Tag: Islamists

Is Egypt Molded in Pakistan’s Image?

Last year, in a piece for AOL News titled “Will Egypt Follow Pakistan’s Troubled Path?” I warned that U.S. policymakers must be careful of whatever government follows ousted Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak by not repeating the mistake of giving lavish material support to a distasteful regime, as America did with Pakistan’s General-President, Pervez Musharraf. I had argued that the ample generosity of American taxpayers—in the form of lavish military and economic aid—to a foreign dictator’s all-powerful military hardly produces the desired outcomes, and results in a military that is further entrenched and able to ignore the popular demands of its people.

Sadly, that scenario is playing out in Egypt. An editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal picks up on my point from last year, stating, “the result may be a state that is less an Islamist-tinged democracy a la Turkey and more a military-Islamist condominium akin to unstable Pakistan.”

Indeed. The political turmoil in Egypt took yet another disappointing turn yesterday when its Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, decreed that the military will assume responsibility for security during the country’s constitutional referendum, to take place on December 15. Amid protests against the referendum on a constitution hurried through an Islamist-dominated assembly, Morsi made his decrees immune from judicial review and gave the military the power to arrest civilians. As the Journal explains, the Egyptian military is the most powerful institution in the country and has its own reasons—such as maintaining de facto control over much of the economy—for keeping the status quo.

As for America’s role in this unfolding controversy, the Washington Post’s David Ignatius writes today:

The [Obama] administration’s rejoinder is that this isn’t about America. Egyptians and other Arabs are writing their history now, and they will have to live with the consequences…[B]ut it’s crazy for Washington to appear to take sides against those who want a liberal, tolerant Egypt and for those who favor sharia. Somehow, that’s where the administration has ended up.

Oddly enough, as Ignatius suggests, claiming that “this isn’t about America” is disingenuous. After all, America’s Egypt policy continues to tip the scale on both sides: it backs Egypt’s liberal protesters and the authoritarian government that oppresses them. The world is standing witness to a head-on collision between the Bush freedom agenda and the Cold War relic of U.S. grand strategy in the Middle East, as foreign policy planners in Washington pay lip service to principles of self-determination and political emancipation while simultaneously assisting authoritarian leaders who suppress the popular demands of their people.

In the end, while what is happening in Egypt is unfortunate, come what may. The best way to discredit Islamists is to let their record speak for itself. Egypt’s new Muslim Brotherhood President should be allowed to fail on his own terms. The Egyptian people voted to bring Islamists to power and it was their prerogative to do so. If Washington truly wants to leave Cairo’s future “to the Egyptian people,” then it should do so by phasing out aid to Egypt completely.

Democracy Versus Autocracy in Kuwait: Where Is Real Liberty?

KUWAIT CITY, KUWAIT—This small Gulf nation was largely unknown in America before Saddam Hussein’s Iraq invaded more than 20 years ago. The United States intervened to drive Iraqi forces out. Kuwaitis remain grateful to Americans and emphasize their friendship with the United States.

Although a monarchy, Kuwait has an elected parliament and a generally free media. It regularly invites foreign analysts and journalists to observe its elections. I am making my second trip this year.

Tremors from the Arab Spring are being felt here. The parliament elected in 2009 faced charges of corruption and lost popularity, and was dissolved at the beginning of the year. Elections were held in February.

All very democratic.

The new legislature was dominated by anti-government activists and, more important, Islamists. Top of the latter’s agenda was making Sharia the basis of all laws, imposing the death penalty for blasphemy, and closing Christian churches. Not very good for liberty.

The Kuwaiti emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, said no to all three. Liberty was protected only because Kuwait was not a genuine parliamentary system where elections determine the government.

The constitutional court then reinstated the previous parliament on technical grounds—that it had not been properly dissolved. The members were no more popular than before and the body soon was properly dissolved. But the emir unilaterally changed the voting system from four votes to one vote per district—from which ten MPs are chosen. Public protests and a large-scale boycott ensued.

Nonetheless, the election was held on December 1. Turnout fell—to about 40 percent, compared to 60 percent in February—but the conduct of the poll received general praise from outside observers. The vote elevated a number of unknowns to parliament.

The government claimed success, but the opposition, which ranges from liberals to Islamists, organized 15 demonstrations involving thousands on Monday night. The police responded with force and injuries resulted. The opposition promised more protests, including a large rally promised for Saturday. The emir met with members of the royal family. My friend, political scientist Shafeeq Ghabra, told me that Kuwait was at a “political crossroads,” with the public determined to “deepen democratization.”

No one knows there this will end. The main opposition leader Musallam Al-Barrak, until this election the longest-serving MP, emphasized the protestors’ commitment to the emir. He told me the situation in Kuwait was different than elsewhere in the Arab Spring: “We want to have an elected government. That does not mean we are against the ruling system.” However, the driving force behind the protests is the youth movement—an incredible 70 percent of the population is under 29. Some of them, at least, seem less than enamored with monarchical rule, with or without a parliament.

As the current political crisis—a word now used by some—plays out, Kuwaitis may find themselves with something closer to a popularly elected government. Unfortunately, however, experience shows that this may not make them freer.

Another Suspect in the Libya Attack

Almost before the embers had cooled in the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya that took the lives of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other staffers, suspicion centered on Ansar al Sharia and the Omar Abdul Rahman Brigades, two North African radical Islamist factions loosely affiliated with al Qaeda. One of those groups is most likely the perpetrator, but we need to at least consider other possibilities.

A few facts are clear: The assault was not a spontaneous demonstration in response to the notorious video mocking the Prophet Mohammad—a demonstration that simply spiraled out of control. Even the nasty, but less violent, demonstrations in Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, and other Muslim countries do not fully fit that description, and the Libya attack was fundamentally different from all of those other incidents. The assault in Benghazi had all the earmarks of a well-planned, well-coordinated, professional military operation.

It is possible that either Ansar al Sharia or the Abdul Rahman Brigades had the capability to carry out such a sophisticated attack, but another faction was even more capable: former security personnel from Muammar Qaddafi’s regime. And that group had a strong motive for assassinating Ambassador Stevens: He had been the U.S. envoy to rebel groups in Libya, helping to coordinate U.S. and NATO aid to the insurgents who eventually overthrew Qaddafi. “As the conflict in Libya unfolded, Chris was one of the first Americans on the ground in Benghazi,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed on Wednesday. Indeed, one report asserted that he had “wrangled a ride on a Greek cargo ship” early in the conflict to get into Benghazi, the initial rebel stronghold.

Pro-Qaddafi elements were undoubtedly aware of his none-too-subtle role in the revolution. The attack on the consulate could have been payback. Indeed, Libya’s ambassador to the United States, Ali Aujali, insisted that his government had intelligence that “Qaddafi’s associates” were involved in the attack. It is tempting to summarily dismiss that thesis, since the new Libyan government is prone to blame every unpleasant development on remnants of Qaddafi’s regime, much as Iraqi and U.S. officials had the lazy habit of blaming all attacks during the first few years of the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq on “Saddam dead-enders.”

But it’s possible that the Libyan ambassador could be right in this case. As I’ve written elsewhere, Libya is a deeply divided tribal society, with the main political fissure running north-south roughly through the middle of the country. Eastern tribes dominated the revolution (and previous unsuccessful rebellions against Qaddafi), while western tribes were the bulk of his supporters. Qaddafi’s death did not erase those divisions, and opponents of the new regime had ample reason to hate Stevens as an architect of their new, inferior status.

Although Islamic extremists were the most likely perpetrators of the attack and assassination, we should not be blind to other possibilities. Libya is a turbulent snake pit into which the United States has wandered. There are a lot of nasty actors—and more than one suspect in the consulate murders.

U.S. Presence in Afghanistan Feeds Pakistan’s Insurgency

alg_pakistan_hotelYesterday’s attack on Peshawar’s Pearl Continental Hotel was the latest signal of Pakistan’s growing Islamist insurgency.

Since the raid by the Pakistani government on the Red Mosque (Lal Masjid) in Islamabad in July 2007, a wave of revenge attacks against the army and the government has been launched by loose networks of suicide bombers. It’s possible, depending on the culprit, that the recent attack in Peshawar might have been retribution for the Pakistan army’s month-long offensive against extremists in the country’s northwest districts.

While the United States hopes to eliminate the threat from extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the knock-on effects from U.S.-NATO efforts to stabilize Afghanistan destabilize Pakistan. America’s presence in the region feeds Pakistan’s insurgency. If America’s interests lie in stabilizing Pakistan, and ensuring that the virus of anti-American radicalism does not infect the rest of the country, the fundamental objective should be to get out of Afghanistan in a reasonable time frame.