PhD Proposal: Accounting for Differences in Outcome of the Arab Spring


 

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Research Questions, Hypotheses & Variables:

Why did the Arab Spring affect states differently? What accounts for these differences in outcome? This article seeks to address that very question.

In this research, I extend “Wimmer et al’s” model of ethnic conflict & exclusion to include ethno-religious groups in the Middle East. Ample literature has been written on the consequences of minority rule, especially in the Middle East, but there is little research on ethno-religious exclusion as the source of national instability. The typical variables considered are foreign intervention, religiosity or authoritarianism. My argument is that some states are more or less politically developed than others, and as such, exhibit a more sophisticated system that at the very least represents the majority ethnic fabric of the nation-state. Exclusive states tend to be less developed politically, and as such disenfranchise ethnic majorities leading to more instability.

Continue reading “PhD Proposal: Accounting for Differences in Outcome of the Arab Spring”

Accounting for Differences in Outcome of the Arab Spring


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Why did the Arab Spring affect states differently? What accounts for these differences in outcome? This article seeks to address that very question.

Globally, no state is a “perfect democracy” but some are obviously closer and more exemplary than others. Democracy is multi-dimensional meaning that there are components therein, all of which are necessary for its sustenance.

Regionally, this is also true – that some states are more or less democratic than others. Of all the MENA states only Tunisia is considered a “successful” democracy. Both Tunisia & Egypt enjoy more developed institutions than Libya & Syria, for example. One might attribute development to geography & history, given Egypt has been more autonomous than other Arab counterparts, but this doesn’t apply across the board, given Tunisia was part of the Ottoman Empire while Egypt was not.

Why did revolution fail to break-out in Saudi Arabia?

Libya is also an oil-rich state, but it was left ravaged. Oil was not a stabilizing force in Libya.

Saudi Arabia has a notoriously strong security apparatus, one that is tied directly to the ruling family, the House of Saud. The same is true in Syria, where an Alawite-dominated military has direct links with the ruling Assad “clan”. However the major difference is that Saudi Arabia is supported by America, unlike Syria.

States which experienced military invasions endured the worst outcome of the Arab Spring, versus countries that maintained autonomy. Compare the violence in Yemen, Syria & Libya to Saudi, Egypt & Tunisia, and the claim carries weight.

This can be extended to Iraq & Afghanistan, invaded by the US.

But why then has America stood by Saudi Arabia & flip-flopped on Syria?

The US switched from mildly opposing the Syrian regime under Obama to supporting it tacitly under Trump. This underscores that US policy is not monolithic, and there are two forces contending, with one seeking further democratization & the other benefitting from authoritarian neoliberal (neocolonial) constructs such as the Saudi or Syrian state.

Perhaps the extent of political development and institutionalization in Arab states like Egypt prevented foreign countries from being able to influence the trajectory of the demonstrations, whereas thoroughly guarded states like Saudi Arabia & Syria with almost no degree of democratic institution were able to suppress without much attention. Not only does Egypt have a sizable minority, it has institutional provisions & a political infrastructure which make it less vulnerable to chaos. Clearly Egypt is no democracy, and has in fact continued as an authoritarian state, but it also experienced peaceful revolutions, ousted two leaders. A mere change in the face of executive leadership is reassuring to the people about at least some sense of accountability and connect. This is arguably the result of the political infrastructure of the state which has democratic features such as separation of powers & independent judiciary.

Ultimately then it can be argued that while culturally Saudi Arabia and Syria are different, they are politically underdeveloped to a comparable degree, with few to no provisions in place meant to separate powers of the state or establish a mild sense of accountability among officials.

Thus the failure of the Arab Spring to overwhelm Saudi Arabia can be traced to the US decision to stand by the government, despite its authoritarian character.

If the neoliberal face of the Middle East is to be defeated, it must also be defeated in the US, meaning Trump must be replaced with a Democrat who is not at all inclined towards authoritarian governments.

Perhaps this why there was such a coordinated effort by various authoritarian governments across the world to influence the 2016 election in favor of Trump, who is more or less sympathetic to authoritarianism than his Democratic counterpart Hillary Clinton. Autocrats have no consistent agenda but self-preservation at any expense, so coordinating on this delicate issue even with “enemies” occurred.

Globalization has rendered the world inextricably linked no matter how much anti globalist nationalists tout otherwise. Since America is the world’s most powerful state, it is only sensible that changes in its domestic politics would have ripple effects, especially in the Middle East where it has been involved so long & the politics are so volatile.

Is it safe to conclude then that the chapter of revolution has not yet ended in the region?

Perhaps it will be easier to tell in 2020, unless of course Trump doesn’t make it that far.

A Neo-imperial Menace – The Great Game for the Middle East


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A comparative study of Syria & Iraq wars, makes it evident that the cause of instability is not authoritarianism, nor radicalism in either of these states, and the entire ME region.

Rather these are symptoms of a greater menace inciting them – neo-imperialism.

Enough with associative-thinking  – ‘this has to be true because of this.’

We don’t need Putin to be boogieman in order to vilify a US president.

Trump & the GOP that created him are war criminals, racists & rabid, hawkish interventionists.

With or without Putin.

Even Egypt’s case of the ‘Arab Spring’ was arguably a direct rejection of neo-imperial vision of a colonial-outpost in the Middle East.

Democracy may be the end-goal even in the Middle East – but democracy is impossible without sovereignty. Democracy has neither been achieved in Iraq or Syria. In one case, an authoritarian was overthrown, the other, preserved. Both cases resulted in utter chaos, unprecedented terrorism and religious radicalization. This implies the specter is foreign intervention, not domestic.

Sovereignty is a precondition for political development. One does not need to be a ‘political scientist’ or expert to understand that simple notion.

The cases of Bahrain, Yemen & Egypt serve as controls for other purported variables that may be influencing the outcome of the so-called ‘Arab Spring’. Bahrain indicates that while Sunni-Shia hatreds are strong – they are not sufficient to incite a full-fledged civil war along sectarian lines. In Egypt, the political climate made it apparent that radicalism was exploiting any attempt at political development, contrary to the claim that reduced authoritarianism might mitigate religious fundamentalism. Finally, the case of Yemen indicates the double-standard exhibited by interventionists in the region – namely the US & Europe, who on one end funnel arms and finances to prop up dictators such as in Yemen; & in others devote the same efforts to toppling them.

Libya too, like Iraq, demonstrates the vulnerability of a nation without a state.

These are all indications that the primary menace to peace, stability and progress in the Middle East is foreign intervention, or neo-imperialism.

Ultimately, a truly democratic movement – the future of the Middle East, depends as much on internal efforts at deinstitutionalizing & wholly dismantling authoritarianism as it does on mitigating foreign support for these very institutions. Only then, can global hegemonies like Russia, America & China be kept at bay regarding any excessive ambitions in the Middle East and beyond (Latin America, Africa, Central & Southeast Asia).

Only through unity of indigenous cultures and nation-states can regions afflicted with imperialism overcome & develop. Dignity, prosperity, culture & innovation are best preserved under these conditions.

Syria ‘in a state of complete war’ with terrorism – Assad (FULL INTERVIEW)


Nationalism in the Middle East: Iran, Syria, and the West


In the days of President Harry Truman, relations between the United States and the Middle East weren’t so sour.

In 1952, everything changed.

The United Kingdom was planning to depose the newly democratically elected prime minister of Iran: Prime Minister Mossadegh. He is the man seated in the photograph above.

Mossadegh had quickly become the archenemy of the UK.

Tensions worsened when he began making calls for the nationalization of Iranian oil.  For so long, foreign nations, or colonialists, as they were called, had been exploiting the Iran’s vast oil wealth, leaving the majority of the population extremely impoverished (All the Shah’s Men, Kinzer).

Through the sly tactics of English government officials,  the United Kingdom convinced the Americans to tag along. The key word was communism, which was all the Americans needed to hear.

After the Cold War however, it became increasingly clear that communism was not the threat. It was a much deeper issue.

For centuries, the West exploited countries for their resources. Nations like Iran, Syria, and countries outside the Middle East like Venezuela and Cuba, did not embrace communism simply to spite the West. On the contrary, they were doing the exact opposite. Iranians and Syrians alike began making the same demands that their American counterparts made in their early history – that they be granted the right to collect the fruits of their labor and to profit off the wealth of their natural resources. Both of these demands are fundamental principles of free market economics.

Ironically though, the U.K., with the help of the U.S., did what ever they could to prevent these countries from doing just that. They did this by conducting covert coup d’etats and assassinations. They financed monarchies and even bribed foreigners to stir uprisings in their own countries (All the Shah’s Men, Kinzer).

What is even more ironic is that the countries stirring these uprisings, namely the U.K. and the U.S., tout Western principles of freedom and democracy, while, simultaneously, investing in movements led by Islamic fundamentalists and tyrannical monarchies abroad.

In Iran, for example, one Islamic cleric turned against the popularly elected leader Prime Minister Mossadegh. A day later he received $10,000 from the CIA.

Incidents like these are scattered throughout the twentieth century. They only serve to illuminate the truth behind the politics of the Middle East. Even more so, they force me to question the current chaos gripping the Middle East today.

I ask myself questions like, who is behind these Arab protests? Are they really genuine? And why are countries like Saudi Arabia not being scrutinized for their brutal suppression of pro-democracy protests in Bahrain?

Perhaps it is for the same reason that the U.K. orchestrated the coup d’etat against Prime Minister Mossadegh in 1952 – to preserve their grasp on the oil wealth of the Middle East.

Part II: Barbara Walters & Bashar al-Assad


As Part II of my segment on the Full Barbara Walters interview with Bashar Al-Assad, which was, to our intellectual misfortune, not aired on national television in its full length, I will provide the highlights of the interview, summarizing key points and, more specifically, those that have been largely overlooked by analysts, the media, and the international community.

When Barbara Walters asked Bashar al-Assad why he believed the United Nations was not a credible institution, he responded with the following:

“They never implemented any of the resolutions that are related to the Arab World, to the Palestinians, the Syrian land. If they talk about human rights, what about the Palestinians suffering in the occupied territory. What about my land and my people that left their land because it is occupied by Israel?”

Barbara Walters then asked Assad about Turkey and the Arab League’s more aggressive approach to Syria, more specifically, the recent sanctions they slapped against Syria.

“Turkey and the Arab League have a hidden agenda. They don’t care about the demonstrations, the Syrian people, democracy,” Bashar responded.

“We still have good relations with neighboring countries.”

“Does the Arab League want to destroy you?” Walters replied.

“You have to ask them. I don’t know their will to be frank.”

“Will you allow outside monitors to come into your country, and to allow them to go to cities like Homs?”

“Yes”

“Under what circumstances?”

“To be in line with our sovereignty.”

“What does that mean?”

“To do everything in cooperation with the Syrian government: how to move, how to prepare, how to protect them. We asked for monitors before they (the Arab League) did. They didn’t want to discuss with us. If they don’t want to discuss, then no.”

“Can outside foreign reporters come? They have not been allowed.”

“No – they were allowed, and you are here.”

“I am here and I have a correspondent here with me.”

“But you’ve been here for two days now. Did anybody tell you where to go and where not to go? Nobody. You are free to go wherever you want.”

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Author’s Note: This is the end of Part II. Part III will be coming shortly and will be comprised mainly of the segment of the interview during which Bashar speaks about his wife, his father, his brother, and his children.

Part I: Barbara Walters & Bashar al-Assad


Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was recently interviewed by American journalist Barbara Walters in the first official interview by a western journalist since Syria became the center of international attention last February.

Walters asked Assad if he believed he still had the support of his people after having commanded what the international community has referred to as a brutal crackdown on “peaceful protesters”.

“I believe the majority of the people are in the middle,” he responded.

Walters then referred to specific incidents within Syria. She mentioned pictures and videos released on the internet showing people being shot and killed, and rumors of children being kidnapped and mutilated.

“How do you know this is true?” he responded. “Have you verified these pictures? I visited the family of the boy [who you said was kidnapped and tortured] and his father told me his child was not tortured.”

Walters told Assad that the United Nations had evidence of the Syrian government committing crimes against humanity.

“Who said the United Nations is a credible institution?” he responded defiantly.

Al-Assad suggested that outside forces were responsible for inciting the uprising in Syria.

Even ordinary people inside and outside of Syria have questioned the validity of the videos and pictures on the internet.

They often ask questions like:

“Why aren’t we seeing videos of pro-Assad demonstrations? Why don’t we hear about the number of pro-Assad Syrians being killed? How do we know these uprisings are not incited by extremists and neighboring interest groups?”

Later on in the interview, Walters asked the president why Syria had an ambassador to the United Nations if it were indeed an illegitimate institution.

Al-Assad chuckled.

“It is a game we have to play,” he replied.

When the interview concluded, Walters described her overall outlook on the president.

“He is soft spoken. He is calm. He answered every question…”

“He is not as grim as Mubarak, and he is not crazy like Gaddafi.”

Before going to Damascus, Walters was told not to leave her residence. She was cautioned that it was a very dangerous atmosphere and that her life could be threatened.

But based on her direct personal experience, Walters said that she faced no such danger. Things seemed to be carrying on as usual in Damascus.

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Author’s Note: The original interview between Barbara Walters and Bashar al-Assad was much longer than what was made available to viewers. I found to this be unfair, biased, and completely unprofessional on the side of ABC and Walters herself. Although I believe she did a great job, I do think that the entire interview should be made available for viewers in order for them to form their own perspectives and opinions.

Syria vs. the Arab League


A League of despots, clerics, and Kings has taken it upon itself to be the harbinger of justice in the Middle East.

According to a New York Times article by Neil MacFarquhar and Nada Bakri, the Arab League made the claim that it does not intend to depose the Assad Regime.

Instead, the Arab League hopes that by implementing economic sanctions against Syria, the Assad Regime will falter, more soldiers will defect, and the elite business class will distance itself further from the government.

The article also suggests that the Arab League does not support foreign intervention in Syria.

In a quote taken from the NY Times article, a Lebanese analyst stated:

“In the war against Syria, the economic will take the place of the limited possibility of military intervention.”

In direct contradiction of that proposition, however, Qatari minister Sheik Hamad said that if the international community does not take the Arab League’s initiative seriously, he cannot promise that there will be no foreign interference.

Keep in mind that the Arab League endorsed a full fledged invasion of Libya by NATO forces.

Furthermore, the Arab League believes that economic sanctions are in the interests of the Syrian people, for whom it suddenly cares, as opposed the Bahrainis who are apparently a few degrees below human.

But the following line from the New York Times article suggests otherwise:

“I think it is time the world realized that economic sanctions are not affecting anyone but the Syrian people,” said a 23-year old Damascus resident who did not want to be identified for fear of reprisal. “Those who couldn’t afford buying bread, now can’t afford even smelling bread.”

The questions posing us now are, what are the interests of the Arab League? Why do they suddenly want to be directly involved in altruistic endeavors? Furthermore, why have we not heard more on the brutal massacre of Bahraini protesters by the Saudi-backed Bahraini royal family?

Contradictions, hypocrisy, religion, and money – sounds like a perfect recipe for Middle Eastern chaos to me.

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In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.

-Thomas Jefferson, letter to Horatio G. Spafford, March 17, 1814

Advice for Bashar: Do like your father and get rid of your brother!


Instead of demanding that Bashar al-Assad abandon his post as Syrian President as most Western powers continue to do, another option is to pressure Assad to do like his father: get rid of his crazed brother Maher al-Assad. Like his father, Hafez al-Assad, Bashar is “blessed” with a maniacal brother who is power-hungry and barbaric. Coincidentally, Hafez al-Assad’s brother, Rifaat al-Assad, exhibits these same qualities. In fact, Rifaat al-Assad has been held accountable for carrying out the Hama Massacre in 1982 that killed nearly 20,000 members of the Muslim Brotherhood; it seems Maher al-Assad is following his footsteps. Having overseen the violent suppression of protesters in what has been coined in Western media as “The Arab Spring”, Maher al-Assad is not far from earning the same reputation as his lunatic uncle.

When Hafez al-Assad fell ill in 1983, he appointed a six-member committee to run the country. His brother, Rifaat, was not included. This infuriated Rifaat and other Alawis in the officer corps. Some officers rallied around Rifaat in support of his cause and his faction began asserting control over Damascus. But when Hafez returned from his sick bed in 1984, he purged his party of all members who proved to be disloyal to him. In 1992, Rifaat was confined in exile in France and Spain. Since then, he has scrutinized Bashar al-Assad, claiming that his inheritance of the presidency was illegitimate. Instead, it should have been Rifaat who became leader since he was the vice president during Hafez al-Assad’s run.

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Rifaat is considered close, by some observers, to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Abdullah is married to a sister of Rifaat’s wife, and Rifaat has on occasions—even after his public estrangement from the rulers in Syria—been invited to Saudi Arabia, with pictures of him and the royal family displayed in the state-controlled press.

It is claimed that Rifaat is reputed to have turned even to Israel asking for assistance, and that he has initiated contacts with exiled representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood. After the Iraq war, there were press reports that he had started talks with US government representatives on helping to form a coalition with other anti-Assad groups to provide an alternative Syrian leadership, on the model of the Iraqi National Congress. Rifaat has held a meeting with the former IraqPrime Minister Ayad Allawi. Yossef Bodansky, the director of the US Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, has stated that Rifaat enjoys support from both America and Saudi Arabia; he has been featured in the Saudi press as visiting the royal family in 2007. The Bashar regime remains wary of his intentions and carefully monitors his activities.

Rifaat was mentioned by the influential American think tank Stratfor as a possible suspect for the 2005 bombing that killedLebanese ex-prime minister Rafiq Hariri and the string of attacks that has struck Beirut after the subsequent Syrian withdrawal. The goal would be to destabilize the Syrian regime. However, there has been no mention of Rifaat in the United Nations Mehlis reports on the crime.

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If Bashar wields as much power as his father, I urge him to purge his government of certain individuals including his brother. This would satisfy some Syrian people and improve the image of the Syrian government abroad.

When I asked a fellow Syrian studying in the United States about her thoughts on the situation in Syria, she replied: “We all love Bashar. Its those people around him.” She was referring to the Old Guard–remnants of his father’s regime that have tainted the image of Bashar’s presidency.

The question now is, is Bashar al-Assad willing to make these changes? Can he?