Quotulatiousness

February 12, 2013

Palestine as a useful symbol, but Palestinians as inconvenient “guests”

Filed under: History, Middle East, Politics — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:28

Strategy Page on the paradoxical Arab view of Palestine as worth fighting for, but actual living Palestinians as less-than-welcome pests (or worse):

While most Arabs will admit they hate Israel, they will also deny that this has anything to do with anti-Semitism and has everything to do with the Palestinians. This is not true, as Arabs have long demonstrated a hostility towards the Jews, something which is part of their religion. It’s in their scriptures, the stories of how Jews refused to support Mohammed, the founder of Islam. Long held grudges are popular in this part of the world.

Meanwhile, there are many more recent reasons for Arabs to dislike the Palestinians. When the state of Israel was established in 1947 there began a series of bad decisions by Arab governments that are setting records for failure. Although the UN tried to broker the creation of Israel, Arab nations misjudged their own power and told Arabs in Israel to flee their homes, so that the Arab armies could come in and kill all the Jews. When that didn’t work, the Arabs refused to absorb the 600,000 Arab refugees, and continues to treat (actually, mistreat) them as refugees. At the same time, the Arabs expelled 600,000 Jews who had been living among them for centuries. Most of these Jews went to Israel and become Israelis, and prospered.

Thus began decades of hostility between Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world. The Palestinians that fled to Lebanon proceeded to trigger a 15 year long civil war (1975-90) that devastated the country and left in place a Shia militia in the south (Hezbollah) that prevents the country from being truly united. The Palestinians that fled to Jordan eventually (1970) staged an uprising against the king, and were defeated and largely expelled. The Palestinians that went to Kuwait welcomed the Iraqi invasion of 1990 because Saddam Hussein had always been very loud about wanting to destroy Israel. When Arab and Western troops tossed Saddam out of Kuwait five months later, the Palestinians were forced to flee the vengeance of the Kuwaitis. The Palestinians that went to Iraq also had to flee in 2003, because they had helped Saddam terrorize the Shia and Kurdish majority and were, well, you know the story.

March 22, 2012

Syria is a “nation made up of little pieces, and they all are about to fall to the floor”

Filed under: History, Middle East, Politics, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:02

Geoffrey Clarfield on the history of Syria and the possible future of the region:

From outside Syria, it appears that a government is waging war against citizens who are demanding change and democracy. That is certainly how many media outlets are reporting the ongoing violence in that country. But as many Syrians know, this war is about something else entirely. Something much larger.

A century ago, Syria was still part of the Ottoman Empire. Although the administrative sub-districts of what is now called Syria changed many times under the Turks, by the early 20th century they comprised a number of distinct administrative units that centred around key cities, such as Damascus and Aleppo. Beginning in 1874, they also included the areas around Jerusalem (which had a Jewish majority). The British called the area “the Levant.”

The area was, and still is, made up of a number of occasionally co-operating, occasionally competing ethnic groups: Sunni Arabs, Maronite Christians, Arabic-speaking Greek Orthodox Christians, Aramaic-speaking Christians, Arabic-speaking Alawis, Muslim Gypsies, Armenians, Jews, Yezidis, Kurdish-speaking Sunnis and nomadic Sunni Bedouin — each with their own distinctive history, loyalties and competing interests.

[. . .]

As the Sunni Arab elites of Aleppo and Damascus clamoured for independence from the French, they became enamored with three overlapping ideologies. The first was that of Pan-Islam, which many rejected because it was seen as too similar as that of the defunct and discredited Ottoman Empire. The second was Pan Arabism, which held that the Arab world was once one country, and was destined to become one again. (This school of thought would survive until Nasser’s era in the 1950s and 1960s, but no one talks about it anymore.)

The third was “Greater Syria.” This theory held that the peoples of the eastern Mediterranean were all members of one unit — including present-day Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and southwestern Turkey. Extreme versions of the “Greater Syria” ideology include Cyprus and the Sinai desert. In none of these worldviews is there any room for an independent Jewish homeland, a Christian Lebanon or, in the masimalist cases, even a Greek Orthodox Cyprus. Unlike Pan Arabism, the ideology of Greater Syria still has some resonance in the region.

February 13, 2011

Egypt’s long road to reform

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Middle East, Military, Religion — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:50

Strategy Page lists some of the many difficulties facing Egypt:

Although deposed dictator Mubarak officially maintained the 1979 peace treaty with Israel, Mubarak also had the state controlled media constantly criticize Israel for real and (mostly) imagined crimes against Moslems. Mubarak allowed Hamas to bring in Iranian weapons and cash (for an eventual attack on Israel). Mubarak did what any dictator does, he found an external enemy to blame things on. But all of Egypt’s problems are internal, mostly in the form of corrupt government officials and most of the economy controlled by a few hundred families. It’s as the Russian czar said once, when asked about his great power, “I do not run Russia, 10,000 clerks do.” It’s the same in Egypt (or any other country). Replacing enough of the several hundred thousand officials (government and business), to really be in power, will be difficult for any reform politicians. Replacing all the current “clerks” with honest ones will be impossible. Eliminating corruption takes a generation or more, assuming you really try. There are centuries of history with that sort of thing, but Arabs tend to consult their own special history book, one found in the fiction section, and full of tales of imaginary Arab accomplishments, and a long list of self-inflicted injuries blamed on others. The fact is that Egypt, like most Arab nations, has long neglected education and economic opportunity. Literacy is only 71 percent, and corrupt officials make it impossible to start a legal business. Economic activity is monopolized by the several hundred families who see nothing wrong with crippling the economy for their own gain. The wealthy have not hesitated to use thugs and death squads to maintain their power. While often at each other’s throats over business or personal matters, the several hundred thousand officials and business leaders will largely unite at any attempts to dismantle their economic arrangements. Bribes, threats and all sorts of enticements will be offered cripple the reform efforts. While most Egyptians demand reform, those benefitting from the current arrangements know that they have thousands of years of Egyptian history on their side. Occasionally, foreigners would take advantage of this culture of corruption, which extended to the army, and invade. But the Egyptian ruling class would soon absorb the invaders, and the business of running Egypt would return to its normal ways.

Israel knows well how corrupt the Egyptian armed forces are. Except for a few years before the 1973 war, when a highly efficient Anwar Sadat was running the army, the Egyptian armed forces have been allowed to wallow in their usual incompetent self-delusion. Peacetime armies have long been seen as perfect sources of wealth for corrupt politicians. Thus, in the last three decades, the Egyptian forces have done their job in this department. A new Egyptian government, seeking to gain domestic and foreign popularity by cancelling the peace treaty with Israel, would restore the threat of Egypt foolishly starting another war they would lose. Israel would have to redeploy its forces to deal with this. That would cost money, and weaken the edge Israel has in the north against Hezbollah and Syria. All this would not really change the balance of power. What might do that is reforms in the Egyptian military, to eliminate corruption and raise standards. Good luck with that.

Egypt may achieve reform, to include a sharp reduction in corruption and true rule of law. What is less certain is dealing with the effects of three decades of anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic propaganda in the state controlled media. But the biggest problems are internal, and solving those are a long shot.

Many Egyptians have doubts that democracy will work in Egypt. They point to Lebanon and Iraq as examples of what happens when you allow Arabs to use democracy to rule themselves. The 22 year old Lebanese democracy fell apart in 1975, followed by fifteen years of civil war, then a peace deal that left the country divided into the “democratic” north, with the south ruled by a Shia religious dictatorship (Hezbollah) financed by Iran. Iraq has a barely functioning democracy that many Arabs despise because it was facilitated by an American/British invasion to remove an Arab dictator. What Arabs really find discouraging about Iraq’s democracy is that it reveals how difficult it is to run such a government. But as Westerners constantly point out, freedom isn’t free and democracy isn’t easy. If you want the goodies, you have to make the effort.

Update: Lawrence Solomon thinks that the path to democracy is even harder, and less likely to succeed:

In Egypt, the ends that democracy would bring are more likely death, submission and the pursuit of jihad, as defined by the country’s Muslim Brotherhood. “The Koran is our constitution, the Jihad is our way, and the Death for Allah is our most exalted wish,” it proclaims. The word Islam does mean “submission.”

Most Egyptians — three-quarters of its overwhelmingly Muslim population, public opinion polls say — want “strict imposition of Sharia law” and a larger proportion wants policies that most in the West would view as human rights abuses — 82% would stone adulterers and 84% want the death penalty for Muslims who leave their faith.

While most of the urban generation in Cairo’s Tahrir Square desires a modern Egyptian state of some kind, the Egyptian majority does not: 91% of Muslims want to keep “Western values out of Islamic countries.” For the vast majority outside the main cities, the outrages perpetrated by Mubarak lie mostly in his suppression of Islamic fundamentalist values, such as his ban on female genital mutilation and his moves to phase out polygamy and child brides. Most Muslim Egyptians not only oppose a modern Egyptian state, they would dismantle the existing Egyptian state, two-thirds wanting instead “to unify all Islamic countries into a single Islamic state or caliphate.”

But even with all of that said, he points out that things are not totally hopeless:

But traditional Egypt need not forever prevail. A poll just released by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, taken between Feb. 5 and Feb. 8 of residents of Cairo and Alexandria, the two centres of protest, shows both how different the major cities are from the rest of the country, and how much hope there is for a modern Egypt in the future.

The protest was mostly driven by the economy, with 37% citing either “poor economic conditions” or “Unemployment/Job conditions.” Corruption came in next, at 22%, followed by “poor delivery of services like electricity and water” at 5%. The social causes touted by the Western media were all but non-existent: Just 3% cited “political repression/no democracy” and another 3% cited “abuses by security services/arrests/torture etc.” Neither are the populations in these urban centres motivated by fundamentalism. Only 4% complained of a “Regime not Islamic enough,” only 4% of a “Regime Too Connected to the U.S.,” and just 3% of a “Regime Too Supportive of Israel.” In a hypothetical election for president, one-third of the residents of these cities favoured either Mubarak (16%) or his vice-president, Omar Suleiman (17%), compared to 26% for Amr Musa, a prominent diplomat.

Mohammed ElBaradei, a diplomat endorsed by the Muslim Brotherhood, would receive just 3% of the vote.

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