arabia would most likely emerge as the biggest winner thanks to its overwhelming size and resources. Its sheer size relative to the rest of the GCC would afford it undisputed structural dominance and place it at the union’s epicenter, and much of its work would consist of policing the group to ensure member states ‘toed the party line’. ‘Go it alone’ states like Qatar and to a lesser extent the UAE and Oman would shoulder the greatest burden of adjustment, while the remainder of the group – particularly Bahrain – that are already largely aligned with the regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia, might not experience much change.

    Gulf single currency

    Second, Gulf officials showcase at every turn the potential benefits of the stalled Gulf single currency project that has been the sole item on the Gulf’s economic integration agenda at least since the implementation of the GCC common market in 2008. True, the economies of the six GCC member states would indeed form an economic entity coherent enough to form a single currency area, particularly since they share an overwhelming dependence on oil and thus exhibit very similar cyclical patterns and exogenous shocks. But the single currency project remains somewhat meaningless since any trade facilitation effects and exchange rate risk reduction would most likely be minute. For all practical reasons and purposes, the six GCC currencies are largely interchangeable and are individually pegged to the US dollar, Kuwait being a slight exception.

    Labour mobility

    Less discussed is the more consequential issue of labour mobility across Gulf states. It has often been argued that unemployment in the GCC particularly amongst the youth is not a product of a lack of growth or the economy’s inability to generate jobs, as attested by the large numbers of expatriate and temporary migrant workers that match or even exceed national populations in all GCC states with the exception of Saudi Arabia. Rather, it is the result of the economy’s inability to generate the right kind of jobs. Intra-GCC labour mobility would likely play a considerable role in resolving part of the unemployment problem, particularly in the GCC’s less wealthy member states of Bahrain and Oman where workers are relatively qualified and often willing to work in relatively low-paying jobs as compared to their wealthier counterparts in Qatar and the UAE. Skilled job seekers from Bahrain and Oman could arguably fill some of the positions currently held by qualified expatriate workers usually recruited from the Indian Subcontinent.

    Other equally pressing issues, such as the harmonization of beyond-the-border regulations, the ease of setting up business, or even ensuring actual de facto implementation of national treatment for GCC investors across member states appear to have been shelved for the time being at the GCC level, whereas the less impactful, more glittery proposed single currency currently monopolizes official rhetoric on Gulf economic integration.

    The EU model

    A final popular fallacy is that a Gulf union would, or even should for that matter, be modeled after the European Union. Historically, the EU and the GCC emerged for very different, if not opposite reasons: the EU (in the form of the 1951 European Coal and Steel Community) out of a desire to prevent a repeat of the Great Wars that European nations waged against one another, the GCC out of a need to coalesce in the face of an external threat, namely Iran.

    Institutionally, the EU is endowed with a legislature – the European Parliament – whose members are directly elected by the peoples of the member states, a prospect inconceivable in the Gulf today. Economically, the Eurocrisis has demonstrated that monetary integration alone, unaccompanied by fiscal integration and budgetary discipline, is sure to be a recipe for disaster. Given the unprecedented scale of the expansionary spending packages approved by Gulf countries as a result of Arab Spring anxiety – US$ 160 billion in Saudi Arabia alone, bigger than its entire 2007 budget –, inducing budgetary discipline across the GCC particularly in times of political turbulence is not an entirely realistic prospect.

    That said, I insist that I am not opposed to greater GCC integration or even a Gulf Union, quite the contrary. In the religious, linguistic, cultural, political and economic domains to name but a few, the Gulf is a fairly coherent zone compared to the outside world. Greater Gulf unity is also a largely popular demand. But in order for a union to work, if one were ever to see the light of day, governments in the Gulf must learn to set their priorities straight.

    The Black-Mask Gang

    By Nader Bakkar

    Everyone has the right to take to the street on the anniversary of the outbreak of the January 25 revolution to express his or her rejection of mediocre government policies and their distress at the slow progress of the presidential institution.  It is my right, as well as the right of millions of other Egyptians, to beseech the president not to keep falling into the very same mistakes that caused our uprising.  It is our right to tell him not to be a tyrant by imposing his viewpoint on the whole people; but the solution can never be in blowing up the pillars of state at their very bases.

    You are mistaken if you listen to the doctrine of Condoleeza Rice that chaos can be creative and apply it in this fashion, or if you imagine that a new regime can realize the aspirations of the masses just by a push of a button!

    Those who revolt against injustice should not need to hide their faces out fear, and the people who revolted on the original January 25 never needed to put on masks to hide their identities nor did they need weapons to confront their enemies nor did they need shields to hide behind!  Their uprising was characterized by a spontaneity that was formed by raging anger, the loss of hope and the courage to change a regime that stole, killed, betrayed, crushed and boasted of all this for more than three decades in a row.

    Egypt has witnessed the advent of a new group who call themselves the “Black Block” and who spread chaos and practice violence under the pretext of protecting Egypt from the Muslim Brotherhood.  I have called them “The Black-Mask Gang” instead of this imported name they chose for themselves, to help us recall the infamous Black-Mask Gang we all read about when we were children in the Mickey Mouse comics. They truly are a comic gang!

    What really arouses my disgust at this systematic violence practiced by the “black-mask gang of anarchists”  - youth blocking the underground, taking over the metro stations, attacking local council buildings and other government facilities, cutting off the main roads in the governorates of Egypt, shooting guns off and throwing Molotov cocktails around and all the other scenes of vandalism and anarchy - is their constant justification of violence as if it were a natural reaction to the political or management failure we are inflicted with right now.  This type of behaviour tries to make people sympathize with anarchy and paves the way for more of the same so that we will sooner or later have it as a constant guest in our lives.

    So why don’t we just give everything its proper name without any fear or hesitation?

    Gentlemen, terrorism is terrorism no matter where it comes from and no matter what system or method it uses. We have to uphold the values of the rule of law because the militia state is by all means the most disastrous option, and would preside over the dismantling of our country into liberalist, Islamist and anarchist gangs.

    How can it be that the media handle this case of terrorizing innocent people with kid gloves?  They go out of their way to invite comment from these members of the Black-Mask-Gang who have become so emboldened by the anarchy that has overtaken our country and so encouraged by the poor management of the crisis that they flex their muscles, flash their weapons and issue terrorist statements with impunity.  I can’t help remembering a very similar “disreputable” media ordeal that accompanied the arrest of the notorious Nakhnukh who is accused of killing, drug trafficking and running a gang.  

    Frankly speaking the president, Muhammad Morsi, bears the biggest portion of the blame because he could have been far more decisive in dealing with it from the very first day.  I criticized him unreservedly on the day he spoke about the Itihadia events because I truly expected him to announce clearly how he rejects violence no matter from which quarter, and I expected him to take clear actions with the aggressors no matter which party they come from; but he didn’t!

    He bears the biggest responsibility because he has thwarted the national dialogue more than once when we all know how vital and urgent it is at this time.  It is really senseless that every time we start a new dialogue we get confronted by the Muslim Brothers stating that the results of the dialogue are “not compulsory”. Will they always keep breaching every commitment they make?  Don’t they realize by now how dangerous it is to keep playing the game of juggling roles between their leaderships?

    I have repeatedly criticized those who have been laying siege to the Palace of Itihadia, the Constitutional Court and the Media Production City: because I knew then, along with Al-Nour Party with whom I am affiliated, that the cycle of violence will keep enlarging and then it will evolve into a state of action-and-reaction and no one will be able to stop it then.

    The opposition, in turn, bears an ample part of the responsibility by being silent and sluggish in front of this very same phenomenon.  They even support it morally; either implicitly or explicitly!  Their biggest mistake ever will be to think that they can stop this vicious cycle of violence

    Running the state at these critical times calls for leaders who are broad-minded and who are able to contain all this without any hesitation or delay. We also need an understanding opposition that can offer realistic solutions, optional programmes and can recognise the scale of its responsibility towards a country almost going down in flames.

    Let us come up with a covenant between all the trends, currents and political parties of Egypt.  Something that can accommodate the fact that the differences between us are there and will always be there.  Mastering the art of “finding the common ground” is a must that we can’t live without nowadays! A covenant that can criminalize the escalation of political differences into physical violence, hate speech and the constant attempt to marginalise your opponents; a covenant that can allow us to talk with each other, to argue and to depart as friends, even if we don’t end up agreeing.

    The visit of a controversial Muslim to Tunisia sparks debate

    By Sana Ajmi

    The visit Nabil Al-Awadhi, a controversial Muslim figure, recently made to Tunisia has sparked off widespread controversy. Uproar has greeted the Kuwaiti, whether in support or in disagreement and from representatives of nearly all the demographics of Tunisian society.

    Al-Awadhi who was invited to Tunisia by a civil society group, arrived to last week and was received by Imed Deymi, the presidential spokesperson. In the new democratic Tunisia, it seems everyone is welcome. “I don’t agree with this man, but he has the right to express his ideas freely. We have to accept the fact that in a democracy, everyone has the right to follow whatever ideology they believe in,” said Samir Ben Hamouda, a Tunisian student. “This is called freedom of speech, and this is what Tunisians have fought for during the revolution,” Ben Hamouda added.  

    Al-Awadhi and many other clerics couldn’t come to Tunisia in the past, but now we can have them in Tunisia and they are welcome,” said Marwa Laabidi who attended Al-Awadhi’s lecture in Tunis.

    However for many others this visit serves only to interfere in Tunisian politics. “This man wants to implement a Saudi Arabian interpretation of Quran in a Tunisian society. This can never happen. I heard his lectures and the fatwa he made.  He is encouraging little girls to wear the veil which deprives them of enjoying a normal childhood. This is not the kind of Islam we want in our moderate country. He is only aggravating social divisions and spreading regressive ideas,” asserted Mohamed Belamin, a Tunisian professor.

    Tunisia is well known for its moderate interpretation of Islam. However during the last couple of years, a more conservative interpretation of Islam, or Salafism, has spread widely throughout Tunisian society. Youssef Seddik, a well-know Islamic scholar, puts this new phenomenon down to the religious oppression that people went through during the former regime. During Ben Ali’s regime, women were banned from wearing the veil:

    Salafism is spreading especially among younger generations because they are adopting the ideas of Salafi clerics and preachers they watch on TV or online. The Zitouna School which is one of the major schools that adopts a moderate interpretation of Islam was closed for a long time, so people resorted to other sources of information to learn about Islam which contributed to the birth of this ideology” explained Seddik.

    Al-Awadhi’s visit is not the first one to have sparked debate in Tunisia. Last February, the visit of Wajdi Ghoneim, the fiery Egyptian cleric notorious for his controversial stances on a number of social and political issues, also caused a storm.  A team of Tunisian lawyers threatened to build a case against Ghoneim on charges of inciting hatred as well as the unauthorized use of public spaces for the purpose of worship. Ghoneim on his part issued a challenge – via Facebook – against his “secular and liberal” Tunisian critics, calling upon them to face up to him in a live, televised debate.

    It is true that Tunisians are now enjoying a well-earned freedom; they are able to express their opinion about the visit of the cleric. However, such fracas shouldn’t hide the real problems in Tunisia, poverty and unemployment.

    Egypt: taking people for fools

    By Refaat Mohamed

    I couldn’t help but laugh as I watched the video of the president Mohamed Morsi in Germany, trying to justify the arbitrariness of the exceptional procedures forced on the cities of Port Said, Suez, and Ismailia, including curfew, and emergency law. I laughed because the story that he was telling and the way he told it reminded me a lot of “khaled” my three-year old nephew when he tells me the tales of Spiderman, or Batman fighting evil. Oddly, we have never ever heard such tales before, although in all their rich detail of various conspiracies, they are not in anyway trifling to the point where they might even be ignored by our local media.

    We as a nation are diagnosed as having multiple personality disorder, which is often confused with schizophrenia. Yes, Egypt is ‘schizophrenic’. As a nation, state, and people. It was not in your face, this condition. No, you had to observe it for a while to see its signs and symptoms, tearing down the economic, social, and moral fibre of the nation. We are a nation where more than 25% of its people are living under international poverty levels, and yet Egypt has been a market ripe for fancy cars, restaurants, and all types of clothing brands. More than 25% are shelter-less, and yet people rent beach houses for 10000$ a month. We are supposedly religious people by nature and default, and yet our streets are infested with drugs. Being religious also doesn’t prevent excessive sexual harassment on the streets.

    The new administration of the Muslim Brotherhood suffers from hyper-schizophrenia, as is shown in their speech, statements and positions. The speech that is directed towards the west is so very different from the speeches directed at the people of Egypt, under the arrogant assumption that this is a sustainable hypocrisy. It is also obvious in the discrepancy between what they preach and what they actually do. They have claimed that they will ban a lot of the obscenity and vulgarity of the cinema and the music scenes, and yet they found no shame or guilt in holding meetings with the most vulgar and obscene artistes, supportive of Mubarak’s regime.

    Egypt is not the safest country in the world, so a lot of accidents tend to take place. Sometimes a spate of accidents raises a lot of questions. And during my life which was spent mostly under the Mubarak administration, there have been three explanations for any accident, and only three: 1) - a fire caused by a short circuit. 2) - the offender is crazy 3) - Islamist terrorist groups.  All my life I have wished that the day would come when they found one arsonist, or a killer who killed but wasn’t really crazy, and I suspect I am not alone around the world in waiting for that non-Islamist terrorist to surface. Mubarak’s regime lied about a lot of things, and Mubarak’s regime denied a lot of things, but now Mubarak is gone. I don’t want to be fed the same lies. I want someone to tell me the truth, and nothing but the truth. But unfortunately it doesn’t seem as if this will happen any time soon.

    Morsi’s regime have brought quite a lot of new habits to the pathological lying adopted from Mubarak’s regime. They justify, and justify, and cannot stop justifying, and I think the fact that someone needs to justify everything he does, means that something is wrong. They treat the people as if they were retards, or as if they function on another intellectual level, so that they are bound to misunderstand. And it is nerve-wracking, “ you have done wrong, just admit it and we will let it go”: but they actually think that they never can do anything wrong.

    What makes it even worse, and makes me feel hopeless, is that the common people that do support the Islamist movements, have an unconditional love and support for the regime, no matter what they do or say. It is they who form a barrier to the regime changing their ways.

    Tomorrow we hope will be a finer day.

    For a national awakening in Algeria

    By Kamal Benkoussa

    “A social explosion will come.” “The street is young and the government is deaf and obsolete.” We are experts in the art of making statements.  However, we have yet to convert these into the concrete actions we must take to climb out of the social and economic stagnation that is suffocating us, and a social order that sets us apart from nations that control their own destiny. 

    For more than twenty years, we have lived through a multidimensional crisis that clouds our future with uncertainty. Despite an abundance of capital, the twenty-first century for us has been synonymous with unemployment, a high cost of living, social instability and strikes and riots, all against a backdrop of major political crises.  Today our institutions are no longer capable of guaranteeing any social contract. Despite the upheaval in the Arab world, a sign of people’s unstoppable aspiration for freedom, our political system is a prisoner of its reactionary notions of social relationships and continues on its collision course.

    It is true that Algerians have not yet taken to the streets to demonstrate against their subjugation and break away from a regime that drags it to the edge of the abyss. The Algerian population is young, with 30% of the population between the ages of 15 and 29. The youth have not lived the ‘dark years’ very well and will end up, sooner or later, rejecting the notion that their future is mortgaged. In the absence of means and a forum for peaceful expression, they will have to use force to demand that which in fact is rightfully theirs.

    What both the elite and the government fear is a period of renewed violence as the inevitable outcome of their united failure.  In terms of the government, the more time passes, the more it proves its commitment to maintaining the status quo. As for the elite, in absolving themselves of responsibility and turning their backs on politics they have allowed for the creation of a tragic situation that will spiral out of control, carrying with it the clear risk of plunging the country into chaos.

    Do we have a vision of the future?

    Like the majority of my fellow countrymen, I am profoundly attached to Islam and its values.  Nevertheless, as the late Mr. Boudiaf used to say, look around at the developed nations, those that produce all the technology and the goods that we love to consume.  The constitutional state, social justice, solidarity, social confidence, the moral collective (namely in the handling of public affairs) and freedom - these are the values and the norms that have ensured the success of a people. These rights and values can only be guaranteed by strong institutions that are legitimate and responsive to their citizens.  They cannot in any way be based on the simple, imagined virtue of the individual.  So let us not be fooled: nobody has a monopoly on virtue, and the problem with Algeria does not in any way lie with the absence of Islam, but with the absence of  institutional legitimacy, leaders who understand their responsibility to the people, and a strong civil society.

    They are also the values for which our neighbours have risen up. We are collectively responsible for the situation in which our country finds itself because instead of pursuing our rights, we have left the field open to the tyranny of our leaders. How can they then work for the common interest when we do not make them accountable? Above all, witnessing our indifference toward some of our fellow countrymen, we must recognize that it is the notion of common interest that is absent.

    Therefore, now that we have reached the climax of the crisis, we must make the whole nation aware that a great people can govern themselves.  The myth of a saviour is utopian because, as it is written in Surah 13 of the Koran, “In truth, Allah does not change the lot of a people unless they change that which is within them.”  The road will be long and difficult but we must mobilize all  our efforts, all our determination, and all our talent  to build together a modern society respectful of our cultural and religious values. Nevertheless, we must first work our way out of the crisis in which we find ourselves, one that threatens us each day a little more.  But what can we do?

    On a political level, we face a dilemma.  To participate in the framework of the current political parties is to endorse a government’s strategy that maintains the status quo by merely renovating and not addressing the foundations of our social order. Not participating is to condemn ourselves to the inevitable use of force.  How do we solve this paradox and break this impasse?   

    Restore the political by regaining our citizenship.

    The answer can be found in the very causes of our failure referred to above, namely our incapacity for political action. While we all recognize that the situation is critical and that ‘things must change’ we continue, nonetheless, to follow the rules of the game, those of the status quo.  What keeps us trapped is, on the one hand, the fact that we are not always able to identify the ‘things that should change’ and, on the other hand, our absence of trust in each other.  It is this low level of social consciousness that keeps us from examining our problems collectively and blending our individual interests into a superior interest.

    What must change?  What must fundamentally change is our relationship with our environment, namely toward our fellow countrymen and our state and its representatives. We must finally recognize that when we disassociate ourselves from a fellow Algerian who is a victim of injustice or deprived of his most elementary rights and fundamental freedoms, we renounce our own rights and freedoms. We must understand that the obligations we have to each other are the ultimate source of our own rights and the only way to end the despotism of the leaders who have victimized us for fifty years.  We must therefore stop being passive and instead work toward change. We must say no to corruption at all levels, no to despotic institutions and administrations, and no to injustice in any form.  We must now organize ourselves and hold these leaders accountable  in their handling of public affairs.  Their decisions have profound consequences on our every day lives and the future of our country, and we cannot continue to ignore them.  If the political parties are not, for now, the appropriate forums to accomplish this, then we must organize ourselves into user associations of consumers, travellers and citizens, to behave as one and communicate our wishes and assert our rights.

    Nobody should feel threatened by the turn that our society must make because it is only though dialogue, principally in all circles of society (political, civic and military), that we will be able to find a peaceful solution to the crisis that threatens our future more every day.

    Our spring will not be a violent revolution but a national awakening. We proclaim loudly and strongly that we will now remain awake and aware and that together, and with the help of our neighbours and the international community, we will force a break with our tragic past. Peacefully but realistically and, above all, determined, we will take possession of all spaces for public action and  make our institutions and leaders aware of their responsibilities.   In this way, we will make them accountable for their handling of our country’s public affairs, reminding them that Algeria belongs to all Algerians but it is not owned by anyone.

    Tunisia’s political dysfunction rests on a fierce power struggle

    By Meriem Dhaouadi

    “They do not care about us; all they care about is power.  To test a man’s character give him money or power; and in our context, I say - to test a politician’s honesty, vote for him, grant him power”. This was said to me by one of the passengers in a shared taxi in Tunis during a brief chat. Politics have become so embedded in the everyday lives of Tunisians following the revolution. Today attention is drawn to the cabinet reshuffle. The sharing of power seems a hard task at the dawn of the revolution in the North African country. Popular feeling about the country‘s prospects is overladen with uncertainty and cynicism. The sense of optimism I felt two years ago fades with almost each passing day (a fact that many fear to reveal less they are accused of belonging to the remnants of the old regime.)

    The failed cabinet reshuffle

    The failure of any outcome to the cabinet reshuffle in Tunisia following lengthy talks reflects mounting rivalry among the political actors over power and key posts in the government. In the midst of our economic instability, growing violence and extremism, gathering frustration in the marginalized regions, the miserable conditions of thousands of unemployed, the battle among those who govern us is over power sharing. The absence of any willingness to compromise especially inside the governing troika will eventually lead to a political crisis.  

    After months of unproductive negotiations, the obsession with expanding their own power and prestige seems to be the chief motivation of all the political actors. When it comes to Ennahda (the ruling Islamist party), they refuse pointblank to give up key ministry posts, notably the ministry of justice led by Noureddine Bhiri, and the ministry of foreign affairs led by  Rafik Abdessalem who is son-in-law to Ennahda leader, Rached Gannouchi, and was recently involved in the Sheraton gate scandal.

    The seeds of division inside the ruling party have become apparent between the moderate and the hardline elements. While the prime minister seeks a more inclusive government in the next cabinet reshuffle, hoping to give some key ministerial portfolios to political allies or to independents, the more conservative members of the party reject such a compromise.

    Resignation fever

    Meanwhile Lotfi Zitoun (an adviser to Jebali the prime minister) and the presidential adviser Samir Ben Amor have resigned as the country plunges into a crisis. The Congress for the Republic party (CPR) one of the partners in the coalition government asked for the replacement of Foreign Affairs and the Justice Ministers.  President Marzouki sent a message threatening to quit his position as president if negotiations over the government reshuffle failed to involve such measures. He has no intention to remain the president of a republic governed by one party (the Ennahda party).  "If Ennahda does not change its foreign and justice ministers within a week, the Congress for the Republic will withdraw its ministers from the government and President Marzouki may resign from his post," said Mohammed Abbou, secretary-general of the Congress for the Republic. For Ettakatol, another left-leaning force in the troika, the justice ministry is the main bone of contention. He argues that Nourredine Bhiri, the current justice minister, must be replaced or the party will quit the government, its spokesman Mohamed Bennour said.

    Crime and violence

    Amid the resulting paralysis, on February 1, the Leagues for the Protection of the Revolution (LPR) prevented a meeting organized by Al-Joumhouri party ( an opposition party) from taking place in Jendoubaa, a city located in the northwest of Tunisia.  A group of LPR members formed a human chain to prevent the citizens from accessing the hotel in which the meeting would take place. The rising violence against opposition parties sends a gloomy psychological message that the political leadership is week and quite unable to curb such undemocratic and intimidating practices.

    Members of the committee for the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice attacked the local Islamic radio station headquarters Zitouna FM on Saturday, in an attempt to sack the director of the station. This was yet another incident that further scared the Tunisian people, who have harboured a fear of the proliferation of organized crime and violence. In addition, there appears to be a new wave of attacks on Sufi shrines, and thirty-four of these mausoleums have been attacked in eight months. Radicalism is on the rise as the power struggle deepens and government institutions are seen to be weak.

    Recent debates over the cabinet reshuffle demonstrate once again that the current political forces in Tunisia champion their own interests over democratic reforms indispensable for the maintenance of  stability in this critical phase of transition. The political players (the ones in government and the opposition) should accelerate their efforts today towards reaching consensus and putting Tunisia above everything else; the political crisis is born of the fact that our major political parties are motivated by greed for political power.

    Look at where we are now! Tunisians see their dreams, their sacrifices and their future collapsing. The optimism that pushed Tunisians in massive numbers to the streets two year ago is fading and, pessimism is reigning. Wake up Tunisians before it is too late.

    Qatar’s public diplomacy woes

    By Michael Stephens

    2013 seems to be the year of open season on Qatar. In my recent travels and conversations I have found myself listening to lists of endless grievances and accusations about the country, one person even went so far as to claim that he and many others like him hated Qatar. Having grown deeply fond of Qataris and their culture, some of this criticism levelled from the outside can at times cause me to go on the defensive. But personal feelings must be put aside, and it is time to ask why this is happening, and what has caused Qatar’s popularity to plummet so dramatically in recent months?

    A caveat; I’m not going to talk about al Jazeera, or the Muslim Brotherhood, or Jihadists in Mali and Syria. Many have already explored these issues in depth: there is no need to offer a rehash of what Sultan al Qassemi and others have so eloquently explored. Living in Qatar offers a chance to analyse from the inside looking out, rather than the outside looking in.

    Qatar is a young underdeveloped state. Its Ministries are small and lack research teams of adequate depth, and it does not possess a foreign intelligence service, it relies instead on the good will of others to share information with it. Its style of governance is top heavy and not complimented by adequate balances against policy decisions. Think tanks are here, Brookings, RUSI, and the Al Jazeera Studies Centre; but whilst diplomats from many nations use the resources we provide to deepen their understanding of world affairs and fact-check their missives to their respective Foreign Ministries, the Qataris have shown little interest in engaging any of us other than to attend conferences; hardly where the real foreign policy work gets done.

    Contrast this to Saudi Arabia or Bahrain where local thinkers connected to government sit in well-funded think tanks, and where discussions behind closed doors are open and frank, and you begin to see why Qatar is running into trouble. The Qatari policy elite sit distanced from the events they are controlling, unaware often of the turbulent waters that swirl beneath. Rumours begin, without the elite’s knowledge and very quickly spread into larger rumours; before you know it elites in the UAE fear that Qatar is funding Muslim Brotherhood terror cells in Ras al Khaimah and half the world is convinced Qatar is spreading Jihadist ideology in Mali. When the rumours get so large that answers are demanded they are met with walls of silence, not because Qatar has anything to hide, but because that is the culture of governance here.

    The most worrying aspect of all is that people in positions of power across the world now believe these stories and shape their policies accordingly, likewise editors in major news outlets and newspapers are also convinced of Qatar’s guilt. 99% of these stories are untrue, but at this point there is little Qatar can do to stop itself being viewed so negatively. There is always someone somewhere using the limited facts they possess to write invective at Qatar’s expense, four or five of us living here can try to offer the dispassionate facts but the boring reality is never as interesting as gossip, assumption and conspiracy. Furthermore it is not the job of the analysts here to do Qatar’s PR work for it.

    Currently the Qatari foreign policy track is to engage wherever and whenever it can, leveraging finances, diplomatic skill and occasionally Al Jazeera to assist in its global ambitions to deepen ties and secure its long term prosperity in the post-hydrocarbon age.

    All well and good, but regional leadership needs more than a TV station and five people at the top of the government making all the decisions. It is impossible with the number of world problems in which Qatar is involving itself for five people to possess the information necessary to deal with them adequately. Here Qatar’s small size is a true hindrance to the size of its aspirations, to remedy this factor would require human resources of a state 100 times more populous.

    But, in the 21st century a state wishing to aspire to regional leadership, and delving into the muddy waters of Syria, Libya, Mali, Palestine and other areas needs to have a developed and open discussion of policy in order for the vultures swirling above not to take their pound of flesh.

    Decision-making that affects the lives of millions of people is taken in Qatar every day, but if not openly discussed then suspicions inevitably arise. In a region undergoing change and riven by conspiracy theory and suspicion of outside interference, a tiny rich state popping up all over the globe and not adequately explaining itself begins to raise a few eyebrows.

    In short, Qatar’s culture of silence is beginning to backfire badly. The Prime Minister’s recent denials of nefarious dealings in Mali and Syria have gone largely unheard by both the Arab, and the western world. The thinking being ‘well if you have nothing to hide then why didn’t you say something sooner?’

    Again it is important to stress that most of the time Qatar’s actions are genuinely more benign than people assume. In Mali for example the only evidence of Qatari involvement there are four individuals for the Qatari Red Crescent working at a hospital in Gao, hardly a developed operation to sponsor Jihadists across the region. This assertion has been backed up by the French DGSE who found no evidence of hostile Qatari operations in Mali. Yet so deep is the suspicion of Qatar it appears this evidence matters little.

    What is to be done? Well much of this could be avoided by simply employing a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to provide a weekly briefing to journalists, and once in a while giving people in the foreign policy professions a call to ask their advice: we don’t bite. Lastly, employ more Qataris with international experience and draft them into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to research these problems and produce policy recommendations as Bahrain and Saudi have done.

    Qatar’s dizzy rise onto the global stage was always going to be bumpy, but now the country needs to develop its infrastructure to deal with the challenges it wishes to take on. The risks of not doing so are already in evidence: a Qatari flag was burned in Cairo last week, and if Qatar’s unpopularity continues to rise burnt flags will be the least of its problems.