All analyses in chronological order - Afro-Middle East Centre

By Mohamed Darif

As with other Arab countries, a wave of protests calling for change is sweeping across Morocco. These protests have largely been inspired by the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, and the revolutionaries believe that the current period provides the opportunity to put pressure on the ruling regime by mobilising the Moroccan street, and calling for a series of far-reaching institutional and political reforms. The wave of protests began with an appeal to Moroccans to join a protest on 20 February 2011, a date that has since been associated with the movement calling for change, which is now eponymously called the ‘February 20 Youth Movement’. Since the announcement of protests for that date, political groups and rights organisations have engaged in a series of actions throughout Morocco.

 The February 20 Movement also called for demonstrations on 20 March and 24 April, and defied a ban on protests by again taking to the streets on the 22 May in protests that saw riot police wounding dozens of protesters. 

By AlJazeera Centre for Studies

The Syrian uprising against the Baath Party regime started with a small demonstration in the Al-Hariqa quarter of Damascus. The demonstration lasted for about half an hour before being dispersed by security forces who arrested many of the participants. The demonstration sparked a rapid succession of protests in different parts of Syria in the weeks that followed.

The southern city of Dar'a; Latakia and Baniyas in the north; and Duma in Rif Dimashq were the most prominent sites of protest. In these places, the popular movement involved in the uprisings faced tremendous violence from the security services, leading to the deaths of approximately three hundred Syrians in one month of protests. However, neither the violence of the security apparatuses nor the official media narrative of foreign terrorist and Salafi agitation succeeded in quelling or confining the uprising.

By Na'eem Jeenah 

Everywhere people have been fascinated with how rapidly, and with such resolve, the people of Tunisia and Egypt have overthrown repressive regimes, inspiring others in the Middle East to contemplate the same. Na’eem Jeenah gives the background to this revolt and reflects on its meaning for the Middle East and Africa generally.

Muhammad Bouazizi, a 24-year-old vendor, had repeatedly been assaulted by police in the town of Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia’s poverty belt. Police insisted he must apply for a licence. When he was last assaulted in December 2010, Muhammad could not have imagined that his desperate decision to pour petrol on himself and set himself alight outside the local municipal office would light the flames of popular anger in a way that would bring down the dictator in his country and inspire protests across the Middle East as people demanded freedom and democracy.

By AlJazeera Centre for Studies

A recent document titled the ‘citizenship initiative’ has raised a great deal of controversy in the Tunisian political arena. Immediately after the committee tasked with preparing the draft electoral law took its vote, Yadh Ben Achour, the president of the Higher Political Reform Commission, announced that his commission would begin discussing how to make the document binding on the Constituent Assembly (parliament) and on candidates who will be standing for the elections scheduled for next July.

 In the first round of discussions over the document, the drafting of which largely took place outside of the parliament, several members from the Islamist Nahda Movement and the pro-republican Congress for the Republic raised concerns relating to the legality of obliging the Constituent Assembly to ratify a document passed by an unelected body. Despite the flexibility shown by the Nahda representatives who supported the idea of adopting the ‘initiative’ as a ‘republican contract’ or ‘democratic oath’ that would have a moral but non-binding character, the Congress for the Republic stuck to its previous position: that the commission was not in a position to impose any obligations that could limit the freedom of the next Constituent Assembly.

By Rashid Khalidi 

Towards the end of his long, eventful life, in 1402, the renowned Arab historian Ibn Khaldun was in Damascus. He left us a description of Taymur's siege of the city and of his meeting with the world conqueror. None of us is Ibn Khaldun, but any Arab historian today watching the Arab revolutions of 2011 has the sense of awe that our forbear must have had as we witness a great turning in world affairs.

By Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn

The US engagement in Afghanistan, its longest war to date, has come under increasing criticism in the light of mounting Afghan civilian and international military casualties. Under significant economic pressure, the prolonged commitment of substantial financial resources, as well as the sacrifice of life, has seen domestic approval rates decline and has opened up the discussion as to the sustainability and future of the international engagement.1

 

By Burhan Koroglu

The recent series of Arab revolutions began with the first revolution being in Tunisia, and resulted in the people of Tunisia being victorious in removing President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from power, and forcing him into exile. Egypt was next to witness a great popular revolution. However, the revolution in Egypt proved to be bloodier than Tunisia’s, but it was of a shorter duration, and saw a more expeditious resignation of the president, Hosni Mubarak. The outcome of the third popular revolution – in Libya – is still unclear, with rising casualties, and a revolutionary path that is at both a critical and important stage. Outcomes of other revolutions – in Bahrain, Yemen, and Syria – are also unclear.

Turkey has not been removed from the popular revolutions of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Whether at the level of official leadership, sentiments of the population, or through coverage in its media, Turkey has to some degree interacted with all of these events, by posing questions, eliciting reactions, or offering multiple and varied analyses.

By Gawdat Bahgat

Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which consists of the country’s top military commanders, has ruled Egypt since former president Hosni Mubarak’s ouster on Friday, 2 February 2011. The army of almost one million (roughly half active and half reserve) is not only one of the largest in the Middle East (and the world), but is also the most well-organised and powerful institution in Egypt. Initially, the army stayed on the sidelines as the uprising swept the country late January. The military refused to fire on the masses, and eventually shepherded Mubarak out of power. It is for this reason that the army has largely been seen as a unifying force, and is more acceptable and admired than the police controlled by the interior ministry.

In short, the army holds the key to Egypt’s present and future. This raises several important questions. Who are the main players in the military? What future role can the military play in the political and economic arenas? How will the military engage with the Muslim Brotherhood? What are the reactions of the United States and Israel? And, finally, which model will Egypt follow: Turkey, Iran, Indonesia, or some other?

Book review: Dubai

  • 31 March, 2011

By Adnan Abu Amer

Dubai, by Yommi Eini, a former high ranking member of Mossad, was released one year after the assassination, in Dubai, of Hamas' military leader, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. It poses many questions that deal primarily with security and intelligence aspects, such as whether Mossad was really responsible for the assassination of al-Mabhouh. It further looks at how al-Mabhouh was lured to Dubai and then tracked down, asking, what really happened in Dubai?

By Abd al-Jalil al-Marhun

 The events in Bahrain, unfolding at an increasing pace, have in many respects forced themselves on both the local and the regional arenas and contexts. In addition, they have attracted unexpected and extensive international attention. What was the spark that ignited these events? How did they develop? What are the stances adopted towards them by the various political groups? And, where is Bahrain heading?

 By Lamis Andoni

In an effort to contain the increasing tensions in Jordan, the government of Marouf Al Bakhit, appointed late January after protests forced the resignation of Prime Minister Samir Rafai, initiated a national dialogue with different political groups to agree on political and economic reforms. But the initiative was set back when the Muslim Brotherhood, the strongest organised opposition in the country, boycotted the talks citing lack of seriousness on the government's part. As a result of this position taken by the Brotherhood, King Abdullah met with its leadership - for the first time since he assumed power in 1999 - but failed to convince the movement to engage in what has been described as a new era of genuine reforms in the country. Other political trends and parties share the Muslim Brotherhood's deep scepticism, but have decided to give the government and the dialogue a chance while maintaining weekly rallies pushing for reforms.

By Mansouria Mokhefi

For centuries, tribes have played a key role in terms of politics and social relations within Libya, and have ensured their perpetuation through the Bedouin customs of farming and caravan trading, as well as through the social solidarity which binds together the different members of a tribe.

Libyan tribes played an important role in the fight against the Ottoman Empire, as well as against Italian colonisation from 1912 to 1943. In spite of that, the importance of the tribal system faded under Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's rule after he seized power in 1969. Undoubtedly, Libya's modernisation, the building of new cities across the country, and the introduction of new systems of education represented factors which cumulatively caused people to abandon their tribal localities and to distance themselves from some manifestations of the tribal affiliation under which they had grown up. All this ultimately resulted in the foundations of the traditional tribal system being destabilised.

By Saïd Haddad

In spite of the atmosphere of suspicion which has surrounded the Libyan armed forces since the Al-Fateh Revolution of October 1969, it has played and could play a major role in the popular rebellion which was ignited on 16 February 2011. Among the many questions raised about Libya since the uprising began, the loyalty of the army, with an estimated 76 000 soldiers, to Gaddafi's regime is an extremely important one. While it is possible that some members of the Libyan army intentionally opened fire on demonstrators intending to kill them, or that others bombed crowds of protesters in Tripoli and Benghazi, there are soldiers in the same army who refused to shoot at their fellow citizens, and joined the revolt, swelling the ranks of the demonstrators, and who flew their planes to Malta. Furthermore, there are other questions which ought to be addressed: What is the actual composition of the Libyan armed forces? Why has the army been considered, for many years, a marginal player in the arena of internal politics? What is the future role which the army might play in a post-Gaddafi Libya?

 

By Adam Hanieh

The events of the last weeks are one of those historical moments where the lessons of many decades can be telescoped into a few brief moments and seemingly minor occurrences can take on immense significance. The entry of millions of Egyptians onto the political stage has graphically illuminated the real processes that underlie the politics of the Middle East. It has laid bare the long-standing complicity of the U.S. and other world powers with the worst possible regimes, revealed the empty and hypocritical rhetoric of United States President Barack Obama and other leaders, exposed the craven capitulation of all the Arab regimes, and demonstrated the real alliances between these regimes, Israel and the USA. These are political lessons that will long be remembered.

By Na'eem Jeenah

As the Tunisian uprising gained momentum after four weeks of protests and former president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was spirited out of the country, questions were being asked about “who next” would face the “Tunisia effect” and whether the North African country was the first of a set of dominoes to fall across the Arab world.

We now know that Egypt was next—even if that country’s president stubbornly refuses to go anywhere. But there is no set of dominoes that will result in despots fleeing their countries or being forced into early retirement.

Egyptian aftershock felt most by Israel

  • 10 February, 2011
  • Published in Egypt

By Afro-Middle East Centre

Although the Egyptian uprising might not give rise to a domino effect in the region, it will have substantial regional implications. Na'eem Jeenah, executive director of the Afro-Middle East Centre, writes in the Mail & Guardian that profound changes are occurring and will occur in the Middle East as a result of the uprising. He discusses the effect on opposition groups in other countries in the region, arguing that the events in Tunisia and Egypt have served to embolden people and has given them greater confidence to make demands on their governments. Also, significant ramifications of the revolution in Egypt are likely to emerge in terms of the power balance between Israel, the Palestinians and the United States. This is exacerbated by the revelations in the 'Palestine Papers' which had already placed serious doubt on the intentions of the Palestinian Authority. The most far-reaching implications the Egyptian revolution will have is on Israel, both in regards to the Camp David Accords and Egyptian collaboration with Israel. If a new Egyptian government results from the uprising, and is one that is neither friendly to the US and its interests nor to Israel, this will adjust the balance of power between Israel and the Palestinians, and may change the entire status quo. For the full article click here.

Egypt at a crossroads

  • 03 February, 2011
  • Published in Egypt

Na'eem Jeenah

Responding to demands of “Mubarak out!”, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced earlier this week that he would stay in power until presidential elections in September, and will oversee the formation of a new government and of constitutional amendments which will allow opposition candidates to run for president.

The announcement was made on the eighth day of national protests, when two million Egyptians occupied various city centres to protest against Mubarak’s three-decade rule. Predictably, the protesters were unimpressed, and continued demanding his removal.

Egypt at the crossroads

  • 03 February, 2011
  • Published in Egypt

By Afro-Middle East Centre

Egypt has been in turmoil since 25 January 2011, when anti-government protesters took to the streets seeking the immediate resignation of President Hosni Mubarak. The unprecedented protests represent a challenge to the economic, social and political order in Egypt. Na'eem Jeenah, executive director of the Afro-Middle East Centre, provides an analysis in the Mail & Guardian that goes beyond the day-to-day protests. His article analyses what is occurring in Egypt and the regime's reactions to such actions, arguing that from the very beginning the regime's response to the uprising was crafted by the military in such a way that would help maintain the current status quo, allowing it effectively to control the politics of the largest Arab country. Ultimately, it is evident that the end game for the Egyptian military is one in which the regime has the upper hand and is able to strike a deal with the major opposition leaders, while the political influence and economic interests of the military are protected. It is these conditions that would allow it to maintain a direct relationship with American and European military structures, thereby ensuring that the military is able to maintain its domestic power while fulfilling its foreign policy objectives - irrespective of whether democracy is brought to Egyptian soil. For the full article, click here.

 

By Mohsen Mohammad Saleh

There have been numerous debates recently about the usefulness or otherwise of the Palestinian Authority (PA). In light of these discussions, many leaders, both within the PA and in the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), find themselves in a deep state of frustration. This is because it is becoming evident that the PA can no longer bring about the creation of a Palestinian state, and because Israel has essentially emptied the peace process of all its content.

By Aisling Byrne

'If we are building a police state -- what are we actually doing here?' So asked a European diplomat responding to allegations of torture by the Palestinian security forces. The diplomat might well ask. A police state is not a state. It is a form of larceny: of people's rights, aspirations and sacrifices, for the personal benefit of an elite. This is not what the world meant when it called for statehood. But a police state is what is being assiduously constructed in Palestine, disguised as state-building and good governance. Under this guise, its intent is to facilitate the authoritarianism which creates sufficient popular dependency -- and fear -- to strangle any opposition.

The Islamic Republic of Iran's interest in a stable Middle East is arguably greater than that of the United States - after all, this is Iran's neighborhood. For Iran to grow and prosper, it needs secure borders and stable neighbours. A poor and unstable Afghanistan, for example, inhibits trade, and, potentially, increases the flow of refugees and narcotics into the northeastern part of Iran.

Arguably, stability in Iraq may be even more critical to Iran than stability in Afghanistan. The Iran-Iraq war caused enormous suffering to the people of Iran; Iranians will not forget it in the decades ahead. They will also not forget that their suffering was largely because of American and European support for Saddam Hussain - including western support for his acquisition of weapons of mass destruction, which he regularly used against Iranian and Iraqi civilians. There was no condemnation from western governments or even the western media for these cruel and barbaric acts. Iranians believe that western leaders are just as guilty for these crimes against humanity as Saddam Hussain himself.

 

By Lutfi Zaitoun

It had never occurred to the young Muhammad Bouazizi, a native and resident of Sidi Bouzid, that his decision, made in a sudden moment of despair, and after he had been attacked by a municipal employee, to pour gasoline on himself and set himself alight in a dilapidated Tunisian area plagued by drought would light the flames of popular anger in such a manner that - were such indignation to spread - it could pose a threat to all major Tunisian cities and cause radical changes in the political structure of the country. The people of Tunisia, this small country in the Maghreb that stretches along the Mediterranean coast, have been assisted neither by history nor geography, and were provided with no terrain which might protect them from the havoc caused by the state, or by which they might find protection as they repel the state when it transgresses in its unjust treatment of its subjects. The people of this country have now begun to take to the streets, after long periods of silent patience and ostensible calm, as if they were an inanimate object, like a single mechanism, in order defiantly to face the state and alter the balance of power in their favour.

By AlJazeera Centre for Studies

In the early hours of the new year, a Coptic church in Alexandria, Egypt, was the target of a violent terrorist attack which resulted in the death of twenty-one Coptic Christians and left more than seventy others, including a number of Muslims, injured. The attack resulted in a state of shock reverberating through the state and the government, as well as in the sphere of public opinion. Over the next three days, a number of Egyptian cities witnessed a wave of violent demonstrations and mass rallies organised by Coptic Christians. At the same time, various political parties publicly expressed their feelings of solidarity with the Coptic community, as well as their eagerness to safeguard the unity of the Egyptian people. However, neither the openly declared sentiments of national unity by these political parties nor the statements by President Hosni Mubarak were capable of restraining Coptic violence, which manifested itself in a series of sporadic clashes with the state security forces.

By Peter Jenkins

The US and its European partners are continuing to set stiff conditions for recognising Iran's nuclear rights and addressing issues of concern to Iran. That is the implication of the stress in recent statements on Iran 'meeting its international obligations', since it must be assumed that Western capitals believe that the UN Security Council has turned various demands made of Iran by the IAEA Board of Governors into 'international obligations' (though whether they are right to believe that can be disputed). These demands include suspending uranium enrichment work at Natanz and Qom and reactor construction at Arak, re-applying and ratifying the Additional Protocol, and transparency measures that extend beyond the formal requirements of the standard IAEA safeguards agreement and the Additional Protocol. These stiff conditions make it hard to be optimistic about the P5+1/Iran talks that are due to resume later this month. Iranian spokesmen have been reiterating that they are not prepared to discuss a halt to uranium enrichment. Tehran's unwillingness to re-apply the Additional Protocol as long as Iran remains subject to UN sanctions is well-documented. And experience suggests that Iran's leaders are resilient enough to withstand the 'pressures' (sanctions) to which they have been subjected.

 

By Esther Caddy 

If the referendum in South Sudan results in secession of the South, former South African president Thabo Mbeki told audiences at two universities in Sudan, it is imperative to understand that it will not divide into an 'African' south and an 'Arab' north. The African Union, he said, believed firmly that northern Sudan is no less African than the south, and that if Sudan divides into two countries, both will have to embrace diversity. Therefore the north and south will need to work together to bring about and build two viable states through ongoing cooperation in the political, security, economic and social dimensions, and building a special relationship of good neighbourliness, friendship and solidarity across what will be the longest international border on the African continent. Mbeki was speaking on the eve of the week-long historic referendum of Southern Sudan which began on 9 January 2011 and sought to determine the future of Sudan – and South Sudan in particular. In two similar speeches, the former president and chairperson of the African Union High Level Implementation Panel for Sudan spoke at the University of Khartoum and the University of Juba on 5 and 7 January respectively.

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