All analyses in chronological order - Afro-Middle East Centre

By AlJazeera Centre for Studies

 On Sunday, 5 December 2010, the second and final round of Egypt's parliamentary election was held. This round decided the fate of the seats which had yet to be filled after the first round, which was held on Sunday a week earlier. According to the official results, the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) won more than eighty-three percent of parliamentary seats in a landslide victory; the percentage is expected to increase further when the official NDP members are joined by seventy others who contested the election as independents, in contravention of the party's policies. Meanwhile, opposition parties which had participated in both the first and the second electoral rounds did not win more than fifteen seats. The Muslim Brotherhood did not win a single seat, despite the fact that it had boasted eighty-eight members of parliament in the previous legislature. This paper will examine this second round of Egypt's parliamentary elections, and will consider the implications of its results for the future of the Egyptian government and its relationship with the opposition forces. This paper will also refer to the challenges that inevitably lie ahead for Egyptian political life.

 

By Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies

The recent trend of Israeli calls for Israeli citizens to take an oath of allegiance to the state suggests the rise of extremist right-wing and religious currents within Israel. It also suggests a growing spirit of racism against Arabs living in Israel, and an attempt to increase pressure on them. Moreover, this trend can be seen as a prelude for a law which will ultimately link the solution of the Palestinian issue to the future of the Israeli citizens who are originally Palestinians of Palestine 1948. Since the Palestinians of 1948 regard their presence in the country as pre-dating the establishment of the Israeli state, and because the notion of a declaration of allegiance clashes with their religious and national affiliations, they will persistently refuse to pledge loyalty to the state of Israel as a Jewish state. This conflict between the positions and considerations of the Israeli state and those of the indigenous people opens the way for various consequences. These would allow Israel further to tighten the noose on its Palestinian citizens, and create the conditions necessary to start a policy of displacement. However, this would expose Israel to more international isolation.

 

 

By Mohammad Abdullah Gul

Obama's recent jive with school children in Delhi symbolises the nature of the new relationship that is emerging between India and the United States of America: the US, it seems, dances to the tune of India. While it is true that Obama did not pointedly accuse Pakistan of sponsoring terrorism as was India's desire, some trends within this emerging US-India relationship have become more evident through his refraining from referring to Kashmir in any of his several speeches over three days. Such avoidance reflects a dangerous and unjust trend in US policy for the region in general, and, more particularly, for India and Pakistan. Deliberately not discussing the main cause of bitterness between Pakistan and India shows not only poor understanding of the nature of the conflict but also does not augur well for a harmonious and peaceful coexistence for the countries of the region; the fallout of the India-Pakistani conflict is noticeable in other countries of the region as well. Such ignoring of the Kashmir issue comes at a time when that territory is gripped by conflict like never before, and Kashmiri politics is being determined by an unprecedented political movement led by a young generation of Kashmiris. The US refusal to discuss Kashmir, then, is nothing but a callous disregard of the much trumpeted democratic values which the west vociferously espouses.

Iran and Sanctions

  • 08 December, 2010

By Afro-Middle East Centre

After the passage of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1929 in June 2010, with its fourth round of sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran, many analysts have increased their scepticism regarding the efficacy and effectiveness of the entire sanctions regime against Iran. The scepticism is partly based on the fact that, despite three previous rounds of sanctions since 2006, the country's nuclear programme has continued unabated. Such costs as are being forced on Iran through the various levels of sanctions, not only through the UNSC but also through American-led sanctions under the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) and the recent Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act (CISADA), are of little more than nuisance value to the aspiring regional hegemon, and have been costs that it has been able to bear. For this reason many American think tanks and policy gurus linked to and to the left of the United States Democratic Party have put forward the idea of what has been termed a 'US-Iran Grand Bargain'. Within such a bargain, the US would engage with Iran through comprehensive talks without preconditions, with the ultimate goal of resolving bilateral differences, normalising bilateral relations and legitimising an Iranian role in the region. However, despite a strong body of opinion in the US that supports such a move, there are numerous factors militatingagainst what somehave termed a 'utopian' and 'unrealistic' proposal. The alternative that has been proposed instead of such dialogue, however, has been military action. This proposal has come mainly from role-players in the US and in Israel.

 

By AlJazeera Centre for Studies

On 3 November 2002, only one year after it was founded, Turkey's Justice and Development Party (AKP) recorded a surprising electoral victory by winning thirty-five percent of the seats in the Turkish parliament. Because of the form of that country's electoral system, this electoral victory enabled the AKP to govern on its own, without having to forge alliances with other parties to be able to govern. As recently as four years ago, most experts in Turkish affairs were still anticipating the imminent downfall of the head of the AKP, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and, thus, of the Turkish government. They expected his impending fall to be occasioned either by direct interference from the army, or by the combined pressure brought to bear by traditional secular circles, which had exercised significant influence on the state, and by the political opposition. However, as is indicated by the current situation, the incumbent head of the Turkish government – supported by his party – represents the strongest ruler the Republic of Turkey has known since the days of Mustafa Kemal. While the world is concerned about the active and dynamic role played by Turkey in the arena of foreign affairs, Prime Minister Erdogan is busy consolidating his domestic power and reproducing his influence across Turkish political life. In so doing, he is rebuilding the institutions of the republic according to a new political paradigm.

 

By Al-Zaytouna Centre

Summary: Palestinian resistance in the West Bank is currently experiencing great difficulties, and there can be no expectation of an increase in armed resistance against Israeli occupation in the territory. The Palestinian Authority and the government in Ramallah have repeatedly rejected armed resistance, committed themselves to pursuing members of the resistance, and have activated security co-ordination with Israel as an obligation of the Quartet Roadmap. While Fatah provides support and political cover for the Authority, the latter has begun dismantling or neutralising Fatah resistance cells. The members of other PLO factions suffer persecution by the Authority, and their limited resources and political conditions diminish their military capacity. Although Hamas and Islamic Jihad retain free political and military decision-making, the security measures applied by the Authority's security apparatuses through security coordination with the occupation have made it difficult for these two movements to carry out effective resistance activity from within the West Bank. Given the status quo in the West Bank, and the stalemate in negotiations, the Palestinian scene could witness a new commencement of resistance efforts if President Mahmoud Abbas resigns, frustration increases in the West Bank, the Authority collapses, or a Palestinian reconciliation programme which adopts resistance as an alternative to political settlement is realised. An analysis of the quest for a political resolution to the Israel-Palestinian issue is a prerequisite for discussing the prospects for resistance in the West Bank. Such an analysis should consider a number of levels.

 

By Lamis Andoni

The resounding defeat of the Democratic Party in the United States midterm congressional elections has clearly weakened President Barack Obama's hand on both the domestic and foreign policy fronts. With a new Congress, US foreign policy – at least as regards the Middle East – will remain pro-Israeli, and will maintain the goal of boosting Israel and weakening Iran. But the tone and manifestation of this policy will undergo changes that will result in hard-line tactics that will serve to increase the pressure on the the Palestinians, Syria and Iran.

With the changes in the two houses of Congress, right-wing Republicans will gain more power, thus limiting Obama's room for manoeuvre on foreign policy issues – ranging from China and North Korea to Russia, Iran and the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Democratic Party's loss of more than sixty seats in the House of Representatives, and the weakening of the party's grip on the Senate, indicate a serious shift to the right as the two houses have become more pro-Israeli, more supportive of the Netanyahu government, and in favour of a confrontation with Iran.

By Kenneth Katzman

Members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have been loyal and crucial allies of US policy in the Gulf region for over three decades. Some Gulf states, such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, have been pillars of US Gulf policy since the end of World War II. Furthermore, the Gulf states have fully supported all US interventions in the region in which their interests matched those of the United States. The 1991 Persian Gulf War against Saddam Hussein is one such example.

Perhaps more significant is that the Gulf states have even supported the United States in cases where the outcome of US intervention might threaten GCC interests. They supported Operation Iraqi Freedom (in March 2003) which aimed to remove Saddam Hussein from power, making bases and facilities available but not supplying any actual forces. The GCC states provided this logistical and material support (although publicly opposing the action as an unjustified war on an Arab state) even though they knew that ousting Saddam would inevitably lead to an Iraq dominated by the majority Shiite Arab Muslims.

By AlJazeera Centre for Studies

On Sunday, 12 September 2010, a constitutional referendum was held in Turkey on a broad package of amendments. The amendments had previously been proposed to parliament by the government, headed by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), but had failed to achieve the two-thirds majority needed to implement the changes. Subsequently, after the proposed referendum had received the approval of the majority, the Republican People's Party (CHP) appealed to the Constitutional Court, objecting to the referendum. However, the court approved the referendum after making minor changes to both its wording and the wording of a small number of the reform package's clauses.

Unlike the Lebanese crisis, or that of Kosovo, the Somali crisis is characterised by ongoing self-igniting and self-sustaining violence. The opposing forces renew, multiply, and feed the conflict in a way that makes it difficult to reach any solution. Usually, exhausted antagonistic forces tend to enter into truces and seek solutions, and, when that happens, external allies find it possible to pressurise these forces. In the Somali conflict, however, this trend will soon be hampered by the emergence of new opposition forces working to remove the previous ones and control the latter's positions. Often, these new and rising forces are not willing to find solutions, and do not seek negotiated settlements. By the time they become exhausted and seek a solution, another force dominates and removes them, as they did to their predecessors. Thus, the cycle of violence and counter-violence continues; some forces fade away and others emerge. This equation of the strengths and weaknesses of Somalia is called 'Somaliazation'.

By Al Musalami Al Kabashi

The referendum date on self-determination for southern Sudan approaches; the people of the south will vote in a referendum on 9 July 2011 to determine their future. According to the Nifasha Treaty of 2005, the result of the referendum will either be secession of the south or a continuation of its union with the north. Secessionist moves are evident in the south, where a group calling itself 'youth for secession', clearly supported by the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), organised two large marches through all the cities of the south, inciting people to support independence and the formation of a new southern state. On the other hand, civil associations, political parties and research institutes in the north have warned of the security hazards of secession for both the north and south. These institutions continue talking up the benefits of unity.

By Henry Siegman

Introduction

Failed bilateral talks over these past 16 years have shown that a Middle East peace accord can never be reached by the parties themselves. Israeli governments believe they can defy international condemnation of their illegal colonial project in the West Bank because they can count on the US to oppose international sanctions

Bilateral talks that are not framed by US-formulated parameters (based on Security Council resolutions, the Oslo accords, the Arab Peace Initiative, the "road map" and other previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements) cannot succeed.

Israel's government believes that the US Congress will not permit an American president to issue such parameters and demand their acceptance. What hope there is for the bilateral talks that resume in Washington DC on September 2 depends entirely on President Obama proving that belief to be wrong, and on whether the "bridging proposals" he has promised, should the talks reach an impasse, are a euphemism for the submission of American parameters. Such a US initiative must offer Israel iron-clad assurances for its security within its pre-1967 borders, but at the same time must make it clear these assurances are not available if Israel insists on denying Palestinians a viable and sovereign state in the West Bank and Gaza.

By Muneer Shafiq

Russian-Arab relations, although having strategic significance for both parties, do not hold the same level of strategic value for either. Furthermore, such relations are only the third or fourth priority for each of them. Clearly, Russia gives priority to its relations with America and Europe. At the Arab level, most regimes, except for Syria, prioritise their relations with the US, with some interested in relations with Europe. Russia is thus located at a tertiary level, together with China. With the strengthening of its relations with Iran, Turkey and a number of Third World countries, Syria's recent foreign policy priority is the Middle East region. At the international level, it is most anxious to develop relations with Russia. The extent of success regarding this endeavour, however, depends on Russia's position, and Syria's relations with Russia have not succeeded in reaching a strategic level. Oscillating according to circumstances, Syria-Russia relations are limited to the tactical level, to balance Russia-US and Russia-Israel relations.

By Najam Abbas

Pakistan's recent floods have left eight million people dependent on aid for their survival, and washed away huge swathes of the rich farmland on which the country's struggling economy depends. The Pakistani government has confirmed 1,600 people dead and 2,366 injured, but its officials warn that millions are at risk from disease and food shortages. The country's disaster agency fears that there will be a "significant rise" in the death toll as waters recede and the number of missing persons is tallied.

Wikileaks, Afghanistan, and Pakistan

By Mohammed Abdullah Gul

 On 25 July 2010, the New York Timescarried an explosive story by Mark Mazzetti, Jane Perlez, Eric Schmitt and Andrew W. Lehren about some 92,000 classified Pentagon documents which had passed into the hands of Wikileaks, a Sweden-based whistle-blower website headed by Julian Assange. Ostensibly, the leak sent shock waves through the US Administration - not just for the sheer volume of the leaked material but also because the revelations could significantly affect the course of the war in Afghanistan. The documents comprised a host of field intelligence reports initiated by covert sources, combat units and the Afghan intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS). Much of theplethora of documents is a compilation of assorted reports known as "collation" in the intelligence craft. Such stuff is not deemed to be intelligence until it is sifted, corroborated and analysed for its value, the authenticity of the source and the plausibility of the information. The documents cover the period from 2004 to 2009. The fact that that such a large array of reports remained unprocessed for this long is a poor reflection on the Pentagon's efficiency.

 


 

Dubious veracity

Wikileaks has, thus far, released 77,000 of the documents, of which 180 reports - mostly originating from Afghan intelligence - pertain to the dubious role of Pakistan, its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and, especially, of retired General Hamid Gul who headed the ISI in the crucial years of the Afghan jihad during the Soviet Union's occupation of Afghanistan. Gul earned a reputation as the architect of the Soviet defeat and the ignominious withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan.

Once a darling of US strategists and intelligence big-wigs, Gul later became a bitter critic of the post-Reagan policies of the US. He routinely charges America of betraying the Afghan nation and causing an airplane crash in which then-president of Pakistan, General Zia ul-Haq, and dozens of Pakistan's top military brass died. Gul also claimed that the 9/11 events were an inside job and openly supported the Afghan resistance against what he described as the US-led occupation of Afghanistan which was not dissimilar to that of the Soviet Union.

He has repeatedly refuted the charges against him on various international media channels such as Al Jazeera, CNN, and BBC (for example, on the 25, 26, 27 and 28 July 2010), and labelled the reports as "preposterous", "fictional" and deliberate "disinformation" to demonise him and the ISI in an attempt to find a scapegoat for the US military's failures in Afghanistan. In these interviews, Gul also offered to travel to the US to face charges in court or be heard by the US Senate or Congress. In 2008, the US proposed a motion at the United Nations 1267 Committee to have him placed on the UN's international terrorist list. He was saved by China, which blocked the move by applying a technical hold for lack of evidence.

The Pakistani government also strongly rebutted the Wikileaks reports regarding the alleged double role of the ISI in the Afghan war. Interestingly, a Pakistani official revealed that days before the New York Times story, US defence officials had advised their Pakistani counterparts to disregard the Wikileaks documents release.

 Human rights and military discipline

Apart from documents relating to Pakistan, the rest of the 77,000 documents cover a vast spectrum of excesses and human rights abuses committed by US and NATO forces, and narrate a harrowing tale of atrocities against innocent civilians. No less than 20,000 fatalities have been documented, painting a heart-rending picture of a callous disregard of Geneva Conventions and US laws. Task Force 373, a secret force, stands out as the most trigger-happy, ruthless bunch of soldiers who seem to have exceeded every limit. It is not clear whether this force was ever authorised by the US Congress. If not, it would cast a negative light on the Pentagon, raising questions as to whether the Pentagon (or a certain element within it) had turned into a "rogue" institution.

 Questions

Wikileaks is still holding back some 15,000 documents. There are tremendous efforts by the US administration to block the release of these documents or, at least, to expunge the identities of sources and other named figures lest their security be jeopardised.

The whole sordid affair begs many a thorny question, and points to yawning cavities in the US systems of defence and intelligence. The more glaring of these questions, each of which warrants a separate query, are:

a. Is the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) overly dependent on security contractors and largely amateurish Afghan intelligence operatives?

b. Is there an attitudinal conflict among American policy makers on Afghanistan? That is, is there a conflict between those advocating winning the hearts and minds of Afghan people and those operators on the ground who are bent on the systematic and wilful alienation of the Afghan people?

c. Does a dichotomy really exist between the stated US position of Pakistan as a front-line ally without whose support victory cannot be perceived, and the real perception of its role as a double crosser playing both sides? Or is this dichotomy inspired by extraneous influences which wish to drive a wedge into US-Pakistan relations?

d. How will the leaks impact on US-Pakistan and Pakistan-Karzai government relations?

e. How will they affect the war in Afghanistan and determine its outcome?

f. Were the leaks deliberate and purposeful a la My Lai in Vietnam, which set in motion the public demand for withdrawal?

 

US intelligence methodology

Over the years, the mammoth US intelligence establishment has shown deficiencies, fissures and failures. If glaring ones such as 9/11, Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, and the failure to capture the world's most wanted terrorists are not enough evidence of its inherent flaws, Wikileaks has exposed it to the core. The human intelligence (humint) aspect of the US is well-known to have suffered from protracted neglect, poor funding, and the absence of a cogent cause to inspire enthusiasm.

As a consequence, the US substituted security contractors for regular and disciplined operatives. Most of these security contractors were former employees of the CIA, FBI and other agencies which thrived on old-buddy cronyism. Their only motivation was money. They are a tired and lacklustre group of people who rely mostly on "paper milling" - intelligence parlance for the production of make-believe reports. The bulk of the reports on Pakistan is the handiwork of Afghan intelligence agencies which are infested by communist die-hards looking to avenge their humiliation at the hands of Pakistan and the ISI. To top it off, the Indian external intelligence agency - the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) - has established a strong field intelligence network in Afghanistan. Its insidious influence on Afghan intelligence agencies in an effort to malign Pakistan is an open secret.

Task Force 373 uses tactics and methods which run counter to the explicit purpose of the military high command. About 100,000 US security contractors have proven to be loose cannons. They disregard operational instructions, and are only in pursuit of quick results to earn more dollars. It was a disaster ab initio to mix mercenaries and burnt-out intelligence veterans with regular troops. The architects of this harebrained idea will realise the consequences of their folly.

 

Between policy and posture

The US and NATO official position on Pakistan as a front-line state in the war against terrorism is a euphemism. In reality, Pakistan has always been suspected either of doing less than it could, or, worse, of complicity with some Taliban factions fighting US and NATO troops. No wonder, then, that each category and tier of the US leadership - from the Bush to the Obama administrations - continued to press Pakistan to do more.

While analysing the nature and extent of Pakistan's cooperation, one must bear in mind the circumstances under which Pakistan was recruited into this war. It was literally forced on board the American warship. The Pakistan leadership wrongly assumed that the war would be a short, swift retribution which would end in a few months. They failed to fathom the latent and long-term intentions of the Bush administration's war hawks. It was only after the Karzai government was foisted on Afghanistan, as a result of the Bonn dispensation and the induction of India, Pakistan's arch-rival, into the Afghan game that Pakistani authorities realised their mistake in unconditionally giving in to US demands. They felt cheated but could do little to redress the situation. Then-President Pervez Musharraf's quick surrender to US diktat had left the Pakistani nation and its institutions dazed and bewildered. They were torn between the demands of the US agenda and their national interests. The military and the ISI were hard put to maintain equilibrium. Drone attacks by the CIA in Pakistan's tribal regions, and clandestine deployment of US Special Forces and security contractors inside Pakistan further exacerbated frayed sentiments. To the Pakistani masses, from where most of the soldiers are drawn, it was somebody else's dirty war which Pakistan had to fight under duress. It reflects positively on the army and the ISI that there was no serious breach of discipline. But to expect an enthusiastic and wholesome participation under these conditions would be asking for too much.

 

Impact on US-Pakistan relations

That the invaders would fail in Afghanistan was axiomatic for even elementary students of Afghan affairs; and no one is better educated on this subject than the ISI. Should the ISI not have maintained liaison with the real soul of the Afghan people, which is manifested in the national resistance symbolised by the Taliban? Let no one be duped into believing otherwise! But material support to the resistance is quite another matter. With US spies all over Pakistan, having logged deep into its systems, such an audacity cannot even be imagined, save by Pentagon stalwarts.

The US policy towards Pakistan was described aptly - though insultingly - by Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton as a "carrot and stick" doctrine that would keep Pakistan on the leash and aligned to US objectives. This policy seems to have worked reasonably well for America. Pakistan has been held to the course by the US promoting a dictator, and then imposing a truncated democracy through an externally-brokered deal called the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO). America's whip hand, however, began to test the limits of national tolerance after the Mumbai attacks, when the US started openly to promote India's brow-beating tactics against Pakistan on unsubstantiated charges. Following Obama's 1 December 2009 policy speech, the US attitude began to change. It is now less belligerent, and often placatory, towards Pakistan. There is also a perceptible shift in the policy from dealing with government to addressing the people of Pakistan. This is a healthy change indicative of a possible focus on an exit strategy.

The recent floods in Pakistan have enhanced the need for a fresh approach. Currently, there seem to be two overriding American concerns. Firstly, to create an environment for the graceful exit of the US from Afghanistan, while safeguarding its core interests and making room for India in a post-withdrawal Afghanistan. Secondly, to thwart a populist - inevitably anti-American ground-swell - in the wake of the catastrophic deluge in Pakistan. How these can objectives be achieved with the help of a tottering and largely dysfunctional democracy in Pakistan will be a daunting challenge for American policy makers.

Pakistan and the US need each other for their own good reasons, but India is the obstacle, and it will remain so until the Kashmir issue is dealt with.

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai began to lean towards Pakistan after Obama's 1 December 2009 speech. To show his altered preferences, he fired his Pakistan-hating intelligence czar, Amrullah Saleh. After the Wikileaks affair, however, Karzai revealed his true intentions when he demanded that the US bomb Pakistan. But that simmered down rather quickly. Perhaps the Americans whispered the same gospel in his ears as they did for Pakistan: "Don't take it too seriously."

 Outcomes and purposes

It is too early to pass judgement, but there are unerring similarities between My Lai and the Wikileaks affair. Lieutenant William Calley and Captain Ernest L. Medina's misconduct then, and the TF-373's misdemeanour now reflect the same propensity for frustration spawned by failures. How close are the parallels of General Westmoreland's demand for more troops and General Stanley McChrystal's urge for the surge, intelligence failures, and search for scapegoats - Cambodia then and Pakistan now? It's an uncanny match of the scenarios, a rebirth of the tragedy that was Vietnam. Afghanistan is a wrong war at a wrong place against a wrong enemy. Not a single Afghan has been found involved in terrorism outside the war zone. "Reversing Taliban's momentum" was not the original aim of the NATO war. At this stage, it would be like defeating the Afghan nation; it would be mission impossible. The initial goal was to disperse Al-Qaeda and capture or kill Osama Bin Laden. All western intelligence sources believe Osama Bin Laden is not in Afghanistan, or, at least, not in the southern part of Afghanistan where much of the US and NATO forces are committed. Leon E. Panetta said there were no more than 60 to 100 Al-Qaeda operatives in that part of the world. That many may be present in any European country. The reality is that Al-Qaeda has long since migrated to the Red Sea area to be in closer proximity to its strategic "centre of gravity" - the Middle East.

The hard truth is that the war in Afghanistan is a lost cause for America. The problem is how to convince the Pentagon and the self-indulgent, bigoted neo-cons who would not let reason get the better of their unrealistic ambitions. Obama's heart is in the right place. He knows he came into the Oval Office on the promise of change, and he was aware of the stumbling blocks on his way to change. As a master chess player, he let the Pentagon have its say (two surges since his inauguration) but asked for results. The Pentagon merely reinforced failure and could not deliver.

Operation Moshtarak, in February 2010, was an unmitigated disaster, and the Kandahar operation is a non-starter. One obstacle in Obama's march towards his objective has been removed. If allowed to operate with freedom, Wikileaks will remove the other. Its publication of the remaining 15,000 documents is bound to whip up a public debate reminiscent of the Nixon years. Already, the antiwar opinion has climbed to 62 percent. A "moratorium" - as in the case of Vietnam - may well be in the offing, thanks to Wikileaks. Is Obama playing Nixon? If yes, Wikileaks is a gift to him. Or, did he manage the gift? Whatever the case, the draw-down from Afghanistan is likely to begin as per schedule, if not earlier. Conventional wisdom commands that losses be cut.

 * Mohammad Abdullah Gul is a researcher whose work focuses on the Indo-Pak subcontinent

** This article is published in terms of a partnership agreement between the Afro-Middle East Centre and the AlJazeera Centre for Studies.

By Lamis Andoni 

The 2005 assassination of Lebanon's Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was followed by the launching of an international investigation into the assassination, and the subsequent setting up of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) in 2007. Both were problematic from the outset. First, it was unprecedented for a special foreign tribunal - albeit nominally under United Nations sponsorship - to be established to investigate the assassination of a state official. This unprecedented step raised suspicions as to the real political motivations of the west. Second, the process instantly became a further catalyst for the polarisation that had been instigated by the assassination itself.

By Chas Freeman

Below is a presentation by Chas Freeman to staff of the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and, separately, to the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs. The presentation was made on the 1 September 2010, the day before US-sponsored talks between Israelis and the Palestinian Authority began in Washington.

Al-Sabeel Newspaper and AMEC (Trans)

Since 1996, Khaled Mesh'al has been the Chairman of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) Political Bureau. After the assassination of Hamas leader Abdul 'Aziz Rantisi in 2004 by Israeli forces, Mesh'al became the movement's overall leader. He lives in exile in Damascus, from where he oversees the movement's activities both within Palestine and outside.

The most recent interview with Mesh'al was conducted by the Jordanian Arabic-language Al-Sabeel newspaper in July 2010. In it, Mesh'al laid out the policy direction of Hamas on a number of critical issues: negotiations with Israel, recognition of Israel, resistance, Jews, Christians, women, among other issues.

In the Arab world, the lengthy interview is being viewed as highly significant, and is regarded as a clear indication of positions that Hamas wants to pursue, especially with regard to its future attitude towards Israel. The Afro-Middle East Centre (AMEC) translated the interview into English and publishes it here to make it accessible to a wider audience, and to allow for greater understanding of the political and other perspectives of a movement which has become one of the most important role-players in the Middle East today. It is an important piece articulating, in its own words, the perspectives of Hamas' leadership, and is critical reading for observers of the Middle East, and policy-makers for whom the Middle East is important.

By Afro-Middle East Centre

On the 22 July 2010, an African Union Summit in Kampala, Uganda, resolved to increase the number of troops that make up the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), in an effort militarily to defeat the Islamist Al-Shabab movement. The AU decision followed a twin bombing in Uganda's capital city on the 11 July 2010, during the final match of the Football World Cup, resulting in the deaths of scores of people. A day after the bombings, Al-Shabab had claimed responsibility. Just a few days earlier, the movement's leaders had threatened attacks in Uganda and Burundi, the two countries whose troops make up the AMISOM force.

The AU decision and the bomb blasts which precipitated it once again cast the Somali crisis forcefully into the global spotlight. It is clear that both events combine to create a Somali conjuncture that poses serious policy challenges to South Africa, the African Union and the African continent as a whole.

This paper will outline some of these challenges, propose a plan that effectively can deal with the Somali situation and begin the process towards building a new Somali state and Somali democracy.

By Sourav Roy

"Our production lines are running very smoothly and we are capable of producing an endless number of ballistic missiles," announced Brigadier General Hossein Salami, deputy commander of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), in a recent interview with the Iranian national news agency Fars. "We have made phenomenal progress in air defence capabilities and the current slew of sanctions means nothing more than a soft encouragement for us to acquire 'self-sufficiency'," he added.

Salami's comments clearly resonate with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's claims in February that Iran's enemies remained unsuccessful in their attempts to devise an interception system capable of breaching Iran's "impenetrable" missile shield. Iranian political and military top brass have repeatedly claimed flamboyant military accomplishments and technological advancements, only to maintain silence later on.

By Olivier Da Lage

We have to admit that there was a pre-AlJazeera era and a post-AlJazeera era. There is no doubt that the start of broadcasting in November 1996 by the Qatar-based Arab satellite channel has profoundly changed the media and political equation in the entire Middle East. Countless articles, many books, and research papers in many languages have been devoted to "the AlJazeera phenomenon".i

State broadcasting authorities and newspaper managers in the Middle East, international broadcasters elsewhere, and governments in the region and beyond had to rethink their policies, change the way they addressed their people and the people of their neighbouring countries. Competitors were forced to set themselves up with the aim of luring away AlJazeera viewers. Where this succeeded (e.g. with Al Arabiya), it was because these other broadcasters emulated AlJazeera's formula of field reporting, and tough questioning of political figures on live interviews. Those viewers who were attracted to other channels usually continued watching AlJazeera for the sake of comparison.

By Lamis Andoni

Four years after the end of the Lebanon war, the role of the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which had been entrusted with keeping the peace between Israel and Lebanon, has been thrown into doubt amid intensifying threats of another war.

Both Israel and Hizbullah, the latter having been the main target of Israel's 2006 war, have stepped up their accusations against UNIFIL. Israel is again accusing the peacekeeping forces of failure in preventing, if not of collaborating with, Hizbullah in its replenishment of its military power in South Lebanon. Hizbullah, meanwhile, believes that "certain contingents" of UNIFIL are spying for, if not assisting, Israel.

By Abd al-Khaliq Faruq

For many years, Egypt has suffered from a complex political and social crisis, which has manifested itself in multiple forms: there have been continuous demonstrations, sits-in, more than 4,000 protests in the last two years alone, an economic crisis with spiralling effects, plus a crisis in political leadership and a lack of clarity regarding the future. Egypt has been subjected to a political process for the past 30 years or more which has often been characterised as either being paralytic or barren.

In the past ten years the crisis has deepened, thanks to a set of characteristics of the regime that has become clear to identify. First, there has been an open push for the son of President Hosni Mubarak, Gamal, to inherit the office of presidency in what can be dubbed a "Caesarian succession". This move has required amending the constitution in an attempt to obliterate any real chance that any other presidential hopeful would be able to engage in a fair competition with the president's son. This situation has also led to the annulment of the essence of Clause 88 of the Constitution, which requires complete and total judicial supervision of the electoral process.

By Abd al-Jalil al-Marhoun

 Seen through the prism of geopolitics, interactions related to security in the Arabian Gulf are - in principle - closely connected to the reality of more general regional security. This perspective can also be expanded to include the impact on the wider scope of regional and international policies.

There are eight countries that reside on the shores of the Arabian Gulf: the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) - Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, The United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman - and Iraq and Iran. Traditionally, the Gulf was divided into three zones: Iraq in the north, Iran in the west, and the six GCC countries (also known as the inland Gulf countries) in the east.

By Ramananda Sengupta

'We do have a defence relationship with India, which is no secret. On the other hand, what is a secret is what is the defence relationship. And with all due respect, the secret part of it will remain secret.' - Mark Sofer, Israel's ambassador to India, in a recent interview given to OutlookIndia.com.

India and Israel were born within months of each other. While the former became an independent state on the 15 August 1947, the latter was born on the 14 May 1948, following the decision of the United Nations to partition British Mandate Palestine.

India, which had opposed this partition, remained officially cold to the Jewish state. In May 1949, it voted (in vain) against the admission of Israel into the UN. In early 1950, after recognising the State of Israel, a visibly reluctant New Delhi allowed it to set up an "immigration office" in the port city of Mumbai. This eventually morphed into a "trade office" and then into a consulate. But New Delhi dithered over according full diplomatic recognition to Israel until early 1992, when the two nations formally opened their respective embassies in Tel Aviv and New Delhi.

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About AMEC

Established in 1998, the Afro-Middle East Centre (AMEC) aims to foster, produce and disseminate the highest quality of research on the Middle East, to maintain public discussion and to help shape the public discourse on issues related to the Middle East. Amec's research includes relations between Africa and the Middle East.

AMEC engages in funded research on the contemporary Middle East, and accepts research commissions from government, business, academia, non-governmental organisations, and community-based organisations.

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