Day: June 21, 2012

No, Yemen won’t work in Syria

Tonight at the International Peace Institute in New York, Jamal Benomar, special representative of the UN Secretary General for Yemen, discussed whether the “Yemen model,” a negotiated transfer of power from Bashar al Assad to one of his two vice presidents, Farouk al-Sharaa, might work in Syria (the female vice president, Najah Al-Attar, was not mentioned–no surprise that).  I attended all but the last few minutes by webcast.

Jamal was appropriately circumspect.  Yemen, he emphasized, was a unique and complicated situation.  The state started to collapse and lose control over parts of the country.  The President refused the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) deal initially and only accepted when offered complete immunity not only for himself but also for others in his regime.  The solution was a Yemeni one, based on face-to-face negotiations among Yemenis and codified eventually in UN Security Council resolution 2014 with support from the GCC and participation by other actors in Yemeni society.  Women’s rights, rule of law and democracy are explicit parts of the agreement.  The vice president, now President Hadi, had the trust of the opposition.  A military committee is responsible for disengagement and security sector reform.  There is also provision for a national dialogue, constitution-making, national reconciliation and traditional justice.  It is a clear and detailed road map culminating in elections in February 2014.

There is no way to transplant the Yemeni model.  Yemen has a history of political parties, active politics and powersharing.  There is a sophisticated civil society.  Parliament functions, elections are held.  There is democratic space that does not exist in Syria.  The peace deal is a power sharing arrangement between parties that believed there was no viable military solution (a “mutually hurting stalemate” in the parlance of conflict management).  All wanted a peaceful and orderly transition.

Yemen suffered nothing like the level of violence we have seen in Syria.  The total number of protesters killed in Yemen was 270 or so, far fewer than the more than 10,000 in Syria.  The Security Council, the region and the international community more generally spoke with one voice.  That voice was in favor of transition and backed the UN as facilitator. The agreement was signed in Riyadh because the presence of the Saudi King was useful.  The Yemenis in the end all cooperated because they concluded there was no other way than a peaceful solution.  Implementation of the agreement is on track.

So there may be lessons from Yemen, but Ambassador Abdullah M. Alsaidi (former Permanent Representative of Yemen to the United Nations) summarized the differences between Yemen and Syria:

  • the Syrian regime is stronger and controls the territory
  • Yemen had a coherent opposition that is lacking in Syria
  • Yemen had more democratic space than Syria, because its reunification in 1990 made it necessary
  • the region and the UN Security Council are united in Yemen, divided in Syria
  • rebel forces in Yemen were relatively larger
  • the Yemeni military resisted a military solution and insisted on a political course, which is not yet the case in Syria
  • in Syria the vice president has disappeared from sight and doesn’t have the confidence of the opposition (or perhaps even of Bashar al Assad)

The government in Syria still believes it can win militarily.  It faces a divided Security Council and a divided Arab world.  No, the Yemen model won’t work in Syria, not at least under current conditions.

But the UN has certainly demonstrated that in the more permissive Yemeni conditions it can, given time, add value in facilitating negotiations among local actors and prevent the worsening of a conflict that would have had devastating humanitarian and political effects.  UN agencies have also been able to provide a good deal of humanitarian relief.  Yemen is a success story, so far.   Success in Syria will require that both sides realize that further military action will not produce results.

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No earth shaker

Israeli Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz spoke Tuesday at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy during his first appearance in Washington since taking over leadership of the Kadima Party and joining Prime Minister Netanyahu’s governing coalition. His remarks encompassed the most pressing issues in Israeli foreign policy and touched also on domestic policy priorities.

Mofaz began by saying that Israel has a historic opportunity in light of the formation of its largest ever coalition. The 16-month window until the next required elections will allow Israel to make historic changes with its neighbors, even as the region undergoes “tectonic” change.

The Palestinian issue was first on the list and Mofaz’s number 1 priority. Unlike Iran, the Palestinian issue directly affects Israel but not the West. The onus is on Israel, then, to address it. Now is the time to “break the ice” with the Palestinians and immediately resume direct negotiations. According to Mofaz, the two sides are close enough on the issues of borders and security arrangements that negotiations can lead to an interim agreement. Such an agreement would change the atmosphere, build trust, and lead eventually to negotiations toward a permanent agreement for a two-state solution covering the most contentious issues like refugees and the status of the holy places.

Mofaz’s subsequent clarifications undermined his opening burst of optimism.  He insisted that there be no preconditions for negotiations, referring to Palestinian demands that Israel cease illegal settlement building, but then sketched out Israel’s red lines. A Palestinian state could have security forces but not an army that could threaten Israeli security. No Palestinian refugees will be allowed to return to Israel, only to Palestine. Israel will not deal with Hamas, because it is a terrorist organization.  Nor will Israel deal with Palestinian Authority President Abbas until Hamas leaves the Palestinian government. Israel’s eastern border will be at the far edge of its large settlements, and settlement building should continue in all such territory, including East Jerusalem. The message seemed to be that the Palestinians need to drop all preconditions to enter into negotiations leading to a solution dictated by the Israelis. Mofaz expressed the hope of talking with the Palestinians as soon as tomorrow, but he offered little incentive for them to come to the table.

Mofaz echoed Prime Minister Netanyahu’s position that a nuclear Iran constitutes an existential threat for Israel, but his tone was more cautious and less urgent. Time is left for diplomacy, including the oil embargo and tougher sanctions expected next month. The goal is for Iran to end all enrichment activity, remove all enriched material, and dismantle all underground facilities. While every option must be prepared, military action should be the last resort.  We will have to ask ourselves how much it can accomplish in setting back the Iranian program, and what the impact will be on the region.  In any event he would prefer that the West handle Tehran, as a nuclear Iran would threaten the West and moderate Arab states along with Israel.

The bloody uprising in Syria will end with the fall of Bashar al-Asad’s regime. Mofaz expected that the West would provide humanitarian aid to Syrians and warn Asad of the consequences of continued slaughter. The decision of how to handle the regime belongs to the Syrians, however. Mofaz hesitated to make predictions about the Egyptian elections but stressed that Israel would continue its relationship with Egypt no matter the results. The new regime will undoubtedly be less friendly, but Israel’s priority will be maintenance of the peace treaty and prevention of Sinai terrorism.

Mofaz proposed a number of reforms to the Israeli political system: raising the threshold for parliamentary representation to 4% of the vote, allowing the party with the most seats to form the government (which would have made Tzipi Livni, Kadima leader before Mofaz, prime minister), and requiring the full four-year term between elections. Other domestic priorities include service for all citizens (ultra-Orthodox and Arabs included) and a 2013 budget based on a social agenda responsive to last year’s protests

Mofaz’s approach to Iran and the Palestinians suggests he is more flexible than Netanyahu, but his weight in the governing coalition might not allow him to deliver much.  There may be “tectonic change” in the region, but Mofaz is a junior coalition partner and has less than a year and a half to make something substantial happen with the Palestinians. He doesn’t have the look or sound of an earth shaker.

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As regular readers will have noticed, I’ve avoided writing about the Balkans lately.  There are a lot more interesting things going on elsewhere in the world.  But Greece’s decision to put stickers reading “recognized by Greece as FYROM” over the MK on newly issued Macedonian license plates is too fine an opportunity to pass up.

Greece is doing this allegedly under the 1995 interim agreement with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), whose application for NATO membership Athens has blocked, first in Bucharest in 2008.  Greece repeated its move more recently in  Chicago this year, despite an International Court of Justice (ICJ) decision unequivocal in finding Greece in violation of the agreement in Bucharest.

Where I come from, if you want to apply an agreement you have to fulfill its terms yourself first.  Greece understands this perfectly well and accused Macedonia of being in violation of the interim agreement during the ICJ proceedings.  Its accusations were found to lack serious merit.  Now Athens, having been found in violation, is seeking to apply the agreement it refused to apply in Chicago.

Words fail me.  Mendacious maybe.  They have apparently failed Skopje as well, which in the initial press report is said to be weighing its response.  That’s wise.  There is really no point in aggravating the situation further, tempting though it may be to do so.

But I’m not a government. I’m a blogging/tweeting professor and can suggest anything I like. I only risk hate tweets and emails.  Maybe a sticker to cover the GR on Greek plates that reads “Southern Macedonia”? Or one that says “I am Greek traveling in a country whose name I don’t accept”? Ethnic Macedonians and Albanians with Greek license plates would have to be exempt from that one.  Or one that declares “interim agreement be damned”?

Here in DC, most license plates read “taxation without representation,” because residents of the District of Columbia pay Federal taxes but have a representative in Congress who can’t vote in plenary (and no senators–even states smaller in population than DC are entitled to two).

Slogans of all sorts grace the license plates of most cars in the United States.  I’ve always thought it unimaginative of Europeans not to use that bit of valuable real estate on the back of a car for something edifying.  My favorite proposal (it isn’t reality) was for Wisconsin, a big dairy producing state:  “eat cheese or die”  (New Hampshire’s plates really do read “live free or die”).

Greece of course has bigger problems these days than the “MK” on its northern neighbor’s license plates.  It would do well to save a few euros by cutting the funding for those “recognized as FYROM” stickers.  It would do even better to stop violating an agreement it wants to apply and allow FYROM to enter NATO.


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Playing chess with Mike Tyson

I might wish that were the name of William Dobson‘s book about how dictators are adjusting to contemporary pro-democracy rebellions, as the original text of this post said, but really it’s Dictatorship 2.0.  I haven’t read it but intend to do so, as there was a lively discussion of it yesterday at the Carnegie Endowment with Karim Sadjadpour chairing, Dobson presenting, Otpor‘s Srdja Popovic and Marc Lynch commenting.

It is hard to be an old style dictator today, Dobson avers.  Really only North Korea is left, as Burma has begun to adjust.  The plug can’t be pulled on communications, which means dictators need to get savvy and use more subtle forms of repression:  targeted tax inspections, contested but unfree and unfair elections (preferably with the opposition fragmented), control over television and the courts, big handouts to the populace.  Dictatorships today do not aim for ideological monopolies but rather to prevent and disrupt mobilization.

Oppositions have to adjust as well.  Srdja outlined the basics:  they need unity, planning and nonviolent discipline.  They must be indigenous.  Internationals can help, mainly through education and help with communications.  Protesters need to avoid confronting dictatorial regimes where they are strong and attack them where they are weak.  You don’t challenge Mike Tyson to box; better to play chess with him.  This means avoiding military action in Syria, for example, and focusing on the regime’s economic weakness.  The contest is between opposition enthusiasm and the fear the regime seeks to impose.  Humor and “dispersive” tactics that do not require mass assembly in the streets (work and traffic slowdowns, boycotts, graffiti, cartoons) are increasingly important in reducing fear.

Marc emphasized the sequence of events in the Arab awakening:  Ben Ali’s flight from Tunisia made people elsewhere realize what was possible, Mubarak’s overthrow in Egypt made it seem inevitable, Libya and Yemen were far more difficult, a reversal that has continued in Syria, where the regime has substantial support from Alawites and Christians afraid of what will happen to them if the revolution succeeds.   The tipping point comes when perception of a regime changes from its being merely bad to being immoral.

So who is next?  Saudi Arabia and Jordan are in peril, Marc suggested.  Bahrain is living on borrowed time.  Srdja suggested Iran, which is moving backwards towards an old style dictatorship after the defeat of its Green Movement, can only be challenged successfully if the protesters learn from their mistakes.  They need better leadership and a focus on the state’s inability to deliver services.  China, Dobson said, has been good at pre-empting large protests.  Burma may not be adjusting quickly enough to avoid an upheaval.

I didn’t hear mention of Russia, Cuba, Algeria, and lots of other places that might be candidates, but no one was trying to be comprehensive.  Wherever they may be, dictatorships will adjust to what they see happening elsewhere and try to protect their monopoly on power from those who challenge it.  Their opponents will also need to adjust.  It is thus in both war and peace.


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Pakistani media highs and lows

Ilona Gerbakher wasn’t entirely happy with the earlier draft of her piece, which I posted prematurely.  So I am posting a rewrite:

Pakistan’s lively but undisciplined media sector was the focus of a Tuesday panel at the United States Institute of Peace on “Pakistani Media: Getting Beyond the Hype.”

Steve Inskeep, the moderator and a host on NPR’s Morning Edition opened the discussion by asking the panelists how they would describe the Pakistani media today. Asma Shirazi, a protégé of Imran Aslam and a senior anchor/producer of SAMAA TV (a Pakistani satellite news channel), used the word “maturing” to describe the emergence of an independent media corps in Pakistan over the last two decades:

Our media is not very mature, but…our journalists are working day and night. They get threats from the…Taliban, and it’s a very different and difficult society…I think it will take some time, but I think we should be hopeful.

She referenced her experience of death threats and being followed by the ISI as one of the first female anchors to work during the Musharraf era and called for a media lobbying group or press council to help protect journalists.

She also underlined the ability of the independent Pakistani media to speak “truth to power,” particularly where women’s rights are concerned.  When Shirazi started working on public Pakistani television, nobody was willing to talk to her, in part because of gender. Now women’s attitudes about their own rights are changing.  They want to live like human beings in a society where girls are not being killed just because of something said in the media.

Wendy Chamberlain, President of the Middle East Institute and former US Ambassador to Pakistan, shifted the discussion to a comparison between the American and Pakistani media, describing both as “info-tainment, driven by audience ratings, profit and the bottom line.”  This has led to immaturity in the American media, making it more like the media in Pakistan today, as in both countries the emphasis is on giving the audience what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear.  Ambassador Chamberlain urged both to take a close look at themselves and to remember that accuracy and educating the public are serious responsibilities.  Imran Aslam agreed, noting that “commercialism is as great a censor of free thought in Pakistan” as the army.

Cyril Almeida, assistant editor at DAWN (Pakistan’s oldest English language newspaper), characterized Pakistani media as open. He claimed that there is nothing in Pakistan that you cannot discuss in media or print anymore and asked if that might be too much.  Imran Aslam, president and chief content officer of GEO TV (one of Pakistan’s leading independent media outlets) replied with the words “maddening, vibrant, diversified.” He was ambivalent about the current multiplicity of narratives available to media consumers in Pakistan. Official state television once had the important function of creating a uniform public narrative and a (possibly false) sense of nationhood, where dissenting voices were not heard.  Now electronic media have fallen into the trap of commercialization, fracturing the unity of the national narrative.

Cyril Almeida and Imran Aslam described the 2009 lawyers’ movement as the apex of electronic media power.  Today the Pakistani media is coming to terms with its own limitations after getting a taste of real power for a few years at the end of the last decade. Aslam added, “the 2009 lawyers’ movement really went to the media’s head, like cocaine—the anchors became rock stars…” He suggested that the word “cocaine” be added to the list of words describing the Pakistani media.

Imran Aslam emphasized that the Pakistani media is not anti-America but opposes American policies. He noted that the greatest ambition of the average Pakistani child is an American education. Despite objections to American policies in the region, America’s cultural capital in Pakistan is still strong.

This rather rosy picture was immediately belied by a disagreement between Ambassador Chamberlain and Asma Shirazi, who said that Pakistanis feel abandoned by America. She remarked with some heat, “You had one 9/11. We are having daily 9/11’s just because of the US.” Ambassador Chamberlain quickly denied responsibility.  As the argument about 9/11 became more heated, what emerged from the panel was a sense of what Imran Aslam called “mutual incomprehension:” even a panel of experts in Pakistani-American relations could not seem to come to an accord.

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