Showing posts with label Democracy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Democracy. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

#IslamicSocietiesReview : The end of political Islam starts in Tunisia

    May 25, 2016   No comments
#IslamicSocietiesReview Comment:  
Adjusting to domestic, regional, and international challenges, Ennahda, the leading Islamist movement in North Africa, charted a new path that embraces pluralism and co-existence. Recalling that the rise of political Islam was necessitated by tyranny and oppression, Ennahda, now, embraces politics and honors Islam, but not mix them. Its leadership has chosen to distinguish between the ethical/theological and the political. In doing so, Ennahda has all but repudiated the actions taken by the Muslim Brotherhood which wanted to dominate the political and social life in Egypt. Realizing the enormity of the transition, Ennahda opted to re-elect its founder, Rached al-Ghannouchi, president one more time. Should he manage to keep the movement united and prevent it from bleeding members to militant Salafi groups, Ennahda would be a model for Arab countries' religious movements.
Underscoring these challenges, Ghannounchi delivered a key address to the movements' members; below is the original speech and a translation.


In the Name of God, Most Beneficent, Most Merciful

Praise be to God, Lord of the worlds, and prayers and peace be on his messenger

Your Excellency President of the People's Assembly

Your Excellencies,
Members of the diplomatic corps in Tunis,
Representatives of parties and organizations,
Dear friends and guests who have honored us by coming from abroad to attend our Congress,

Dear Guests,

Peace be upon you all.

And I also greet Nahdha's faithful supporters - whether those inside the stadium, or the thousands more outside to whom I apologize - this opening ceremony should have been held in an open space; those who were afraid that this stadium may not be filled, are still not familiar with Nahdha.

Ladies and gentlemen, guests and delegates,

Today, we inaugurate, by God's Grace, the tenth national party congress of Nahdha Party, the second national congress after the revolution.

Even during the most difficult periods of secret activity and police harassment under dictatorship, our Movement was committed to holding its national congress regularly, as a way of evaluating and reforming its path, reviewing its policies, and renewing its leadership. I do not believe that there is another party in the country, despite the great number of parties, that is holding its tenth party congress - which means that you are the oldest amongst political parties. Our first congress was held in 1979 - which means that in a period of around a third of a century, ten congress were held - that is an average of one congress every less than four years. That is an expression of the fact that Nahdha is run by institutions, by democracy, by consultation - an important Islamic value.

At the beginning of this occasion, we pray for the souls of the martyrs of the revolution and martyrs of the struggle against dictatorship, led by martyrs of the movement, such as student Othman Ben Mahmoud- through whom we salute Tunisia's youth.

We also remember the martyrs of the national army and police, and victims of the war against terrorism, and victims killed by terrorism, led by martyrs Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi.

We reaffirm to all those that we remain faithful to the martyrs and that their sacrifices will not be in vain.

Our accumulated experience in the war against terrorism has struck fear into the opposite camp, which is now receding at the hands of the successful preemptive operations by our security and military forces. As we reaffirm Nahdha's absolute support for the state in its war against ISIS and takfiri extremists, we say to them that Tunisia, despite all the sacrifices, is stronger than their hatred, and it will, God willing, defeat them. In this regard, the great city of Ben Guerdane set a living and striking example that our people will never be defeated by terrorism. A small city that refused to allow evil terrorists to settle in it - for Tunisia will not allow terrorism to triumph, thanks to its national unity and to the well-established concept of the state in this country - even if they may protest against the state or criticize it, they refuse to move from order to chaos - we salute the Tunisian state.

The path of the revolution, therefore, is one of political successes, re-establishing  security, and strengthening international solidarity, culminating in Tunisia being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to the National Dialogue Quartet. Tunisia remains the shining candle among countries of the Arab Spring, having sparked the revolutions, demonstrating that democracy in the Arab world is possible.

In 2011, the spark was lit. Five ships sailed, carrying the hopes of their peoples for freedom and dignity. However, sadly within two years, storms and hardships surrounded those ships - storms of conspiracies, division, ideological polarization, mutual hatred, exclusion, revenge, assassinations, and terrorism.

Some ships met with destruction; others drowned in coups, civil wars and chaos. Tunisia's ship was the exception. It was able to overcome the storms of the counter-revolution, chaos and destruction, thanks to Tunisians adopting the principle of dialogue, acceptance of the other, and avoidance of exclusion and revenge. We were able, by God's grace, to bring Tunisia to the shores of safety.

At the height of the acute crisis of 2013, which threatened to drown Tunisia's ship in the swamps of division, His Excellency President Beji Caied-Essebsi invited me to a dialogue, in a historic step. I agreed, and I said to those who criticized me at the time for going to Paris to meet him, that I was ready to go anywhere for the sake of Tunisia's interest.

As I renew Nahdha's wholehearted support for the policy of consensus, I say today to those who seek political gain through hostility to Nahdha: Do not divide our country. Our hands are stretched out to everyone; the system of consensus accommodates everyone; Tunisia's ship can only sail safely if it carries all Tunisians.

In this context, I would like to commend members of the outgoing Consultative Council of the Party, and Nahdha members of the National Constituent Assembly who facilitated Tunisia's path towards social peace and consensus through their difficult and wise decisions: when they chose to preserve the first article of the Constitution of 1959, when they voted against the political exclusion law, and when they approved the national dialogue roadmap. Thus they proved that Nahdha is a national party that places Tunisia's interest above its own. And when we were discussing stepping down from legitimate elected government, we repeatedly said: We may lose power, but Tunisia will win.

I am full of pride in our sons and daughters who were patient and persevered, and withstood the campaigns of doubt, demonization and provocation against their Party.

At this sensitive juncture, I urge them to continue in the same way, for the most important thing for us, before anything else, is our country's stability and prosperity. We stress that Nahdha will remain a pillar of support for Tunisia's stability. We renew our support for the government of Prime Minister Essid and our commitment to the unity of the governing coalition and to the method of consensus which created the Tunisian exception.

We, in Nahdha, are serious and sincere in our desire to learn from our shortcomings before and after the revolution. We admit them and we humbly address them through reform. In our Congress we have an "Evaluation motion" - we are a party that evolves and reforms itself, and are not afraid to admit our mistakes.

We are a party that never stopped evolving - from the seventies to this day - from an ideological movement engaged in the struggle for identity - when identity was under threat, to a comprehensive protest movement against an authoritarian regime, to a national democratic party devoted to reform, based on a national reference drawing from the values of Islam, committed to the articles of the Constitution and the spirit of our age, thus consolidating the clear and definitive line between Muslim democrats and extremist and violent trends that falsely attribute themselves to Islam.

The specialization and distinction between the political and other religious or social activities is not a sudden decision or a capitulation to temporary pressures, but rather the culmination of a historical evolution in which the political field and the social, cultural and religious field were distinct in practice in our movement.

We are keen to keep religion far from political struggles and conflicts, and we call for the complete neutrality of mosques away from political disputes and partisan utilization, so that they play a role of unification rather than division.

Yet we are astonished to see the insistence of some to exclude religion from public life, despite the fact that the leaders of the national liberation movement considered religious sentiments to be a catalyst for revolution against occupation - just as today we see the values of Islam as a catalyst for development and promoting work, sacrifice, truthfulness, and integrity, and a positive force in our war against ISIS and extremists and supporting the state's efforts in development. Otherwise, if we do not counter ISIS - which claims to represent Islam - through using Islamic values, how can we counter it? We need scholars who champion Islamic moderation and refute extremism in the name of Islam.

Despotic regimes disfigured Nahdha's relationship with the state, through repression, defamation and fear mongering. But they have failed, by God's Grace, to make the state and Nahdha mutual enemies. Our experience in government after the revolution proves that Nahdha is part of the state and a source of significant support for it. Our leaving government to promote the country's unity proves that we are not power seekers, nor after domination nor monopoly of power.

The Tunisian state is our ship, which must carry all Tunisian men and women without any exception, exclusion of marginalization.

We ask here: when will attempts to undermine the state stop? And in whose interest are these attempts to weaken it, while it is combating terrorism, and seek anarchist methods to promote breaking the law?

The time has come not only to condemn that behavior, but to consider it a crime against the nation, martyrs and future generations.

Our call for a just state becomes devoid of meaning and value if that state is not also strong, able to apply the law and the Constitution and protect freedoms, under the supervision of the legislative and judicial powers, the specialized oversight bodies, civil society and the media.

Freedom does not mean chaos, just as the state's power does not mean repression and denial of freedoms. It is necessary for the revolution to reinstate the role of our well-established state and of its institutions and members, providing for their needs, adopting incentives that encourage productivity and eliminate the mentality of routine administration, the "come back tomorrow", "no network connection", and "A little something for me".

The dignity of public administration workers is part of the state's dignity, and no economic or social renaissance can take place without a real administrative reform that includes full digitization and elimination of paper administration. When will we be able to have an administration where a businessman or a young entrepreneur can create a company in a few hours instead of wasting his life from one department to another.

While it was one of the gains of the revolution to develop administrative working hours by adopting the five-day week, it is now necessary to accelerate the pace of reform far from slogans and political wrangling.

We are proud of our state, we demand rights from it, and we fulfill our duties towards it. Amongst the prerequisites of reinstating respect for the state is that we announce a war on corruption, and that no one should enjoy impunity that places him above the law.

I say clearly that Nahdha Party is committed to combating corruption, bribery, tax evasion and wasting of public wealth. Our call for reconciliation does not mean whitewashing corruption or justifying or recreating a new system of corruption.

Our aim is to distinguish between the majority of businessmen and the minority implicated in corruption, and giving the latter the opportunity to own up, apologize and give back that which they acquired illegally. That would help encourage free economic enterprise.

We have stressed our support for the President's economic reconciliation initiative, while we await the discussion of its details at the Assembly of People's Representatives.

I also stress our commitment to the Transitional Justice process. Furthermore, I call for a comprehensive national reconciliation that turns a new page and prevents the perpetuation of enmity. The comprehensive national reconciliation we all seek is not the initiative of one person or one party, but for a whole country looking forward to the future.

Thus we have said repeatedly, we are for a comprehensive national reconciliation and for cooperation and consensus-building with all those who recognize the revolution and its martyrs and respect the Constitution, a partnership with all those who regard the revolution as  an opportunity for all of us - islamists, destourians, leftists, and all intellectual and political trends, so we can all go forward steadily towards a future that is free from grudges and exclusion.

Nor is it a "deal under the table" but rather a national vision of reconciliation between the state and citizens, between the state and deprived regions, between opposing political elites, between the past and the present - because Nahdha is a force of unification not one of division.

This also applies to the way we view our history, not as contradictory phases and figures - rather we see Khaireddine Al-Tounisi, Ahmed Bey, liberator of slaves, Moncef Bey, the late leader Habib Bourguiba, Farhat Hached, Abdelaziz Thaalibi, Salah Ben Youssef, Sheikh Mohamed Taher Ben Achour, and Tahar al-Haddad, God's mercy be upon them all, all those and others, as leading symbols of our dear nation, as sources of inspiration for us all, which must all enjoy our respect. They undoubtedly had their mistakes, but we take the positives and build on them.

Tunisians are tired of politicians bickering on media debates; they are concerned about security, terrorism, the cost of living, economic development, and the struggle of vulnerable groups, the poor and deprived, and marginalized regions. You, Nahdha members and supporters, must not be drawn into the elite's ideological battles, but should rather focus on the concerns of fellow citizens. A modern state is not run through ideologies, big slogans and political wrangling. It is guided by social and economic programs and solutions that provide security and prosperity for all.

Nahdha had evolved from defending identity, to ensuring the democratic transition, and today moves on to focus on the economic transition. The new phase is primarily about the economy.

Since liberation from colonization, Tunisia has achieved much in the fields of education, health, women's rights, literacy and other fields of human development. We embrace and value those achievements. We commit to preserving and developing them, within the framework of the continuity of the state and our pride in the republican system and Tunisian society and its choices, as enshrined in the Tunisian Constitution.

I salute Tunisian women, in urban and rural areas, in Tunisia and abroad, in schools, universities and workplaces, in society and at home. Our movement is very proud of the gains and rights achieved by Tunisian women, and will continue to support them to guarantee further freedom and advancement in fulfilling their potential, and preserving the social fabric and the family as the source of social cohesion and unity.

We, Tunisians, are the product of the struggle of our mothers - Sheikh Abdelfattah Mourou sitting here in front of you is the fruit of a hard-working illiterate woman, who gave Tunisian such a man. My own mother was also illiterate, but while my father merely focused on teaching us the Quran, she insisted on sending me and my brothers to continue our education, and accepted to work in the field with my sisters to give the males - only unfortunately the chance to be educated. My own wife, a university graduate, devoted her life to her children's education such that my four daughters obtained their PhDs or masters, as did our two sons who have masters in law and economics. I salute Tunisian women, who made this nation an educated developed nation.

I say to young people, torn between ambition and despair, who are disappointed in the outcome of the revolution and the political class: We hear you.

You are the future for which we work. The difficulties you face today must not be a source of pessimism or disengagement from public life. We need to overcome these challenges together, through sincere attachment to the nation, determination and persistence.

We call on the political elite to think about the youth and to provide them with the space to participate and to assume responsibility. It is high time for a national pact for youth development, so that no young man or woman is left marginalized, with no job, house, or prospects to establish a family.

Education is Tunisians' most valued capital. Today we are required to agree on a national vision for its reform in such a way that guarantees balance between knowledge and ethics, and employability. We have to address the dangers in young people's environment: violence, drugs, all the ways to exploit young people's minds through terrorism's evil plots. We have to address how education has become divorced from the job market.

We must break with ad-hoc reforms and with the search for quantity without quality. It is necessary to stress that education must be a door to work, not a bridge to unemployment.

No human development can take place without a cultural renaissance, without supporting creativity, without establishing cultural and sports activities in all regions, particularly in marginalized regions and popular urban neighborhoods. We want to see in every popular neighborhood a swimming pool, a sports centre, a cultural centre.

Strengthening the vocational training system and promoting it and reinstating its value are undoubtedly among the pillars of our reform plan.

The post-revolution state inherited an unemployment rate that was close to 14% according to official statistics in 2011, and the current rate is close to that.

Unemployment is the result of historical accumulations in the fields of education and training, the restriction of economic enterprise by laws that restrict freedom of investment, and by weak infrastructure in most regions of the country making them unattractive for economic projects.

Overcoming unemployment can only take place within a holistic economic model based on investment, which creates jobs and achieves balanced regional development and eliminates the mentality which eschews entrepreneurship and even the value of work.

We believe in the necessity of implementing the principle of positive discrimination enshrined in the Constitution for the benefit of deprived regions. We welcome and support the coming process of decentralization after the local elections, just as we support the right of the regions to a percentage of their natural resources in order to achieve regional development.

As I call upon businessmen to invest, particularly in the inner regions, I stress the necessity to lift all restrictions placed before them in this regard.

I call from this platform for an urgent economic recovery program that prioritizes reactivating obstructed production in certain strategic sectors and implementing stalled public projects. This program must adopt exceptional measures in all fields related to employment, investment and developing deprived regions, and mobilize internal financial resources and reduce dependence on external debt by encouraging national savings, reforming taxation and further simplification of the procedures for creating companies and initiating projects.

It is necessary to seek to implement a major economic project in each priority district over the next five years, to begin to distribute national lands to young entrepreneurs, to launch a legislative and administrative revolution to lift restrictions to investment and entrepreneurship, and to support the government's work through a major economic ministry.

It is also important to stress the need to spread social welfare coverage particularly for workers in the agricultural field, and to direct subsidies to those who need them, to reinstate the culture of work and the link between fulfilling one's duty and demanding one's right.

As I renew my call for a social truce that preserves the rights of workers and protects economic institutions, I salute the important role played by the Tunisian General Workers' Union, the Union of Industry, Commerce and Handicrafts, the Union of Agriculture and Fisheries and all national organizations for their role in development.

Your Excellencies,
Ladies and gentlemen,

The revolution gave Tunisians abroad for the first time the right to be part of parliament and to elect their representatives, as an integral component of Tunisia. I call for further support to them as they face a new wave of xenophobia. And I call on them to further strengthen their economic ties to their beloved homeland through increasing transfers and spending their summer holidays in Tunisian hotels, as well as investing, and it is necessary to create incentives for them to do so.

It is important in this regard to support Tunisian diplomacy in its official and cultural dimensions, and economic diplomacy in particular. I stress Nahdha's commitment to supporting the state's foreign policy, and Tunisia's role in spreading peace, consensus and combating terrorism around the world. As I commend the steps made by our Libyan neighbors towards reconciliation and unity, it is our hope that the Arab world will soon inaugurate an age of peace and comprehensive reconciliation.

We also express our commitment to the Arab Maghreb Union, and we salute our neighbors Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania and Libya, and renew our commitment to strengthening our relations with our Arab, Muslim and African neighbors, and our pride in the good relations between Tunisia and Europe, the United States of America and all countries around the world.

We are proud that the Tunisian experience, which has won international acclaim, has proven that the solution to conflict is consensus-building and seeking the foundation for co-existence. We have demonstrated that democracy is possible in the Arab world, and that democracy is the solution to corruption, bribery, despotism, chaos and terrorism, and that investing in democracy is better and more effective than supporting regressive dictatorships.

The solution is reconciliation between the poor and the rich, between the north and south, between cultures and civilizations, between faiths. Our world needs mutual understanding, peace, solidarity, security and tolerance.

Your Excellencies,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Nahdha's members, with their blood, tears and sacrifices, have gone through trials and tribulations that taught us courage to admit our errors and review our policies far from any arrogance or egoism.

Self-criticism is a condition for evolution in the modern world, and just as we have practiced it throughout our history, we will consolidate it in our Tenth Congress, for which Tunisians have many expectations.

The success of this congress is primarily about presenting a renewed united Nahdha that is able to participate in solving Tunisia's problems, a party of national ambition, a party of objective analysis and constructive criticism that give rise to a democratic alternative, a party that is open to its environment and to all capabilities and potential, a party that is proud of its members - women and men.

Every individual in Nahdha is a story of sacrifice and heroism. Families that have been torn apart and exiled; tens of thousands of prisoners..

Nahdhaouis sacrificed a lot for the sake of Tunisia - that is why we regard Nahdha as the shared possession of Tunisia and all Tunisians, before belonging to Nahdha members and supporters. That is what strengthens our conviction that the choice of reform is our path to rising to our people's aspirations, and that partnership and cooperation are our choice. Tunisia cannot be ruled in the coming years by the logic of majority and minority but rather by the logic of consensus and partnership.

Ladies and gentlemen,

For many years, I was banned from entering Tunisia. When I used to see Tunis Air flights at any airport around the world, I would dream of returning to my land, dreams that were then very far from reality.

Will I return home one day?

Will I once again meet our sons and daughters scattered between dozens of prisons and places of exile?

Will I ever have the right to walk the streets of my country and congratulate my fellow Tunisians, my friends and family on festivals and Eids?

That dream has become a reality, by God's Grace. And it continues to grow inside me day by day, turning from the dream of return to the dream of building a new beginning for Tunisia.

A dream of a better Tunisia - a united Tunisia; a democratic, developed and inclusive Tunisia.

We must share this dream with all Tunisians, as we look together with optimism, determination and hope to the future, not towards the past.

It is the Tunisian dream that motivates us to work hard and sacrifice in order to turn the revolution's dreams into reality.

You, Tunisian men and women, are stronger than all difficulties and challenges.

You, grandchildren of Hannibal, Jugurtha, Oqba, Ibn Khaldun, el-Chebbi; children of Carthage, Kairouan, Mehdia and al-Zaytouna; you are able, God willing, through your unity and solidarity, through your attachment to your beloved country and your belief in yourselves, to achieve what we aspire to, and more - to achieve the Tunisian dream, just as you created, through your consensus, the Tunisian exception; and just as you sparked, with your courage and defiance, the flame of the Arab Spring.

It is time for Tunisia's ship to leave the shore, to sail on its journey towards development and prosperity for all its people.

By God's grace, we inaugurate this Congress, and we ask God to guide us to choose what is best for our country and our shared future.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Context and consequences of the resignation of the architect of Turkey's zero-problem foreign policy

    May 10, 2016   No comments

By Rahmat Hajimineh*

A recent decision by Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, which was announced on May 5, to resign his post, can be considered as the outcome of a power struggle in Turkey’s political structure a review of which will not only be important in terms of typology of politicians’ behaviors, but also from the viewpoint of its consequences.

The first thing that seems to be important following Davutoglu’s resignation is the meaning and type of his resignation in political literature of Turkey. The development has been described as the “palace coup” by those opposed to the ruling Justice and Development Party and outspoken critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, including the leader of Turkey’s Republican People’s Party Kemal Kilicdaroglu. This term is used to denote that Davutoglu has been actually deposed from power by Erdogan.
Also, this reaction was aimed at highlighting Erdogan’s totalitarian nature as a person who will even victimize his old friend and close ally in order to pave the way for achieving his ambitions. This measure was also a sign of the opposition parties’ concern about more centralization of power in the hands of Erdogan and one may claim that Kilicdaroglu is trying to exploit political gaps within the Justice and Development Party in favor of his own party. At the same time, Davutoglu’s remarks on his decision to step down can be construed as compulsory resignation, which in political literature is a form of early withdrawal from a power post when the person occupying it left with no other choice.

Another important issue that should be taken into account for correct understanding of this resignation is the time when serious difference emerged between Davutoglu and Erdogan, causing Davutoglu to step down. The point on which analysts have consensus is that differences between the two politicians broke out after Davutoglu was appointed prime minister in 2014, especially following revelations about Turkey’s intelligence service, MIT, using trucks to smuggle weapons into Syria, the news of which was first released by the Cumhuriyet daily. The two politicians later came to loggerheads over trial of two Cumhuriyet journalists who had published the report. If Erdogan had seen or even felt this difference of viewpoints earlier, he would not have chosen this university professor, who had been his senior advisor since 2002, as foreign minister in 2009 and then as the leader of the Justice and Development Party and Turkish prime minister in 2014. Those appointments attested to Erdogan’s complete trust in Davutoglu, which despite existence of other seasoned and more influential figures in the party, it was Davutoglu who was first chosen as the party’s leader and then as Turkey’s prime minister through Erdogan’s direct support.

On the other hand, Davutoglu as senior advisor to president and foreign minister was not considered a serious option for rivalry against Erdogan in the country’s domestic politics and was mostly known in the foreign policy field, which only made him an affiliate of Erdogan as the head of state. However, as prime minister, Davutoglu found himself at the highest level of Turkey’s executive branch according to the constitution, but in practice, he was still overshadowed by Erdogan and was only seen as a titular official. Despite the shift in their roles, Erdogan expected Davutoglu to play his past role and considered any change in his behavior, even any silence or dawdling by the prime minister on any issue as a form of rivalry and this was a situation which made Erdogan distrustful of Davutoglu. This distrust had grown so deep that some party allies of Erdogan even tried to accuse Davutoglu of treason against president.

Although Davutoglu’s resignation took place without much hype and serious challenge, it will have consequences for Turkey’s both domestic and foreign policies. This is true especially under current conditions when Turkey is witnessing parliamentary tensions over a bill proposing to strip lawmakers of their parliamentary immunity. The country is also grappling with other kinds of tensions as a result of the ongoing war with Kurdish militants, increasing security threats as a consequence of terrorist attacks by Daesh within and without its borders, presence of over 2.7 million Syrian refugees on its soil, and the implementation of an agreement with the European Union to curb flow of refugees to Europe.

Inside the country, the most important issue is that after resignation of Davutoglu and appointment of a person close to Erdogan as prime minister, efforts will be heightened to change the country’s parliamentary system to a presidential system, which is the most important goal pursued by Erdogan. An evidence to the point is Erdogan’s remarks one day after Davutoglu’s resignation on May 6 when he said “the existing parliamentary system is cause of crisis. Therefore, a presidential system will be offered to people to endorse it.” These remarks clearly reflected Erdogan’s main concern about the existing conditions in the country. As for Turkey’s policies toward Kurds, it seems that after Davutoglu is removed from decision-making structure, Erdogan will mount pressure on lawmakers from the Peoples’ Democratic Party in Turkish parliament and continue the war on Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and this situation will possibly continue in short term, especially before the time for next election gets close.

In the area of foreign policy, the most important issue under current conditions is the future outlook of the agreement signed by Turkey and the European Union over the flow of refugees to Europe, which has come to be known as Davutoglu’s project. Therefore, now that Davutoglu has left this game, the next prime minister is expected to take the initiative in this regard. What is more noticeable with regard to this issue is the non-European approach taken by Erdogan as compared to Europe-oriented approach of Davutoglu. As a result, when faced with pressures mounted by European countries on Ankara to make more amendments to its anti-terror law, Erdogan told Europe in a statement, “We’ll go our way, you go yours.” Since European countries need Turkey in their handling of the sweeping wave of refugees, this situation has put them in a difficult situation for curbing the influx of asylum seekers. Therefore, European political officials are expected to adopt a more lenient policy toward Ankara in order to protect themselves in the face of the ongoing influx of refugees.

On the whole, one may claim that resignation of Davutoglu from chairmanship of the Justice and Development Party and the prime minister’s post has been a result of the existence of important, but covert, differences that have emerged between Turkey’s two top politicians. These differences had gradually grown since Davutoglu became prime minister in 2014. This situation caused Erdogan to lose trust in his former ally and see him as a serious rival raised by himself. As a result, he tried to scuttle Davutoglu’s power for choosing party officials, thus stripping him of the executive power he had within the Justice and Development Party. Davutoglu was quick to receive the message of this measure and before facing more accusations from his own party, decided to cede power in a peaceful manner. His behavior will lead to establishment of Erdogan’s full control inside the country while in the area of foreign policy it will show a less resilient Turkey to the world.
* Rahmat Hajimineh is an Assistant Professor of International Relations at Islamic Azad University; Tehran
Researcher at the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Why have many Syrians voted for Bashar al-Assad and what is the U.S. administration’s alternative to elections it does not particularly like?

    June 08, 2014   No comments

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*
Syrians vote, June 3, 2014.

Most Western governments and some observers argue that the elections that took place in Syria on June 3, 2014 were not legitimate because not all Syrians were able (or willing) to participate, they were held under war conditions, and Syrians were coerced into voting for the current president. These would be reasonable arguments if they were consistently applied. A brief examination of similar cases and relevant facts reveals that this is not the case.

First, U.S. administrations have overseen numerous elections and produced national constitutions under war conditions and in the middle of sectarian strife in Afghanistan and Iraq. Administration officials have often argued that even under these circumstances, elections and referendums are necessary to instill democratic tradition, isolate extremists, and legitimize governments. Are these functions of democracy not applicable in Syria?

Second, 56 percent of Egyptian voters did not take part in the recent elections that endorsed former military chief Abdul Fattah al-Sisi. Moreover, al-Sisi came to power after overthrowing a president who was legitimately elected by higher voter participation and who faced stronger challengers. Yet the U.S. administration, the rulers of Saudi Arabia, and many Western governments readily embraced al-Sisi despite his weak mandate, the extraordinary events that preceded the elections, and the harsh measures (introduced under his watch) that stifled dissent and criminalized journalists and members of the opposition.

Third, contending that Syrians voted the way they did because they were fearful and coerced is an insult to all Syrians, both those who voted and those who did not vote. Such a contention depicts them as cowards, incapable of making proper decisions without outside help. Syrians, who have been living under extreme conditions for more than three years now, could have chosen to stay at home (as some did) instead of risking their lives to put a dot of ink on a piece of paper. After all, most Syrians knew that Bashar al-Assad would win and that the West would not recognize the results. But many Syrians, for a myriad of reasons, wanted to vote for al-Assad. It is important to remember that earlier studies commissioned by NATO and Western entities predicted that Assad would win by about 60 percent, which explains why elections were not part of any political solution supported by the Western governments. Instead, they favored a negotiated power transfer to an opposition coalition that represents less than 4 percent of the population.

There are many reasons why Syrians enthusiastically thronged polling stations inside and outside Syria to vote for al-Assad, some literally with their own blood instead of ink. With instability, civil wars, and weak governments resulting from short-sighted Western meddling, it is understandable that many people in the Middle East prefer to spite the U.S. and its rich Arab allies by voting for the person most disliked by the West.

Instead of considering the actual facts and motives, U.S. administration officials, the French government, and rulers of some of the Gulf States continue to ignore the will and welfare of the Syrian people without providing credible alternatives. They claim that Bashar al-Assad is out of touch and has lost legitimacy. Let’s consider some specifics.

On the same day the Syrian government announced the results of the presidential elections in which 88% of Syrian voters, with 73% turnout, elected Bashar al-Assad, Secretary Kerry arrived in Lebanon. Speaking in Beirut, he declared that “the elections [in Syria] are non-elections. A great big zero… Nothing has changed between the day before the election and after.”

Ironically for someone who described President Assad as out of touch with reality, Kerry was speaking in a country that has had no president for two weeks now (a situation that may persist for months), was without any government for more than ten months, and whose lawmakers decided to give themselves a 16-month extension of their term (presumably will now end in November 2014). That willful cognitive dissonance is symptomatic of Western governments’ utter failure to present a credible alternative even as they criticize the governments and governmental processes of countries they do not like. Moreover, some of the countries they are propping up as acceptable models are not even functional, let alone democratic and stable.

First, Iraq, which just held its first post-U.S. occupation legislative elections, continues to struggle with security, economic, and political challenges. Because of the strange power-sharing arrangement introduced under the watch of Western occupation forces, Iraq has a parliament deeply divided along sectarian, ethnic, and ideological lines, making it difficult to form a strong and stable government in the near future.

Second, Libya, “freed” from Qaddafi’s grip three years ago by an alliance between Qatar (which financed and armed rebel groups) and NATO (which provided the airpower) is facing its own civil war, pitting secular military generals against Islamist armed groups, some of whom are affiliated with al-Qaeda. Moreover, instability and availability of all kinds of weapons in the hands of all kinds of armed groups are threatening the stability of neighboring countries like Tunisia, Egypt, and Algeria—three countries with fragile governments and strong presence of al-Qaeda affiliates.

Third, other Arab allies of the U.S. are exemplars of tyranny and authoritarianism, not responsible governance. These allies include countries like Bahrain which continues to abuse peaceful protesters, Saudi Arabia which criminalizes dissent and jails human rights activists, and Qatar which imprisons poets and abuses foreign laborers and immigrants. None of these countries have held elections—farcical or otherwise. Those three countries in particular have no tradition of representative governance and some of their religious authorities have even decreed that elections are proscribed based on their interpretation of Islamic law.

Historically, the U.S. administration and its main regional ally, Saudi Arabia, have promoted custom-made, top-down controlled models of governance where they balance power by rewarding warlords and ethnic and religious factions with tools that paralyze governments instead of making them functional. The 1989 Ta`if Agreement, which changed the power-sharing formula in Lebanon, and the constitution of Iraq, inked under the watch of U.S. forces, are good examples of tightly tailored political tools that cannot allow for the emergence of governments empowered by the people. Instead, these tools produce regimes that are dependent on regional or international backers.

All this ultimately shows that U.S. foreign policymakers are willing to support anti-democratic and ultimately unstable governments instead of investing in, and accepting the consequences of, participatory democracies. Though the U.S. may not like the short-term outcomes of developing democratic processes, it is in everyone’s long-term interest to stop purposefully undermining—whether by intentionally booby-trapping or by rejecting the legitimacy of—those political processes.
* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Is Ukraine becoming for the West what Syria has been for Russia?

    April 13, 2014   No comments

Riding the wave of protests known as the Arab Spring, many Syrians rallied to demand more political and civil rights. Without the hesitancy that characterized their initial reaction to the protest movements in Tunisia and Egypt, Western administrations and some of the Persian Gulf regimes immediately threw their support behind the protesters. Assad’s regime belonged to the so-called non-moderate Arab governments and the protesters offered the West and its allies an opportunity to overthrow it. They formed the “Friends of Syria” group, now consisting of only eleven nations, to provide the opposition with all needed support, including deadly arms, to achieve that goal. After three years of brutal war, Syria’s economy and society are severely damaged and its allies, mainly Russia, China, and Iran have invested a huge political, economic, and military capital to help the Syrian government survive. The Friends of Syria claimed that Assad became illegitimate because he killed Syrians. Assad claimed that he was fighting armed terrorists and thugs.

Now fast-forward to 2013. 

In November of last year (2013), in Ukraine, President Yanukovych's cabinet voted to abandon an agreement on closer trade ties with EU in favor of economic co-operation with Russia. Reacting to this decision, tens of thousands of people attended a demonstration in Kiev. In early December, protesters occupied Kiev city hall and Independence Square. 
To shore up support for Ukrainian government, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered to buy out $15 billion of Ukrainian debt. Protesters grew more violent and by the end of February 2014, more than 90 people were killed including dozens of police and security personnel. Consequently, President Yanukovych left Kiev only to be deposed by the parliament, a move he rejected as illegal. Russia, in the meantime, declared the new regime in Kiev illegitimate and moved to annex Crimea and build its troops along the border threatening to move in should Russia speaking minorities in eastern Ukraine be harmed.

Taking their cues from Crimeans, many eastern Ukranians launched their own protest movement, taking over government buildings and military installations, and demanding a new constitution that would grant them more autonomy. Kiev reacted by sending more troops. The next steps will determine if Ukraine falls into prolonged armed struggle, like Syria, or reach a political settlement. 

If all parties have learned anything from the Syrian crisis, they should know that a Syrian style conflict, which will be essentially another proxy war, will create another global humanitarian and economic crisis. The outcome of the proposed quartet (Russia, U.S. Ukraine, and the EU) meeting, should it happen, will provide more clues about the direction of this crisis.  Should they ignore the similarities between the crises in Ukraine and Syria, Ukraine will be for the West what Syria has been for Russia in the last three years: political and diplomatic vortex.

* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Analysis: Recognizing the new Syrian National Coalition alone will not end the war in Syria

    November 25, 2012   No comments

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

Those who doubt Lakhdar Brahimi’s assessment of the crisis in Syria ought to rethink their position. His ostensibly naïve initiative for a ceasefire over the Eid holidays might have been a brilliant maneuver that ended the existence of the Syrian National Council, the previously prominent face of the Syrian opposition. Before proposing an ambitious plan of six or one hundred points like his predecessor, Brahimi wanted to make sure that there are reliable representatives of both sides who can exert influence and control over their subordinates. After visiting Russia and China, he proposed, from Tehran, that both the opposition forces and the government stop fighting for four days.

Apparently, he wanted to test the influence of the Syrian regime backers and the political leaders of the opposition (Syrian National Council, or SNC) who accepted the ceasefire. Even the military leaders of the FSA accepted the Eid ceasefire. He was aware that for the ceasefire to hold, the opposition groups must stop fighting. It is one thing to claim control over armed groups by simply supporting their actions, but it is a different level of credible control to actually order these groups to stop fighting and see compliance on the ground. Brahimi wanted actual proof of command and control over armed groups in the form of four days of quiet.

The result was embarrassing for the so-called opposition leaders. During the four-day holidays, more car bombs exploded in crowded cities and more attacks on military checkpoints. Worse, some of the FSA groups used the quiet time to attack Kurdish neighborhoods in Aleppo and other Kurdish majority areas to bring more territory under their control. Deadly fights erupted between FSA fighters and Kurdish neighborhood protection militias, forcing the FSA groups to retreat.

The message was clear: the Syrian National Council did not have any significant sway over the armed groups inside Syria. That message reached the Western backers of the SNC. Bringing armed groups under control became more urgent for the West after human rights organizations released damning reports accusing opposition forces of committing war crimes. The U.S. administration announced that the SNC must expand its base and bring armed groups under control. Two weeks after Secretary Clinton made that comment, the NSC was absorbed into a newly established body, the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces (SNCORF, or Syrian National Coalition). Leaders of the new coalition have claimed that they now represent 90% of the Syrian people.

Within days after the establishment of the Coalition, France recognized it as the “sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people.” Several other countries, including the UK, did the same. Some other countries, including the United States, simply recognized it as alegitimate representative of the Syrian people. The rest of the countries of the world remained neutral.

In reality, many opposition groups, dissidents, and political parties did not take part in the Doha meeting and therefore are not represented in the Coalition. Moreover, the peculiar enthusiasm of former colonizers of the Arab world, like France, for recognizing Syria’s representatives without waiting for the Syrian people to decide through ballots (not bullets), was delegitimizing the Coalition in the eyes of many Syrians. That fact was apparently on the mind of some groups affiliated with the FSA, too, who immediately issued a terse but emphatic rejection of the Syrian National Coalition.

Last week, more than 170 religious and political leaders (including some opposition and government representatives) met in Tehran to discussion non-violent transition to democracy. Other opposition coalitions, like the National Coordinating Committees, boycotted the Tehran and Qatar meetings.
Most recently, a prominent Kurdish leader representing the Democratic Union Party (PYD), Saleh Muslim, insisted that Coalition does not represent the Syrians. “They're making the same mistakes as the Syrian National Council. They're one color, a cleric is the ruler. More than 60 percent of the SNC were from the Muslim Brotherhood and the religious groups, and they've made the same mistake with this coalition,” he told Reuters in London, November 20. He contended that the Coalition “has emerged from obedience to Turkey and Qatar,” and that the Kurds included in the group were not representative of Syria's Kurds and were handpicked by Turkey to follow its agenda.

So here we are again, asking the same questions: who are the Syrian opposition groups?
Apparently, with time, the Syrian regime rid itself of unreliable elements by allowing military officers to defect. The regime seems to find its balance by relying on a military that has been purged of suspect elements. The regime’s regional and international backers, few though they may be, are determined to support it no matter the political cost. The strength of the military institution, the loyalty of religious and ethnic minorities who are threatened by Islamists’ takeover, and the loyalty of the regime’s international allies are allowing it to stay in power.

The opposition on the other hand, is becoming more and more fragmented because of division in the ranks of its regional and international backers. For instance, the new Syrian National Coalition came to existence thanks to the handy work of Qatar and Turkey. These two countries are major supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. Saudi Arabia has been always suspicious of the Muslim Brotherhood and has supported Salafi radicals. The statement by the elements of the FSA who rejected the Syrian National Coalition is a signal that the Saudis are dissatisfied with the growing alliance between Qatar, Turkey, and the Muslim Brotherhood. That means that the Saudis will continue to back Salafi and radical Sunni armed groups. This split may also mean that the FSA will be forced to start purging its own ranks if it wants to continue to receive Western support. Alternatively, the FSA might be forced to split along different international camps. They might form competing armed coalitions reflecting the ideological, religious, and political agendas of their regional and international backers.

All these developments suggest that the crisis in Syria could become more complicated and long-drawn-out, and that the Syrian National Coalition has a major challenge ahead of it. If leaders of the world community want to stop the bloodshed in Syria, they must support the UN envoy. If they want the UN envoy to succeed in his mission, they must help him find reliable partners among the opposition forces who can control the armed groups—not necessarily all of them, just most of them. Therefore, the Coalition will be called upon to prove that it represents not 90% of the Syrian people (which can only be ascertained by participating in a fair election), but 90% of the FSA armed groups. That was the test that the SNC failed. Ambassador Brahimi will certainly ask the Syrian National Coalition to pass this test, too, if its leaders want to remain relevant.

* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. Opinions expressed herein are the author’s, speaking as a citizen on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

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