Obama will need to decide

My piece on the Egyptian constitutional referendum was published on Al Jazeera America yesterday.  Bottom line:  the 98% “yes” vote was real, but just as real was government intimidation of those who might have voted no, a boycott by the Muslim Brotherhood and some more secularist political forces, and “couch party” indifference.  Still, about twice as many voters approved this constitution as the one President Morsi put before the voters in June 2012, when turnout was lower and “no” voting higher.

The sincerity and enthusiasm of the “yes” voters should not be doubted.  Judging from my admittedly brief conversations with them while observing the referendum for Democracy International, they had no interest in the substance of the constitution but were anxious to vote for stability and an improved economy.   The “revolution” has acquired a bad name.  It stands for disorder and strife.  Many Egyptians want to restore law and order so that they can return to earning a living, albeit a paltry one for most of the population.

The “yes” voters were also enthusiastic about the Egyptian army and General Sisi in particular.  In the land of the pharaohs, leaders are deified.  Sisi is more than a general or politician to his fans.  He is the epitome of all that is good and clean in an Egypt that has seen a lot of nastiness and dirt.  His picture and name are proudly displayed and chanted at international election observers, apparently in an effort to impress them with his support and send a message back to Washington. Read more…

Talk and fight

This post was originally published in the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs.

The opening of the Geneva II Syria peace conference yesterday was a painful affair. Even before it convened, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon found himself in the awkward position of having to withdraw an invitation to Iran. The public opening statements in Montreux showed no signs of compromise. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem insisted Bashar al Assad is a legitimately elected national leader who will not be displaced, claiming that Assad is fighting terrorists, not his own people. Ahmed al-Jarba, president of the Syrian Opposition Coalition, underlined recently documented atrocities against thousands of Syrian citizens and called for the creation of a “transitional governing body with full executive powers,” as provided for in the June 2012 Geneva I Communique.’ Under this proposal, Bashar al Assad would have no role in Syria’s governance. Read more…

The merits don’t count

The UN invitation to Iran now withdrawn because it failed to acknowledge the June 2012 Geneva 1 communique call for a transitional governing body with full executive powers, the Geneva 2 peace conference began today in Montreux with “bitter speeches.”  While the acidity is unusually high in this instance, most peace conferences begin with this kind of venting.  The Syrian government representative was anxious to establish Bashar al Asad’s legitimacy while the opposition focused on his atrocities, newly documented in a frightening graphic report purporting to include official photographs of torture victims.

Can anything good come of this Montreux opening and the next few days of meetings?  The primary candidates are a prisoner exchange and humanitarian access.  The former is much more likely to come off well than the latter.

Holding prisoners is not easy or rewarding.  Their usefulness as sources of information declines rapidly after their capture.  In addition, warring parties face strong pressure from families and fighters on their own side to get at least an accounting for prisoners, if not also their freedom.  It is hard to maintain morale if your people know you can’t even get their comrades and relatives back from the opponent.  Supervision of such prisoner exchanges, usually by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), is a well practiced art. Read more…


UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s invitation today to Iran to attend threw the scheduled opening of peace talks on Syria Wednesday in Montreux into doubt.  The United States says it wants Iran to accept publicly as the purpose of the conference creation of a transitional governing body with full executive powers (TGBFEP), as provided for in the June 2012 “Geneva 1″ communique.  Iran has said it won’t do that, but the Secretary General says Tehran understands what the meeting is about.  The Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC), which Saturday voted to attend in Montreux and the subsequent “Geneva 2″ meeting, says it won’t come if Iran does without withdrawing its troops from Syria and its support from Bashar al Asad.  That won’t happen.

This is a mess.  The merits of an invitation to Iran are clear.  Tehran’s direct military engagement with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as well as its sponsorship of Hizbollah to fight on behalf of Bashar al Asad makes it indispensable to any substantial progress in the talks.  But it is hard for the SOC to attend if Iran does.  Going to Montreux to sit at the table with Iran could further discredit its relative moderates and lead to resignations, thus reducing further its already minimal usefulness as a negotiating partner. Read more…

Peace Picks, January 20-24

It’s a shortened week in DC, as Monday is Martin Luther King Day.  But still lots of good events from Tuesday on:

1. What Will 2014 bring for North Korea’s Nuclear Program?

Tuesday, January 21 | 9am – 12pm

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1779 Massachusetts Ave. NW


2013 witnessed new levels of threatening behavior from North Korea: a satellite launch that could portend an improved long-range ballistic missile capability; a third nuclear test; and declarations that the Korean peninsula would witness “an all-out war, a nuclear war.” Recent perturbations among the North Korean leadership also raise the possibility of greater instability and unpredictability.  What will 2014 bring in terms of North Korean nuclear behavior?

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Asan Institute for Policy Studies invite you to a discussion on what to expect from North Korea on nuclear matters in 2014.  Five experts will discuss the status of North Korea’s nuclear activities, what negotiating tactics North Korea might attempt, and whether there are lessons to be drawn in managing North Korea’s nuclear ambitions from the Iranian and South Asian experiences.

Toby Dalton is the deputy director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His research focuses on cooperative nuclear security initiatives and nuclear challenges in South Asia and East Asia.

Choi Kang is a senior research fellow and the vice president for research at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies. He was previously the dean of Planning and Assessment at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy.

Joel Wit is a visiting scholar at the US-Korea Institute at SAIS and a senior research fellow at Columbia University Weatherhead Institute for East Asian Studies.

Park Jiyoung is a research fellow and director of the Science and Technology Policy Center at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies. Park was previously managing director of the Research and Development Feasibility Analysis Center at the Korea Institute of S&T Evaluation and Planning.

Shin Chang-Hoon is a research fellow and the director of the International Law and Conflict Resolution Department at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies. He is also the director of the Asan Nuclear Policy and Technology Center.

James L. Schoff is a senior associate in the Carnegie Asia Program. His research focuses on U.S.-Japanese relations and regional engagement, Japanese politics and security, and the private sector’s role in Japanese policymaking.

Go Myong-Hyun is a research fellow and the director of the Center for Risk, Information, and Social Policy at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies. Go’s research focuses on social networks, complex social interactions over space, and geospatial modeling of disease.


2. Peace for Israel and Palestine? Public Opinion 20 Years after Oslo 

Wednesday, January 22 | 9:30 – 11am

New America Foundation, 1899 L St NW, Suite 400


As Secretary of State John Kerry’s April deadline for a peace agreement approaches, a key concern is whether the Israeli and Palestinian publics are ready to support an agreement. Where do Israelis and Palestinians stand on key issues, and what kind of peace agreement do they want?

Twenty years after the signing of the Oslo Accords, Zogby Research Services examined these questions in its latest public opinion poll on Israeli and Palestinian attitudes toward the peace process. Please join the Arab American Institute and the New America Foundation’s Middle East Task Force for the survey’s public release and a discussion of its findings. The poll, conducted for the Sir Bani Yas Forum in the UAE, provides critical insights for today’s peace negotiators as they seek a viable agreement that both the Israeli and Palestinian publics can support.

In collaboration with the Arab American Institute.

James Zogby, President, Arab American Institute and Zogby Research Services

Khaled Elgindy, Fellow, Saban Center for Middle East Policy, Brookings Institution
Lara Friedman, Director, Policy and Government Relations, Americans for Peace Now

Leila Hilal, Director, Middle East Task Force, New America Foundation

If you are unable to join us in person, please tune in to our live webcast of the event.


3. The Role of Entrepreneurship in Building a Better Egypt

Wednesday, January 22 | 12 – 1:45pm

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1779 Massachusetts Ave. NW


In Egypt, innovative enterprise development has taken off in the wake of the 2011 protests with thousands of youth turning to entrepreneurship as a means of creating economic opportunity as well as addressing social challenges.

The Middle East Institute is proud to host a discussion about Egypt’s burgeoning start-up sector with entrepreneurs Yumna Madi (KarmSolar), Mona Mowafi (Rise Egypt), and Dina Sherif (Ahead of the Curve, Silatech), who will discuss their companies’ innovative ideas, the opportunities and challenges they face as entrepreneurs, and their hopes to see greater development and job creation in Egypt through the support of more innovators and start-ups. James A. Harmon,chairman of the Egyptian-American Enterprise Fund, will discuss U.S. and international support for emerging business initiatives in the country.  Christopher M. Schroeder, author of Startup Rising: The Entrepreneurial Revolution Remaking the Middle East, will lead the discussion.

* A light lunch will be served at this event

4. Pakistan Media: Democratic Inclusion, Accountability and Peaceful Contestation

Thursday, January 23 | 2:15 – 4pm

US Institute of Peace, 2301 Constitution Ave NW


The challenges and opportunities facing Pakistan’s media in many ways reflect the challenges and opportunities facing the country’s democracy. After a decade of transformation, Pakistan’s media have become an increasingly coherent platform for raising popular concerns and needs. Yet, considerable constraints remain. Decades of state manipulation undermined the development of robust media organizations. Legal protections are weak, security threats are many and the industry is not financially sound. Consequently the media remains vulnerable to exploitation by state and non-state actors as they compete for power.

This event will also feature a new policy briefing from BBC Media Action, a case study from USIP’s research into political violence reporting, and analysis from Pamela Constable, author and longtime reporter on Pakistan.


5. Perspectives on Colombia’s Peace Process and Opportunities for U.S. Engagement

Thursday, January 23 | 9am – 5pm

The Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University City View Room, 1957 E Street NW, 7th Floor


Colombia appears to be nearing an end to its bitter internal armed conflict. After 50 years, a death toll approaching a quarter million and the forced displacement of over five million, Colombia has its best chance in decades of securing peace. Peace talks between the government and the country’s largest guerilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC), are in their second year. The parties have reached tentative agreements on the first two agenda points – land and political participation – and are now discussing a solution to the issue of illicit drugs. As the talks continue in Havana, Cuba, the potential for a positive US role in designing both policies and aid packages that support peace is becoming increasingly evident. In this three-panel event, Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) will convene leading human rights defenders, security analysts, and policymakers from the United States and Colombia to discuss the status of the talks and opportunities for US engagement.

The event will be held in English and Spanish, and simultaneous interpretation will be provided. A light lunch will also be provided. For more information, please contact Adam Schaffer at (202) 797 2171.

The event will be available via live stream at www.wola.org. To RSVP for the live stream, please click here. A video of the event will be available shortly after.


6. Rethinking Islamist Politics: A Panel Discussion

Thursday, January 23 | 12 – 2pm

Elliott School of International Affairs, Lindner Family Commons, Room 602; 1957 E Street NW


Join the Project on Middle East Political Science (POMEPS) to analyze the state of Islamist politics in the Middle East. The panel will examine the current directions of the Muslim Brotherhood and electoral politics, Salafism, and jihadist movements, as well as trends in the broader Islamic context.

François Burgat, Researcher, Institut de Recherches et d’Etudes sur le Monde Arabe et Musulman
Thomas Hegghammer, Research Fellow and Director of Terrorism Research, Norwegian Defense Research Establishment
Bruce Lawrence, Professor of Religion, Duke University
Tarek Masoud, Associate Professor of Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School of Government

Moderated by:
Marc Lynch, Professor of Political Science and International Affairs and Director of the Institute for Middle East Studies, GW

A light lunch will be provided.

History lessons

My colleagues over at TransConflict have posted my reflection, prepared some months ago, on one chapter of the Scholarly Initiative, led by Charlie Ingrao:

Rereading the Scholarly Initiative’s Confronting Yugoslav Controversies in its second edition on TransConflict is déjà vu all over again. The sections on “Kosovo Under Autonomy” remind us of the growing demographic predominance of Albanians, the province’s declining economy, heightened demands for political equality and republic status, deteriorating interethnic relations, the 1986 Serbian Academy memorandum claiming genocide, Serb migration from and political agitation within Kosovo. In Momcilo Pavlovic’s well-crafted narrative, impeccably written to achieve acceptance on both sides of the ethnic divide, the evolution is clear and the outcome seems all too logical and inevitable – a violent confrontation leading eventually to Kosovo independence.

That is not, however, the Scholarly Initiative’s point. Nor would it be a valid one. It is not difficult to imagine many junctures at which wise politicians in a less stressed environment might have intervened to stop the spiral towards violence and dissolution of the former Yugoslavia.  But the anti-nationalists in power who might have been so inclined were also, for the most part, Communists.  Their autocratic methods were ill-suited to the requirements.  Once the Soviet Union came apart, the nationalists—some like Milosevic recent converts from Communism—were unleashed. They were far more likely to aggravate the situation than ameliorate it.  What happened in Moscow in 1990 and 1991 was the trigger that enabled what happened in former Yugoslavia in the next decade. Read more…

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