March 6, 2011

EDITOR: The Libyan Dilemma

Libya has turned into an intractable problem for all concerned – its citizens, its corrupt and and criminal regime, and for the Arab world and the west. As the uprising seems to have been limited to the areas in the East, and with Gaddafi keeping control of the capital, a dangerous unclarity has taken over developments, and as opposed to the pattern in Egypt and Tunisia, large parts of the armed forces, as well as thousands of African mercenaries, are prepared to kill civilians at Gaddafi’s order. The piece below is an analysis of the options, all of which seem rather negative.

Libya: the Washington-London dilemma: Opendemocracy

Paul Rogers, 3 March 2011
In their pursuit of Muammar Gaddafi’s downfall, the powers that led the charge into Iraq face both military and political problems.

About the author
Paul Rogers is professor in the department of peace studies at Bradford University. He has been writing a weekly column on global security on openDemocracy since 26 September 2001, and writes an international-security monthly briefing for the Oxford Research Group. His books include Why We’re Losing the War on Terror (Polity, 2007), and Losing Control: Global Security in the 21st Century (Pluto Press, 3rd edition, 2010)
The emerging pattern of resistance and repression in Libya following the outbreak of protest in the eastern city of Benghazi on 15 February 2011 is very different from that in other parts of the Arab world. In part this reflects the distinctive nature of the country, and of the regime of Muammar Gaddafi which has ruled Libya for forty-two years (see Fred Halliday, “Libya’s regime at 40: a state of kleptocracy”, 8 September 2009).

The military-political standoff there, and the degree of violence the regime is using (and seems prepared to use) to maintain and restore its control, raises the acute question of what and how much the international community can do to support Libyans’ rights and security.

The question has been forcefully raised in the United States and Britain in the first week of March 2011, where domestic pressures from senior members of the media and the foreign-policy community have combined to press the respective governments to take a firm stand.

The hardening rhetoric has included talk (especially from Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron) of some form of military action against Libya, including the imposition of a “no-fly zone”; though states such as Russia and Turkey instantly discounted this suggestion, and the US defence secretary Robert M Gates – with a reference to “loose talk” that represents a coded rebuke of Cameron – is notably cautious about the logistics of enforcing such a zone.

There may be elements of diplomatic bluff in the efforts of Washington and London in particular to exert pressure on the Gaddafi regime. But words have consequences, and the effect of the rhetoric is also to create expectations (including among Libyans) that action will be taken to resolve the crisis in a positive way. The relatively tough resolution passed on 26 February by the United Nations Security Council, and the International Criminal Court’s declaration on 3 March that it would investigate leading figures of the Gaddafi regime for possible crimes against humanity, contribute to the sense of momentum here.

Yet the international community and its leading states still face broader problems over whether and how to intervene in relation to Libya. They involve calculations over how the complex and fluid conflict inside Libya will unfold, assessments of the capacity and impact of the instruments at their disposal, and issues relating to the legitimacy and inheritance of earlier interventions in the wider region – especially those led by the United States and Britain in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Libyan prospect

The immediate problem is the uncertain course and outcome of the crisis within Libya. The regime appears to be maintaining reasonably firm control of the greater Tripoli district; this contains nearly a third of Libya’s population of 6.1 million, including many of those with direct or indirect links to the regime (including key army units).

It is just possible that Muammar Gaddafi and his key allies (including his immediate family) will seek to consolidate this area and refrain from serious attempts to regain control of the whole country – in turn providing a degree of space for some new form of governance to be introduced.

The assaults on Libyan oil-terminal towns such as Brega towards the east on 2-3 March make this option look even less likely, however. Against it, the evident determination and effectiveness of those resisting his rule may succeed in eroding the confidence of some of his forces and create a tipping-point of change towards a different order.

But perhaps a more feasible development (and in many ways the worst-case one) is that the regime deploys extensive force against lightly-armed protesters, inflicting many casualties and much destruction. The regime has greatly superior military resources at its disposal: strike-aircraft, helicopter-gunships, and elite forces (such as the 32nd brigade and paramilitary units attached to the security and intelligence organisations.

The military response

The problem of what the international community should do is highlighted by the rapid switch in David Cameron’s position towards greater denunciation of Gaddafi, which followed stinging criticism of the delays and inefficiency of his government’s response to the crisis (especially in evacuating British civilians from Libya).

The new approach soon proved equally vulnerable, as it coincided with the revelation of weaknesses in national defence – over the Eurofighter project (now costing around £100 million per plane), the announcement of cuts of 11,000 in armed-forces personnel (including soldiers returned from Afghanistan), and a report from a parliamentary foreign-affairs committee critical of the military-political strategy in Afghanistan.

The Barack Obama administration too has been obliged to take account of a wider climate of opinion. This is composed of both belligerent Republicans who see in every foreign-policy crisis a military solution, and policy experts concerned that the US develop a more coherent policy towards the Arab uprisings (and, in the case of Libya, explore ways of implementing the “responsibility to protect” – that is, the obligation of United Nations member-states to act together to protect people’s lives and safety when these are under attack, including from their own government).

The administration’s response has centred on the redeployment of the US navy’s sixth fleet. The fleet is headquartered near Naples; its carrier battle-group (headed by the USS Enterprise), recently on anti-piracy patrol off Somalia, transited the Suez canal into the eastern Mediterranean on 2 March. This powerful amphibious-assault capability includes the USS Kearsarge and the USS Ponce. The Kearsarge alone is a 41,000-ton Wasp-class ship twice the size of Britain’s recently decommissioned aircraft-carrier, HMS Ark Royal; it is normally deployed with 1,850 marines, forty-two CH46 transport helicopters and five AVH-8B jump-jets.

This build-up, together with that of other naval and US aerial forces in the region, is significant. But in itself it does not offer a solution to the interventionist dilemma.

The interventionist dilemma

The combination of events on the ground, public pressure and limited military redeployments (as well as the humanitarian crisis resulting from the large-scale flow of displaced workers of many nationalities inside Libya) is difficult enough for western governments to handle. It would become even more so if a war of attrition develops further in Libya, with greater suffering and increased calls (including by Libyans at the sharp end of conflict) for direct foreign military intervention.

The broad-based appeals for international action from within the region include one from a coalition of over 200 Arab non-government organisations drawn from eight countries, including Egypt, Morocco, Qatar, Syria and Saudi Arabia (see Thalif Deen, “Arab Civil Society Calls for No-Fly Zone over Libya”, TerraViva/IPS, 1 March 2011).

Even the proposal of a no-fly zone over the Tripoli area would be a huge operation that would require several carrier battle-groups and aircraft with permission to operate out of neighbouring countries. The effort to stop Libyan strike-aircraft from flying would (as the US defence secretary outlined before a congressional panel on 2 March) require the suppression of air-defence missile systems, associated radar stations and command-and-control centres; after all this, even more difficult would be preventing the use of helicopters (an issue whose omission from the ceasefire agreement that concluded the war over Kuwait in 1991 allowed Saddam Hussein to crush the Shi’a uprising in southern Iraq with extreme violence).

Moreover, there remains a possibility that – even were a no-fly zone to be established and succeed in controlling aircraft movements – the regime might still be able to maintain control via the intensive use of ground forces. In that event, the coalition enforcing the zone would be required either to acknowledge failure or escalate.

The political dilemma

The current scenario plans of leading states must take such concerns into urgent account. But there is a further problem over military intervention (as opposed to other forms), which is at heart political.

Any successful campaign to protect Libyans from the Gaddafi regime by military means would need to be organised by the United States, and be aided by supportive countries such as Britain. The reputation of these states across the region remains in key respects very negative, however, after what is perceived as their history of self-interested and illegitimate intervention (most of which had minimal United Nations approval).

Thus, the imposition of a no-fly zone (and its accompanying attacks) would be portrayed by the Gaddafi regime as part of a campaign to colonise Libya and grab its oil – a narrative that would almost certainly resonate even among many of the Libyans who had called for such a policy (and many other people in the region).

The immediate transformation from an internal war to one of “external aggression” would also have many implications beyond Libya, including in the Arab countries whose citizens have been mobilising in support of freedom and democracy (see “The Arab rebellion: persectives of power”, 24 February 2011). It would not take many air-strike targeting disasters of the kind that has become so common in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia for ambivalence at western action to revert to deep hostility.

All this emphasises the position of the United Nations in relation to the debate over intervention, and in particular the doctrine of the international “responsibility to protect” (R2P) developed in the late 1990s following the disastrous failures to prevent genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda (see Gareth Evans, “The responsibility to protect: holding the line”, 5 October 2008). The work of putting this doctrine into practice at the highest level in the 2000s then collided with rival geopolitical agendas, especially following 9/11 and the George W Bush administration’s declaration of the “war on terror”.

The UN was from the start central to the discussions over R2P, many of which led to a recommendation that a UN standing force supported by a full logistics capability was essential to put the idea into effective practice. In the event, this proposal has so far come to nothing, leaving a handful of individual states with any kind of rapid-intervention capability: Britain and France (on a small scale), India (in theory, and close to its borders), and the United States (the only state with a global reach).

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have had appalling human consequences. But their damage goes far wider, for they have made genuine international cooperation in pursuit of shared human interests – including the “responsibility to protect” – much more difficult. In the absence of a sudden capitulation by Libya’s regime, the costs of this damage may continue to be demonstrated in the coming days and weeks.

EDITOR: The pot calling the kettle black

In her quite accurate critique of Netanyahu, Livni leaves out one point about herself – she has no more credible policy for a just resolution of the conflict, no more than than Netanyahu has.

Livni: Netanyahu’s peace policy shows an utter lack of leadership: Haaretz

Speaking days after the Prime Minister’s Office indicated the premier was preparing a new policy speech, the opposition leader says ‘a speech cannot replace policy.’

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni dismissed a purported plan by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to launch a new peace initiative, saying on Sunday that the premier’s attitude toward peace talks showed an utter lack of leadership.

Livni’s remarks came after sources in the Prime Minister’s Office said last week that the PM was considering a plan to cooperate with the Palestinians on the establishment of a Palestinian state with temporary borders, as part of an interim peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority that would be implemented immediately.

Netanyahu’s decision to consider changing his strategy, which he said in recent consultations with advisers was spurred by the recent anti-government protests in the Arab world, is a step back from his previous statement that he wants to attempt to reach a final-status agreement within a year.

Earlier Sunday, Netanyahu remarked on the standstill in peace efforts, blaming the Palestinian Authority for failing to match Israel’s willingness to compromise.

Speaking in Mevasseret Zion later Sunday, Livni dismissed Netanyahu’s purported peace efforts, saying that the discussion in Israel today isn’t policy but, “what speech will the prime minister make to be on good terms with America. That is a complete lack of leadership.”

“A speech is not real content, and hasbara [Israeli public diplomacy] cannot replace policy,” Livni said, adding that “Israel’s standing in the world will not be determined by speaking fluent English at the [U.S.] Congress or on CNN.”

The Kadima chairperson also said that the lack of serious discussion regarding Israel’s peace efforts was causing the premier to center on what to say to remain on good terms with both [U.S. President Barack] Obama and [Foreign Minister Avigdor] Lieberman, without any sense of doing the right thing for this people.”

“It is possible,” Livni said, to “bring the world on board with Israel’s interests, which is something that has happened in the past.”

“The most right-wing government is begging today to enter negotiations on terms significantly less favorable than those we faced when we ran peace talks with the blessing of the entire world,” Livni added.

Livni’s comments came after last week, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rejected Netanyahu’s  initiative, saying he would not accept an Israeli peace plan if it called for temporary borders for a future Palestinian state.

“The Palestinian position is the establishment of a state on all the territory occupied in 1967. That is the consensus position in keeping with decisions by the Arab League and the international community,” Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh told reporters in Ramallah.

Lessons from the Egyptian revolution: Al Ahram Weekly

A new and promising age has arisen in the Arab world, but it is fragile and must be protected from Zionist and imperialist schemes that would abort or blunt it, writes Mustafa Barghouti*
The rush and tumult of events makes it hard, sometimes, to draw the most important general conclusions from their significance. This said, the revolutionary tidal wave, which began in Tunisia and Algeria, reached its crest in Egypt and is currently sweeping other countries such as Libya and Bahrain, offers a unique opportunity to watch how people can reshape history as they reconstruct their fates and futures. It also offers a rare scientific window to observe the birth of the new from the old and to study a moment of qualitative transformation that culminated from a long process of quantitative accumulation and that manifests the dialectical laws of social dynamics with utmost clarity.

What happened in Tunisia and then in Egypt, and what will certainly follow in other places, cannot be produced or fabricated by a political party, movement or force, domestic or otherwise. The uprisings are the product of a long cumulative evolution, lasting years, decades or perhaps even centuries in some areas, that eventually erupted into millions-strong grassroots protest movements of a magnitude unprecedented in the modern history of the Arab world, and perhaps in its entire history. Perhaps the only moment of similar size, scope and breadth is the first popular Palestinian Intifada, in its first year (1987-88). Sadly, the Oslo Accords undermined the magnificent initial results of this uprising and destroyed a historic opportunity to end the Israeli occupation. We should add that this Palestinian revolutionary moment was never sufficiently documented, first due to the differences in size and strategic importance compared to the Egyptian case, and second due to the lack of media coverage and unprecedented sophistication in communications technology that was available to Egypt today.

The events in Egypt today — as was the case in Tunisia and in all great revolutions, such as the French and Russian revolutions — epitomise what sociologists call a “revolutionary moment”. Such a moment occurs when the governed refuse to be ruled as they had been and when the rulers can no longer govern in the same manner. It is a momentous event. It is one that political parties, movements and forces, and intellectuals and spontaneous popular action can prepare for. But it is far bigger than anyone could have expected, planned for or attempted to produce. Great revolutions cannot be made. They erupt, like volcanoes, atop of the mounting force of huge and long-suppressed social and political contradictions.

It is precisely because these contradictions have been pent- up for so long, prevented from expressing themselves and unable to vent their anger, that the moment of explosion is too powerful to cap or control. Therefore, political parties and forces should be careful not overrate their own size, role and or abilities with respect to this condition. They might be akin to a midwife who is there to help with a safe delivery, but they did not produce the embryo or induce the birth, and they are not the mother (the people), or even the surrogate mother.

Rather than blaming themselves for their actions in the past, political forces should focus on their role at present, which is to ensure the safety of the birth and the health of the infant, and to safeguard it against any attempts on the part of the old order to abort, kill or stunt it. The revolution, or the eruption, may produce a newborn, but it cannot guarantee its survival and wellbeing. This is one of the tasks of an organised and aware intellectual vanguard.

The phenomenon that is unfolding before our eyes today is not restricted to Egypt; it has its roots in the state of the Arab world as a whole. That Tunisia was the first country to react is due to the fact that it was the weakest link in the chain of an interconnected order, whose profound internal contradictions, some of which are old and others of which are relatively new, have long needed to be resolved.

THE SYSTEM OF GOVERNANCE: The system of governance and the relationship between the ruler and the ruled in the Arab world remains so at odds with the democratic transformations that have taken place elsewhere in the world as to appear not only far behind but outside the course of human history. People around the world can no longer tolerate systems of authoritarian despotism that are essentially totalitarian in substance, that rely on unrestrained security apparatuses as their chief instruments of control, that survive by means of repression, suppression and the denigration of human dignity, and whose form of government centres around the exclusive group or single state party.

Many bigger and more powerful regimes than the ones we have in our region ultimately proved unable to withstand the winds of change. The most salient example is the Soviet Union, whose successes in protecting itself and the world against the spread of Nazism and in defeating Nazi Germany, and whose economic feat of transforming Russia from a feudal to a modern economy, could not prevent it from rapid and resounding collapse when the soviet peoples decided that they could no longer tolerate totalitarian rule. After decades in which the soviet ruling elite controlled everything — national wealth and resources, the military and security agencies, the economy and all aspects of political life, and all organisations and associations connected with healthcare, education and culture — and sustained a suffocating stranglehold on public space and civil society, there came a point when the people said “Enough!”

Another prominent example is to be found in the Latin American dictatorships, which the US had long fostered, backed and financed while fighting the popular revolutions, such as that in Nicaragua, in order to maintain its strategic dominance. But then came the critical moment when the Cold War ended and the primary propaganda stay of that entire constellation collapsed. Suddenly, one dictatorship after the other toppled as Latin American countries finally entered the expanses of pluralism and democracy and began to forge their way to real development and to win major victories over poverty and unemployment. Brazil is a prime example of a nation whose successive elected leaders represented socio-political movements that advocated a blend of political and social democracy, and whose policies enabled their country to progress by leaps and bounds, socially and economically.

In this regard, it should be born in mind that political democracy is not an ideal form of government. It still has plenty of room for improvement, to which testify some major inconsistencies in leading democratic nations. In the US, for example, the difficulties in challenging the alliance between money and the media pose an enormous challenge, which will probably entail breaking the near total monopoly of the two mammoth parties over the political realm.

Democracy has evolved at the hands of different peoples and cultures across history since its first beginnings in ancient Greece. The evolutionary process is still ongoing, the most salient indication of which is the general acceptance of the notion that democracy is deficient if it is restricted to purely political domain and fails to include a socioeconomic dimension. The evolution of democracy has not been solely the province of the Western world, as some might claim or imagine. In fact, some of the healthiest signs of progress were manifested in developing nations. Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) was the first country to elect a woman head of state, preceding long-established democracies such as Britain by decades in this regard.

Yet, with all its imperfections, democracy is immeasurably superior to the horrors of totalitarianism. Its components are universally applicable and appropriate, and consist of free and fair periodic elections, the separation between the executive, legislative and judicial authorities with an equitable system of checks and balances between them, and the subordination of the army to elected executive and legislative authorities. It also rests on a broad range of essential principles and civic liberties, notably freedom of opinion and the press, political plurality and the right to associate and form political parties, an open civic space, and the rule of law and equality before the law.

From this perspective, the chief task that lies before the Egyptian people at this juncture is to remove all obstacles to the establishment of a true democratic order and to proper democratic practices. The emergency law must be lifted, the fraudulent parliament dissolved and all the constitutional and legal impediments to the people’s right to freely elect their officials, from the president down to the members of the smallest municipal council, must be eliminated. All officials must also be subject to a clear system of responsibility and accountability while there should be no restrictions to the right to contest incumbents through free and fair elections held at their appointed times. In short, the Egyptian people need to put in place the institutional and legal edifice to guarantee the peaceful rotation of authority in accordance with the will of the people.

THE CONFLICT BETWEEN TRADITIONALISM AND MODERNISM: The mounting conflict between traditional forms of totalitarian rule and the influences of modernism was another factor that fed the Egyptian revolution. It is impossible, here, to discuss the question of globalisation and its positive and negative impacts, or the attempts of capitalism to monopolise it as a means to secure global dominance. Suffice it to say that globalisation, like the industrial revolution and the invention of the steam engine, is a fact of life and stage in technological development. Its consequences are contingent upon how it is used, for it can be used for good or for bad.

What matters in this context, however, is that globalisation brought three concurrent revolutions: the unstoppable and irrepressible revolution in information technology, as exemplified by electronic communications and social networking media such as the Internet, Facebook, blogging sites and Twitter; the communications revolution as powered by mobile phones and similar devices, of which billions are bought every year; and the media revolution in which satellite television channels are spearheading forward bound mass media, just as radio broadcasting had in the mid-20th century and the press had in the late 19th century.

Conventional means of authoritarian control could not, nor cannot, halt the impact of these revolutions. They have given people access to information that their governments tried to conceal from them. They have furnished unprecedented means to establish contact, to remain in communication, and to organise and mobilise. They have broken the monopoly of dictatorial governments on communications and the media, creating what we might term a media democracy in advance of the emergence of political democracy, serving as a means for opposition forces to spread calls to rally and demand change.

The impact of this quantum leap forward in media, communications and information technology not only shook the foundations of the conventional structures of totalitarian societies. It had a similar impact on the countries of the modern industrialised West, where government monopolies over confidential information and diplomatic cables have been severely dented. What better illustrations have we than the famous WikiLeaks revelations, which probably mark only the beginning of what is yet to come? It is no longer possible in our age to conceal information from the public for any length of time, as had once been the case with such dealings as the Sykes-Picot agreement.

At the same time, the growing pressure of the IT and communications revolutions are forcefully propelling us towards modernisation and modernism. This dynamic is affecting many traditional systems and structures in our region. Even such heated divides as that which plagues the Palestinian arena are being exposed as conflicts between two facets of the same traditional structure, which resists modernisation and modernity, and espouses exclusionist dominance and one party rule, as opposed to political plurality and equal opportunity.

Arab youth was naturally poised to assume the vanguard of the drive to change. They are the most adept at using and taking advantage of the modern technologies, and they have the least to lose from an overthrow of the old traditional order and are simultaneously the most open to modernist development. Contrary to what some might think, this does not imply that our young are willing to sacrifice their heritage and history. Indeed, they are probably keener on protecting this heritage and reinforcing this history in contemporary terms, much in the manner of the Muslims and Arabs of the Middle Ages, who pioneered the fields of science and knowledge, and built the finest universities and research centres while Europe was still shrouded in medieval darkness.

Arab youth and the Palestinian youth among them have long been the victims of marginalisation, neglect, lack of opportunity, unemployment and the ills of nepotism, discrimination and petty corruption. Yet, people under 30 constitute the overwhelming majority of the Arab population. The UNDP Arab Human Development Reports (AHDR) diagnosed these problems and cautioned against their repercussions. Sadly, the series was stopped and its lessons and recommendations remained unheeded. Incidentally, the AHDR series shed considerable light on the structural deficiencies derived from the marginalisation of the role and status of women.

Given all the foregoing factors, young Arab men and women house an enormous revolutionary energy aimed at development and modernisation. They should not only assume participatory roles, but also effective leadership roles in all domains.

ECONOMIC MONOPOLISATION, CORRUPTION AND POVERTY: The Arab national liberation movements achieved national liberation and founded revolutionary systems of a predominantly militaristic character, the army being the best organised controlling power. Initially, at least, these regimes scored major inroads towards development. The Nasserist regime, for example, put an end to feudalism and set Egypt on the road to industrialisation and agricultural modernisation. Some of these regimes espoused a socialist outlook. However, by the end of the 1960s and early 1970s, three major factors asserted themselves.

One was the oil boom and the enormous influx of money that poured into the hands of traditional conservative regimes, which started to expand their influence in the region. The second was Israel’s repeated attacks against neighbouring countries, such as Syria and Egypt, with the aim of curbing their influence and their role as beacons of national liberation, which had been a source of considerable anxiety to governments in Africa and the developing world in general. The third factor was the lack of political democracy, which deprived the leaderships of these regimes of one of their mainstays of support: the people in whose name they were ruling.

In tandem with these factors there was significant economic development. The overthrow of the capitalist and feudal order in these societies left a vacuum. Rushing to fill this were portions of the new middle class that monopolised the hold on the state bureaucracy and used its power to create what we might term a parasitic bourgeoisie that eventually fused with the comprador bourgeoisie. Therefore, it would not take long for a country such as Egypt to take a 180-degree turn. The process was led by president Anwar El-Sadat who reoriented his country towards the control of these parasitic groups, the Camp David Accords, and the establishment of a repressive system of control against the people for whom the 1952 Revolution had originally been waged.

Although there are certainly shades of difference between one country and next, the rise of the parasitic bourgeoisie and their hold over the state bureaucracy enabled them to control all the resources of the economy in both the public and private sector. Through a combination of repression, bribery, kickbacks, expropriation and outright theft they accumulated unimaginable fortunes without creating a base of production that would permit for a simultaneous growth in society at large. The result was a rapidly broadening gap between the rich and poor and an increasing concentration of wealth. When the sources of wealth began to dry up, privatisation and the sale of state- owned property, businesses and factories became the next avenue for corrupt enrichment at the expense of the poor. In the face of that conspicuous ill-gotten wealth, the oppressed and impoverished peoples could no longer tolerate their daily privation and they rebelled.

The story of Mohamed Bouazizi encapsulated that blend of poverty, hardship and degradation at the hands of the Tunisian security forces that drove the Tunisian people to rebel. Other examples are to be found in the stories of the torture and persecution of thousands of equally deprived young men and women in Egypt, and in the stories of other tens of thousands of people who have reached the autumn of their lives without being able to afford the costs of marriage.

The triad of corrupt and parasitic economic monopolisation, widespread and mounting poverty, and brutal repression was the great engine of the unprecedented revolutionary upheaval in the Arab world. When one contemplates this fact one is struck not by the surprise that these revolutions happened but by the surprise that it took them so long in coming.

THE REVOLUTION OF DIGNITY AGAINST PERSONAL AND NATIONAL DEGRADATION: It was no coincidence that the events in Tunisia and in Egypt were often described as the “Dignity revolution”. Arab people have suffered degradation on a daily basis. They were routinely humiliated by their own repressive regimes or by those in the neighbouring countries they visited. Perhaps it was the offence to dignity caused by the deprivation of citizenship rights that sparked the wrath of the middle class. Its members may not have suffered poverty, but they would have suffered from the lack of equal opportunity, from the degradation inflicted by theft, by means of forged elections, of their right to chose, and from the larger affront of being marginalised in their own country by a totalitarian order and its coterie of opportunists who closed the doors of opportunity and advancement to others.

In Egypt, the deprivation of the right to dignified citizenship reached a new peak with the blatant forgery of the last People’s Assembly elections in November. That farce was one of the major triggers of the anger of the middle class and its younger members in particular who, because of modern telecommunications and media, were fully aware of what they were being deprived of.

THE REVOLUTION AND PALESTINE: There remains another factor that we should not overlook and that has a direct bearing on Palestine in particular. The defeat of the Arabs in the Palestine war of 1948 and the defective weapons scandal that exposed the corruption of the Egyptian monarchy played a major part in fuelling the 1952 Revolution, which was also a revolution against the humiliation inflicted upon the Egyptian army. In the 1980s, 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century, the national dignity of every Arab nation suffered a stream of offences primarily at Israel’s hands.

Arab people and especially the people of Egypt which, from Salaheddin Al-Ayoubi to Gamal Abdel-Nasser, had become accustomed to being at the forefront of the Arab national defence, watched in fury at the atrocities it perpetrated against the Palestinian and Lebanese peoples, from the invasion of Lebanon and siege against the Palestine Liberation Organisation in 1982, through the suppression of the Palestinian Intifada and further attacks against Lebanon, to the brutal incursion into Palestinian territories and siege against the Palestinian leadership in 2002 and the massacres in Lebanon in 2006.

The latest chapter in Israeli belligerency and brutality was its invasion of Gaza, which was weak, defenceless and under economic blockade. The Egyptian people watched this crime unfold in its full horror right next to their country’s borders amidst accusations against their government for complicity in the blockade. Such outrages must offend the national dignity of every Arab citizen, all the more so when, as is the case with Egypt, that citizen’s country is bound by an inequitable treaty with Israel that restricts its ability to act in solidarity with the oppressed.

The US-led invasion, occupation and destruction of Iraq aggravated the Arabs’ sense of fury and compounded their thirst to avenge their national humiliation. This factor cannot be excluded in any attempt to understand the force and scope of the eruption that took place in Egypt. Many wonder how the current revolutionary wave will affect the Palestinian struggle. I do not believe it is premature or wishful thinking to claim that there has already been a positive effect.

First, the Arab world will no longer remain a passive agent as regional and international forces fight it out on Arab territory. Henceforth, the Arabs will be proactive agents in these conflicts, which in itself is a positive development.

Second, the victory of the Egyptian revolution will strengthen the status and the role of Egypt, if it establishes a solid democratic government. This can only help to readjust the balance of power in favour of the Palestinian cause, for a democratic Egypt can only be a supporter of the Palestinian people, rather than a mere mediator.

Third, the victory of democracy in Egypt, Tunisia and hopefully elsewhere will fling open the doors to popular solidarity with the Palestinian people. People who have been longing to demonstrate their support for Palestine will now be able to do so in powerful and effective ways. The Arabs will once again be able to take the lead in the campaign to boycott and impose sanctions on Israel, which is a major feature of the Palestinian national strategy for altering the balance of power.

Fourth, we can already see the effect of the Egyptian and Tunisian victories on the Palestinian morale. Thousands of Palestinian youth are re-emerging from the doldrums of frustration, despair and marginalisation, and displaying a renewed desire to take part and act. The immediate effect of this can be seen in the Palestinian demonstrations in support of the people of Egypt, as well as in support of the campaign to end the internal rift among Palestinians and demand democracy and civil rights. In the mid to long range, we can expect the resurgence of a broad-based youth and people’s resistance movement against the occupation, the Separation Wall and apartheid.

If the first Palestinian Intifada was the prelude to the Arab popular uprisings of today, the revolutions of Egypt and Tunisia serve to remind the Palestinian people of their latent force and of the power of large-scale peaceful grassroots resistance.

Fifth, certainly the Palestinians harbour the hope that one of the first actions of the new Egypt will be to lift the boycott against Gaza and thereby neutralise the criminal Israeli stranglehold on a million and a half people living in what can only be called the largest prison in modern history.

Whatever happens next, Israel remains a major source of concern. Its arrogance, racism and aggressiveness have remained unchecked by neighbouring regimes, whose weakness it had long exploited in order to give full sail to its dreams of political, military and economic hegemony over the region. Finally, however, the voice of the Egyptian people reminded Israel of the words of immortal Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish: “A serpent’s eggs do not hatch eagles.” There are limits to power and they are defined by the forces of history, civilisation and human grit. The rule of tyranny in the age of despair must recede before the revival of human will.

A NEW AGE: We have entered a new era in every sense of the word. Some of us may have had the fortune to have experienced the global youth revolution of the 1960s and 1970s and then to witness this new youth revolution. What a relief we feel after that long interval of stagnation and decay, when humanitarian values collapsed, despair and frustration prevailed, and many of the old revolutionaries and pioneers were turned into worthless statues, while intellectuals became sycophants in royal courts and consciences were reduced to commodities to be bought and sold. Today, a new and promising age has arisen in the Arab world. For the moment, it is taking its first tentative steps and it might totter like an infant. However, it will grow and it will become stronger.

Therefore, our most crucial task today is to tend to this infant, to take its hand and help guide it to a full and robust democratic system that derives its authority from the will of the people. Nothing is more important than protecting this newborn from Israeli or imperialist attempts to stunt it solely in order to perpetuate Israeli hegemony and the interests vested in this hegemony. Nothing is more important than to keep the doors open to the winds of change so that they can gather speed and spread, and break down more barriers.

Perhaps what we see today in the Arab world marks the beginning of a universal transformation whose time must inevitably come, because the current system of global hegemony and the globalisation of dominance is rife with contradictions that can only be resolved by revolutionary transformations on a global scale. In this turbulent world, we — the Palestinians — stand on the right side of history: the side that is fighting for freedom and human dignity. Our allies are the Arab and international forces of progress and change. As for those who are waging their bets on the adversary, they will reap nothing but disappointment.

* The writer is a Palestinian democracy activist and head of the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees.

Israel’s diplomats are spineless propagandists: Haaretz

Our diplomatic corps today is comprised primarily of spineless propagandists void of values or a conscience. Though some identify with the current government’s policies, a large portion of them oppose the state’s conduct. They are nothing more than puppets in an ugly show window.

By Gideon Levy

This happened long ago: I wanted to get accepted into the Foreign Ministry’s cadets course. Israel was a different country then, my views about the state were not the same as they are today and Israel’s envoys abroad were actually ambassadors. Lots of champagne has flowed since then; and, fortunately, I was not accepted. Of course, it would be impossible for me to ever explain the country’s policies today. Somewhat belatedly, Ilan Baruch, a veteran Israeli diplomat, acknowledged his inability to represent or explain these policies either. Last week he handed in his resignation letter, a resonating and impressive document that ought to be studied in the next cadets course.

His vision may be impaired – Baruch was wounded in one eye during the War of Attrition – but he managed to see something that still remains opaque to his colleagues: Israel’s “malignant dynamic,” as he phrased it. As a result of this dynamic, he summoned the courage to resign – a decision that should be commended. Baruch’s resignation and the cowardly silence of his colleagues exposed the decrepit state of Israel’s choir of ambassadors.

Our diplomatic corps today is comprised primarily of spineless propagandists void of values or a conscience. Certainly there are some diplomats among them who identify with the current government’s policies, and perhaps even the scandalous behavior of its foreign minister. But the truth is apparently more sordid: A large portion of them oppose the conduct of the state they represent. They are nothing more than puppets in an ugly show window, backup singers for Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Probably better than any other Israelis, the diplomats know what the world thinks of Israel, and why. They know that under Lieberman’s watch the Foreign Ministry has become a vessel of rage toward the entire world. They know that no ambassador is sufficiently adroit to explain the brutality of Operation Cast Lead, or the pointless killing on the Mavi Marmara ship. They know that no country on the planet actually accepts the occupation, the settlements or the indications of Israeli apartheid. They know that no diplomat out there can persuade anyone that Israel is truly aimed toward achieving peace. They know that there is a new world alignment out there – one with no patience for tyranny of the kind enforced by Israel’s occupation.

They know all of this, yet they keep quiet. We already have pilots who refuse to carry out orders, and soldiers who refuse to serve against their conscience; yet until the patriot Ilan Baruch spoke out, Israel did not have a single diplomat who refused to carry out policies that conflict with his or her moral sense.

True, in this new era, an ambassador’s role has lost much of its substance. The connection between a diplomat’s swollen sense of self-importance and his actual task has become tenuous. Virtually all that remains is power, prestige, fancy cars, opulent residences and other relics from the days of great empires, when ambassadors served at great distances from their home countries. Most diplomats stationed around the world today are simply policy advocates. But, as opposed to advocates who represent criminals in court, ambassadors need to identify to a large extent with those who send them on their diplomatic errands.

It can be assumed that a certain portion of Israel’s diplomatic corps lack such an ideological and emotional sense of identification, but simply keep quiet about it. Many simply want to serve their country faithfully, and thus they try to peddle, despite everything, the product of “beautiful Israel.” The result can be pathetic.

I recently caught an interview conducted at one of our consulates in the United States with the Israeli who created the “Zenga Zenga” clip lampooning Muammar Gadhafi (the latest YouTube sensation ); following that, they presented a winning Israeli recipe for an eggplant dish. Excellent! Such ambassadors warrant the disparaging “cocktail-shmocktail” description David Ben-Gurion allotted them.

True, it’s not easy to be an Israeli ambassador in this day and age – not because of the world’s hostility toward us, but because of the country’s policies. What is an ambassador supposed to say about his nation’s “efforts for peace” when his foreign minister states before the United Nations that such efforts have no chance? And what is a diplomat supposed to say about the democratic character of his state at a time when the Palestinians live without rights?

It’s not easy to stand in judgment of others, and demand that they relinquish their careers and their ephemeral glory. But is it excessive to expect that they make their voices heard and show some fortitude? Some integrity? They should look at their colleague, Baruch, the blessed.

Settlers need not fear Netanyahu, and they know it: Haaretz

Our day of rage was a far cry from the huge protests staged by the Egyptian, Tunisian and Yemeni youth. But let’s face it, the people – in this case the settlers – don’t really want to ‘bring down’ our ‘regime.’
By Zvi Bar’el
Several new important dates have recently been added to the historical calendar. December 17 was the day that Mohamed Buazizi ignited the Tunisian revolution, January 25 was the day the revolutionary Day of Rage was declared in Egypt, and on February 16, it made its way over to Libya. Now we, too, have a day to remember: March 3, the day of rage for Jewish settlers fighting the Israeli occupation.

On the face of it, the only ones raging were the settlers of the Havat Gilad outpost, where occupation forces demolished a few structures. It would seem that this serious assault on settler rights to build as they choose has nothing to do with Israeli citizens. But it would be a mistake to think the occupation forces will stop there. Tomorrow, they may take aim, heaven forbid, at the Harsha and Givat Hayovel neighborhoods of Eli, nice neighborhoods with spacious homes built on Palestinian land, but as we know, the Israeli occupation will use any excuse to kick settlers out of their homes.

So this day of rage should not have come as any surprise. Neither was it that impressive: some stones, some burning tires, a few blocked crossroads. A far cry from the huge protests staged by the Egyptian, Tunisian and Yemeni youth, but it’s a start. Like many thousands, I, too, received an email inviting me to take part in the day of rage. Truth be told, I was scared. In Egypt, the protesters knew that “the army and the people are one.” Here, go figure. Until recently, you could count on the army and police not to hurt the settlers, most certainly not the innocent “hilltop youth,” but it turns out the security forces fired plastic bullets at the settlers rioting at Havat Gilad, the chief of police dispatched special units trained in riot control, and who knows, they might also fire live ammunition one day, like they did in Libya and Bahrain. “Barak is capable of using real bullets that kill next time, because his contempt for the settlers has crossed every red line,” said MK Yaakov Katz. “The prime minister should fire him.”

There was only one familiar slogan missing from all the local spectacle: “The people want to bring down the regime.” Because in this case, the people – the settlers, that is – don’t really want to bring down the regime. This regime – which for years has put off evacuating their illegal outposts, which turns a blind eye to their illegal construction activities, which scornfully rejected the proposal to freeze settlement construction in exchange for top-line fighter jets, which established racist procedures for acquiring citizenship and which probes human rights organizations – is a regime that should stay put, albeit with some improvements. It needs to be shown where it erred and how to rectify its ways, and if need be, threatened. Whoever requires proof can find it on the Internet, which serves as fertile ground for the ideological struggles of the Jewish right, just like it does for the Arab revolutionaries. Here, for example, is what Moshe Feiglin wrote on the Srugim website on the settlers’ day of rage: “Netanyahu is not a crook like Olmert. Like he told the Likud faction, he is under international pressure and appears to have given in . . . It may be that it was simply more convenient for him to let Ehud Barak and lefty bureaucrats Shai Nitzan, Mike Blass and their ilk, start a war against the pioneers of the hills, the settlers and builders of the land of Israel, and try and create new rules for treating them . . . Whether or not he knew in advance or not, Netanyahu can’t escape overall responsibility for this disgusting act, and unless he clearly rejects using weapons against settlers, he’ll end up like Olmert.”

Feiglin is wasting his threats: Netanyahu doesn’t avoid responsibility, he re-invents it. The demolition of a few buildings at Havat Gilad may yet come to serve as insurance for other outposts, for illegal neighborhoods and for permits for thousands of new housing units. Because the same Netanyahu who sent bullies to Havat Gilad decided last week that while the government will demolish structures built on private Palestinian land, it will also legalize settlements and homes built without permission on state land. The illegal will become legal with the strike of a pen, at almost zero cost. So why bring down the regime?

Mad Israelis Section

EDITOR: Karni Elad has been a regular contributor to the MAD ISRAELIS section for some time. Her views are typical of the right wing colonial settler, but also of those of most Israelis, unfortunately.

Evacuating a West Bank outpost is undemocratic: Haaretz

The whole world is talking about democracy. We, too, want fair, genuine democracy. The public voted against destruction of the homes of Jews when they chose Netanyahu, but he took his power and then broke.

By Karni Eldad

At age 15, they expelled Elisaf Orbach from his home in Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip. He was paid a small amount of compensation and went to Samaria, to build a small, 90-square meter house to meet his needs until he gets married and has children. For the time being, until he finishes building the house, he was living in the adjacent “singles’ tent.”

The police arrived at four in the morning last Monday. According to the settlers, they arrested everybody sleeping at the time in the tent, accusing them of interference with a police officer, conspiracy to commit a crime and possession of a knife. (The settlers say it was a regular knife of the kind found in any household. ) How someone sleeping can interfere with a policeman and how he can conspire to commit a crime in his dreams is still not clear to me. The fact is, however, that anyone the police suspected of possibly standing in their way was arrested without any reasonable pretext. They were simply thrown into the paddy wagon. With his hands bound, on the way to the police van, Orbach heard a tractor destroying his house, five years after his house in the Gaza Strip had been leveled.

The five detainees arrested by the police were taken to Ariel, where at 11 A.M. they were released. No police file was opened against them. Apparently the conspiracy in which they were involved was not strong enough, or their only crime was dreaming about building the land.

The tent in which they slept was erected by Shimon Weissman, a conscript serving in the Kfir Brigade. That night he was staying with his parents, to make sure he got back to his army post on time. When he heard about the destruction, he went to Gilad Farm and informed the army that it was difficult for him to serve those who destroyed his home and that he would return to active service as soon as he finished reconstructing the ruins.

The army went wild that day. According to eyewitness testimony, about 300 masked special forces policemen used plastic bullets to fire at people from short range. A Golani Brigade soldier, Elisaf Guri, was one of those hit. He is in hospital and angry, saying his unit has never been allowed to use such weaponry to disperse demonstrations.

I have no doubt that the wild conduct of the police was not spontaneous. It was directed from higher up. Our defense minister, Ehud Barak, knew that Gilad Farm, like Yitzhar, was a hard-core outpost and that destroying structures there would inflame matters. I don’t belief he would have simply taken action on his own. He got backing from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu knows that the American veto at the United Nations on settlement construction came at a price, that the monster must be fed. In the rite of spring this time, the homes of the man expelled from Gush Katif and the soldier were sacrificed. Will this satisfy the hunger?

The whole world is talking about democracy. We, too, want democracy. Fair, genuine democracy that keeps its promises. Netanyahu was elected by a majority of votes, because at that certain point in time at which the last election was held, the public was more right-wing than anything else. The public voted against destruction of the homes of Jews. That’s democracy. Netanyahu took his power and then broke with the authority he was given. That is not what he was elected for. The United States needs to understand that more than any other country.

But Netanyahu doesn’t really care either about democracy or justice. It is only to us innocent citizens that such notions are still important. The prime minister prefers to be remembered as a politician who managed to navigate between the raindrops than someone who stood for his beliefs. But that is not what he was elected for. The only victim he is allowed to sacrifice is himself, his job, and not the homes of his citizens.

They have already finished rebuilding the tent that was destroyed at Gilad Farm.



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