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About Fred Halliday

Fred Halliday (1946-2010) was most recently Institució Catalana de Recerca i Estudis Avançats / Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA) research professor at the Institut Barcelona d'Estudis Internacionals (Barcelona Institute for International Studies / IBEI). He was from 1985-2008 professor of international relations at the London School of Economics (LSE), and subsequently professor emeritus there

Fred Halliday's many books include Political Journeys: The openDemocracy Essays (Saqi, 2011); Caamaño in London: the Exile of a Latin American Revolutionary (Institute for the Study of the Americas, 2010); Shocked and Awed: How the War on Terror and Jihad Have Changed the English Language (IB Tauris, 2010); 100 Myths about the Middle East (Saqi, 2005); The Middle East in International Relations: Power, Politics and Ideology (Cambridge University Press, 2005); Two Hours That Shook the World: September 11, 2001 - Causes and Consequences (Saqi, 2001); Nation and Religion in the Middle East (Saqi, 2000); and Revolutions and World Politics: The Rise and Fall of the Sixth Great Power (Palgrave Macmillan, 1999)

Fred Halliday died in Barcelona on 26 April 2010; read the online tributes here

Articles by Fred Halliday

This week's editor

Rosemary Belcher-2.jpg

Rosemary Bechler is openDemocracy’s Editor.

Constitutional conventions: best practice

Terrorism in historical perspective

Terrorism is the defining issue of the post 9/11 world. It is also one of the most confusing and contested words in the political lexicon. The route to understanding, says Fred Halliday, is through making connections: between past and present, state and insurgent violence, nationalist and religious movements.

Solidarity: trails, perils, choices

The idea of solidarity retains its moral force. Yet it is vulnerable to the same manipulations as any category of modern politics. Fred Halliday examines the paths of solidarity under colonialism, communism, and post-1989 democracy; its deformed applications to the Arab-Israeli conflict; two voices of universalism that give it life; and what it needs in order to flourish in the 21st century.

(This essay is published in memory of Fred Halliday, who died in Barcelona on 26 April 2010)

The Left and the Jihad

The approaching fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the United States highlights an issue much in evidence in the world today, but one that receives too little historically-informed and critical analysis: the relationship between militant Islamic groups and the left.

Yemen: travails of unity

Yemen is in the news, and for all the wrong reasons. A spate of kidnappings and killings of foreign tourists and aid workers in the first months of 2009 has highlighted the dangers of a country whose people are renowned for their hospitality.

Libya’s regime at 40: a state of kleptocracy

The fortieth anniversary of the Libyan "revolution" of 1969 - more accurately a coup d'etat by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and some of his associates and relatives - brings to mind a conversation I had just after that event with a friend who was (and remains) a senior Algerian diplomat. The Algerian government had been as surprised and bemused as any other about the emergence of this bizarre, radical and eccentric regime in a fellow north African state.

Memorandum to the London School of Economics Council warning it not to accept a grant from the Qaddafi Foundation

Fred Halliday (1946-2010), openDemocracy author and Director-Designate of the LSE Middle East Centre, 2006-2008, did not want the LSE to accept a £1.5m grant. He wrote this memo to the University's governing body in October 2009 to try to convince them to give up the money.

Barcelona i Catalunya: the real thing

The scholar of world politics and openDemocracy columnist Fred Halliday lived and worked in - and fell in love with - Barcelona. In a warm essay written five months before he died on 26 April 2010, Fred celebrates the home of his last years.

The other 1989s

The great events in Europe in 1989 had a worldwide impact - and of a more destructive kind than is often acknowledged, says Fred Halliday.

What was communism?

Few occasions are more propitious for forgetting the past than moments of historical commemoration. Amidst fond recollections of the fall of the Berlin wall, and in a time of, at least temporary, improvement in relations between Russia and the west, few may spare a thought for what it was that ended two decades ago.

Andorra’s model: time for change


The principality of Andorra has long resisted the encroachments of the outside world. "We fought off the Arabs, we survived Napoleon, two world wars, and the Spanish civil war. Do not underestimate us", a local intellectual proudly tells me. The Andorrans - whose small land (470 square kilometres) perched on the southern slopes of the Pyrenees has an electorate of just 20,000 out of a population of 85,000 - indeed exhibit the feistiness and stolidity of mountain peoples the world over.

Iran's tide of history: counter-revolution and after

It is already five weeks since the presidential elections on 12 June 2009 in Iran, whose official results and handling by the authorities provoked an immediate and nationwide outbreak of  popular demonstrations.

Iran's evolution and Islam’s Berlusconi

The boisterous weeks of meetings, regional tours, demonstrations, and TV debates make for an impressive spectacle. But as the first round of voting in Iran's presidential election on 12 June 2009 nears, they offer no definitive clue on the outcome.

The Dominican Republic: a time of ghosts

Hispaniola may have the distinction of being the only island in the world shared between two entire states (Haiti and the Dominican Republic), even if their intimacy belies very different trajectories. But the spacious city of Santo Domingo on the island's southern coast appears to transcend narrowing distinctions and embrace the whole history of the Caribbean - five centuries of invasions, colonial (French, Spanish, British) and neo-colonial (American), and recurrent but intermittent nationalist and socialist revolts.

Iraq in the balance

After the fire, a cautious optimism about the future of Iraq has begun to show itself as the country passes the sixth anniversary of the United States-led invasion of March 2003. Indeed, the mood-music of "progress" and "stability" - heard from Iraqi and other middle-eastern politicians, in European and American diplomatic and media analyses - is supported by at least some developments on the ground.

Iran’s revolution in global history

The months of strikes and demonstrations that convulsed Iran in 1978-79 reached a dramatic culmination in the first eleven days of February 1979, when an epic tide of revolutionary fervour brought the return to Iran from exile of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and overthrew the hitherto powerful regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. In the ensuing weeks, the victorious leaders of the popular wave established a new state, the Islamic Republic of Iran; this was proclaimed on 1 April and its constitution ratified in a national referendum on 2-3 December 1979. In consolidating power, as in executing their enemies, the mullahs and their political allies did not waste time. Fred Halliday is ICREA research professor at IBEI, the Barcelona Institute for International Studies. Among his many books are The Middle East in International Relations: Power, Politics and Ideology (2005) and 100 Myths about the Middle East (2005). His critical analysis of the Shah's regime, Iran: Dictatorship and Development (Penguin, November 1978) was subsequently translated into nine languages, among them Spanish, Persian and Arabic

This article is based on a lecture given at the LSE on 23 February 2009

Among Fred Halliday's many columns in openDemocracy:

"Iran's revolutionary spasm
" (30 June 2005)

"The matter with Iran" (1 March 2007)

"The mysteries of the US empire" (30 November 2007)

"Islam, law and finance: the elusive divine" (12 February 2008)

"Stolen Wealth Funds: fantasies of control" (4 March 2008)

"Two feminist pioneers: Iranian, Lebanese, universal" (18 April 2008)

"Tibet, Palestine and the politics of failure" (9 May 2008)

"1968: the global legacy" (11 June 2008)

"The miscalculation of small nations" (24 August 2008)

"Armenia's mixed messages" (13 October 2008) 

Three decades is not a long period in the normal lifetime of a revolutionary regime - Cuba's celebrated its half-century in January 2009, China's will mark its sixtieth year in October, Russia's passed its seventieth before expiring. But it is an appropriate point to reconsider - in the perspective both of Iranian reality and of global history - events that were by any account among the most unexpected and influential of modern times.

Their scale was immense but their impact also individual and personal. In my own case, as someone who knew Iran in the time of the Shah and visited it in the early and heady post-revolutionary months, this was one of the most challenging periods of my political and intellectual life: both in understanding and engaging with these enormous and complex popular mobilisations, and in coming to terms with the repression, killing and exile to which many of my friends and comrades were later subjected.  

A six-point pattern

The revolution of Iran can be seen as part of a series of such transformations that had overturned regimes in three continents in the previous two centuries: France (1789), Russia (1917), China (1949), Cuba (1959). What happened in Iran shares six broad points of comparison with these earlier moments (see Revolution and World Politics [Palgrave, 1999]).

First, a broad coalition of opposition forces came together to overthrow a dictatorial regime, building on longstanding social grievances but also energising nationalist sentiment against a state and ruler seen as too compliant to foreign interests. The coalition mobilised under Ayatollah Khomeini's leadership ranged from liberal and Marxist to conservative and religious forces: in effect a classic populist alliance.

Second, the victory of the revolution both required and was facilitated by the state's weakness of leadership and internal divisions. The Shah was ill, his advisers and generals were uncertain. The resemblance to other figures and regimes in a time of crisis - Louis XVI and Czar Nicholas II, as well as Charles I of England - is evident.  

Third, the revolution possessed the quality that distinguishes mere coups d'etat or rebellions from major revolutions: namely, it was not just political (in the sense of changing the political elite and the constitution or legitimating system of the country) but had profound and ongoing social and economic consequences. Because of it, Iran today has a new social order and a new set of social values - even as a new revolutionary elite, an Islamic nomenklatura, united by ties of power, business and marriage, controls state revenues (see "The matter with Iran", 1 March 2007).

Fourth, the revolution's core ideology may have propounded the need for a new, radical and egalitarian order; but it was supplemented by pre-existing ideas that were crucial to sustaining domestic support (above all nationalism and a sense of the country's historic standing and mission). Ayatollah Khomeini at first refused to use the word mihan (fatherland), and denounced secular nationalism as an insult to Islam. But with the invasion by Saddam Hussein's Iraq in 1980 all this changed, and he and other leaders adopted the Iranian version of the term used by French revolutionaries in the 1790s, la grande nation - in Persian, millat i bozorg.  

Fifth, the explosion of revolution at the centre of a multi-ethnic country - and driven especially from within its dominant ethnic component - had profound reverberations on the relations between the Iran's different national components. In particular, it led not to the era of fraternal cooperation and solidarity anticipated in much of the political rhetoric of the time, but to conflict and war.

Here again, the pattern - a revolt at the heart of a plural country and the consolidation of a new authoritarian regime provoking contrary forces in the periphery - has rich historical precedents. The Young Turk revolution of 1908, the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, and the Ethiopian revolution of 1974 are prime examples; their echo in Iran concerned, above all, the Kurds. The hopes of this significant part of the population, of an autonomous Kurdistan within a democratic Iran (and they knew the first was impossible without the second) were to be dashed.

Sixth, the revolution in Iran had explosive international consequences. There were persistent attempts to export the revolution to neighbouring countries, which intensified regional rivalries and fostered conditions that led to inter-state war. The Iranian revolution's efforts to promote its state interests and extend itself soon acquired resemblances to a reviving empire - with traces of France and Russia in particular, not least the contradictory trends whereby some forces in the region were inspired by the revolution while others drew on older antagonisms (such as Saddam Hussein's excoriation of Khomeini as a magus [Zoroastrian priest] and more recent concerns about a powerful new Shi'a "crescent").  Among openDemocracy's many articles about Iran:

Ardashir Tehrani, "Iran's presidential coup" (26 June 2005)

Trita Parsi, "The Iran-Israel cold war" (28 October 2005)

Nayereh Tohidi, "Iran: regionalism, ethnicity and democracy" (28 June 2006)

Hooshang Amirahmadi, "Iran and the international community: roots of perpetual crisis" (24 November 2006) 

Kamin Mohammadi, "Voices from Tehran" (31 January 2007)

Anoush Ehteshami, "Iran and the United States: back from the brink" (16 March 2007)

Rasool Nafisi, "Iran's cultural prison" (17 May 2007)

Nasrin Alavi, "The Iran paradox" (11 October 2007)

Omid Memarian, "Iran: prepared for the worst" (30 October 2007)

Sanam Vakil, "Iran's political shadow war" (16 July 2008)

Nasrin Alavi, "Iran: after the dawn" (2 February 2009)

Abbas Milani, "Iran's Islamic revolution: three paradoxes" (9 February 2009)

Homa Katouzian, "The Iranian revolution: beyond enigma" (13 February 2009)

Nikki R Keddie, "Iranian women and the Islamic Republic" (24 February 2009) 

At the same time, the revolution's enduring influence was forged in these post-revolutionary conflicts. It was the international impacts of the 1979 revolution - above all the 1980-88 war with Iraq - that shaped the politics, defined the state institutions and steeled the will, of the Islamic Republic (just as the civil war of 1919-21 was formative for the Bolshevik regime). The fact that many of those who went through the experience of that terrible war - such as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his associates in the Revolutionary Guards - are now seeking to revive the revolutionary discipline and spirit of those years echoes similar attempts by Joseph Stalin in the 1930s, Mao Zedong in the 1960s "cultural revolution", and Fidel Castro in his 1980s rectificación of the 1980s (see  "Iran's revolutionary spasm" , 30 June 2005). All in the end failed, though the regimes themselves lasted.  

A new-old order

The Iranian revolution thus bears comparison with its historic predecessors. But just as each earlier revolution can be seen in relation to others even as it displays its own singularity, this true of Iran also. 

This is most obviously the case in regard to the leadership, ideology and goals of the revolution. For in the vanguard was not the secular radicalism of the inheritors of 1789, but a revolution under the banner of Islam; led by clerics, and ostensibly inspired by the goal not of advancing to a new and "progressive" future but rather of returning to the model of Islam -defined as simple, puritanical and authentic - of the age of the prophet. This form of ideology and leadership is all the more distinctive in that many other Islamist revolutionary movements before and since - such as those of Afghanistan, Egypt or Algeria (and, by extension, al-Qaida) - have had non-clerical leaders.  

But in any event the "religious" ideas of the Iranian revolution, and the application to modern politics of terms and images taken from the Qu'ran, should not be taken entirely at face value. True, Islamic ideas (in regard to women, the law, and the status of the clergy for example) had a major impact on the social values of the Islamic Republic. But on closer examination the programme and actions of Ayatollah Khomeini and his associates have much in common with other modern social upheavals. Here are just five such affinities:

▪ the appeal to the mass of poor people (in Iran termed the mostazafin) against the corrupt, foreign-linked, elite (the mostakbarin)

▪ the cult of the leader - Khomeini's official and entirely secular state title was rahbar inqilab va bonyadgozar i jumhuri yi islami (leader of the revolution and founder of the Islamic Republic)

▪ mobilising nationalist sentiment in a country that had been unilaterally invaded, by Russia and Britain, in both world wars

▪ using, albeit in a chaotic and inefficient way, the country's oil wealth for egalitarian social programmes in city and countryside

▪ analysing the world in terms of a just struggle of oppressed peoples against a dominant power; Khomeini cited those of South Africa and Nicaragua, and though he did not often use the word "imperialism" he deployed an apt Qur'anic term as substitute - istikbar i jahani (global arrogance).  

Above all, the Islamic revolutionaries of 1979 did what all revolutionaries do - namely overthrow an oppressive government, seize power for themselves and their allies, crush not only their opponents but all dissidents within the regime, and then impose a new and even more exacting and intrusive authoritarian regime. In summer 1979, I was a witness of the brutal repression visited by the new state on its former, now discarded, liberal and socialist allies. In this perspective, the template followed by the Islamic Republic is not that of Mecca and Medina in the 7th century but that of Paris in the 1790s and Moscow and St Petersburg in the 1920s.  

A triple innovation

The common emphasis on the apparently unique religious character of the Iranian revolution may also mislead the analyst, in the sense that it obscures other dimensions in which it was distinct. For in at least three other ways the events of 1978-79 were indeed different from what had gone before.

First, this revolution - more than any other in history - relied not on force, military insurrection or guerrilla war but on politics. This is true in particular with regard to the two instruments that European revolutionaries had themselves long dreamed of using - the mass mobilisation of people in the streets (in the Iranian case, the largest such opposition demonstrations ever recorded anywhere) and the political (as opposed to industrial) general strike (which, from October 1978, paralysed the economy and foreign trade). This, not the religious garb, was perhaps the most paradoxical and original aspect of the Iranian revolution: in its political form and process, and despite its religious and "traditional" guise, it was the first modern revolution. 

Second, Iran's experience departed from the norm prescribed by both historical precedent and textbooks of historical sociology: namely, that a revolution's indispensable precondition was the weakening of the state, usually as a result of foreign pressure - either defeat in war or by invasion, or via the withdrawal of support from an external patron (in the case of China and Cuba, this was the United States).

In Iran, none of this occurred. The Shah's regime was backed by the US (as also by China) to the end, while the Russians did not know what to do or think; no outside state gave any support to the revolutionaries; and the Shah's army had not been defeated in war. In another respect the Iranian revolution was almost unique in modern times, namely that it did not occasion rivalry between great powers: Russia, China, Europe and the US were united against it, and supported Saddam Hussein's Iraq in his aggression of 1980.

Third, this was a revolution that was well organised, through a network of mosque and local committees - yet had no revolutionary party. It failed later, moreover - as the Cubans, for example, did - to consolidate one; the brief experiment with a ruling party after 1979, the Islamic Republican Party, soon petered out.

A living current

Against this background, the Iran of today appears as another case of a revolution that approaches its middle years far from abandoned or defeated. In domestic terms, the post-revolutionary climate is far freer and diverse than that seen in any other revolution; a wide range of opinions and interpretations of the revolution itself and its programme can be heard - even if violence, cruelty and intimidation are never far away. The presidential elections of June 2009 are even more important in this regard in signalling how Iran's past will influence its future course; though given the plurality of power-centres and opinions, even they will not be definitive.

In international terms, Iran - exactly like its other post-imperial counterparts, France, Russia and China - is pursuing a "dual" foreign policy: one that combines aspirations to regional and military power with continued promotion of radicalism in neighbouring countries.

A thirty-year story is thus far from ended. No one involved in and affected by it - the region, the wider world, and above all the resourceful, sardonic and enduring people of Iran - have not yet heard the last of the Islamic revolution and of this "great nation".  

The greater middle east: Obama’s six problems

The inauguration of a new United States president is a moment of unusually high hopes the world over as well in the homeland. This is understandable in view both of the legacy Barack Obama inherits and his own striking qualities. But there is also - as ever, but perhaps more in view of the tendency to excess in much media coverage - a need for some proportion.

Fred Halliday is professor of international relations at the LSE, and visiting professor at the Barcelona Institute of International Studies (IBEI). His many books include Islam and the Myth of Confrontation (IB Tauris 2003), 100 Myths About the Middle East (Saqi, 2005), and The Middle East in International Relations: Power, Politics and Ideology (Cambridge University Press, 2005)

Fred Halliday's "global politics" column on openDemocracy surveys the national histories, geopolitical currents, and dominant ideas across the world.

The recent articles on the middle east include:

"Sunni, Shi'a and the "Trotskyists of Islam" (9 February 2007)

"Al-Jazeera: the matchbox that roared" (25 March 2007)

"Palestinians and Israelis: a political impasse" (4 June 2007)

"Lebanon, Gaza, and Iraq: three crises" (22 June 2007)

"Yemen: murder in Arabia Felix" (13 July 2007)

"Islam, law and finance: the elusive divine" (12 February 2008)

"Tibet, Palestine and the politics of failure" (9 May 2008
Nowhere is this more evident than in the middle east - even though, and despite Israel's assault on Gaza, the affairs of this region will be far from the only priority of the new president on his first days in the White House. For there are many others: the domestic economic crisis: dealing with Russia and China (and perhaps even a recalcitrant Congress); the war in Afghanistan and relations with Pakistan; the diplomacy of global warming.

The very range and scale of these suggests that the post-inauguration glow may soon fade - and that when the pressing agenda does start to crowd in, the middle east may indeed force itself to become an unavoidable focus for President Obama. The Israeli operation in Gaza - and its wider strategic implications, including for Iran - could be a harbinger here, as well as a tragedy that compels serious attention in its own right.

Among the advice Obama has received on the middle east is that the US should treat it as interconnected, while avoiding the mirage of a single or "comprehensive" solution to what is in reality a mosaic of interlocking crises and interests. In that spirit, and before "events" (unexpected or not) have had a chance to spoil the luxury of a fresh canvas, here are six states in the broad region of "greater west Asia" that the new president must keep in mind.

Iraq, Iran, Palestine

The first state is Iraq. Barack Obama comes to office with the advantage that in its last weeks the George W Bush administration was able at last to sign a status-of-forces agreement (Sofa) with Nouri al-Maliki's government in Baghdad. It is probable - for all the talk of "stay-behind" units, and combat-troops rebranded as "training" entities - that in effect all US forces will leave by the end of 2011. The Sofa agreement has commanded surprisingly wide support (for the moment) across the Iraqi political spectrum; and even the Iranians, who played such a vital role behind the scenes in advising the Iraqi government, have been reasonably welcoming.

However, the overall situation in Iraq gives little cause for comfort. The security situation remains severely unsettled, including in Baghdad itself; and the US military "surge'" much-touted success is illusory or fragile (in part because it is the enforced reallocation of people from mixed areas in the capital to solely Shi'a or solely Sunni ones has been completed and thus opportunities for communal violence removed, in part because it is the Mahdi army's ceasefire that is responsible for the easing).

Moreover all factions, including the Kurds, are preparing arms for a major intra-Iraqi conflict - in effect a "real" civil war - as the Americans prepare to exit and if current political arrangements collapse. The vaunted "awakening" (Sahwa) movement, America's attempt to win Sunnis back to political engagement, has in some areas helped to arm former members of the ruling Ba'ath party; they are becoming ready to reassert themselves as bloodily out of power as they did when controlling the country in the Saddam Hussein era.

The coming months in Iraq are, then, full of dangers. The political uncertainties include provincial elections at the end of January 2009, with parliamentary elections to follow which will likely produce a new prime minister and president (since al-Maliki may not survive these tests, and Jalal Talabani is seriously ill and his own Kurdish region riven by factionalism and corruption).

The second state is Iran. The Iranian revolution is thirty years old in January 2009 - and, like other great modern revolutions (France, Russia, China, Cuba) - it has far from run its course after three decades. Indeed the very fact that some reformists in Iran do want to moderate policies at home, and seek accommodation abroad, has led others to reassert revolutionary ideals and rhetoric; this pattern too is evident in these other cases.

In such conditions, talk of a "grand bargain" between Washington and Tehran is hollow; as is the speculation about enticing Syria to end its collaboration with Iran. The Islamic Republic remains as it has been since 1979 pivotal in the region's conflicts - from Gaza and the Beka'a valley to Damascus, Baghdad and Kabul. This makes a significant reduction of tension with the United States (involving too regularisation of diplomatic contact) highly desirable.

It is also possible, though the nuclear issue and the Israel factor will be key parts of the calculations on both sides. Much will depend on the outcome of the Iranian presidential elections in June 2009: and here, even the election of one of the pragmatic-reformist former incumbents (Hashemi Rafsanjani or Mohammad Khatami) is no guarantee of progress, given that the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khameneí will continue to play a decisive role.

openDemocracy authors consider Barack Obama's policy options:

John C Hulsman, "Memo to Obama: the middle east needs you" (11 November 2008)

A Wess Mitchell, "Memo to Obama: a Europe policy 3.0" (11 November 2008)

Anita Inder Singh, "Obama's Afghan challenge" (12 November 2008)

Zaid Al-Ali, "What Obama means for Iraq" (13 November 2008)

Juan Gabriel Tokatlian, "Cuba, Colombia, Venezuela...and Obama" (24 November 2008)

Godfrey Hodgson, "Change?" (2 December 2008)

openDemocracy, "Barack Obama: hope, fear... advice" (20 January 2009)

Pervez Hoodbhoy, "Barack Obama's triple test" (21 January 2009)
The third country - not yet, and far from being, a state - is Palestine. It is improbable that the latest Israeli attack on Gaza will make a settlement any more likely. The political and electoral timing of the operation is part of a wider Israeli scepticism towards the new US president, reflected in some anticipatory scorn of his supposed idealism. This is unwarranted if only because Obama's partisan campaign position on the Arab-Israeli dispute was the one major piece of unprincipled and opportunistic posturing in his election campaign. Whether this will endure is another matter.

But even were Obama to change his approach and to make the resolution of the Palestine question on an equitable and stable two-state basis his priority - which in any case few in Washington would thank him for - this would not be enough. For there are serious limits to what the US - or any other external mediator, be it the European Union or Saudi Arabia - can achieve over Palestine. The principal reason is that serious and dangerous divisions lie within as well as between the Israelis and the Palestinians, with the result that it will be difficult for any leadership on either side to sign, let alone sustain, a compromise settlement.

Afghanistan, Turkey, Yemen

The fourth state that should command the attention of the new president is Afghanistan. Barack Obama has taken the easy line of making a commitment to a long-term and increased deployment of troops - all the easier because of the plans to leave Iraq. But it is plain that there can be no military solution in Afghanistan; that the victory of late 2001 was shallow (if it was a victory at all); and that a political settlement that includes the notionally moderate "elements" of the Taliban and leads to a new leadership in power in Kabul, is essential.

The fifth state is Turkey. A great cost of the Iraq invasion in 2003 was the alienation of Turkish opinion of all stripes - which occurred for a variety of reasons, of which the Turks' concern that the establishment of a Kurdish administration in northern Iraq could be a precedent for the dismemberment of their own country was foremost. It will be not be easy for Obama to repair relations, however - not least as he has accepted that the Ottoman-era massacres of the Armenian population of the empire constituted genocide, and (as senator) called on the modern Turkish government to accept its responsibilities as a result.

The sixth state is one often pushed nervously to the periphery of vision, namely Yemen. The economic and political situation of a people that composes half of the whole population of the Arabian peninsula - and who are proud to call themselves al ‘arab al asliin (the "original" or "true" Arabs) - is deterioriating. The grip of their president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, is weakening as oil revenues diminish and violence and discontent spread across the land.

Barack Obama - and his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton - may at present think that they have no reason to think about Yemen. But it has held surprises before: for its Arab neighbours, for America, and for the world. It may well do again.

The futures of Iraq

What will happen in Iraq between 2008 and 2012? The agreement between the United States and the Iraqi government of Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad on a plan for the withdrawal of United States forces by the end of 2011 is the context for this question to be posed rather than a definitive answer. The prospects remain open.

This article digests the conclusions of a report of the specialist international study group on Iraq of the Centro de Información y Documentación Internacionales en Barcelona (Barcelona Centre for Information and Documentation / CIDOB).

The report followed a meeting of international experts on Iraq on 30 October 2008 at CIDOB. This was convened with the support of the Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional para el Desarrollo (Spanish Agency for Cooperation and Development / Aecid), the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), and CIDOB itself. The participants included diplomats, academics, journalists and researchers specialising in the region.

The report's coordinator is Eduard Soler of the Mediterranean programme at CIDOB; its secretary is Fadila Hilali of CIDOB; and its rapporteur/chair is Fred Halliday
A meeting held in Barcelona under the auspices of the Centro de Información y Documentación Internacionales en Barcelona (Barcelona Centre for Information and Documentation / CIDOB) on 30 October 2008 was tasked with discussing three scenarios for Iraq, over a period of between one and five years, in terms of three broad possible lines of development:

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▪ a return to civil war between Iraqi factions, against a background of a US withdrawal

▪ a settlement imposed, or at least guaranteed, by regional states, in the event of a US departure

▪ the gradual building of political support by different factions in Iraq for the existing government, leading in turn to a consolidation of the Baghdad authorities and a decline in political violence.

The majority opinion among the experts present inclined towards the first option, but with a belief that alternative routes remain worth exploring. The following is a summary of the main topics of discussion.

The political outlook

The short-term political future of Iraq will be closely affected by five already scheduled political events:

▪ the agreement between Washington and Baghdad, which was finalised in the context of the expiry on 1 December 2008 of the United Nations mandate for US and allied troops to be in Iraq

▪ the inauguration of a new United States president in January 2009

▪ the Iraqi provincial elections in January 2009

▪ the Iranian presidential elections in June 2009

▪ the Iraqi parliamentary elections scheduled for December 2009, from which a new president and prime minister will be chosen.

No one expects an immediate or precipitate US withdrawal; and even if problems occur in the implementation of the agreement some means will be found to continue the US troop presence. But the situation of the Nouri al-Maliki government will be placed in doubt by the forthcoming Iraqi elections, provincial and parliamentary: last time, when the system of parties and communal alliances was more simple and secure, it took several months to choose a prime minister. The pervasive fragmentation of political and communal blocs that has taken place since would imply that choosing a new prime minister and a new president will be even more complicated and drawn out. Much will also depend on the outcome of the Iranian presidential elections.

The security outlook

The experts' consensus is that talk of a significant, let alone plausibly enduring, decline in violence in Iraq is misplaced. It is not true to say that Washington's military "surge" strategy has worked. While there has been a decline in violence, killing continues in Baghdad at a level among the highest of any city in the world (with average deaths of thirty or more per day). Moreover, three further factors have contributed to the reduction in violent incidents:

▪ the process of sectarian separation within hitherto mixed (Shi'a/Sunni) parts of the capital has largely been completed

▪ the flight of over 4 million Iraqis to elsewhere in the region and to the west has to some degree reduced social and communal tensions - at the cost of creating a new and enormous problem

▪ the truce by the militias of the radical Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr - albeit temporary and conditional - reduced current levels of violence.

There are also ominous trends that portend ill for the future:

▪ the Sunni tribal sahwa ("awakening") groups - armed and supported by the United States - are largely composed of ex-Ba'athists and would be unlikely to accept participation in, or loyalty to, a Shi'a-dominated government

Fred Halliday is ICREA research professor at the Barcelona Institute of International Studies (IBEI). His many books include Islam and the Myth of Confrontation (IB Tauris, 2003), 100 Myths About the Middle East (Saqi, 2005), and The Middle East in International Relations: Power, Politics and Ideology (Cambridge University Press, 2005)

Fred Halliday's "global politics" column includes:

"Two feminist pioneers: Iranian, Lebanese, universal" (18 April 2008)

"Tibet, Palestine and the politics of failure" (9 May 2008)

"1968: the global legacy" (11 June 2008)

"Mediterranean mirage: Europe's sunken politics" (29 July 2008)

"The miscalculation of small nations" (24 August 2008)

"Armenia's mixed messages" (15 October 2008)

▪ within the Kurdish areas, there is growing discontent, corruption and instability, in large measure a result of the corruption of the two (themselves internally divided) main Kurdish parties

▪ the process of localising, tribal and communitarian fragmentation in Iraq has greatly increased and made the prospects for any coherent security, or political, restabilisation more remote.

It would be inaccurate to ascribe the divisiveness and retribalisation of Iraqi politics to the 2003 invasion alone. This began in the 1990s in the aftermath of the invasion of and war over Kuwait (1990-91) and with the impact of the sanctions regime. In effect, Iraq is a country that has been at war since the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war in 1980 and this is reflected in the condition of the state and administration, and in the collapse of much public infrastructure.

The Sunni-Shi'a "civil war" of 2006-07, itself a consequence of the 2003 invasion, has been contained. But a major anxiety is that in the absence of a political settlement satisfactory to all parties and linked to a US withdrawal, factions are preparing to resort again to arms - possibly on an even larger scale.

The Washington-Baghdad link

The first priority of United States policy now is to become more realistic about the situation inside Iraq. The considered and bipartisan Iraq Study Group (or Baker-Hamilton) report presented to George W Bush on 7 December 2006 had no evident impact on the administration's policy or thinking. During the election campaign, Barack Obama and John McCain alike gave no public sign that they understood the evolving situation, and in particular the degree to which political and military developments inside Iraq had an autonomous existence - and were not simply a resultant of US policy and shifting priorities.

US policy has for a considerable time suffered from self-delusion - even more so in Washington itself. The over-optimistic coverage of the "surge" has been a further example of this. The forthcoming Barack Obama presidency might shift responsibility away from the defence towards civilian agencies and reconstruction aid, while trying to refocus US strategy in the region towards Afghanistan. This will go little way to resolving current problems.

Iran and Turkey's role

Iraq has six neighbours: Iran, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. All have an interest in Iraq; all are playing a role, covert or overt, inside the country. Their main concern differs in each case:

▪ for Turkey, the main issue is that of the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq and the implications of this for the war in Turkish Kurdistan with the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK)

▪ for the Arab Sunni states, the main issue is that of the rise of Iranian influence, which is linked in turn to concern about Iran's nuclear ambitions

▪ for Iran, the main issue is the desire to see as rapid as possible an American withdrawal, consonant with stability inside Iraq, and a settlement in Iraq consonant with the recognition and consolidation of Iranian influence across the region as a whole.

There are significant differences of opinion within Turkey and Iran, a fact reflected in changes of policy in recent years. In Turkey, the traditional opposition to an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq has given way in some quarters to the belief that a Kurdish regime there would better be able to control - and undermine the appeal of - the PKK. In Iran, the Revolutionary Guards' wish to see an immediate American withdrawal clashes with those who prefer an orderly US departure that could be accompanied by the establishment in Baghdad of a stable, and pro-Iranian, regime.

Among openDemocracy's many articles on Iraqi politics:

Sami Zubaida, "The rise and fall of civil society in Iraq" (5 February 2003)

Peter Sluglett, "Iraq's short century: old problems, new perspectives" (3 June 2003)

Reidar Visser , "Iraq's partition fantasy" (19 May 2006)

Zaid Al-Ali, "The United States in Iraq: the case for withdrawal" (19 January 2007)

Charles Tripp, "Iraq: the politics of the local" (25 January 2008)

Zaid Al-Ali, "Iraqis in freefall" (21 March 2007)

Volker Perthes, "Iraq in 2012: four scenarios" (11 September 2007)

Robert Springborg, "Uncle Sam in Iraq: the war of narratives" (19 March 2008)

Joost R Hiltermann, "Iraq, Iran and the United States: problems and prospects" (30 July 2008)

Reidar Visser, "The United States and Iraq: still getting it wrong" (3 October 2008)

Zaid Al-Ali, "What Obama means for Iraq" (13 November 2008)

Paul Rogers, "Iraq's gift to Afghanistan" (20 November 2008)

Moreover, Iranian policy on Iraq reflects shifts in policy within Tehran itself: the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005 was followed by a more militant Iranian role in Iraq; whereas international pressure and growing problems at home have since 2007 led to a more moderate stance. This makes the outcome of the presidential election in June 2009 - in which a reformist candidate (possibly ex-president Mohammad Khatami) might challenge Ahmadinejad - very important for Iraq.

A European dimension

The European Union's presence in Iraq - British forces and some smaller military contingents (such as Poland) apart - has been minimal. Its main activity has been in the field of judicial training and governance reform, but this has been unable to curb the rampant corruption in all parts of the Iraqi state.

There is considerable hope within Iraq that the EU will play a greater role in the future. There has been talk of the EU sending forces to Iraq under the European Security and Defence Policy; of Iraq joining the World Trade Organisation; and of European assistance with the return of Iraqi refugees. None of this is likely to be easy to implement in an EU that has grown to twenty-seven members since the enlargements of 2004 and 2007.

The minimal EU position is support for the government of Iraq. In this, individual countries such as Spain can make contributions on matters such as election-monitoring, federalism, and the democratisation of the armed and intelligence forces - but only if there is political will on the Iraqi side for this to be so. The priority then should not be to channel funds to the central Iraqi state - which is corrupt and extremely dysfunctional - but to local and civil- society groupings.

A particular issue is that of the fate of Iraqi Christians, and whether Europe should give them preferential refugee status. This, like other issues, will probably remain more a matter of each member-state's domestic politics than of any common EU policy. This too reflects the current divisions within Europe as a whole as much as the problems of Iraq itself.

Iraq's international need

Four main conclusions follow:

▪ the need to make sure that the new United States president, and the incoming administration as a whole, are accurately informed as to the situation inside Iraq

▪ the need for increased international and regional attention to the plight of Iraqi refugees, and support for Iraqi society in general

▪ the need for closer diplomatic and security collaboration between the US and its allies

▪ the need to work towards building a regional framework, involving all of Iraq's neighbours, and in particular Iran, in a negotiated and guaranteed end of the war inside Iraq, linked to an American withdrawal.


The following experts contributed to the study-group on Iraq whose work forms the basis of Fred Halliday's article. It is emphasised that neither the resulting report nor this article necessary reflect the opinion of any individual members of the group:


▪ Faleh Abdul-Jabar, head of the Iraq Centre for Strategic Studies,Beirut-Bagdad-Erbil

▪ Meliha Altunisik, professor, Middle East Technical University (METU), Ankara

▪ Haizam Amirah Fernández, research fellow, Real Instituto Elcano, Madrid

▪ Ali Ansari, professor, University of St Andrews

▪ Edward Burke, FRIDE, Madrid

▪ Carmen Claudin, deputy director, CIDOB Foundation, Barcelona

▪ Patrick Cockburn, journalist, the Independent

▪ Toby Dodge, lecturer in Queen Mary, University of London

▪ Alan George, senior associate member, St Antony's College, University of Oxford

▪ Fred Halliday, ICREA professor, IBEI, Barcelona

▪ Salam Kawakibi, researcher, Arab Reform Initiative

▪ Kenton Keith, senior vice-president of the Meridian International Center, Washington

▪ Tanja Roy, vice-consul at the German consulate-general in Barcelona

▪ Eduard Soler, coordinator of Mediterranean-Middle East Programme, CIDOB

▪ Udo Steinbach, professor, Hamburg University / FRIDE, Madrid

▪ Alberto Ucelay, deputy director-general for the Near and Middle East, ministry of foreign affairs, Madrid

▪ Pere Vilanova, Universitat de Barcelona / ministry of defence, Spain

▪ Luciano Zaccara, research fellow at Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (TEIM)



Armenia’s mixed messages

Armenia should be smiling. The trend of events in the region might seem at last to be going in the favour of the small, landlocked south Caucasian republic. The short war between Georgia and Russia in August 2008 has humbled its sometimes difficult neighbour while leaving intact its friendship with the northern giant; it maintains control of the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh against any attempts by its hostile neighbour Azerbaijan to reclaim it, with Moscow's victory over Tbilisi helping to counter - for the moment - the threat of renewed war with Baku; and it has hosted without serious incident the president of Turkey, a neighbour from whom it has long been divided by the bitter, unresolved past.

These developments can plausibly be seen as making Armenia more secure than it has been since it gained post-Soviet independence in 1991 (or, more accurately, the restoration of an independence first proclaimed in 1918). Yet to officials in the country's foreign ministry - working in the imposing, russet-stone buildings overlooking Republic Square in Yerevan - the outlook is more sombre than sunny.Among openDemocracy's articles on Armenian politics, including Nagorno-Karabakh and relations with Turkey:

Sabine Freizer, "Armenia's emptying democracy" (30 November 2005)

Hrant Dink, "The water finds its crack: an Armenian in Turkey" (13 December 2005)

Üstün Bilgen-Reinart,"Hrant Dink: forging an Armenian identity in Turkey" (7 February 2006)

Shaun Walker & Daria Vaisman, "Nagorno-Karabakh's referendum" (14 December 2006)

Sabine Freizer, "Nagorno-Karabakh: between vote and reality" (14 December 2006)

Hratch Tchilingirian, "Hrant Dink and Armenians in Turkey" (23 February 2007)

Vicken Cheterian, "Armenia's election: the waiting game" (19 February 2008)

Armine Ishkanian, "Democracy contested: Armenia's fifth presidential elections" (4 March 2008)

The deeper realities of present-day Armenia help explain why. The freedom of manoeuvre of Armenian politicians and officials is as constrained as the country's geopolitical position itself - and the events of August 2008 have also highlighted that fact. The strong relations with Russia to the north and Iran to the south are a given. Both have long displeased the George W Bush administration. An American ambassador has taken up residence in the heavily fortified embassy compound near the airport, but only after an interruption of three years; and it is notable that United States vice-president Dick Cheney failed to include Armenia in his post-war tour through Azerbaijan, Georgia and Ukraine. Indeed, there is no significant public voice in Armenia in favour of entry to Nato or the European Union,

The fallout of war

Yerevan may have been a beneficiary of the Georgia-Russia war, though in fact it has has limited direct interest in their conflict. The economic and political situation in Georgia does affect the approximately 200,000 Armenians who still live in the Javakheti region of southern Georgia, and who were traditionally involved in servicing the former Soviet bases there. They have been hit in recent years both by considerable poverty and by the rise in Georgian nationalist sentiment. At the same time, Armenia faces the world with its frontiers to Azerbaijan and Turkey closed, and reliant for its trading connections on the land-route through Georgia to the port of Poti or the one through Iran to distant Tehran.

As important is that the assertion of Russian power may (according to influential voices in Yerevan) have acted as a deterrent to Armenia’s rival Azerbaijan, whose rising oil-revenues and self-confidence might otherwise have propelled it to try to reoccupy the areas of its country seized by Armenia in the war of 1992-94.

This prospect remains far from unthinkable – and no one expects the Russians to send combat-troops to help Armenia. But there are several thousand Russian soldiers in the country already, in bases along the frontier with Turkey, only 40 kilometres from the capital. Moreover, large quantities of Russian military equipment have been pre-positioned: in the event of a new war with Azerbaijan, the assumption is that these weapons would be made available to the Armenian forces.

There are also signs that the war in Georgia has led to a rethinking of policy in Armenia’s powerful western neighbour, Turkey. Armenians cannot forget the terrible killings, on any normal criteria genocide, of Armenians in Turkey during 1915 and after. Above Yerevan stands the great memorial - named Tsitsernakaberd (“swallow castle”) – commemorating the tragic, defiantly unforgotten event. It consists of a dignified stone esplanade leading to a pointed tower, and to a sunken chamber with an eternal flame. Twelve columns commemorate the provinces of “western Armenia”, today’s eastern Turkey, from which Armenians were expelled in the midst of the great war and its aftermath.

The issue of the Turkish refusal to acknowledge the genocide has long poisoned, and will probably continue to poison, Armenian-Turkish relations. My impression in Yerevan is that since the victims of the genocide were part of what is now the Republic of Turkey - hence the ancestors of today’s diaspora in Europe, the United States, and parts of the Arab world - a settlement that is not acceptable to these descendants would not pass in Yerevan. But there is some movement on both sides. For those in Turkey, Armenia and the diaspora who wish to arrive at a considered and shared historical judgement - admittedly still few, though their number is growing - the materials for arriving at a reasoned judgment are there.

A more immediate concern is the blockade to which Turkey has submitted Armenia since the early 1990s war with Azerbaijan. Armenia desperately needs to open its frontiers to expand its trade links. Some recent developments – among them the announcement by Ankara of a new South Caucasus Initiative, and the historic visit of Turkey’s president on 6 September 2008 to watch an Armenian-Turkish football match in Yerevan – suggest that some shift in attitudes may be occurring (see "Friends and neighbours", Economist, 25 September 2008). But the lesson of other conflicts (such as the Arab-Israeli dispute) is that broad declarations and symbolic gestures are not enough: it is not clear (so my interlocutors at Armenia’s foreign ministry told me) that Abdullah Gül’s expression of goodwill is being translated into policy detail lower down the bureaucratic scale. For anyone familiar with the contemporary state of public opinion in Armenia and Turkey, the changes of a major breakthrough still appear slim.

Fred Halliday is ICREA research professor at the Barcelona Institute of International Studies (IBEI). His many books include Islam and the Myth of Confrontation (IB Tauris, 2003), 100 Myths About the Middle East (Saqi, 2005), and The Middle East in International Relations: Power, Politics and Ideology (Cambridge University Press, 2005)

Fred Halliday's "global politics" column includes: 

"The mysteries of the US empire" (30 November 2007)

"Islam, law and finance: the elusive divine" (12 February 2008)

"Stolen Wealth Funds: fantasies of control" (4 March 2008)

"Two feminist pioneers: Iranian, Lebanese, universal" (18 April 2008)

"Tibet, Palestine and the politics of failure" (9 May 2008)

"1968: the global legacy" (11 June 2008)

"Mediterranean mirage: Europe's sunken politics" (29 July 2008)

"The miscalculation of small nations" (24 August 2008)
The Armenians shared the surprise of the rest of the world about the August 2008 events. The summary judgment of one informed observer sums up the reaction: “Misha blew it”. No one I met believes the Russian (and one-eyed anti-American) claim that Washington encouraged Tbilisi to attack South Ossetia and Abkhazia; but most voiced severe criticism of Nato’s vague and apparently open-ended commitment to Georgia. 

An astute Mediterranean expert and veteran of backchannel regional negotiations remarked that Saakashvili had probably been deluded by his earlier successes, including the recovery of the less-noticed separatist enclave of Adzharia in southeast Georgia in his first months in office. The Georgian president’s pattern of rule, he went on, casts retrospective light on the overthrow of Eduard Shevardnadze in 2003-04: how much was this a “revolution” and how much a near-accidental power-grab whose triumph deluded Saakashvili about the opportunities in store? 

But my Armenian hosts were puzzled – even alarmed - by Russia’s decision to recognise the full independence of the two breakaway entities. Yerevan’s orientation (like the central Asian republics allied to Moscow) may be pro-Russian, but it is not prepared to follow on this one. Armenia has its own interests to consider, and one is the flow of remittances from its diaspora in Russia on which it so much depends. The accelerating capital-flight from Russia – in part a consequence of the global fallout of the financial crash, but in part a response to political sensitivities – has tough implications for a small trading economy.

A consolidated elite

In a longer-term perspective, however, the Russian-Georgian war has done little to alleviate (far less resolve) the major problems Armenia faces. They centre on the power of the new elite and the dramatic effects of social inequality, poverty and exclusion.

The enduring poverty of the country is evident to any visitor who leaves the central area of Yerevan with its modern buildings, restaurants and hotels. Much of the population lives in deprivation; corruption pervades all areas of government; and an astounding proportion of the population (almost half by some estimates – many from its most educated and enterprising groups) have left the country, for Russia or the west.

Armenia is not a bloody dictatorship, but nor is it a democracy: like its two south Caucasian neighbours (with which it has much more in common, politically, and culturally, than nationalist pride would admit) it is ruled by a post-communist elite some of whose members operate in legal grey areas for purposes of enrichment and power-accumulation. The appropriation of assets from two sources - those of the Soviet period, and a significant part of the $1.3 billion that sent back by Armenia’s diaspora – play a vital role in consolidating the elite’s power and enhancing its lifestyle.

This elite is led by former president Robert Kocharian (still the country’s strongman), and many members of it also come from Nagorno-Karbakh. They have shown that they are prepared to intimidate, censor, and manipulate to suit their ends. The press and media are controlled, when not by the state than by rightwing nationalists based in California. The penalties may not involve being arrested or shot, but they can be severe: if you criticise the government too overtly, you may lose your commercial licence (if you are in business) or your job (if you work for the government). 

The ruling network is also prepared to resort to the gun: as in October 1999 (when a gunman with some official protection assassinated the prime minister, the speaker, and six other officials in parliament), in September 2001 (when bodyguards of the president beat Poghos Poghosian to death in the Aragast [Poplavok] jazz cafe in Yerevan), and in March 2008 (when the president sent police to beat up a crowd of opposition supporters protesting the election outcome, an assault in which nine were killed). No one will ever know exactly what happened on 1 March, but there are credible rumours that the police planted guns among the sleeping protesters. What does seem certain – and was confirmed to me by one western diplomat who has attended the proceedings – is that the trials of the protesters have been rigged.

A frozen politics

The unresolved conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh is a shadow over all the events, regional and domestic, in which Armenia is embroiled. This contested region of around 140,000 was – notwithstanding its ethnic-Armenian majority - allocated to Azerbaijan by Moscow in the 1920s: a small part of the broader reassignment of peoples and territories across Europe after the great war and the Bolshevik revolution.

The loosening of political controls during the Mikhail Gorbachev-era perestroika in the late 1980s enabled an immense nationalist mobilisation in Armenia and Nagarno-Karabakh itself in favour of the latter’s incorporation in the former. The tensions with Azerbaijan grew; war erupted in 1992 between the by-then post-Soviet independent states of Armenia and Azerbaijan, which concluded in 1994 with the Armenians in control of Nagorno-Karabakh and a swathe of Azeri territory (including the “Lachin corridor”). Yerevan has since 1990 professed a belief that Nagorno-Karabakh should become an independent state rather than be annexed to Armenia; thus the region joins Abkhazia and South Ossetia in limbo-land, while Armenia’s territorial gains provide it with a bargaining-chip in any negotiations.

Many international negotiators have over the years sought to find a solution to this problem. Indeed, a negotiated settlement of the problem is the common aim of the United States and Europe in the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE’s) “Minsk process” - one shared too by Armenia’s close - if understated - ally, the Islamic Republic of Iran. On the ground and on both sides, however (the Azeri even more than the Armenian), nationalist rhetoric and intransigence prevail; though a readiness at least to meet at official level offers some grounds for belief that in time this may change.

In effect, the current Armenian political leadership - deeply influenced by its origins in Nagorno-Karabakh - and the powerful military and financial interests that have arisen from the war have sequestered Armenia as a whole; the inflow of money and the reinforcement of nationalist sentiment from the diaspora form the third leg of this unholy trinity. The results of the Moscow-Tbilisi war show every sign of confirming this ruling pattern. 

There may, however, be another lesson which the events of this summer should draw to the attention of politicians and officials in Yerevan: namely that for all the advantages they now think they have in their dispute with Azerbaijan, and for all the nationalist sentiment attached to this issue, the danger of another war with Azerbaijan cannot be excluded. Azerbaijan is getting richer and stronger; its clearly fixed elections of 16 October 2008 are conducted with barely a peep of protest from its western investors; and the new generation there, with no memory of coexistence with Armenian neighbours or fellow-citizens, is in key respects more militant than its predecessors. A wise Armenian academic observer in Yerevan put it to me thus: “The one thing you learn from living in the south Caucasus is that there are no such things as ‘frozen conflicts’.”

The revenge of ideas: Karl Polanyi and Susan Strange

During the two decades or so that I taught "international relations" as an academic discipline at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), the most challenging and rewarding part of the job was giving core-course lectures on political and social ideas - sometimes branded "theory" - that are relevant to understanding the arena of relations between states and peoples.

The miscalculation of small nations

The brief and vicious war between Georgia and Russia over South Ossetia has killed an untold number of people and displaced and traumatised many thousands more; promised a lengthy and abrasive aftermath; postponed even further the prospects of a settlement over this and the region's other territory lost to Georgia's control in the early 1990s, Abkhazia; created new enmities as well as poisoning existing ones; and planted seeds of yet further conflict.

Mediterranean mirage: Europe’s sunken politics

"They only went to Paris because they wanted to meet his wife". An Arab diplomat friend with an inexorable grasp of the realities of international relations is a vital source of wisdom in separating glitter from gold. The reference in this case was the summit organised by Nicolas Sarkozy in the Grand Palais in Paris on 13 July 2008 which launched his favoured initiative, the Union for the Mediterranean (UPM); though if the event made a dramatic opening to France's chairing of the European Union's rotating six-month presidency, it is doubtful that even the lustre of Carla Bruni could have made this more than a one-day-headlines wonder.

For this is an event that demands deconstruction - not just in its own terms, but in relation to the wider infirmity of the European Union in mid-2008, as it faces problems of legitimacy, accountability, identity and democracy that it seems incapable of addressing let alone resolving (see Ivan Krastev, "Europe's trance of unreality", 20 June 2008).

A hollow promise

In real terms the French president's enterprise was never likely to amount to much - and only in part because "Mediterranean" is in EU-speak a euphemism for "the Arabs", and thus a world away from the imaginative historical understanding of Fernand Braudel's deep apprehension of a natural, political and economic sphere in The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the age of Philip II . For the reality behind the exalted rhetoric is of a deeper set of fractures and rivalries whose healing would require political boldness and leadership, and understanding rooted in awareness of the failures of the past in this area.

True, Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas were photographed together, but they did not need to go to Paris for that to happen; the king of Morocco absented himself so that he could avoid sitting next to the president of Algeria, with whom his country has been in conflict over Western Sahara since 1975; Libya's Muammar Gaddafi also failed to arrive, even though he had been lobbying for years for admission to the negotiations encompassing European Union and Mediterranean states.

Fred Halliday is professor of international relations at the LSE, and visiting professor at the Barcelona Institute of International Studies (IBEI). His many books include Islam and the Myth of Confrontation (IB Tauris, 2003), 100 Myths About the Middle East (Saqi, 2005), and The Middle East in International Relations: Power, Politics and Ideology (Cambridge University Press, 2005)

Fred Halliday's "global politics" column on openDemocracy surveys the national histories, geopolitical currents, and dominant ideas across the world.The recent articles include:

"A 2007 warning: the twelve worst ideas in the world" (8 January 2007)

"Sunni, Shi'a and the "Trotskyists of Islam" (9 February 2007)

"Al-Jazeera: the matchbox that roared" (25 March 2007)

"The Malvinas and Afghanistan: unburied ghosts" (4 May 2007)

"Palestinians and Israelis: a political impasse" (4 June 2007)

"Crises of the middle east: 1914, 1967, 2003" (15 June 2007)

"Lebanon, Gaza, and Iraq: three crises" (22 June 2007)

"Yemen: murder in Arabia Felix" (13 July 2007)

"Eternal Euzkadi, enduring ETA" (3 August 2007)

"Cyprus's risky stalemate" (26 August 2007)

"Islam and Europe: a debate in Amsterdam" (1 October 2007)

"Justice in Madrid: the "11M" verdict" (5 November 2007)

"The mysteries of the US empire" (30 November 2007)

"The assassin's age: Pakistan in the world" (28 December 2007)

"Islam, law and finance: the elusive divine" (12 February 2008)

"Stolen Wealth Funds: fantasies of control" (4 March 2008)

"Two feminist pioneers: Iranian, Lebanese, universal" (18 April 2008)

"Tibet, Palestine and the politics of failure" (9 May 2008)

Syria's Bashar al-Assad arrived, but only to claw back a bit of lost diplomatic ground; and he neither met Ehud Olmert nor permitted group photograph of the summit participants. A great noise was made about the fact that Syria finally "recognised" Lebanon as a separate state, by agreeing to open an embassy in Beirut - though this is both six decades too late and carries no guarantees that Syria will also stop killing Lebanese politicians and journalists and covertly dominating the politics of that country. The closer to the realty the independent observer comes, the harder is it to be persuaded by Sarkozy's summit rhetoric and the mirage of regional unity (for an assessment of the tensions surrounding the event, and how the French's president's manic style tended to occlude them, see Patrice de Beer, "Nicolas Sarkozy, the frenetic leader", 28 July 2008).

An oceanic fix

The French president's convocation - whose revealingly proper title is the "Barcelona process: union for the Mediterranean" - falls into what British diplomats would call a "talking" (as opposed to a "doing") event. In other circumstances there might be no harm in that - but at present, a huge and indeterminate jamboree is the last thing that Europe or the "Mediterranean" countries (whoever they are) need. This, again, is only in part because the EU already has a regular mechanism for dialogue with the Arab states, Israel and Turkey: namely the original "Barcelona process", launched in 1995 (see “The 'Barcelona process': ten years on”, 11 November 2005).

The regrettable reality is that in almost thirteen years of life it has achieved little. Europe plays no significant role in any of the inter-state and inter-ethnic conflicts of the Mediterranean area - Palestine, Kurdistan, and Western Sahara, for example. The exchange of prisoners and bodies between Israel and Hizbollah on 19 July 2008 was negotiated by a German diplomat, operating as the envoy of his own country (see Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, "The Israeli-Hizbollah prisoner deal", 14 July 2008); it was Germany which also attempted to broker a deal between Abkhazia and Georgia over their long-running dispute.

The one place Europe has had something of a role (albeit as a junior ally of the United States), is in the Balkans: but the Balkan states were not part of the Barcelona process and the EU has in recent months been seriously divided over the issue of Kosovo independence. That some of the Balkan states were invited to Paris shows ambition, but in itself amounts to nothing.

The crisis of the Barcelona process was evident three years ago, at the ten-year review conference of November 2005. The crisis in Palestine apart, the other main goals - promoting trade and investment, encouraging democratisation in north Africa - had come to nothing. On most issues of the day, middle-eastern states take no heed of what Europe says: the Israelis build their wall and settlements; the Palestinians vote for Hamas; the Iranians pursue their nuclear programme; the Turks repress the Kurds; the Saudis, Egyptians and Tunisians crack down on even the mildest of liberal critics.

At the 2005 review conference Spain, which is in charge of this process, thought it had agreement of all the heads of state to attend, and had in particular found a formula on Palestine that satisfied the Arab states. But, twenty-four hours before the meeting was to start, an advance British government party flew in from Malta and - on Tony Blair's instructions, and to the fury of the Spanish - vetoed the Palestine text. The result was that Egypt's president Hosni Mubarak, followed by nearly all the other Arab leaders, pulled out. The European heads of state were all there, from Portugal to the Baltic, but (apart from the Turks and Israelis) the "Mediterranean" guests failed to appear.

The Union pour la Méditerranée venture, the brainchild of Sarkozy's Europhobe adviser, Henri Guaino, promises to be little different. When the French president first proposed it, he did not mention the Barcelona process, the established EU framework for dealing with this issue; he failed even to inform the Germans or British about what was supposed to be an EU initiative. His own foreign ministry was also kept in the dark. Now the summit has agreed to set up a new EU institutional process, but there is as yet no budget, nor agreement on where the headquarters of this new entity will be: Spain insists that Barcelona is the suitable home, but Malta, Tunisia, Morocco and Brussels itself are all in the running.

In the absence of any significant diplomatic or political conclusions, the 13 July summit agreed to a meagre shopping-list of practical items: some (such as ecological co-operation in the Mediterranean, and increased vigilance in regard to illegal migration) are already in operation while others (such as a "Mediterranean University") are whatever the "Club Med" equivalent of a pink elephant may be.

An Irish cocktail

In a broader context, the pomp of the Paris summit serves another, unstated but self-evident, purpose: displacement. It distracts the attention of the European and world publics away from the disastrous situation in which the European Union, at the end of the first month of the French presidency, finds itself. The immediate cause of this crisis was the Irish vote, in the referendum of 12 June 2008, to reject the revised EU constitution known as the Lisbon treaty (see Joseph Curtin & Johnny Ryan, "The Lisbon treaty and the Irish voter: democratic deficits", 13 June 2008).

It is relevant here to note that Ireland has been ambivalent with regard to international obligations. It has played a distinguished role on occasion as United Nations peacekeeper and/or promoter of international understanding in ways that earn a place alongside benign non-hegemonic powers such as Sweden, Norway, Finland, the Netherlands and New Zealand. This role is personified by Irish diplomats who have well served United Nations bodies, among them such luminaries as Seán MacBride, Conor Cruise O'Brien, and Mary Robinson (Frank Aiken, the international-minded foreign minister and parliamentary representative of my home country, Louth, discharged his duties in the same spirit). These people believed in Ireland as an exemplary as well as independent power on the world stage - and were not afraid of annoying the great states in the process.

At the same time, the Irish like other small nations also occasionally yield to the temptation of using their autonomy within international bodies for partisan ends (another case is the Greek Cypriot vote against the Annan peace plan of 2004). Ireland has been a great beneficiary of the European Union, above all in financial terms, and has achieved the growth rates it has in part because of its thirty-five years of EU membership since 1973.

Yet the foundations of this growth were always less than secure. Peadar Kirby's brilliant book, The Celtic Tiger in Distress: Growth with Inequality in Ireland (Palgrave, 2001) argued that the Irish economy's expansion was always precarious as it relied on fluctuations in the world economy that could easily turn to its disadvantage; but that it also entailed increasing levels of social and income inequality. It was that inequality, the exclusion of a significant part of the Irish population from the benefits of the 1990s, that played a major part in the "no" vote of 12 June.

A twin regress

Nicolas Sarkozy was obliged to visit Dublin on 21 July 2008 as part of his attempt as chair of the European Union presidency to try to find a fix for the Irish "no". In all probability some constitutional solution will be found to allow the Lisbon treaty to go forward. Even if it does not, the EU as an economic entity and, often forgotten, as the first zone of peace that covers Europe in its history, will continue. The problem is, however, that the Irish vote is far from being the only obstacle that the EU faces.

The rejection of European integration is the fault not of the Irish, but of the anterior, and un-renegotiable, rejections of the original constitution by France itself and the Netherlands in 2005. Here the damage was much more serious: the torpedoing of major constitutional changes in Brussels and, with consequences yet to be fully discerned, the antagonising of Turkey in the negotiation process. Electoral narcissism on the western fringes of Europe may be deplorable, but the real, historic and strategic, damage has been done on the other end of the continent, in regard to Turkey. This development - one to which the the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the Greek Cypriot's rejection of the Annan plan for the reunification of the island in 2004 have made their own contribution - constitutes the most worrying threat to the long-term security of modern Europe.

Even more ominous, however, than these electoral and political setbacks, are other aspects of the EU today, in particularly two long-term trends that, if continued and allowed to lay down future standards, will indeed finish off Europe as a civilised and democratic union.

First, the rolling back of workers' rights and social protection: rather than lamenting the Irish referendum vote, commentators would be better advised to look at the vote of two days before - the decision on 10 June by the ministers of employment and social affairs to abandon the European norm of a forty-eight-hour week, one of the major social achievements of the past century, and instead allow a week of up to sixty (and in some cases sixty-five) hours. This pernicious development was made possible only because of the advent of rightwing leaders to power in France and Italy and their collusion with the new influence within the EU of the former communist states, countries where the excesses of free-market economics and labour exploitation now prevail.

Second, the example being set by one of the founding members of the union, Italy. This country is after the April 2008 election once again governed by a Silvio Berlusconi-led coalition, and one with an ideological colour even darker than its predecessors (see Geoff Andrews, "Italy's hour of darkness", 17 April 2008); for it contains leading members who celebrate Italy's fascist past, it passes laws that hound immigrants and discriminate against Roma (Italian as well as those with family origins in southeast Europe, including Romania), it promotes grotesque forms of sexism and gender discrimination in public discourse and the media, and it legislates in favour of its own partisan interests (see Marco Brazzoduro, "Italy's choice: risk from Roma vs Roma at risk", 24 June 2008).

The comedy of manners which surrounds Berlusconism cannot conceal these sinister and deeply regressive trends in Italy. It is here, to Rome - and to Paris and Brussels - that the bill for the crisis of the European Union should be sent. The grandstanding about Ireland's failure to assent to the Lisbon treaty, or initiatives to boost the "Mediterranean" - a term that has long ceased to have any political, economic, cultural or strategic meaning - are distractions from this core concern.

A European tunnel

It is here, not in the rhetoric or limits of the Barcelona process of the UPM, that the real failure of Europe in regard to the Arab and "Mediterranean" worlds really lies. To focus on specific negotiations, or conflict-related targets, may be mistaken and may, indeed, understate what Europe can achieve. The whole Barcelona process of the mid-1990s was modelled on what was thought to have happened a few years earlier in regard to east-central Europe - with the EU, and influential states such as Germany, helping to encourage a transition to democracy and liberal markets in the former communist east. However, the analogy between eastern Europe and the Arab world was mistaken: communism collapsed in the Soviet Union and in most allied states, because the ruling elites had lost the will to govern: had, in effect, given up. The Arab elites of Algeria or Egypt have far from given up.

In another way, however, there is indeed an analogy, one all too rarely stated: the main contribution of the European Union to the collapse of communism did not lie in particular policies, but in the very fact of the EU's success, as a political and economic venture: this, the force of example, of democracy and prosperity combined, was what undermined and overwhelmed the communist world in the 1980s (see "1968: the global legacy", 11 June 2008). It may be in this regard that Europe can also, over a longer period, help to promote change in north Africa and the middle east also.

But it can only do this if Europe continues to live up to its best ideals, to set an example that other countries can seek to imitate. It will not be done by slamming the door on Turkey, indulging in anti-Muslim "civilisational" rhetoric, and persecuting immigrants. The greatest failures of Europe in recent years can be found in its failure to live up to its own ideals, in its indulgence of much that is ugly in European history and public attitudes, and in the jettisoning of major social gains of its past. It is time to retrieve the gold, not indulge the glitter.

1968: the global legacy

"With the coming of the dawn, the promises of the night fade away". In politics, as in love, the old Spanish saying sounds a pertinent warning; not least in regard to the memorialisation and assessment which the events of 1968 (and particularly the Paris uprising of May of that year) are receiving on their fortieth anniversary.

Also in openDemocracy on legacies of 1968:

Donald Nicholson-Smith, "Black glove/white glove: revisiting Mexico's 1968" (25 August 2004)

Neal Ascherson, "The Polish March: students, workers, and 1968" (1 February 2008)

Todd Gitlin, "Rethinking the kinetics of 1968" (11 April 2008)

Patrice de Beer, "May '68: France's politics of memory" (28 April 2008)

Sophie Quinn-Judge, "Hoang Minh Chinh: the honourable dissident" (30 April 2008)

Paul Hockenos, "The 1968 debate in Germany" (2 May 2008)
Anyone who lived through those exhilirating and formative times - as I did at the age of 22 - can testify to the hurricane force of that year. Like every such phenomenon it carried multiple elements: in this case a generation's visceral rejection of the accumulated conformism of post-1945 Europe and north America; a heady encounter with new forms of music, art, thinking, and debate; and a many-centred solidarity with global movements of protest and revolt - be they in Vietnam and Latin America, in Czechoslovakia and Russia, or in the United States among African-Americans and anti-war protesters.

Tibet, Palestine and the politics of failure

Two current and high-profile events - the crisis in and around Tibet following the Lhasa riots of 14 March 2008, and the sixtieth anniversary of the establishment on 14 May 1948 of the state of Israel - have more in common than it may first appear. Indeed, their commonalities are shared to a degree by other political and ethnic disputes across the world, to the extent that they compose a distinct phenomenon - which may be termed "the syndrome of post-colonial sequestration".

Two feminist pioneers: Iranian, Lebanese, universal

The intellectual, moral and historic confusions that mark the contemporary age - and the middle east as much as any other region - make the loss of thoughtful and humane voices all the more bitter. When these voices have illuminated the central issues of women's rights and human progress, the gap they leave is indeed impossible to fill.

Sovereign Wealth Funds: power vs principle

The world's financial press has a new obsession to succeed the "sub-prime mortgage" craze of autumn 2007: "sovereign wealth funds", those state-backed investment bodies whose accumulating assets (often fuelled by the high energy prices of the 2000s) are roaming the globe in search of businesses to invest in, partner - and perhaps devour.

Fidel Castro's legacy: Cuban conversations

The announcement of Fidel Castro's serious intestinal illness at the end of July 2006, and the occasion of the Cuban leader's 80th birthday on 13 August, inevitably have raised a mountain of commentary about the imminence or otherwise of a transition of power in the Caribbean communist state. But if "what comes after Fidel" is a well-worn topic of op-eds and broadcast interviews, the focus of the answer is less often where it should be: on an assessment of the character – a combination of the institutional, political, and personal – of the Cuban revolutionary experience as a whole.

Islam, law and finance: the elusive divine

A controversy over the relationship of what is termed sharia or "Islamic law" to wider legal systems was ignited on 7 February 2008 from an unlikely source: an academic lecture by the spiritual head of England's established church. The Archbishop of Canterbury's address explored the landscape of "plural jurisdiction" in Britain and considered with sympathy "what degree of accommodation the law of the land can and should give to minority communities with their own strongly entrenched legal and moralcodes".

The assassin’s age: Pakistan in the world

The consequences of political assassinations - what in Spanish are termed magnicidios - are variable and unpredictable. Some radically change history and inaugurate a new phase in the politics of the country concerned; others, for all their horror and symbolism, do not inaugurate fundamentally new eras.

The 20th century, an epoch punctuated by assassinations as much as by wars or scientific inventions, offers many examples of this variety (see "Political killing in the cold war", 11 August 2005). The most dramatic such event was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo in June 1914, which led both to the "great war" and the collapse of the whole European and middle-eastern order that had preceded it. On a smaller scale, the killing of the Colombian politician Jorge Gaitán in April 1948 inaugurated a civil war and a decades-long period of violence that has lasted to this day. A case unnoticed by most outside observers, but with immense consequences for his own country and for its neighbour Pakistan, was the murder of the Afghan communist leader Mir Akbar Khyber in April 1978; this led to a pro-Soviet coup later that month, and opened the way to the three decades of war - and attendant diffusion of Islamist violence across the world - that have followed.

The mysteries of the American empire

The debate on the future of American power – and what is increasingly (even casually) referred to as the American “empire” – is almost as old as the United States itself. It was Alexis de Tocqueville who, in the 1830s, anticipated a future dominated by the two continental states of Russia and America; and the Time magazine editor Henry Luce who, in 1941, on the eve of America’s decisive entry into both the Pacific and European wars, predicted “the American century”.

Justice in Madrid: the “11-M” verdict

A dark, rainy, early autumnal, 6am outside my hotel on the pavement of Calle Goya is perhaps not the most obvious place or time to begin an encounter with what is to be, in the history of Spain - and indeed of Europe as a whole - a historic day. This morning, the court set up on an exhibition site on the southwest side of the city, on the old road to Estremadura and Portugal, will aim to draw some line under the largest massacre (after Lockerbie in 1989) by a non-state group in the continent's history: the Atocha train bombings in Madrid on 11 March 2004, which killed 191 people and wounded over 1,000.

Islam and Europe: a debate in Amsterdam

Over the past three years, the accidents of academic travel and a certain curiosity about historical sites have taken me to most, if not all, of the places in the western world where jihadi terrorism has left its mark:

* New York, even as most inhabitants of the city seem to be exhibiting "9/11 fatigue", the site of the World Trade Center south of Chambers Street is now being reworked to construct a monumental Freedom Tower

* Madrid, where the attacks of 11 March 2004 now have a permanent memorial, even if the four-storey apartment block in the Calle Carmen Martín Gaite, in the restful Madrid suburb of Leganès, has been replaced in such a way as to erase the memory of those who later blew themselves up there, on 3 April 2004

Cyprus’s risky stalemate

On the three-and-a-half-hour flight eastwards from Rome to Larnaca, I re-immerse myself in the details of the "Cyprus question". As I read again the half-truths, self-indulgent rhetoric and bogus history that accompany most discussion of the island's modern politics and its associated massacres and invasions, my heart sinks and uneasy memories return.

Also in openDemocracy on the politics of Cyprus:Alex Rondos, "Cyprus: the price of rejection" (22 April 2004)The last time I had been in Cyprus was in July 1974, on holiday but in time to have a ringside view of the dramatic events of that time: the growing tension on the island as the Greek nationalist right sought, with the help of the military junta in Athens, to undermine Archbishop (and president) Makarios; the dramatic events on that Monday morning of 15 July when I went to buy fresh yoghurt at the village shop to find the owners in tears and the radio announcing that Makarios was dead; the realisation that a fascist coup had taken place, but that Makarios was alive and that his people were resisting; the days of tightening military control, the arrest by a group of paramilitaries of the socialists from the Edek party who were holding their summer school in the hotel next door. In Nicosia itself there was chaos at the airport, but all seemed sure that the Turks would not attack: "the Russians will make sure it never happens", I was told.

Eternal Euskadi, enduring ETA

The association of the Basque country with political (and often violent) conflict in the eyes of much of the world is at first sight belied by the sense of tranquil prosperity exuded by its capital, Vitoria. Yet as soon as the visitor even begins to make sense of the city's basic geographic and historical coordinates, it is impossible to avoid being confronted by the intractable nationalist dispute that has wracked the region, and Spain itself, for almost forty years.

This city of 250,000 people is known in the Basque language as Gasteiz, just as the Basque country as a whole is Euskadi. It is capital too of Álava, the largest of the three Basque provinces; Guizpúchoa and Vizkaya [Biscay] are the others, though Basque nationalists also include within the historic (and imagined) nation the neighbouring province of Navarra and the area of southwest France, both home to Euzkerra [Basque-speakers]. This wider territory comprises for local nationalists the entirety of Hegoalde (the four provinces of southern Euskadi) and Iparralde (the northern, French area). In the weather reports of the local nationalist press, for example, this aspirational Euskadi is represented as a separate geographic unit.

Yemen: murder in Arabia Felix

The killing of seven Spanish tourists in the Arabian state of Yemen on 2 July 2007 is a terrible and tragic event, for the victims and their families, for the people of Yemen whose suffering and isolation it will only increase, and for all those who aspire to travel and explore beyond the confines of the enclosed hotels and beaches of the travel industry.

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