All analyses in chronological order - Afro-Middle East Centre

 By Laws & Processes (Jadaliyya & Ahram Online)

The following article was compiled by Jadaliyya and Ahram Online, and gives a brief and concise insightful guide to the upcoming Egyptian elections beginning on the 28th of November.

Egypt population: (est.) 85 million

Citizens eligible to vote: (approx.) 50 million

Parliamentary composition: bicameral

  • The People’s Assembly: the lower house

  • The Shura Council: upper consultative house

People’s Assembly elections: Conducted over three stages, each involving polling in nine governorates (out of total 27 governorates). Run-off elections are held a week later between front-runners in single-winner races where none of the candidates got 50%+ of the total vote.

By Dr. Mohsen Saleh

The Palestinian reconciliation agreement still lacks the necessary momentum to transform it into a practical programme that has the potential to be implemented on the ground. Sixth months have lapsed since the signing of the reconciliation agreement on 3 May 2011, yet no genuine initiatives have been presented for its implementation. This despite the fact that negotiations between Fatah and Hamas happened throughout most of 2009, and it took nearly eighteen months to respond to Hamas' objections. Although the 4 100-word draft agreement was thorough and detailed, it appears to lack any sign of life.

By Esam Al-Amin

In early 1994 a small Islamic think tank affiliated with the University of South Florida (USF) planned an academic forum to host Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of the main opposition party in Tunisia, Ennahda. The objective of this annual event was to give Western academics and intellectuals a rare opportunity to engage an Islamically-oriented intellectual or political leader at a time when the political discourse was dominated by Samuel Huntington's much hyped clash of civilizations thesis. Shortly after the public announcement of the event, pro-Israeli groups and advocates led by Martin Kramer, Daniel Pipes, Steven Emerson, the head of the local B'nai B'rith, and a small-time journalist for the local right-wing newspaper began a coordinated campaign to discredit the event and scare the university.

ByAbdulazizAl-Heis

The decision to allow women to participate in the Shura Council and municipal councils of Saudi Arabia is an important step forward, especially given that Saudi Arabia is in dire need of any movement on this issue. At the same time, however, such a step is not expected to bring about the desired concrete and effective changes, given the limitations of the realities on the ground. Furthermore, the predominant popular and cultural impression of the Shura and municipal councils in the Kingdom is that they offer no space for any real and meaningful participation in the political decision-making of the state.

By Toufic Haddad

If the prisoner exchange deal announced on 11 October 2011 between Hamas and the Israeli government is fully implemented without major hitches, there is little question who 'won' this five-year war of wills: the deal will constitute a major victory for Hamas and the resistance-oriented political forces in Palestinian society, while simultaneously representing a significant retreat for Israel and its historical doctrines of forceful coercion and rejectionism vis-à-vis the Palestinian people and their rights.

By Afro-Middle East Centre

Introduction

Despite the chronic under-reporting on popular protests in Bahrain, the uprising in the small Gulf state that left over thirty dead and hundreds arrested in a brutal government crackdown offers a potent reading of the regional and global dynamics and interests at play. Mainstream coverage of the uprising has mostly portrayed the Bahraini uprising as an extension, or a natural continuum, of the 'Arab Spring' that has swept across the region. Even though the Bahraini protests might have found inspiration in the tidal wave of calls for democratisation elsewhere in the region, and reflect similar demands for greater freedoms and rights, such a homogeneous framing ignores the particularities of the Bahraini context, and the country's geopolitical and strategic significance. Additionally, it negates a long tradition of pro-democracy campaigns by not contextualising this uprising as an extension of extensive civic and popular protests dating back to the 1990s.

By AlJazeera Centre for Studies

Whether foreseen or unexpected, the continuing developments in Tunisia's political arena do not cease to surprise observers. With the approaching elections for the country's Constituent Assembly, scheduled for 23 October, various voices are already calling for a referendum on the same day to decide on the length of the term of the Assembly. Meanwhile, employees of the state security apparatuses have launched a series of protest actions. These culminated on Tuesday, 6 September, when a number of security personnel who had been protesting in al-Qasabah Square in Tunis broke into the Government Palace where Tunisia's prime minister, Beji Caid el Sebsi, was delivering a speech.

By Afro-Middle East Centre

Introduction

The Palestinian bid for ‘statehood’ has become one of the key items on the agenda of the general debate of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly’s sixty-sixth session – to begin on 21 September 2011. The request being tabled by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) will ‘approach the UN … to obtain recognition of the State of Palestine on the 1967 borders and Palestinian membership in the international community.’

With just days left before the request is formally made in the chamber of the General Assembly, it remains unclear what this bid will mean in terms of the path the PLO will pursue at the UN. It could apply for full membership of the UN, but PLO spokespeople have indicated that even moving from being an observer entity to being a non-member state would in itself be an important progression for the Palestinian people.

 

The latest United Nations report on last year's lethal flotilla incident – in which nine people were killed and many injured by Israeli commandos on board a humanitarian ship bound for Gaza – was released at the beginning of September, and generated much controversy. On the one hand, the report makes clear that Israel's use of force on board the Mavi Marmara and in the treatment of those detained on the ship was excessive and unreasonable. It acknowledges that forensic evidence indicates at least seven were shot in the head or chest, five of them at close range, and recognises that Israel still refused to provide any accounting of how the nine people were killed. It calls on Tel Aviv to compensate the families of those killed, eight Turks and one American, and also those who were seriously injured during and after the incident, passengers roughed up while in Israeli custody and whose cameras, cell phones and other belongings were confiscated.

By Afro-Middle East Centre

The uprising in Yemen that started in January 2011 was largely inspired by the popular protests that swept the region - in particular the Egyptian and Tunisian uprisings that respectively saw the ousting of Hosni Mubarak and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Despite certain socio-economic and political causal similarities to other uprisings in the region, the Yemeni protests reflect the contextual particularities of Yemen. As such, any reading of the uprising needs to be located and understood from within the complexities of that country's political and cultural milieu.

By Na'eem Jeenah

The revolutionary fervor that swept across North Africa and the Middle East is leaving discernible imprints on the political and social landscape of South Africa. For many South Africans, the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings gave new hope for the possibilities of what could be achieved through mass action.

For a people who had engaged in a long struggle for justice and freedom , but who had subsequently become largely demobilised, the idea of a despotic government being toppled through people's power had become a distant idea tinged with the kind of romanticism that suggests it could not be replicated. That changed when other peoples on our continent,took to the streets, faced down the might of brutal security services and armed forces, and succeeded in forcing out their dictators. In South Africa, activist organizations, think tanks, and even businesses hosted events to discuss the events, and a protest was held outside the Egyptian embassy, with protesters shouting 'irhal' (Leave) as Husni Mubarak was still trying to cling to power.


As happened in other parts of the world, protesters in the small South African town of Ermelo, demonstrating at the same time as their Egyptian counterparts, began referring to the site of their protests as 'Tahrir Square'. The Ermelo protests represented one of a plethora of 'service delivery' actions throughout the country. Thousands of such protests take place every year in South Africa, with people from poor, deprived communities demonstrating against their lack of or inadequate housing, electricity, water, jobs, and so forth. At the beginning of 2011, calls for global solidarity grew in light of the universality of the complaint against service delivery- joined especially by people in the north of our continent - of people demanding more equitable socio-economic conditions, opposing corruption, and insisting that the government fulfilled its responsibilities to those who had been, and remain, the most marginalised in our society. These were people who had believed the ruling African National Congress' (ANC) promise of a 'better life for all' but became disillusioned when the ANC failed to deliver on its promises. That failure had resulted in a lack and weakness in the delivery of services such as electricity, water, and housing, as well as jobs to poor people, resulting in daily 'service delivery protests' taking place all over the country. In Ermelo, these service delivery protesters, who often face the force of the South African police, took heart and courage from those they now viewed as their fellow travelers in Egypt and Tunisia. It was as if a certain energy had begun flowing from north to south across Africa, spreading and hoping to awaken the masses of oppressed and exploited people on the continent. The uprisings also began a debate in South Africa - not yet exhausted - about whether South Africa was moving towards its 'Tunisia moment', if it did not properly address the huge challenges of poverty, inequality and lack of service delivery.

In what many in southern Africa are referring to contagion from North Africa, normally calm Malawi erupted in protests at the end of July, leaving 18 people dead, and much destruction of property. Analysts and observers in the region, and Malawian activists themselves, have been referring to these events as being part of the wave of the wave of uprisings in the north. The protests came in the wake of attempts by the ruling Democratic Progressive Party to have President Mutharika's brother succeed him when his term ends in 2014, rising unemployment, and a host of other socio-economic grievances.

When civil strife broke out in Libya a few months ago, the debates took a new turn. South Africa, a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, supported Resolution 1973, which called on member states to implement a no-fly zone over Libya - ostensibly to protect civilians. However, within three days, the South African government explained that it did not support the manner in which the resolution was being implemented. After NATO began providing one side in the war with air cover, bombed the country, and even tried to assassinate Gaddafi, public opinion turned against the South African government's position, and even the ruling party's youth league publicly attacked the president for the UN vote. 'South Africa voted in favour of imperialists,' said Julius Malema, president of the ANC Youth League, calling NAT action 'killing of fellow Africans imposed by our former masters.' The NATO mission had become an imperialist war whose prize was the country's oil and natural gas, and was viewed in a different category to Tunisia and Egypt.

The situation in Libya was also of concern to many South Africans. Unlike Ben Ali's Tunisia and Mubarak's Egypt, Gaddafi's Libya had made its commitment to Africa and the African Union clear - in rhetoric, involvement, and financial support. When the International Criminal Court issued its warrant of arrest for Gaddafi, not only did it undermine the possibility of a political settlement, but it also confirmed the suspicions of many Africans that Africans are particular targets for international justice.

Whatever the outcome in Libya - and there are many indications that it will result in an entrenchment of imperial, especially European, power - the effects of Tunisia and Egypt will be long-lasting in the southern part of Africa. Not only people demanding better services in South Africa, but also those demanding an end to the absolute (and brutal) monarchy in Swaziland, and those demanding an end to Mugabe's tyranny in Zimbabwe have been inspired by our comrades in the north. And while the immediate effects of the courage and determination from the north might seem somewhat muted here, the long-term effects could very well bring down one or two dictatorships down south as well.

* Na'eem Jeenah is the executive director of the Johannesburg based, Afro Middle East Centre

** This article was first published on the Al-Akhbar English ://english.al-akhbar.com/content/north-south-africa-echoes-uprising" >website

By Dr. Ammar Ali Hassan

Like other youth in the country, Sufi youth participated in the 25 January Egyptian revolution, and joined the demonstrations in Tahrir Square with their peers. However, they were not as visible as the youth of other groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood or the Salafis. Their lack of visibility was due to two reasons.

 

By Anouar Boukhars

The making of the 2011 constitution in Morocco has renewed debates and theoretical curiosity about the trajectory of elite accords and their impact on pushing countries in transition beyond their intermediate phase of liberalization. Proponents of cooperative transitions shaped by soft-liners within regimes and assisted by political and civil society actors assert that democratic transitions based on compromise and a strategic necessity to reform have a better chance of success in managing uncertainty and securing a safe exit from authoritarian rule. Despite its elitist and undemocratic nature, the new Moroccan political pact is desirable as it constitutionalizes the principles of individual rights (freedom of expression, freedom of association, criminalization of torture and arbitrary detention) and citizen equality, and convincingly enhances legislative capacity and access to the policy realm. Transitional periods, argue its advocates, are naturally characterized by limited levels of democracy, but as civic consciousness rises and political competition becomes fully routinised, potent political parties and civil society actors are bound to emerge, strengthening in the process the institutions of government and driving levels of democracy up.

By Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett

Last week, the Obama Administration formally charged the Islamic Republic of working with al-Qa'ida. The charge was presented as part of the Treasury Department's announcement that it was designating six alleged al-Qa'ida operatives for terrorism-related financial sanctions. The six are being designated, according to Treasury, because of their involvement in transiting money and operatives for al-Qa'ida to Pakistan and Afghanistan. The announcement claims that part of this scheme was a "secret deal" between the Iranian government and al-Qa'ida, whereby Tehran allowed the terrorist group to use Iranian territory in the course of moving money and personnel.

For the most part, major media outlets uncritically transmitted the Obama Administration's charge, without much manifestation of serious effort to verify it, find out more about the sourcing upon which it was based, or place it in any sort of detailed and nuanced historical context. Stories by Joby Warrick in the Washington Post and Helene Cooper the New York Times exemplify this kind of "reporting."

Bahrain’s rocky road to reform

By International Crisis Group

Unless all sides to the conflict agree to an inclusive dialogue in order to reach meaningful reform, Bahrain is heading for prolonged and costly political stalemate.

Popular Protest in North Africa and the Middle East (VIII): Bahrain's Rocky Road to Reform, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the situation in the island kingdom five months after the outbreak of the mass protest, which was followed by brutal government repression. The spasm of violence further polarised a society already divided along sectarian lines and left hopes for genuine political reform in tatters, raising serious questions about the state's stability.

"While mostly calling for political reform leading to a constitutional monarchy in the uprising's early days, protesters steadily began to embrace the more radical demand for the regime's replacement with a democratic republic", says Joost Hiltermann, Crisis Group's Middle East and North Africa Deputy Program Director. "Feeling threatened, the regime lashed back. This spelled the end of talk about dialogue and reform and weakened dialogue's main protagonists".

By AlJazeera Centre for Studies

The war currently waged between the Mauritanian army and al-Qaeda militants based in Mali's Wagadou Forest raises many questions about the nature and objectives of this conflict, and its political and military cost. It further demands answers about its possible outcomes and implications.

According to most reports, the clashes in Wagadou Forest were sparked on the evening of Friday, 24 June. Mauritania had announced that units of its army had launched a large-scale offensive against militants belonging to the Salafist 'Group for Preaching and Combat'. This group, based in Wagadou Forest, announced in 2007 that it had joined al-Qaeda, and began calling itself 'al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb' (AQIM). It is significant that on 24 June Mauritanian authorities began to leak information that elite units of the military were undertaking unprecedented ground and air assaults on al-Qaeda affiliates that had set up camp in a large area (eighty by forty kilometres) in southern Mali, near the Mauritanian border. The leaks were followed by an official statement on 25 June that spoke of a coordinated attack with the Malian army. The statement celebrated the joint assault as a decisive victory over al-Qaeda militants whose military camp, the statement claimed, had been destroyed.

 By Khalid Tijani El-Nour

The independence of South Sudan, and the birth of the fifty-fourth state on the African continent, is a pivotal and historic event for the state of Sudan, and for the continent as a whole. The significance of the event goes beyond a mere change in the geographical boundaries of the divided country and the end of an era in its political history; its consequences will necessarily result in long-term change in the geopolitical realities of the region, and will lead to the emergence of new strategic equations.

 

By Lamees Dhaif

At the beginning of July 2011, more than 300 representatives of Bahrain's political and civil society gathered in the country's capital, Manama, for the launch of a 'national dialogue'. Many questions pervaded the atmosphere on the eve of this dialogue, the most important being whether the national dialogue could pull Bahrain out of the political crisis which started on 14 February?

Questions were also raised about whether the opposition's participation – described as 'reticent and pessimistic' – would lead to a political solution, considering its constant claim that the dialogue was not based on true popular representation, and that it ignored the essence of the problem in favour of less important topics. There was doubt about whether the crisis would be resolved soon. This followed Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah issuing a decree to form an 'independent fact-finding' committee to examine the violent protests witnessed by the country, and in light of news about the release of detainees, the re-employment of those suspended from their jobs, and talk about the 'redeployment' of the Peninsula Shield forces currently stationed in Bahrain. The Peninsula Shield Force is a military unit set up by the Gulf Cooperation Council, and whose troops entered Bahrain in March to quell the protests there.

By Ali Hussein Bakir

This paper discusses the on-going regional geopolitical transformations in the wake of the Arab revolutions, and examines the impact they have had on two major regional actors: Iran and Turkey. It will look at these countries' interests, influence and the nature and future of their relations with each other. These questions will be discussed under three headings:

  • The Arab revolutions from Turkish and Iranian perspectives;
  • The Arab revolutions and their impact on the interests of Turkey and Iran; and
  • The impact of the revolutions on the relations between the two countries.

By AlJazeera Centre for Studies

The results of Turkey's parliamentary elections, held on Sunday 12 June 2011, reflect a more accurate picture of the Turkish political scene than might have been assumed from some pre-election predictions. Indeed, the parliamentary representation of the four political parties that won seats is an indication of their real and solid support among the Turkish people. The importance of these Turkish parliamentary elections was indisputable. Within Turkey the question on many people's minds was whether the election results would give the prime minister, and president of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an adequate opportunity to stamp his mark on the content of a new draft constitution for Turkey. That a new constitution is necessary is agreed upon by most of Turkey's political forces. Beyond Turkey's borders, where the winds of Arab revolution rage, others were waiting to see whether the elections would result in the weakening or strengthening of Erdogan's powers and his popular mandate.

By Adam Hanieh 

Although press coverage of events in Egypt may have dropped off the front pages, discussion of the post-Mubarak period continues to dominate the financial news. Over the past few weeks, the economic direction of the interim Egyptian government has been the object of intense debate in the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). US President Barack Obama's 19 May speech on the Middle East and North Africa devoted much space to the question of Egypt's economic future – indeed, the sole concrete policy advanced in his talk concerned US economic relationships with Egypt. The G8 meeting in France held on 26 and 27 May continued this trend, announcing that up to US$20 billion would be offered to Egypt and Tunisia. When support from the Gulf Arab states is factored into these figures, Egypt alone appears to be on the verge of receiving around $15 billion in loans, investment and aid from governments and the key international financial institutions (IFI).

By AlJazeera Centre for Studies

Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, headed by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, has been ruling Egypt since 11 February 2011 – the day that former President Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down from power. Through a series of resolutions and official statements, the Council has formulated its vision for restoring civilian rule in Egypt, and for moving that country towards a democratic, pluralistic society. This has been done in conjunction with what has come to be known as the road map for the introduction of constitutional amendments. In this process, attempts were made to incorporate the view of the Egyptian people.

By Brahma Chellaney

The political unrest and upheaval sweeping many Arab countries has coincided with the expansion of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) grouping into BRICS, with the addition of South Africa. These five countries are among the most important non-Western powers on the world stage, and their views and policies matter on a host of issues, including the new Arab revolutions that started from early this year. Unlike in past world history, major power shifts now are being brought about not by battlefield victories or new geopolitical alignments, but by a factor unique to our modern world — rapid economic growth, even as the importance of military power remains intact. The ongoing shifts in power are tectonic in nature and will profoundly impact international relations and international security.

By Rashid Khalidi

The past week in Washington was an extraordinary one. It witnessed an American president give two speeches in which he offered further concessions to Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of a country that is a client of the United States. Netanyahu challenged the President from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, effectively seeking and receiving Congress's stamp of approval on his strikingly extreme positions. This end-run around the US Executive Branch followed an invitation from the head of the Republican congressional opposition to speak to a joint session of Congress. This invitation itself was in defiance of American constitutional principles and the hallowed convention that politics stops at the water's edge. The world looked on as this foreign leader got at least twenty-six standing ovations during a hard-line speech that ruled out either the prospect of a serious negotiation, or of anything approaching a sovereign Palestinian state. Given the trend of Arab and Palestinian politics lately, negotiations on American-Israeli terms were in any case unlikely.


After the first of the President's speeches, Netanyahu insulted him before he even got to Washington, telling reporters on his plane that Obama did not understand the Middle East. He then disagreed publicly with his host during their joint remarks after their meeting – looking at the President rather than at the press much of the time as he hectored the leader of the most powerful country on earth. Finally, in his speech to Congress, the Israeli leader hit every moss-covered Zionist propaganda point since the 1897 Basel Congress, and laid out positions on all the key issues so uncompromising as to make negotiations pointless.

What had Barack Obama done to deserve this treatment? He had already capitulated to Netanyahu's refusal to stop building settlements in the occupied territories after two years when this was a central element, if not the lynchpin, of his Middle East policy. The word "settlement" did not pass the President's lips during this entire embarrassing week. Moreover, in his State Department speech before Netanyahu's arrival, Obama accepted a whole slew of Israeli positions. These included the usual outrageous and elastic Israeli demands in the name of security; the need for Palestinian acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state; rejection of the recent inter-Palestinian reconciliation; and deferral of negotiations over refugees and Jerusalem – the two issues of paramount importance to the Palestinians – into the indefinite future (after twenty years of deferral since Madrid).

Beyond this, the President reiterated his objection to the "de-legitimization" of Israel. This lexical turn signifies the Obama administration's adoption of the term, coined by the Israeli far right and their neo-conservative American lawyer friends. This "de-legitimization" would take place via the Palestinians bringing the issue of Palestinian statehood before the UN in September. In his second speech, before the 10,000 people AIPAC had brought to Washington to hear Netanyahu, the President insisted that a Palestinian state must come into being as a result of negotiations, not a UN resolution. The President's speech-writers and advisor's apparently failed to recall, or conveniently forgot, that the state of Israel came into being not as a result of negotiations with the Palestinians, but as a consequence of a 1947 General Assembly resolution, 181.

However, in the State Department speech, in an attempt to anticipate Netanyahu's attack on his policies on his own turf, the President had the temerity to repeat a position taken by every one of his predecessors since Lyndon Johnson. This was that the United States considers the 1967 lines (with "land swaps") the basis for a settlement, as per Security Council resolution 242 of November 1967. In Israel and on Capitol Hill this was considered an occasion for ritual outrage because Obama failed to mention explicitly George W. Bush's crucial concession to Israel's ceaseless building of illegal settlements in the occupied territories. This came in a letter to Ariel Sharon in 2004 in which Bush wrote: "In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centres, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949."

After he had aroused Netanyahu's fury in his State Department speech, speaking to AIPAC the President's reprised Bush's crucial capitulation to the Israeli position, albeit in a slightly less fulsome form, referring simply to "new demographic realities on the ground." Having already accepted that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state in the first speech (a demand that originated with Netanyahu, and had never before been made by Israeli negotiators), in the second Obama implicitly accepted another new Israeli demand, made explicit in Netanyahu's own speech, for a permanent Israeli military presence along the Jordan River Valley.

The first is the demand not for Palestinian recognition of Israel, which has already taken place, but of Israel as a Jewish state, rather than as the state of all its citizens. This means that the 1.4 million Palestinians living inside Israel must remain second-class citizens and that Palestinians must renounce their conviction that all of Palestine is their homeland. Netanyahu's demand for control of the Jordan River valley "and other places of critical strategic and national importance" in the West Bank means in effect that a Palestinian state will be no more sovereign and no more of a "state" than a Bantustan, with Israel controlling its key border and dominating it exactly as it does the occupied territories today.

There was much else in Netanyahu's speech: all of Eretz Israel is "the Jewish homeland," including "Judea and Samaria [where] the Jewish people are not foreign occupiers." However, the truncated statelet that Israel may eventually deign to grant the Palestinians in perhaps a fifth of the country is all the Palestinians get as a "homeland." There is to be no return of refugees to Israel. Jerusalem will never be divided and will remain the united capital of Israel. It was the speech of a man who has no intention of negotiating anything with the Palestinians, and seeks to guarantee that he will not have to, by setting out a position that would keep even a Palestinian Quisling away from the negotiating table.

While this was not a good week for Barack Obama, and was a very good one for Binyamin Netanyahu, it also can be a salutary occasion for Palestinians and Arabs. It should finally cure those still infected with the diseased notion that they have anything to gain by bending to the importuning of American diplomacy. It should alleviate any doubt that there is any reason to avoid seeking entirely new means to achieve Palestinian national aims. Justice and liberation for the Palestinians, and peace for the entire region, will not come from following the course of the last two decades: exclusive reliance on the United States. If this week in Washington did not make that crystal clear to even the most deluded Palestinian, presumably nothing will.

So there is no point, if ever there was, in waiting for Godot to appear in DC. What is to be done is another, harder question. An optimist would say that the organized, shrewd, massive non-violent methods that have played a central role in the Arab revolutionary upsurge of the past six months have provided an object lesson for Palestinians. Hopefully, this will be a lesson especially to those who have relied on futile, self-defeating and indiscriminate violence largely directed against civilians. However, a pessimist would say that the desperate struggle that Arab revolutionaries are waging in the face of armed reaction in Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria have dimmed that lesson.

The fact that Israel's leaders have been carefully watching events unfold in its neighbourhood, and specifically these new methods of mass mobilization, is evident in their vicious reaction to the Nakba Day marches on May 15. The targeting of unarmed demonstrators with sniper fire may have been meant to teach a lesson to anyone who would try to march peacefully on Israel's borders in the future. And that lesson was intentionally painful. Over fifteen unarmed protesters were murdered and scores wounded. In addition, what were most likely rounds intended to fragment upon impact were fired from a couple of dozen meters away (at which distance no trained soldier could possibly miss) at the backs of several fleeing protesters near Maroun al-Ras in Lebanon, intentionally causing horrific injuries.  

Of course, this may just have been standard IDF operating procedure. A few days after these reactions to unarmed peaceful protest, the US Congress offered twenty-six standing ovations to a ringing speech asserting Israel's absolute right to "self-defence." It is little wonder that Israel's leaders long ago rightly concluded that with this kind of endorsement, they can get away with anything, even the intentional killing of unarmed young people, as they have been doing for so long. Some authoritarian Arab leaders who order their security forces to shoot unarmed protesters get similar indulgence from Washington, while others get sanctions or bombs.

Other means than mass protest, including diplomatic, popular, informational and other initiatives are possibilities for the Palestinians in this new Arab era. But a precondition for success in any strategy is that the Palestinian people take the lead away from the sclerotic, bankrupt and self-interested leaderships that have stifled them for so long on both sides of the Fatah-Hamas divide. The thus-far successful popular demand for the end to petty, self-destructive, partisan inter-Palestinian divisions, together with the May 15 popular marches, may be long-awaited indications that Palestinians have in fact started in this direction.

* Rashid Khalidiis the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies in the Department of History at Columbia University.

** This article was originally published on jadaliyya.com and is published here with permission.

 

By Junaid S. Ahmad

The assassination of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan by US Special Forces was supposed to have been a landmark triumph that would bring peace and stability to the region. A Navy Seal unit executed an unarmed Bin Laden and killed at least four others, including a woman, in an early morning raid on Monday, 2 May 2011. However, instead of bringing peace and stability to the region, the assassination of the Al-Qaeda leader has aggravated the country's volatile political predicament. The hullabaloo over Bin Laden's presence in Pakistan is being used by the US government and military to coerce Pakistan into greater

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