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Archive for August, 2012

Infatuation with the "Syrian revolution"

August 31st, 2012 Comments off
My weekly article in Al-Akhbar:  “Infatuation with the Syrian “revolution”:  Between Abu Ibrahim and Guevara.”

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America’s "spring" in the Middle East

August 31st, 2012 Comments off
Comrade Joseph’s article on America’s “Arab spring” (in Arabic this time).

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Walid Phares

August 31st, 2012 Comments off
Fox News showed Walid Phares smiling widely in the audience during Romney’s speech. 

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Does Arab monarchy matter?

August 31st, 2012 Comments off

What does it mean that no Kings have thus far fallen in the Arab uprisings while four non-monarchical rulers (Ben Ali, Mubarak, Qaddafi and Saleh) have toppled from their (non-royal) thrones and a fifth has plunged his country into a brutal civil war?   Is there a monarchical exception in the Arab world?   The significance of monarchy has been one of the most vibrant debates among political scientists over the last two years, as I wrote about a few months ago.  A new article in the Journal of Politics by Victor Menaldo claiming statistical evidence for a monarchical advantage prompted me to revisit these arguments this week.    

The advantages of monarchy have taken on the feel of "common sense" among the public and in academic debates. But I remain highly skeptical about the more ambitious arguments for a monarchical exception.
Access to vast wealth and useful international allies seems a more
plausible explanation for the resilience of most of the Arab
monarchies.  Surviving with the financial resources and international
allies available to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE seems like no great trick. 
The active, concerted economic, political, media (and occasionally
military) Saudi and Qatari support for their less wealthy fellow
monarchs seems to be more important to the survival of the current crop
of kings than the instrinsic institutional characteristics of a
throne.   

There has been a robust academic argument over the possible political benefits of monarchy at least since Lisa Anderson’s influential 1991 article "Absolutism and the Resilience of Monarchy."  The operation of dynastic monarchies in relation to other regime types have been detailed and analyzed in important work by Michael Herb and many other political scientists over the last two decades.  That debate intesects in productive ways with broader research trends in political science over the last decade over the many varieties of authoritarianism.  In that context, I certainly don’t mean to say that monarchy doesn’t matter at all.  It seems
obvious that different regime types will create different incentives,
institutions, and possibilities for political contention.  And the relative survival rate of the monarchies during the Arab uprisings
of the last years is certainly suggestive of something.  But I remain highly skeptical of the stronger theoretical and policy claims about the positive political benefits of Arab monarchy.   

I am particularly unpersuaded by arguments that the Arab monarchies enjoy a distinctive legitimacy.  Some Kings no doubt have been popular due to their personality, their policies, or their ability to play their assigned role effectively.  But it is difficult to reconcile the idea of monarchical legitimacy with the tightly controlled media, carefully cultivated
personality cults, and brutally policed "red lines" which generally characterize such regimes.  The alleged unique legitimacy of Arab monarchs strikes me as a carefully cultivated and ruthlessly policed political myth which could dissolve as quickly as did the universal adoration for Bashar al-Assad or Moammar Qaddafi when challenged.  If monarchy
confers unique legitimacy on, say, King Abdullah of Jordan, then why the
need for a draconian l’ese majeste law criminalizing insulting the King or escalating controls on the online media
Why the need for Kuwait to jail someone for posting a YouTube video of a poem criticizing the Emir?  Why such concern among the Saudi leadership over the grumblings of the religious establishment?  

The claim for a unique legitimacy among the Arab monarchies is further undermined by the fact that they have in fact experienced significant political
dissent over the last two years, to which they responded through fairly typical (albeit unusually well-resourced) combinations of
repression and co-optation.
   Kuwait experienced the most dramatic, largest and most effective political protests in its history, leading to a political crisis which has shut down Parliament and for the first time brought the perogatives of the royal family directly into the public debate.  Quiet Oman faced unprecedented levels of protest which forced significant political reforms.  Saudi Arabia has faced persistent and growing protest in its Eastern Province, and forcefully cracked down on dissent elsewhere even as it lavished $130 billion on its restive population.  Bahrain’s monarchy survived (for now) against truly massive popular mobilization only through the application of a brutal, sweeping campaign of sectarian repression.  Morocco’s monarch diverted popular mobilization through an early offer of limited political reforms, while Jordan’s monarch struggles with growing  popular mobilization and an ever-shrinking ruling coalition as his regime fails to effectively adapt. In other words, the resources and capabilities of the Arab monarchies may be different from their non-kingly peers, but the challenges facing them from popular mobilization really were not.

Other popular arguments in the literature for the
monarchical exception also strike me as limited. It’s true that the
monarchies practice divide and rule, selectively co-opt and repress, and in some
cases allow controlled elections to Parliaments with limited power —
but is this so different from the games played by Ben Ali, Mubarak, or Assad?  Perhaps monarchies offer a sense of predictability to
politics and reduce the stakes of competition — but were Syrians or Egyptians really under the illusion that
their leaders might be voted out of office?  Perhaps monarchy allows
all other citizens to know their place and not get any uppity ideas
about a role in governing or oversight of their government’s budgets —
but is such a second-class citizenship really viable in today’s
political environment?  And can we really say that monarchs are better at
offering an inclusive national identity in the face of the virulent
anti-Shi’a exclusions in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, or the constant
exploitation of Transjordanian-Palestinian identity divides in Jordan? (I’d rather not get into Menaldo’s arguments as to why the monarchies have less corruption, since the premise seems so implausible on its face.)

To me, the monarchies look like fairly typical Arab
authoritarian regimes, surviving because they enjoy greater financial
resources, less demanding international allies, and powerful media assets to perpetuate their legitimation myths.  And that means that they will not likely be spared should those assets lose value — as they well might, given young, often underemployed populations that have some of the highest smartphone and media penetration in the world; dysfunctional political institutions; extravagant promises of public spending which may soon put serious strain on even Gulf budgets;  shifting regional political dynamics and reduced U.S. commitments; and uncertain leadership successions.  The monarchs may be on offense around the region right now, but their defense might not be a strong as it appears.

To paraphrase one of our great living philosopher kings,
the Arab monarchies may be forced to choose among three dreams: the
Saudi King’s, Dr. King’s and Rodney King’s.   The monarchs would like
their own people and the outside world to believe that they survive
because of their effective and benevolent leadership, their unique
political culture, and their distinctive legitimacy which requires no great concessions to meaningful democratic political participation.  But that very myth can
blind them to the ever more urgent calls by reformists for just such
political inclusion, transparency, an end to corruption, and equality of citizenship.  The violent repression and angry protests
in Manama or Qatif provide stark warning of the danger of believing such comforting
mythologies of resilience or legitimacy.  

The discussion of Arab monarchy really should be a debate, of course.  A lot of smart people do think that monarchy matters, and have developed sophisticated arguments and evidence to support the contention.  They may be right.  There’s an outstanding literature in political science on the nature of various regime types, to which Middle East specialists have contributed significantly.  But if Gulf regimes start to suddenly fall, as predicted in this forthcoming book by Christopher Davidson, or the popular mobilization which already exists takes on new forms, then the embrace
of the monarchical exception could soon look as foolish as did the
passion for Lebanese consociationalism in the 1960s, the admiration for
the Shah’s developmental state in Iran in the 1970s, or the confidence
in the resilience of Arab authoritarian regimes in the 2000s. 

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Thousands march in Bahrain protest

August 31st, 2012 Comments off

MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — Thousands of anti-government protesters in Bahrain have filled a main highway in the country's first state-approved march in weeks. The rally outside the capital …
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Bahrain Attends 16th NAM Summit Final Session

August 31st, 2012 Comments off

Manama-Aug31(BNA)Foreign Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa today led Bahrain's delegation to the 16th Non-Aligned Movement Summit, which concluded in Tehran, Iran. …
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Syria Monitoring Committee & Hariri’s FUTURE: ”FSA downed 8 Syrian jetfighters just today!”

August 31st, 2012 Comments off
 and they call for kicking Syria’s ambassador out and salutes Morsi’ for his position…..
 SMC ????? ???????? ?? ??????  ?????? ??? ??? ?????? ?????? ?? ????? 
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IAEA: The "imminent danger" of a "nuclear Iran" has thereby decreased

August 31st, 2012 Comments off

‘b’ at MoonOfAlabama covers & dissects this stuff like no other.

“… Iran has now 10% less “dangerous stuff” in the form of further easily enrichable 20% UF6 than it had in May 2012. Further enriched this stockpile would not be enough to create even one nuclear device. The “imminent danger” of a “nuclear Iran” has thereby decreased.We can reasonably assume that Iran is doing this decrease on purpose and will in future convert any newly produced UF6 into fuel plates. This will keep its stock of UF6 at a level below what is needed to make a quick run towards a nuclear device.
But as the whole “nuclear Iran” scare has little to do with reality but a lot with U.S. and Israeli desire to subjugate Iran and thereby further their global and regional domination…”



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"Apparently, I was wrong about my expectations,"

August 31st, 2012 Comments off

“…Davutoglu, whose country is hosting more than 80,000 Syrian refugees, said he came to the council with hope that its members would take “long overdue steps” to help suffering people and establish camps inside Syria for those forced to flee their homes.“Apparently, I was wrong about my expectations,” he told the council. “This meeting will not even end with a presidential or press statement, let alone a robust resolution.”
The path to the council’s agreement on a safe zone for Syrians is fraught with obstacles, headed by the reluctance of Russia and China …”



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Jaramana, Syria: an update

August 31st, 2012 Comments off
From Akram, Angry Arab’s correspondent in Syria:
“Jaramana is boiling. This is the least that can be said about a town that, by its calm and hospitality of its people, offered a safe haven to thousands of people that the brutal combats in their villages surrounding this town turned them into refugees.
Two days after a car bomb exploded, during the funeral of two men killed the day before by bombs implanted in their cars, that killed 27 and dozens more injured, another small explosive targeted a car yesterday evening in “The President Square”, one of the busiest places in the town. Luckily, no one was killed, though the car driver and his daughter were moderately wounded and transported to a nearby hospital. Few hours later, a clash broke out between a “popular committees” (armed civilians who work under the auspice of the Syrian authorities) checkpoint and gunmen, reports said they were positioning in Beit Sahem, a nearby village the people of which are Sunnis. No one was hurt by this clash.

Jaramana is living a crucial moment. Not only are the rebels responsible in dragging this town, with all what it represents of peaceful coexistence with its majoritarian surrounding, to the fight. Giving up its main responsibility, of protecting the town, to ill-trained civilians who, and this is the most important, belong to minorities (that so far haven’t participate in this dirty war), the Syrian regime seems working, deliberately, to compel them to take their part in the fighting, not only in Jaramana, but also in other parts of Syria where they live.

Dangerous game… very dangerous. Nevertheless, the two parties are determined to play to the end…”

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