The Africa summit

It is hard to do justice to the US/Africa Summit going on in DC this week. It has many facets, not the least of which was yesterday’s reception for the Timbuktu Renaissance given by the Brookings Institution. No Muzak there. But here is a video from colleagues at the Wilson Center Africa Program that does a good job of telling us the three main official themes: trade and investment, peace and security, and future governance, which I trust is an implicit comment on its current unsatisfactory state:

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Only the PLO can beat Hamas

When former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad resigned in 2013, Thomas Friedman lamented the death of “Fayyadism.” “If there is no place for a Salam Fayyad-type in [Palestinian] leadership,” he wrote, “an independent state will forever elude you.” As fighting rages in Gaza, a two-state solution seems more elusive than ever. At the Atlantic Council on Thursday, Fayyad articulated his vision for lasting peace in the region.

Fayyad traced many of the current problems to failed implementation of the 1993 Oslo Accords. Oslo was supposed to solve the permanent status issue, and ultimately create a Palestinian state. In signing the accords, the Palestinians accepted a temporary extension of the occupation. This “provisional” extension has lasted more than twenty years and is at the root of current Palestinian indignation towards the ruling Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).

In 2011, Israel traded more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who had been captured by Hamas six years earlier. The next year, PLO President Mahmoud Abbas sought to gain recognition of Palestinian statehood at the United Nations. Israel retaliated by authorizing construction of 3,000 additional housing units in the West Bank. The message, said Fayyad, is clear: violence trumps political solutions.

Abbas has paid dearly for his cooperation with Israel, with little to show for it. For many Palestinians, his party has come to represent weakness and capitulation. Hamas is seen as the last remaining pocket of resistance in a region that has all but abandoned the Palestinian cause. Hamas’ hand has only been strengthened by current war.

There can be no sovereign Palestinian state without Gaza, which has been ruled by Hamas for the last seven years. All parties, including Gaza, must be represented in any final-status agreement. And there cannot be agreement until the Palestinians demand, with one voice, a “date certain” for an end to the occupation.

Israel is mistaken if it believes it can “defeat” Hamas in the traditional sense. While Hamas has been in control of Gaza for seven years, it is not a state. Non-state actors measure winning and losing differently. As Henry Kissinger said, “The guerrilla wins if he does not lose. The conventional army loses if it does not win.” Hamas can still rise from the rubble and claim victory.

Fayyad said that it is unreasonable to condition a ceasefire on total demilitarization of Hamas. Israel couldn’t achieve this even when they were occupying Gaza. The Hamas-PLO Unity agreement should remain in place, he added. It is time to hold another election. Without electoral legitimacy, neither faction can govern effectively.

The new order cannot look like the old one.  It will not be easy, he said, but long-term reforms must be embedded in any lasting ceasefire agreement. The despair in Gaza is palpable, and it only burnishes Hamas’s credentials. As one woman told him recently, Gazans are alive “simply because there isn’t enough death to go around.”

In 1993, Palestinians recognized Israel’s right to exist in peace and security. Israel did not reciprocate. This goes to the heart of the disillusionment felt by most Palestinians. Fayyad was not optimistic about Israel’s willingness to recognize a Palestinian state. Since Oslo, he noted, politicians in Israel have been increasingly unfriendly to the idea of a two-state solution.

Israel will not vanquish Hamas militarily, Fayyad said. In the end, the only way to defeat Hamas is by empowering the PLO. This will only be possible is Israel ends its occupation of Palestine.

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Civil society in the Syrian diaspora

While the war in Gaza dominates the news cycle, the carnage in Syria has been all but forgotten. Last week’s death toll of 700 people in 48 hours received scant coverage in the international media. Nonetheless, the civil war has given birth to a plethora of diaspora-based civil society organizations (CSOs), and their numbers to continue to grow. Some groups are apolitical, distributing food and medical supplies where they are needed. Others see humanitarianism as an opportunity to advance a political or religious agenda. As the chances for political reconciliation diminish, a number of civil society groups have emerged that eschew any political involvement at all.

Outside CSOs are split on the question of armed conflict. Some are involved in funding, or at least supporting, various armed factions within Syria. For instance, the Coalition for a Democratic Syria aims to protect “the Syrian people through a unified Syrian Armed Forces,” according to their mission statement. The Syrian American Council also lobbies for increased US aid for the Free Syrian Army, the loose coalition of rebels who are fighting both Assad and Islamist-aligned groups.

Other groups, including the UK-based Madani, argue that arming either side only fuels the conflict. Regional and international actors should instead be working towards universal disarmament. One of Madani’s objectives is to “combat the war economy” by tracing and publicly exposing organizations and governments who funnel weapons into the country. They are also working to demobilize fighters and reintegrate them into civilian life.  The group is currently mapping Syrian CSOs, and aims to ultimately create a network out of willing groups.

Any negotiations are more likely to succeed when CSOs are included in the process. Including these groups can also lend more legitimacy to a deal once it has been struck. Unfortunately, CSOs were not at the table during the failed Geneva II talks in January. The opposition was represented by the Syrian National Coalition, which has tenuous links to groups on the ground.

The failure of Geneva II gave rise to several organizations that are focused exclusively on civic projects and development, distancing themselves from politics. The newly formed Syrian Civil Coalition is one such group. They seek to bridge the divide between rival factions by providing a neutral forum for “realistically moderate” discourse. The coalition does not have a political stance, stating “It is important to avoid any inclination that aims at serving one political party.”

Their impartiality makes these groups suspect, so their impact of on the ground is limited. Some organizations that refuse to clarify their political alignment, like Jusoor, have been accused of harboring pro-regime leanings. Some activists have indicated that groups with no position on either regime or rebel forces cannot represent them. This calls into question the extent to which moderate or nonaligned groups can effect change in Syria.

Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon are sheltering close to three million Syrians, relying largely on a network of humanitarian groups to provide for them. CSOs in Jordan already had a large presence to accommodate the wave the refugees who escaped the Hama massacre in 1982. Many of these groups are connected to the Jordanian or Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, and receive additional funding from Qatar. Some of the children of these refugees founded the Syrian Women’s Organization in 2006, which provides new arrivals with food, medicine, and even cash.  Turkey is also home to a large number of CSOs.   Following recent protests against Syrian refugees in Urfa, the Syrian al-Khabour Civic Forum met with local groups to try to diffuse the situation.  The Turkey-based Syrian Business Forum, which has reportedly received millions of dollars from Qatar, may be a key player in a post-Assad Syria.  The group is said to already have a significant presence in northern Syria.

Many Syrian refugees have come to play a critical, though often informal, role in the conflict. A network of activists has arisen alongside traditional aid agencies, many of which are no longer able to operate in many parts of Syria. These members of the Syrian diaspora regularly smuggle medicine, food, and even people across Syria’s porous borders. “We do everything: journalism, medical care, smuggling,” said Ahmed Almasri, a Syrian refugee who is based in Jordan. They rely on sympathetic truck and taxi drivers, as well as professional smugglers, to move their “products” in and out of Syria. A few groups, including the Islamic Charity Centre Society, have tacitly admitted to using these informal conduits to distribute aid.

This civil war has brought a dizzying array of competing political, social, and religious interests to the fore. While some CSOs are purely humanitarian driven, others are backed by outside groups with their own political agendas. Whatever their motivations, CSOs have come to play a crucial role within and outside of Syria.

Today, Assad’s regime is looking more like a criminal enterprise than a state. Even if he survives, these groups will remain critical to the well-being and survival of millions of Syrians. And if he does not, diaspora CSOs will play a decisive part in shaping that country’s future.

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Trials and tribulations

This interview with Petrit Selimi, deputy foreign minister of Kosovo, appeared in Tribuna in Albanian and is republished here in English with Tribuna’s permission:

Tribuna: These days, US foreign service published the annual report on the religious freedoms and there it’s stated that the level of non-tolerance has increased. Did you as a Foreign Ministry have any communication with State Department regarding this report? What are the main concerns?

Petrit Selimi: We had permanent contacts with US Embassy and truth be told, report’s positive findings on the promotion of tolerance and interfaith dialogue in Kosovo are related to the efforts of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Republic of Kosovo. State Department took note and mentioned a series of our projects within the public diplomacy, especially the international interfaith conference held in Peja, the multilingual web site as well as the organization of the week of Tolerance and Dialogue last year that included the unveiling of a memorial stone to the Kosovo Jewish Holocaust victims who perished in the WW2.
One does not win much votes with such engagement but it’s important we have continuation of the promotion of real Kosovo, where the faith communities historically have shown more tolerance and patience than hate.

Tribuna: Despite good words for the tolerance projects, this year the report also numbers cases of public show of intolerance. What was your reaction to these specific remarks?

Selimi:  One of the crucial challenges that we face is the attempt to slowly eradicate the boundaries of what is religion and the state or the public. Traditional Islam in Kosovo has always been a part of personal and family domain and now we have a situation where few imams, inspired by preaching in some other parts of the world, aim to mix politics and faith.
In this way, being active from the position of the interpreters of the absolute truth, these imams speak of political issues in absolutist terms, as infallible statements. One imam has called our Albanian mothers, sisters, wives “whores” because they chose to love people before marriage or because they choose to wear clothes of their compatriot Rita Ora. Another imam spits hate in preachings and calls for Jews to be “finished.”  A third imam justifies physical violence against magazines that write on the theme of sexuality.
These are still a minority but they often preach with an utter conviction and charisma that may create with some young people especially, a deep sense of self-victimization and frustration, especially when you take into account the social and economic conditions as well as the level of education. All of these create a reaction of anger which sometimes leads to the real physical violence. It now seems almost comic that some of these imams [upon seeing their names in the State Department report] now say that “we may have made mistakes in our preachings, we are only human”. Yes, I agree we are all humans. If we are also good believers on top of it, then we know that God certainly has far more mercy and will also be merciful to those that show little mercy in their sermons. Read more

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Peace picks August 4-8

  1. Morocco’s Emergence as a Gateway to Business in Africa Monday, August 4 | 9:30 am – 11:00 am Atlantic Council of the United States; 1030 15th Street, NW, Twelfth Floor, Washington, D.C. REGISTER TO ATTEND H.E. Moulay Hafid Elalamy, Mohamed El Kettani, Hajji, and Nabil Habayeb will discuss how Morocco has emerged not only as a significant US political and strategic partner in Africa, but also as an attractive portal for investment and business headed to the continent. They will discuss US interests and the opportunities to deepen economic and commercial cooperation with Morocco and other African countries.
  2. Tunisia’s Democratic Successes: A Conversation with the President of Tunisia Tuesday, August 5 | 11:00 am – 12:15 pm Atlantic Council of the United States; 1030 15th Street, NW, Twelfth Floor, Washington, D.C. REGISTER TO ATTEND With both presidential and parliamentary elections due late this year, Tunisia once again faces imminent milestones in its political history. Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki will join the Atlantic Council’s Hariri Center and Africa Center for an exclusive engagement to discuss successes to date and how the country can address pressing economic and security challenges as its democratic transition continues.
  3. The Gaza Crisis: No Way Out? Policy Options and Regional Implications Tuesday, August 5 | 2:00 pm – 3:30 pm Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; 1779 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, D.C. REGISTER TO ATTEND The Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings will host a discussion examining the dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the U.S. handling of the crisis, and the regional implications. Brookings Vice President for Foreign Policy and former U.S. Special Envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations Martin Indyk will share his observations and insights. He will be joined by fellows Natan Sachs and Khaled Elgindy, a former adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team.
  4. Putting the South Caucasus in Perspective Tuesday, August 5 | 3:00 pm – 4:30 pm Woodrow Wilson Center; 1300 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, D.C. REGISTER TO ATTEND Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia have been independent states for more than 23 years. Although geographically contiguous, they differ in language, religion, and political and security orientation. How is each country faring in state building, developing democracy, and improving economic performance?  Two prominent academic experts of the South Caucasus, Professors Ronald Suny and Stephen Jones, will discuss the historical experience and current developments of the region.
  5. Overcoming Obstacles to Doing Business in Sub-Saharan Africa Wednesday, August 6 | 12:00 pm – 1:30 pm Atlantic Council of the United States; 1030 15th Street, NW, Washington, D.C. REGISTER TO ATTEND In the context of the inaugural US-Africa Leaders Summit, the Atlantic Council’s will launch a new study about barriers to doing business in sub-Saharan Africa and how they can be overcome. Visiting Fellow Aubrey Hruby will discuss the inadequate infrastructure, lack of market data, and poor policy implementation in Africa. The publication will also focus on innovative solutions for surmounting such obstacles and how companies who have successfully entered African markets can provide lessons learned for future investors.
  6. Loved? Liked? Respected? The Success and Failure of U.S. Public Diplomacy Wednesday, August 6 | 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm Washington Institute-Near East; 1828 L Street, NW, #1050, Washington, D.C. REGISTER TO ATTEND The Washington Institute will host a debate on the value of U.S. public diplomacy. It will analyze the role of public diplomacy in the Middle East with particular attention to the crisis in Gaza, the ISIS campaign in Iraq, the ongoing conflict in Syria, and escalating terrorist threats in the region. Institute’s Executive Director Robert Satloff will stand off against the former U.S. ambassador to Turkey and Iraq, James Jeffrey in a debate moderated by Viola Gienger of the United States Institute of Peace.
  7. Statesmen’s Forum: His Excellency Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, President of the Republic of Mali Thursday, August 7 | 9:00 am – 10:15 am Center for Strategic and International Studies; 1616 Rhode Island Ave., NW, Washington, D.C. REGISTER TO ATTEND President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita of Mali will discuss the progress and challenges of Mali’s post-crisis recovery, as well as the broader regional prospects for security, development, and good governance in the Sahel region. He will share his perspective on the ongoing peace process and the role that neighboring countries and the U.S. government can play in tackling insecurity and fostering reconciliation.
  8. President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso Thursday, August 7 | 5:00 pm National Press Club, 13th Floor; 529 14th Street, NW, Washington, D.C. REGISTER TO ATTEND President Blaise Compaore will give his assessment of the results of the US-Africa Leaders Summit taking place in Washington, D.C. from August 5th to 6th. He also plans to speak on his role as a regional mediator to resolve conflicts in West Africa.
  9. A Batkin International Leaders Forum with the President of Somalia Hassan Sheikh Mohamud Friday, August 8 | 10:00 am – 11:30 am Service Employees International Union; 1800 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, D.C. REGISTER TO ATTEND His Excellency Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, president of the Federal Republic of Somalia, will explore the future of democracy in Somalia and its many challenges and promises. Michael O’Hanlon, senior fellow and director for Foreign Policy at Brookings, will hold a question and answer session with the president.
  10. Beyond North Waziristan Friday, August 8 | 10:30 am – 12:00 pm Atlantic Council of the United States; 1030 15th Street, NW, Twelfth Floor, Washington, D.C. REGISTER TO ATTEND As the Pakistani army wages a long-awaited operation, Zarb-e-Azb, against militant sanctuaries in North Waziristan, there are questions about how effectively it confronts the long-term challenge of terrorism in the region. How is the North Waziristan operation impacting militant groups operating in the region, and the overall stability of Pakistan? Can the United States, Afghanistan, and Pakistan work together to address sanctuaries for insurgents on both sides of the border? Major Ikram Sehgal and Hassan Abbas will highlight the progress, pitfalls, and implications of Pakistan’s strategy in North Waziristan.
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Civil society inside Syria

The Syrian conflict has waged for over three years and has resulted in unprecedented levels of violence, destruction, and fatalities. While the international community has attempted to assist in peace talks and humanitarian aid, Syrians have responded within their country through the creation of hundreds of independent civil society organizations (CSO’s). These organizations are both formal and informal and have come to range in purpose to address the most pressing needs of the shattered country. Many focus on civilian opposition goals, while others seek to provide humanitarian aid or social and psychological services to the victims of the conflict.

These CSO’s have adapted their purpose and strategies as the conflict has evolved over the past three years. They have been able to learn from each other and refine their approaches to operate most efficiently despite the lack of resources. Most of these groups are not politically affiliated and choose to address their priorities in a neutral and independent manner.

In response to Assad’s oppressive regime, many civilian opposition groups have arisen since 2011, such as Building the Syrian State and the Coalition of Forces for Peaceful Change. These CSO’s work for a nonviolent, civil democratic state impartial towards all ideologies and doctrines. They advocate for equality through fundamental democratic change, dialogue, and national reconciliation. These civilian opposition groups operate both inside and outside of regime territory and are active on social media and other forms of communication to gain followers and spread awareness.

Other groups are more centered on human rights, such as the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies, the Syrian Human Rights Organization, and the Centre for Syrian Freedoms. These CSO’s call for upholding inalienable human rights and equality in front of the law instead of participating in political activities. They have worked to document crimes against humanity, as well as issue statements, publications, and reports on human rights violations. Through this research, many CSO’s, such as the Damascus Center, have now proposed bills that fit with internationally agreed upon human rights legislations.

There also has been a large rise in the number of humanitarian aid oriented CSO’s as the violence and fatalities have escalated. Every Syrian, Najda Now, Syria Charity, and many others work to provide relief and social services for civilians throughout the country regardless of race, ethnicity, or religion. They secure daily necessities and shelter for those affected by the loss of their families and homes.

Many of these humanitarian CSO’s partner with international organizations that are located outside of Syria, such as Paris-based Soriyat for Development. Syria Charity has worked to achieve strategic partnerships with various international institutions and organizations, while Every Syrian has pursued international funding to rebuild Syrian homes and businesses. Syrian humanitarian CSO’s have therefore sought to consolidate resources and strategies on an international level in order to provide aid to victims and reestablish civil society as effectively as possible.

There has been significant development within Syria in regards to the rise in CSO’s; however, these organizations have been severely hindered by fragmentation and a lack of coordination. Resources are limited and methods of communication are greatly restricted. Many of these groups are forced to work underground due to Assad’s oppressive regime, making it difficult to operate at a functional and effective level. This impedes coordination with similar Syrian and international civil society organizations, as well as defectors, in order to strengthen resources and maximize impact.

Syrian CSO’s have also had a limited role after being left out of the Geneva process. Many find fault in this exclusion because a peace agreement cannot be sustained without the help and existence of civil society. Syrian CSO’s have been addressing the fundamental needs and priorities of civilians at a local level for several years. They have been making progress towards peace and coalitions, as well as raising awareness and understanding about the conflict and regime on the ground. Thus, they should play a vital role in any future efforts to create lasting and sustainable peace.

Syrian CSO’s have played a significant part in the country’s evolution and in providing humanitarian aid in the face of the conflict. At some point, both Assad and the opposition will be pressured to accept a compromise. When that happens, Syrian CSO’s will have the experience and hopefully the resources to rebuild the country from the ground up.


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