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The Sick Middle East: Daniel Pipes, Washington Times, Jan. 23, 2014— The recent fall of Fallujah to an al Qaeda-linked group provides an unwelcome reminder of the American resources and lives devoted from 2004 to 2007 to control the city — all that effort expended and nothing to show for it.

Crisis in Arab Civilization: Leon De Winter, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 17, 2014 — There has never been such a thing as the “Arab Spring”; a true Arab spring can only develop when the Arabs start developing civil societies.

Will Tunisia Defy Arab Spring Pessimism?: Michael Rubin, Commentary, Feb. 17, 2014—Many writers at Commentary cautiously welcomed the Arab Spring, myself included, even with a dose of caution about what might happen should the Muslim Brotherhood hijack the popular uprising that caught them as much as the regimes against which they plotted by surprise.

Do ‘Syria,’ ‘Iraq’ and ‘Lebanon’ Still Exist?: Jonathan Spyer, The Tower, Feb., 2014 — For almost a century, the Middle East has been defined by the nation-states that emerged following the Allied victory in World War I and the end of the colonial era.


On Topic Links


The Arab Spring Killed the Left’s Foreign Policy: Daniel Greenfield, Frontpage, Jan. 27, 2014

In Tunisia, It’s Shoot First, Ask Questions Later: Asma Ghribi, Foreign Policy, Feb. 17, 2014

Tunisian B-Boys’ Biggest Battle: Keeping Youths From Extremism: Carlotta Gall, New York Times, Feb. 17, 2014



Daniel Pipes                                                            

Washington Times, Jan. 23, 2014


The recent fall of Fallujah to an al Qaeda-linked group provides an unwelcome reminder of the American resources and lives devoted from 2004 to 2007 to control the city — all that effort expended and nothing to show for it. Similarly, outlays of hundreds of billions of dollars to modernize Afghanistan did not stop its reversion to public stoning as a punishment for adultery. These two examples point to a larger conclusion: Maladies run so deep in the Middle East (minus remarkable Israel) that outside powers cannot remedy them.


Here’s a fast summary: Water is running out. A dam going up on the Blue Nile in Ethiopia threatens to substantially cut Egypt’s main water supply by devastating amounts for years. Syria and Iraq suffer from water crises because the Euphrates and Tigris rivers are drying up. The narcotic qat plant absorbs so much of Yemen’s limited water supplies that Sana’a may be the first modern capital city to be abandoned because of drought. Crazy wheat-growing schemes in Saudi Arabia depleted aquifers. On the flip side, the poorly constructed Mosul Dam in Iraq could collapse, drowning half a million immediately and then leave many more stranded without electricity or food.

Sewage runs rampant in Gaza. Many countries suffer from electrical blackouts, especially in the oppressive summer heat that routinely reaches 120 degrees.

People are also running out. After experiencing a huge and disruptive youth bulge, the region’s birthrate is collapsing. Iran, for example, has undergone the steepest population decline of any country ever recorded, going from 6.6 births per woman in 1977 to 1.6 births in 2012, thus creating what one analyst calls an “apocalyptic panic,” fueling government aggression. Poor schools, repressive governments and archaic social mores ensure abysmal rates of economic growth. Starvation haunts Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan.


Vast reserves of oil and gas have distorted nearly every aspect of life. Miniature medieval-style monarchies such as Qatar become surreal world powers playing at war in Libya and Syria, indifferent to the lives they break, as a vast underclass of oppressed foreign workers toils away and a princess deploys the largest budget for art purchases in human history. The privileged can indulge their cruel impulses, protected by connections and money. Sex tourism flourishes in poor countries such as India. Efforts at democracy and political participation either wither, as in Egypt, or elevate fanatics, who intelligently disguise their purposes, as in Turkey. Efforts to overthrow greedy tyrants lead either to yet-worse ideological tyrants (as in Iran in 1979) or to anarchy (as in Libya and Yemen). One commonly roots for both sides to lose. The rule of law remains a Fata Morgana.


Islamism, currently the most dynamic and threatening political ideology, is summed up by a morbid Hamas declaration to Israelis: “We love death more than you love life.” Polygyny, burqas, genital mutilation and honor killing make Middle Eastern women the world’s most oppressed. Middle Eastern life suffers from acute biases — often official — based on religion, sect, ethnicity, tribe, skin color, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, age, citizenship, work and disability. Slavery remains a scourge. Conspiracy theories, political zealotry, resentment, repression, anarchy and aggression rule the region’s politics. Modern notions of the individual remain weak in societies where primordial bonds of family, tribe and clan remain dominant.


The Middle East uniquely suffers from an urge to snuff out whole countries. Israel is the best-known potential victim, but Kuwait actually disappeared for a half-year, while Lebanon, Jordan and Bahrain could be swallowed up at any time. Middle Eastern states spend outsized amounts of their wealth on intelligence services and their militaries, creating redundant forces to check each other. They venture abroad to buy tank, ship and airplane baubles. They devote inordinate resources to chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, and the platforms to deliver them. Even terrorist groups such as al Qaeda plot to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Cutting-edge methods of terrorism are developed in the Middle East.


Economic and political failure creates large bodies of refugees. Afghans have made up the world’s largest refugee population since the 1980s, but Syrians now threaten to overtake them, bringing poverty and chaos to their lands of refuge. Desperate souls attempt to leave the region altogether for Western countries, with more than a few dying along the way, and those who make it bring their region’s maladies to such orderly countries as Sweden and Australia. Nineteenth-century diplomats dubbed the Ottoman Empire “the sick man of Europe.” Now I nominate the whole Middle East as the “sick man of the world.” The region’s hatreds, extremism, violence and despotism will require many decades to remedy. While this process takes place, the outside world is best advised not to focus on helping the Middle East — a hopeless task — but on protecting itself from the region’s manifold threats, from Middle East respiratory syndrome and harems to megaterrorism and electromagnetic pulse.                                                                                      


[Daniel Pipes is president of the Middle East Forum and a CIJR Academic Fellow.]



CRISIS IN ARAB CIVILIZATION                                            

Leon De Winter   

Jerusalem Post, Feb. 17, 2014


There has never been such a thing as the “Arab Spring”; a true Arab spring can only develop when the Arabs start developing civil societies. But until now the value systems of ethnicity and tribalism, which fit organically within the value system of Islam, have been crippling obstacles to the development of such Arab civil societies, societies in which politicians peacefully transfer power to the newly elected. Because of the lack of independent civil institutions which neutrally guarantee the continuation of the state, the only effective way of running an Arab nation-state is by dictatorship. The sense of loyalty to the state is weak compared to the sense of loyalty to the tribe and the religion. Corruption and tribalism always appear as twins. Therefore, expectations that a Palestinian state-to-be would function as Denmark is a cruel illusion. Only the introduction of the basic elements of a vital civil society can force a dramatic change in the Arab world, which is struggling with existential questions.

In order to find their place among the great nations of the world, the various tribes, ethnicities and peoples of the Arab and Islamic world have to find a way to overcome the traditions which have been part of their survival strategies – with often amazing success – since the seventh century. In a globalizing world these deeply ingrained traditions and value systems have outlived themselves. The process of decay started about 200 years ago, after Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt, and took a structural downwards turn with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Various solutions have been tested to prevent the Arab-Islamic way of life from imploding, from pan-Arabism to extreme religiosity. In the present world, which demands radical levels of individuality, equality between the sexes, personal autonomy, creativity, the ability to question authority and to do research and development without the limitations of religion or self-censorship, the tested Arab and Islamic value systems have proven to be impotent. The Arab nations cannot participate in the great adventure of human progress but are being crippled by paralyzing cultural traditions.

The cruel violence among ethnic and tribal brothers in Syria is indicative for the depth of the crisis in that civilization. No coalition of warriors can open the way to the creation of an open civil society. The identities of the groups are being defined by ethnicity and/or religious affiliation. If a coalition of warriors would be able to defeat the other coalitions, a new dictatorship will be created – and this new dictatorship can only equal the old one since there is no prospect of successfully suppressing the traditional value systems while introducing those of liberal open societies. This is a bitter dilemma for the ruling classes running Arab dictatorships: giving up complete control over the security forces and media to freely elected politicians, the initial conditions for a civil society, leads automatically to unleashing the extremist powers which would immediately overthrow the ruling classes – in other words: giving up control is a form of suicide. In order to legitimize their hold on power, dictatorships by definition need antagonists.

The ideal enemy is Israel, the land of the Jews, who have been ridiculed by the Arabs since the very beginning of the Islamic religion. The obsession with Israel (which rules over a relatively small group of Arabs whose educational and medical situation is relatively better than those in most Arab countries and creates higher life expectancies than Turkey) is not restricted to the ruling and media classes. Israel has to be destroyed, otherwise some of the core tenets of the Islamic religious revelation as described in the Koran will be proven to be false – which is impossible since the Koran is Allah’s book which has been devised before time existed. According to Islamic theology, Jews have refused Mohammed’s message and therefore are condemned to live within precisely defined limitations as a second-class people. It is impossible to accept a state run by Jews on soil considered to be part of the Islamic Arab cultural heritage – land which has been Islamic will be Islamic for ever. The issue is tiny in size (Israel is about the size of New Jersey), but enormous in meaning. Within the context of Islamic tradition, the existence of Israel is the denial of the truth of Mohammed’s acts and sayings.

In civil society, by its nature, church and state are separated – civil society can only be a secular society in which religious sensibilities belong to personal habits and preferences. But Islam, which can be considered the universal and mostly monotheistic translation of tribal values, is an essential aspect of the Arabs’ identity. And because they lack the sense, and the institutions to carry it, of being individuals in a civil society, the culture of the Arabs is paralyzed in its own existential crisis, which is being fed with hatred of Israel, the ultimate “other,” the dynamic and prosperous and mighty denial of Islam’s truth and claim on the holy territory of Palestine.

World powers try to find an understanding with the non-Arab Islamic nation of Iran – which shows the same deficiencies as the Arab nations. Its religiously legitimized dictatorship cannot be but obsessed by Israel, which by its very existence is an actual denial of the Islamic message. The Iranian dictators can only function as protagonists focused on antagonists – they have to operate as warriors because they serve a universal religious message (“the world will be Islamic because of the truth of Islam”) which needs to be proven true in the real world. And the proof in the real world lies in the destruction of Israel. Muslims can only liberate themselves from their cultural paralysis when they start accepting Israel’s existence. That means that they have to re-interpret Mohammed’s message. A peace treaty with non-Arab Iran will be an empty gesture as long as Iran doesn’t recognize Israel’s right to exist. The dilemma is: it cannot do that since by recognizing Israel, Iran would betray Mohammed’s message. Destroying Israel is the ultimate consequence of Iran’s religious tenets and of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which is defining the direction of world history as a movement towards global Islam and the victory over world Jewry. No peace treaty can soften that ambition. The political, religious and military leadership of Iran legitimizes its hold on power by the pledge to execute Allah’s will. So peace can only be established by a re-interpretation of Allah’s will as expressed in the Koran and the Hadith.

Nobody knows if that is possible. Still, Western nations should strictly keep on demanding the recognition of Israel; the only way to an Islamic reformation, and the road to Arab civil societies, lies in the re-interpretation of Mohammed’s legacy. An Arab nation that can…live with Israel will automatically put in motion a cultural and religious reformation. Recognition of Israel’s existence as a Jewish state is the only hope for the Arabs and Muslims to join the rest of mankind in healing the world.





Michael Rubin                                                                

Commentary, Feb. 17, 2014


Many writers at Commentary cautiously welcomed the Arab Spring, myself included, even with a dose of caution about what might happen should the Muslim Brotherhood hijack the popular uprising that caught them as much as the regimes against which they plotted by surprise. It was not long before the Arab Spring turned chilly. The Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates rose to dominate Egypt and Tunisia. Yemen, Libya, Bahrain, and Syria descended into violence. While some analysts pointed out that the monarchies—Bahrain excepted—showed particular resilience amidst the winds of the Arab Spring, this might have less to do with fundamentals and could instead have been sheer dumb luck. Jordan, for example, remains highly susceptible to an uprising that could challenge if not unseat the regime. Stability in Saudi Arabia remains far from assured.


The fundamental problem has been that both governments and opposition movements have embraced the rhetoric of democracy, but not its spirit. Opposition groups like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt have looked at the Arab Spring as an opportunity to seize power and replicate the same dictatorship against which they once fought.


The exception, of course, has been Tunisia. Ennahda, an Islamist party affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, won a plurality in elections to form the government which would oversee drafting of a new constitution but, against the backdrop of popular discord with its conservatism, it agreed to step down last month in favor of a caretaker government rather than seek to dominate as have Islamist parties elsewhere in the Middle East. Today, polls show that 70 percent of Tunisians believe their country is heading in the right direction, a sharp uptick since only 15 percent believed it was before Ennahda agreed to step down.


Tunisia isn’t out of the woods yet. Oussama Romdhani, a former communications minister under the Ben Ali government, yet a figure widely respected as a self-made and honest man despite his association with the previous regime, has a must-read column in Al-Arabiya assessing the current state of Tunisian politics and the dangers which lurk ahead. Every post-Arab Spring government, even the best intentioned, has had to confront unrealistic expectations of supporters and the conspiracy theories of critics. Still, rather than give into America’s new isolation trend, it is important to support Tunisia as it moves forward, because if one Arab state can navigate Arab Spring turbulence into a more tranquil future, then it can become a model for others who otherwise might teeter between Islamist dictatorship or regression to more secular authoritarianism.




DO ‘SYRIA,’ ‘IRAQ’ AND ‘LEBANON’ STILL EXIST?                      


Jonathan Spyer                                        

The Tower, Feb. 2014


For almost a century, the Middle East has been defined by the nation-states that emerged following the Allied victory in World War I and the end of the colonial era. Since then, strategic analyses of the region have concentrated on the relations between these states, and diplomatic efforts have generally attempted to maintain their stability and the integrity of their borders. As a result, the current map of the Middle East has remained largely unchanged over more than nine decades. But this is no longer the case. The old maps no longer reflect the reality on the ground, and the region is now defined not by rivalry between nation-states, but by sectarian divisions that are spilling across the old borders and rendering them irrelevant. Today, there is a single sectarian war underway across the Middle East, one that threatens to engulf the entire region.


This war has a number of fronts, some more intense and active than others, but it is everywhere defined by sectarian conflict, especially the divide between Sunni and Shia Muslims. It is most intense in the area encompassing the current states of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon; but has also spread further afield—to Bahrain, northern Yemen, and to some degree Kuwait and eastern Saudi Arabia. The core power on the Shia side is the Islamic Republic of Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terror and founding patron of Hezbollah, which until 9/11 held had killed more Americans than any terror group in the world. The Assad regime in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Maliki government and assorted Shia militias in Iraq, the Houthi rebels in northern Yemen, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad are all allies or proxies of the Islamic Republic, which is capable of rendering substantial assistance to its friends through the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), a powerful military and economic force that possesses substantial expertise and experience in building proxy organizations and engaging in political and paramilitary warfare.


On the Sunni side, the dominant power is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which after 9/11 has been wary of Tehran, but also has struggled against the Islamists of Al Qaeda. Its allies include various groups among the Syrian rebels, the March 14 movement in Lebanon, the military regime in Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Jordan, and sometimes Turkey. The Saudis, however, are at something of a disadvantage. They possess no parallel to the IRGC, and have problematic relations with the extreme Sunni jihadists of al-Qaeda, who have played a prominent role in the fighting on all three major fronts. How did this situation come about? Is there evidence of a clear linkage between the various forces on the respective sides? Why is this conflict so extreme in certain countries—like Syria and Iraq—where it appears to be leading to the breakup of these states? How dangerous are these changes for the West? Focusing on the areas of most intense conflict—Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon—can help us answer these questions.


This war is a result of the confluence of a number of circumstances. First, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon are all home to a host of different sectarian and ethnic communities. The stark divisions that exist in these societies have never been resolved. In Syria and Iraq, they were suppressed for decades by brutal dictatorial regimes. The Assad regime in Syria and Saddam Hussein’s in Iraq were family dictatorships based on minority sectarian communities—the Alawis in Syria and the Arab Sunnis in Iraq—while claiming to rule in the name of pan-Arab nationalism. In service of this ideology, the Syrian and Iraqi regimes ruthlessly put down ethnic and sectarian separatism in all its forms; in particular, Shia Islamism in Iraq, Sunni Islamism in Syria, and the Kurdish national movement in both countries. All were treated without mercy. Lebanon, by contrast, is a far weaker state, which was ruled by a power-sharing arrangement between ethnic and religious groups that collapsed into civil war in 1975. The issues underlying that war were never resolved; instead, between 1990 and 2005 the Syrian army presence in Lebanon ended all discussion of basic issues of national identity.


Over the last decade, the once ironclad structures of dictatorship and suppression that kept ethnic and sectarian tensions from erupting have weakened or disappeared. The 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq destroyed the Saddam Hussein regime. A sectarian Shia government, based on the Shia Arab majority and conditionally accepted by the Kurds, took its place. In Syria, a brutal civil war has severely curtailed the power of the Assad regime, which now rules only about 40 percent of the country’s territory. The Sunni Arab majority and the Kurdish minority have carved out autonomous sectarian enclaves in the 60 percent that remains. Western hopes that a non-sectarian identity would take hold in the areas formerly ruled by Saddam and the Assads have proved persistent but illusory. Remarks about Iraq made by then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice in 2004 sum up these hopes and the tendency to self-delusion that often accompanies them. “What has been impressive to me so far,” Rice said, “is that Iraqis—whether Kurds or Shia or Sunni or the many other ethnic groups in Iraq—have demonstrated that they really want to live as one in a unified Iraq…. I think particularly the Kurds have shown a propensity to want to bridge differences that were historic differences in many ways that were fueled by Saddam Hussein and his regime… What I have found interesting and I think important is the degree to which the leaders of the Shia and Kurdish and Sunni communities have continually expressed their desires to live in a unified Iraq.”


This faith is shared by the Obama Administration, and as a result, it has continued to support the Shia-dominated government in Iraq, led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. It sees Maliki’s opposition to Sunni insurgents in western Anbar province as an elected government’s opposition to extremist rebels. This fails to take into account the sectarian nature of the Maliki government itself and the discriminatory policies he has pursued against the Sunnis of western Iraq…                                

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link –ed.]   


The Arab Spring Killed the Left’s Foreign Policy: Daniel Greenfield, Frontpage, Jan. 27, 2014 —Three years later, no one talks about the Arab Spring.

In Tunisia, It’s Shoot First, Ask Questions Later: Asma Ghribi, Foreign Policy, Feb. 17, 2014 —Tunisia's nascent democracy is facing a difficult yet painfully familiar conundrum: How to fight "terrorism" without encroaching upon human rights and going back to the draconian practices of the former oppressive regime.

Tunisian B-Boys’ Biggest Battle: Keeping Youths From Extremism: Carlotta Gall, New York Times, Feb. 17, 2014 —The youth center in this small provincial town is brimming with energy on a Saturday morning.





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