This week's window on the Middle East - July 23, 2013

Arab Awakening's columnists offer their weekly perspective on what is happening on the ground in the Middle East. Leading the week, How did the crises in Egypt snowball?

  • How did the crises in Egypt snowball?
  • Qatari foreign policy: a way out
  • Islamists in Sudan: too many faces of the same coin
  • Egypt’s male feminists
  • Where are the Syrian Kurds heading amidst the civil war in Syria?
  • Women left behind as Libya's constitution-drafting moves forwards
  • How did the crises in Egypt snowball?

    By Nader Bakkar

    I belong to an Islamist political party that was considered – up till now – the second biggest political power in Egypt. The Al Nour Party was a partner, not an ally, for the Muslim Brotherhood in many situations, and we well understood the grave political and social situation in Egypt prior to June 30.

    The Party had tried several times before to tackle the stubbornness of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the last major attempt was right after the June 30 protests broke out, when we asserted the necessity for early presidential elections. 

    As we were not listened to, we decided instead to join with those forces who might be partners in determining the post-Morsi political road map. We represent a large constituency of Islamists who refuse to pay for mistakes they didn’t do and have warned our leaders against pursuing. 

    Regardless of how we define what happened on June 30, whether as a soft coup or a popular modification for the democratic process, we are in serious need of looking back to take stock and fully appreciate how this situation snowballed into the current crisis.

    When the Muslim Brotherhood decided to run for presidency, it already knew full well how big the problems of Egypt were. It knew that the deep state existed, that there was widespread corruption, a lack of governance and a critical economic situation. Still, its campaign was more focused on solving the problems of energy, electricity, security and garbage. It claimed that these problems had been specifically calculated to take only one hundred days to be solved. The Muslim Brotherhood also claimed that they knew exactly how to put an end to this fraud.      

    The Muslim Brotherhood also declared its principled stand against all the various factions of the deep state, although it could have contained them and used their expertise.

    It could have pragmatically deployed common interests to neutralise these, for the deep state doesn’t have a strong ideological stand against the Muslim Brotherhood.  
      
    This was followed by a general punishment meted out to all who had ever belonged to the National Democratic Party, instead of paving the way to a national reconciliation that could have eradicated hostility with the interest-based old regime. Generalizing retribution is the same mistake made in post-invasion Iraq, where they eradicated the Al Ba`ath Party in a way that created a huge administrative trauma that Iraq is still suffering from.  

    Generally, the Muslim Brotherhood didn’t neglect a single opportunity to make enemies with all their opponents and any group that might have a different stand. All these ‘enemies’ we herded together into one corner, with an arrogance that’s not normally found acceptable in Islamic, logical or political practices.    

    After the constitution was agreed, we were hoping for a better engagement with all the state institutions. Over and over again, we asserted the necessity of engaging the opposition and pushing them into the political arena, winning back millions of those who belonged to the old regime, and forming a strong government instead of Hisham Kandil’s and appointing a new General Prosecutor through the Supreme Judicial Council. All these demands were critical and could have mobilized positively in that political situation. 

    It was declared that passing the power of legislation to the Shura Council was to conclude the parliamentary elections law. However, the Muslim Brotherhood tried to pass a huge number of laws in a way that made the society alarmed. None of these laws was related to any of the popular demands, like social justice for instance. It became even worse after the laws governing the judicial authority forced the entire judiciary into a stand against the president and his government.

    The response to oil and electricity problems was slow: the government lacked the mentality for quick intervention and crisis management. The hostilities between the president and his government on one hand and the judiciary and intelligence among other institutions on the other, escalating popular rage, and the interference of a media that was focused on challenging the pro-Morsi media  - these were all factors that saw the president’s popularity plummet.    

    As for the military, the Muslim Brotherhood didn’t comprehend the role of the military institution in ousting Mubarak’s dictatorship by withdrawing its support and leaving him to face the crowds on his own. This brought huge popularity to the military that wasn’t dented by the first transitional period. The Muslim Brotherhood didn’t comprehend that the military established the other state institutions after the 1952 revolution, and that it considers itself a guardian to these institutions and would never accept any threats to it, especially when it comes to the judiciary and to intelligence. 

    The military found more reasons to interfere as the presidency failed to deal with the situation, and it gave many hints that the presidency didn’t take seriously enough. Regardless of the constitutionality of such a situation, we tried several times to convince the Muslim Brotherhood that it was an established one that they had to reckon with. 

    Up till July 3, they were relying on the army’s statement that it had divorced itself from Egypt's politics once and for all. But there is a huge difference between understanding reality and accepting it.

    To be continued

    Qatari foreign policy: a way out

    By Michael Stephens

    Qatar has had a bad month, a really bad month. Its foreign policy, so energetically constructed over a period of more than ten years, and infused with billions of dollars and hundreds of hours of late night diplomacy has received a number of serious setbacks.

    In Syria, Qatar’s candidate for the chairmanship of the National Coalition, Mustafa Sabbagh, lost out to the Saudi backed candidate Ahmad Jarba. In addition the rebels, so long backed by Doha continue to lose ground and have begun to descend into serious infighting.

    In Doha, the opening of an office for the Taliban has gone horribly wrong. After meaningless spats over plaques on the wall and flag poles, the overly delicate egos of Hamid Karzai and some Pakistan Taliban ensured that the office arrived stillborn. Their hosts in Doha, rather than celebrating a diplomatic coup, now host an empty building, and it is unknown if it will ever be in use again.

    Finally in Egypt, Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, the allies of Qatar and recipients of at least $5bn in financial assistance, have fallen from power following a popular backed military coup and violent repression ensuring they and their supporters were removed swiftly from positions of influence. In addition Al Jazeera’s Mubasher Masr television station was raided, its journalists detained, half of whom swiftly resigned from the channel for its ‘biased’ coverage.

    Signs of malaise

    In truth the warning signs were all around. Those of us in Doha saw as early as January 2012 that the Qataris were beginning to make enemies, and by the beginning of 2013 the drop in Qatar’s popularity had become alarming. Myself and others urged the Qataris to change course or face dire consequences. It was a message that was heeded, but seemingly not acted upon swiftly enough to prevent the coming collapse.

    In addition, Al Jazeera Arabic’s coverage of the region has appeared more slanted and less tolerant of pluralistic viewpoints, losing millions of viewers in the process. The backlash in Egypt against the channel had been brewing for months, yet Al Jazeera blindly ignored the writing on the wall.

    If it looks bad for Qatar, that’s because it is. But all is not lost, and should Qatar decide that its engagements with the world are worthy of upkeep there are number of steps to consider that can halt the slide and help to rebuild its regional position:

    1) Don't Panic: Qatar has a history of zigzagging when policies appear to be going wrong. Often this makes it nigh on impossible to predict what Qatar will do and breeds suspicion: fickle behaviour in the international arena is a sign of immaturity. Take time to assess and figure out ways to rebuild your regional position - Ramadan could be a good time to rethink quietly.

    2) Understand what mistakes were made and why: Looking at where Qatar began to make enemies is critical to understanding where Qatar is where it is today. As early as the beginning of 2012 cracks were appearing as Qatar began to upset players in multilateral forums, and pushed and undermined key regional actors, particularly in the Arab League.

    3) Realign Al Jazeera Arabic to a more neutral standpoint: In short Al Jazeera's fall from grace has been Qatar's biggest body blow, its perceived bias in Egypt and Syria and alignment to Muslim Brotherhood voices has caused a catastrophic blow to its credibility. Furthermore the channel’s response to the complaints of Shia, Allawi and Egyptian employees has been an attitude of "if you don't like it leave". The result is that AJA became more internally focused and self-referential. The lack of internal debate and exile of dissenters has led to a channel which can no longer understand why it is perceived as biased and what it has done to lose so much trust.

    4) Restructure foreign policy-making apparatuses: Qatari foreign policy is made by a small number of key actors, with a circle of advisors that hover around the edges, sometimes possessing a Rasputin-like influence. The more diversified the foreign policy making apparatus is, the more ideas flow to the top and the more nuanced foreign policy becomes. It slows down decision-making, but more adequately highlights risks and potential sources of conflict that are coming down the line.

    5) Realign diplomatic efforts away from militaristic tendencies: Qatar has become too associated with acting like a bull in a china shop, embracing the military option when other players sought more nuanced approaches. It may have short term benefits, but long term it is ruinous, especially with the empowerment of militias in Libya and Syria who have acted in ways contrary to the goals of regional players and the west. Qatar's strength was that it appeared non-biased and never threatened anybody militarily, allowing it influence and the trust of players it worked with. Now Qatar is seen as an interfering aggressor who will turn to the military option to get what it wants. Which leads to point six:

    6) Embrace soft power: Qatar has fabulously wealthy arms of soft power, the Qatar Foundation run by the widely popular and respected mother of the Emir Sheikha Moza bint Nasser al Misnad is a crucial arm of this drive. Alongside Silatech and Qatar Charity, Qatar can channel money into populist causes and present itself once more as a force for good in the region. Rather than put money into the central bank in Cairo, why not help subsidise staple foods for Egypt’s poorest, or support relief aid in North Africa? And be bold about it, however much is being currently being spent on international development, double it. Money isn’t in short supply, especially if support to Syrian rebels is curtailed.

    7) Support a wider spectrum of regional actors: Although unquestionably an Arab and Islamic country, Qatar does not need to be married to political Islam. It was sensible to assume after decades of repression that it was a rising force, but to exclusively support Islamists in some actors has been a disaster. Political Islam will be a player in the region for many years, but so will other forces. Widening the field of engagement will produce wider gains in the long run, and hedging bets rather than firmly taking sides will ensure Qatar is better able to see its foreign policy goals realised.

    8) Explain yourselves: The previous seven points are worthless if Qatar can’t explain to the world what it is doing and seeks to achieve. An interview with the elite once or twice a year on CNN focusing on Qatar's enormous wealth, social reforms and high standards of living isn't enough to satisfy a world that wants to know what Qatar is up to. Employ a spokesman to give on the record briefings about what Qatar's positions are, and be available for comment when journalists ask questions. Though Qatar has tried to open up, it has not been enough, and journalists have felt slighted, and those tasked with reporting Qatari foreign policy are left to guess at intentions. When even neutral actors are writing about you using 50% guesswork it will always backfire and always make you look bad, because it is the nature of the news business to always assume the worst.

    Islamists in Sudan: too many faces of the same coin

    By Yosra Akasha

    Sudanese Islamic parties and groups have organized a protest on Monday July 8, 2013 in front of the Egyptian embassy in Khartoum in support of ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, claiming that the 30 June wave of protests was a military coup against the constitutional legitimacy of the elected president, and calling for prosecution of Abdul Fatah Al Sisi, Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces of Egypt and Dr. Mohamed Al Baradei, the leader of the National Salvation Front. Although the government of Sudan, dominated by the National Congress Party (NCP), announced that “whatever is happening in Egypt is an internal affair” - parliamentarians representing NCP have joined in the protests.

    Looking at the groups party to this process exposes many Islamic-driven subdivisions from the same cell of the Muslim Brotherhood. These include the Muslim Brotherhood themselves, the Popular Congress Party (PCP), the Just Peace Forum (JPF), the Islamic Constitutional Front (ICF) and the Saehoon group.

    The Just Peace Forum was formed in 2004 by a racist group of Islamists led by Eltayeb Mustafa, the uncle of president Omar Elbashir. Its main aim was to mobilize people against ‘Southerners’ and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that brought peace between the north and south and gave southerners the right to self-determination which resulted, in 2011, in the independence of South Sudan. JPF claims include the allegation that Northerners have been abused by the Southerners and that jihad is the only way to bring about peace and justice.

    The Islamic Constitutional Front was formed in Dec 2012, and called for the building of an Islamic constitution after South Sudan secession, claiming that the 2005 interim constitution was invalid to in the eyes of the Muslim majority, & crying shame at the Islamic front for having ruled for 24 years without enforcing an Islamic constitution.

    It is worth noting that civil society constitution-making initiatives were banned from organising public activities or accessing the internally dispersed camps around Khartoum which are home to two thirds of its overall population. ICF is the one and only initiative aimed at constitution-making that is allowed to conduct activities in public.

    Saehoon is the most recent Islamist group. It floated to the surface in November 2012, after the coup attempt made by ex-spies Chief Salah Gosh, the Brigadier-General Mohamed Ibrahim and the Major-General Adil Eltayeb. They are calling for reforming NCP and stopping the war in Darfur, South Kordofan and the Blue Nile through declaring jihad against rebel groups.

    The Popular Congress Party (PCP) led by Hassan Eltorabi was formed in 1999 after the split in the ruling Islamic front that resulted in the National Congress Party (NCP) continuing in power while consigning the PCP to the opposition camp. NCP has intensified its crackdown on PCP affiliates; the friends of yesterday who have become the worst of enemies today.

    Arbitrary arrests and detention for years on end are the lot of some active PCP members and even the chief of the party, Eltorabi, has exhausted the party, which has no difference of vision from all the other Islamist groups. PCP had allies among secular democratic political parties in 2009 when the National Consensus Forces (NCF) was formed to unify the opposition parties against NCP. But no more.

    Ibrahim Elsanosi; the vice president of PCP has switched from democratic speech to that of the divine and has been addressing the protestors saying that Al Sisi is the Lord's enemy and the National Rescue Front is a coalition of the secular entity that is enemy number one. You would never imagine that  his party had ever been in alliance with secular political parties in Sudan in the NCF.

    The Islamic Front was formed in 1985 after they had split away from the Muslim Brotherhood. They took over power through a military coup and ousted the elected democratic government on June 30, 1989. Rather in contrast to the sentiments they have expressed about Egypt's June 30 wave of protests; they immediately banned all political parties, trade unions and civil society organizations; arrested, tortured and killed whoever dared to oppose the regime and forced thousands to flee the country fearing for their lives. PCP hypocrisy and double standards are now shining through their rhetoric on Egyptian affairs; hopefully democratic parties of the NSF will get to see this.  It has been really amazing to see dictators speaking of democracy and criminals demanding justice.

    The dilemma of Sudanese politics

    The aspiration for a democratic secular state is endangered by having Muslim Brotherhoods sub-sets in power and in the opposition as well,  leaving far too little space for democratic secular parties and a youth movement to grow in, intensifying the threat of a crackdown and allowing the Islamist opposition to protest and demonstrate to the world how democratic the Sudanese government is.

    Another thing that made us sit up was seeing police authorities protecting the Islamist pro-democracy protests; while last year during June and July peaceful popular anti-regime protests activists reported that over 2000 persons were arbitrary arrested by national intelligence and security services and detained for 5-8 weeks.

    The June/July detainees testified that they have been tortured and maltreated by security officers. A junior female student in the University of Khartoum has lost an eye to a rubber bullet shot inside the university campus. 13 teenagers were shot to death by police forces in Nyala on July 31, 2013.

    While the June/July anti regime protests were raging; Sudanese Islamists were chanting in the streets and celebrating their Egyptian victory of the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi's inauguration. Today, a year later, they are bemoaning that Morsi has been ousted,  not so much for Morsi's sake as out of fear that Sudanese youth will be inspired by their Egyptian counterparts, who once before drove Sudanese people to take to the streets, on January 30,2011 and in the June/July summer 2012 protests - in an attempt to bring down the Islamic Front/ NCP regime. It is impressive to watch how Egyptian political dynamics influence and inspire Sudanese politics.

    Egypt’s male feminists

    By Ahmed Kadry

    Male. Egyptian. Feminists. Three words you seldom find amalgamated together. But they do exist, I assure you: I for one, am one. Nice to meet you.

    If you ever wanted proof that the January 25 2011 Revolution raised not only intrinsic political awareness and a mushrooming of political discourse and participants, but also raised social awareness of problems that have for far too long laid buried in contradictory and restrictive social constructs and taboos, then women’s rights is a prime example.

    Whether it be the unprecedented attention sexual harassment has received from domestic and international media over the past two years, or the fact that the fight against political Islam was often framed through the argument that it would oppress women’s rights - one way or another, Egyptians, and not just Egyptian women, are talking about women.

    Male Egyptian feminists are of course in the minority among the Egyptian male population. That is not to suggest that those who are not feminists are by proxy misogynists (let’s drop false and restrictive binaries, please) - but the number of men who openly state and strive, where possible, to bring women’s socio-political levels into parity with those of men, are on the increase.

    Take actor Waleed Hammad as an example, who earlier this year dressed up as a woman to both personally experience, and publicly document, the levels of sexual harassment on Egypt’s streets that women must endure almost daily, if not daily, according to many women I have interviewed. One interviewee paralleled sexual harassment to bullying in school “where every day you fear going to school because of that one student who makes your life hell. Except this isn’t school and I don’t get to leave once I graduate - this is my life and my country, and every morning I start my day with apprehension or fear, depending on my recent experiences.”

    While Hammad represents a recent example, Egypt has a long and controversial history with male feminists, most notably starting with Qasim Amin, who in 1900 wrote the controversial book The New Woman. Amin was controversial in his own period because he was advocating the liberation of Egyptian women that went against strict patriarchal private and social constructs. After his death, he remains controversial and much criticised - this time not by men but by Egyptian women. Many women argue that his model for The New Woman was based on a European or pro-western construct that sought to impose a specific notion of liberation that ignored key nuances and elements of the identity of Egyptian women - a quasi mixture between imperial feminism and Orientalism, even if Amin himself was Egyptian.  

    Perhaps the most talked about Egyptian figure in the past half century, yet almost never discussed in relation to his feminist discourse, is Gamal Abdel Nasser. While debate on Nasser remains almost exclusively centered on his domestic political policies and foreign policy, the feminist academic Mervat Hatim (1992) argues that Nasser’s reign also saw “state sponsored feminism” where the promotion of women’s entry into public employment and contribution to the economy would also see Egypt as a whole elevate itself and progress. Of course, Nasser did little or nothing to change the infamous personal status laws that outline the rights, or lack thereof, of women’s rights at home, such as divorce - clearly suggesting that Nasser was in fact less of a “genuine” feminist.  But he did see women as playing an integral role in creating an economically stronger Egypt, and consequently consolidating his power.

    Back to the present. Any open declaration on the part of a male to declare himself a feminist is far from straightforward, as he meets opposition from both men and women. From fellow men, the obstacles are obvious. Whether it be from minor teases such as “you want to be a woman, or something?” (reinforcing this idea that being a woman is worse than being a man), or outright opposition to the idea that women should be given the same rights as women (often argued that this would see the collapse of “the family”), male feminists have much to deal with from their own gender.

    For their part, women who also consider themselves feminists often ask, “how come you are so interested in women’s rights?” I say, if we are ever going to achieve gender parity before law and society, women’s rights must evolve from “a woman’s movement” to a “national movement” which includes men.  

    But they say, “I can never understand” the feminist cause properly. There is of course much truth in that. I have never been sexually harassed, and if I were married, I would face far fewer obstacles because of my gender if I wanted to get a divorce. But think of Tahrir Square - if there were only men, or only women in the Square, the numbers that Tahrir has reached would be automatically halved, and have far less impact. In 2013, there are Egyptian men, many more than are visible, who genuinely see women’s rights as crucial if the 2011 Revolution is ever to succeed.

    Indeed, the access of female feminists to the men they wish to educate on female oppression is very limited. Thanks to the existing social taboos and customs regarding the way men and women can interact, men have far more access to other men than women. Logic dictates, then, that a more inclusive women’s movement that targets men, just as it does women, might have a significant impact on how quickly and successfully gender equality will be achieved.

    Try to imagine a packed Tahrir Square chanting not for the removal of Mubarak or Morsi, but men and women standing shoulder to shoulder demanding that the personal status laws be abolished. Male feminists are out there, some willing or less willing to openly state it, as well as many more waiting to be educated - and how well they are targeted will be crucial to whether or not women’s rights stay on the agenda and yield positive results in Egypt’s revolutionary upheaval. 

    Where are the Syrian Kurds heading amidst the civil war in Syria?

    By Zana Khasraw Gul

    The emergence of the Syrian Kurds, for the first time in modern Syrian history after decades of repression, faces many difficulties and pitfalls in the current situation, which will ultimately reform the political structure in Syria and thus determine the future of Syria’s Kurds.

    As the largest ethnic minority in Syria, composing 10-15 per cent of the population (approximately 3 million), the Syrian Kurds have become prominent players in the civil war in Syria. The militias control the area in the north-east known as Western Kurdistan, which is enclaved by Turkey and Iraq; with the informal capital being Qamishli. There are also significant numbers of Kurds in non-Kurdish areas such as Damascus, Homs, Aleppo and other towns.

    Qamishli witnessed a previous uprising in March 2004 by the Kurds against Assad’s regime, which was brutally suppressed and resulted in 65 deaths and 165 injured. Under the Baath regime, discrimination against the Kurds was a state approach: their existence was not recognized and an estimated 300,000 Kurds were stripped of their citizenship. During the popular revolution, however, Assad granted thousands of Kurds Syrian citizenship in an attempt to gain popularity.

    The domino effect of the Arab uprising instigated the Syrian people’s revolt against the regime in March 2011. Whereas the Arab Sunnis in Syria furiously launched into their rebellion against Assad’s government, the Kurdish Youth Movement announced a peaceful protest against the regime. This was partly due to Assad’s tactical approach of giving citizenship to some of the neglected Kurds and, in the early stages of the revolution, gradually withdrawing the Syrian army from Kurdish towns. Other factors were: the main opposition espousing Arab nationalist and Islamist ideologies; the role of Turkey in the opposition; skepticism by the Kurds regarding the opposition’s stance to their rights in a post-Assad regime; and the fear of brutal reprisals by Assad’s forces against the Kurdish people. As a result of these factors, the Kurdish movement and parties were reluctant either to join the opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) or to support the regime. However, that does not mean that the Kurds were for the uprising; in reality, their apparent detachment stemmed from their dilemma, torn between the Assad regime and an opposition that they could not  trust.

    The Kurds, in the wake of the revolution, seized the opportunity to strengthen their status politically and militarily. They created a renaissance of Kurdish culture by reviving the Kurdish language in schools and opening music and dance centres. Politically, their parties created independent police, set up security forces ‘Asaish’, issued independent vehicle license plates labelled ‘Rojava Kurdistan’ and established municipalities and courts. Furthermore, some of the oil fields in Hassakeh came under the control of the Kurdish forces and the Democratic Union Party (PYD). This new evolution in north-eastern Syria cannot be disregarded. 

    Kurdish political forces in Syria

    The Democratic Union Party (PYD) in western Kurdistan, is the most powerful political force and has had a remarkable impact on the situation in Syria. Founded in 2003 and led by Salih Muslim, PYD is affiliated to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is listed by Turkey and the US as a terrorist group. The two parties share secular, socialist and pan-Kurdish nationalistic ideologies as well as military ties. The PYD is part of the Union of Kurdish Communities (KCK) that was formed by the PKK.  

    Connected to the PYD is the People’s Defense Corps (Yekineyen Parastine Gel, YPG) who were trained by the PKK in Iraq. The YPG is an organized military force that officially represents the Kurdish Supreme Committee but it has been accused of acting as the armed wing of the PYD.  

    After the retreat of Assad’s troops from Kurdish towns in July 2012, the YPG filled the vacuum of power and the PYD raised its flag on the municipal buildings of more than five towns in north and north-east Syria. The retreat by the Assad regime was a sign of the Kurds’ deep-seated resentment of the Baathists; and it was also, strategically, an attempt to reduce the battlefronts.  

    Despite the allegations by the FSA and Turkey that the PYD is a tool for the regime, the PYD denies these allegations and has clashed with the Assad regime on several occasions and in several towns. Furthermore, the PYD has secured its power in several strategic Kurdish-inhabited areas including some oil fields. However, there have been clashes between the PYD, some factions in the FSA and the radical Islamist Jabhat Al-Nusra, which have raised fears of ethnic-wars between the Arabs and the Kurds. The PYD’s success in seizing sizeable areas with considerable domestic support has aroused Turkey’s anxiety about PKK’s agenda. All these actions indicate that the PYD is assertive and determined to play a significant role in the current conflict and the future of Syria.

    The PYD calls for constitutional recognition of the Kurds and a democratic, pluralist political system in Syria, including Kurdish autonomy in the form of a self-governing region within a new decentralized Syria. The latter objective has set the party at odds with the main opposition (the FSA). 

    The PYD entered an agreement with the rival Kurdish faction, the Kurdistan National Council (KNC), in Erbil under the auspices of the President of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Massoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (PDK), and on 12 July 2012 the two parties formed the Kurdish Supreme Committee. However, in June 2013 the two main components of this Committee failed to reconcile their differences, leaving the PYD and KNC each with 50 per cent of the committee.

    Recently in the north-east and north Syria, where there was an escalation of fighting between the PYD and Jabhat Al Nusra, this resulted in JaN and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant being expelled from strategic Kurdish townsPYD announced that within 6 months it would hold elections to form a local Kurdish government (national people’s assembly). In the meantime, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is preparing to announce Islamic emirates in the seized areas, as declared in Northern Aleppo.

    The KNC is a Kurdish organization bringing together more then ten Kurdish political parties. It is supported by the KRG and enjoys, to some extent, international legitimacy. Consequently, Turkey recognizes KNC as the voice of Syria’s Kurds. Founded in October 2011 under the patronage of Massoud Barzani in Erbil, it is in strong opposition to the Assad regime and skeptical of the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change, which has ties with both the PYD and the regime. The KNC’s aims are self-determination and a democratic, pluralistic, secular, federal state with a decentralized political system for maintaining a unified country.

    As President of the KRG, Massoud Barzani has offered the KNC military and financial assistance to enhance the Council’s capabilities and to restrain the PYD’s significant power in the region, which is derived from the PKK. 

    The KNC is a fragmented body with no cohesive programme or unified vision. This reflects the divisions within the KRG, where the PDK’s close tie is with Abdullhakim Bashar, the leader of the Kurdish Democratic party in Syria (KDPS), and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) (the Iraqi Kurdish political party headed by the President of Iraq Jalal Talabani) is close to AbdulHamid Darwish, the leader of the Kurdish Democratic Progressive Party in Syria. The two Kurdish Syrian leaders and parties represent the most influential elements in the KNC, but their conflicting strategies mirror PUK-PDK different perceptions with regards to the Kurdish cause. 

    On December 15, four KNC parties, closest to Massoud Barzani formed a new political coalition to strengthen their position; known as the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union (SKDU). However, there are claims that this will widen the gap between the KNC factions.  

    Following the recent intensified clashes in several areas between the YPG and the Al Qaida-affiliated Jabhat Al Nusra, the KNC condemned the attacks and urged the FSA to pressure the radicals to stop attacking Kurds. However, relations between the Kurds and radical Islamic militias remain hostile. 

    Regional involvement   

    To understand the current developments in Syria’s Kurdish region, it is essential to comprehend the relationship between the KRG and PKK, the two core Kurdish powers in the region. Each of them has distinct strategies and alliances, which consequently could lead to further clashes. Despite the Erbil settlement between the KNC and the PYD, and establishing a body that represents both of them, their differences are rooted in their regional engagements and their different perspectives on the Kurdish solution.  

    Although the civil war in Syria is ongoing, the Kurds have achieved major strides towards their rights by controlling a region for the first time in Syrian modern history. The Kurds do have greater goals, such as an autonomous region within a democratic, pluralistic state. Although there are strong voices opposing (Syrian National Council) Kurdish demands, at some point a solution will have to be reached. We can learn from the civil war in Iraqi Kurdistan, where eventually the Kurdish political forces harmonized and built up a political system for a safe and flourishing region, despite lingering criticisms and loopholes.

    Women left behind as Libya's constitution-drafting moves forwards

    By Rhiannon Smith

    On July 16, Libya's legislature, the General National Congress (GNC), finally approved the Constitutional Drafting Commission electoral law which outlines the rules and guidelines for electing the 60 member commission charged with drafting Libya's constitution.

    Establishing this constituent commission was one of the main tasks assigned to the GNC in the Constitutional Declaration of 2011 and was originally due to take place 30 days after the first meeting of the GNC (which took place back in summer 2012). However, months of political wrangling over whether the 60 members should be elected or appointed has severely delayed this process, with the decision to elect the commission only being taken in April this year. Once the commission has been elected, they will have 120 days to draft a constitution which will then be put to a referendum.

    The electoral law has raised a number of contentious issues including how best to ensure the participation of women and minority groups in the constitution drafting process, whether elections should be on an individual or party basis, and to what extent federalist demands can and should be met. Fundamental disagreements over such points meant it took several days for the law to be approved, and the law's eventual ratification was reportedly only achieved by putting certain interest groups under intense pressure to capitulate.

    One of the main sticking points was over whether the law should provide a quota for women within the constituent commission, and if so how large this quota should be. Women's rights activists and the women's bloc within the GNC had been campaigning for the law to provide 15 seats for women in order to ensure that Libyan women's needs, rights and aspirations are recognised and protected within Libya's new constitution[i].

    However, opponents of the quota (namely the Martyrs bloc and the Justice and Construction bloc) argued that members should be elected on the basis of merit, not gender. This position is understandable and echoed by much of the Libyan public, yet it is based on a flawed assumption that these elections will provide a level playing field for female candidates where they will be judged on equal terms with their male counterparts. In this highly patriarchal society that is simply not the case. Proponents do not think a quota is necessary because Libyan women are under-qualified but rather that, despite being qualified for the position, they are less likely to be seen as suitable candidates simply because they are not men.

    The demand for 15 seats for women was rejected by the GNC and the final draft included only 10% of seats for women, or 6 seats out of 60. The women's bloc abstained from the vote in protest. Ethnic minorities also felt they lost out with only 6 seats assigned between the three main ethnic groups; the Amazigh, the Tebu and the Tuareg. The objection of both women and minority groups is based on the fact that a 10% quota is likely to have little impact on decision-making, given decisions in the constituent commission will require a majority to pass.

    Although the ratification of the electoral law is important, as it means Libya's constitutional process can finally move forward, the significant amount of frustration, tension and dissatisfaction which the drafting of this law has created should serve as a warning for the future. Libya desperately needs an inclusive, legitimate constitution on which to rebuild the state and its institutions, and which will allow the country to disentangle itself from the quagmire of this transitional period. However, building consensus should not be mistaken for taking the route of least resistance, and there is a real danger that potentially prickly issues will be skirted around for the sake of pushing the constitution through as soon as possible.

    The 60 candidates who are eventually elected must balance a huge range of competing issues and priorities in order to draft a document which the majority of Libyans will accept, and which will stand the test of time. This is no mean feat and with so much to consider it is quite possible that those who shout the loudest will be the ones who are given priority, as opposed to those who speak the most sense. For this reason it is essential that the next stages of this constitutional process engage the public and create dialogue on some of the more sensitive and controversial issues which must be addressed.

    Libya's new constitution will form the bedrock of Libya's post-conflict, post-Gaddafi society and as such it is crucial that it guarantees equal rights for all Libyan citizens. Regarding women this should be done by explicitly prohibiting discrimination against women and ensuring that the constitution is consistent with Libya's obligations as a signatory of the Convention to Eliminate Discrimination Against Women. A lack of female participation within the constitution drafting process is likely to mean that key gender equality issues will be subverted as other issues are given greater importance in the process of dialogue, negotiation and consensus building.


    [i] http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/07/13/update-on-the-struggle-for-an-inclusive-constitutional-assembly/

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