January 03, 2005
More Ripple Effects from Iraq?
In a country where public discussion of the president and his powers has been traditionally off-limits, activists are breaching a red line in ways that would have been unthinkable two years ago.
They want to limit the president to two terms in office and to ensure that he is democratically chosen in a pluralist election.
Prompted partly by a concern that the president may be preparing his son, Gamal, to succeed him - something which Mr Mubarak denies - critics of the regime have become increasingly vocal in their calls for change to the system.
A few weeks ago hundreds of activists staged an unprecedented protest in Cairo to declare their opposition to a new term for Mr Mubarak.
Many placed over their mouths stickers saying "Enough".
(Hat Tip: UK Blogger Monty)
Look, I don't want to sound silly over here so that, everytime some street protest or call for constitutional reforms occurs in the greater Middle East, we dutifully describe it in this space as another wondrous result of Iraq (the possibility of some arranged Gamal Mubarak succession seems to be the immediate catalyst spurring Egyptian discontent--but would protestors be quite so brazen in the absence of U.S. spearheaded democratization initiatives in the region?).
In October, 26 civil society groups launched a petition demanding constitutional reforms before the expiry of the president's mandate.
Mr Mubarak's government is also talking about reform
They continue to collect signatures, and say they will eventually present the document to parliament.
This challenge comes at a time when "reform" has become a catchword not only for the opposition, but also for the government.
With the United States launching repeated initiatives for reform in the Middle East, all governments in the region feel under pressure to declare a commitment to some kind of change.
"The government can clamp down on us," said human rights activist Ahmed Seif al-Islam.
"But it would pay a heavily political price because it is trying to send a message to the West saying that is carrying out reforms." [emphasis added]
It seems clear to me that pressure to liberalize societies in the region is being materially spurred on by things like the historic elections in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine and the Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative. And that's, all told, a net positive--unless radical Islamists were likely to get voted in through free elections. Which I think is unlikely.
Posted by Gregory at January 3, 2005 05:19 AM
I still remember and a little vignette from a statistics class years ago in undergraduate college.
It seems that in Seattle, I think this was during the 1970s, there was a radio talk show host that was discussing a recent meteor shower for the day's topic.
At one point he talked about how most meteors burn up in the outer layers of our atmosphere.
A Seattelite called in to the show wondering whether or not the burned up meteors might not shower the earth's surface with high velocity dust. The caller's question was the result of the caller noticing, since the meteor shower, micro- pitting all over her car's windshield.
Within hours, hundreds of people were calling into the show to declare that they too had had their windshields micro-pitted by the meteors.
The phenomenon spread. Insurance companies were swamped with claims calls.
Finally, it was the insurance companies that put an end to the phenomenon. You see, all windshields in that area have micro-pitting as a result of sand and gravel on roads as well as salting for ice.
You just don't normally notice the micro-pitting because - and this was the buzz word the vignette was to drive home - micro-pitting is not normally SALIENT. When the meteor shower and the caller made micro-pitting salient then peoples attention was focussed on looking for micro-pitting.
I believe you will find that a similar saliency phenomenon is operating in your perceptual apperatus. I think that with research you'd find no significant increase in the number of public demonstrations today over, say the past twenty years.
You were wise to observe that you are at risk for sounding silly. As much as you want this dream of instant democracy being brought to the middle east to come true, you'd do well to relax and wait.
Democracies take time. Ours was the culmination of several hundred years of thought and debate and sweat and blood.
I say the Middle East isn't ready for democracy. They don't want it. Elections don't make democracy. Public protests don't make democracy; a cohesive and enduring democracy is based on so much more than that.
Another problem is that Egypt isn't particularly a place where America wants democracy to break out just yet. Mubarak keeps the lid on militant Islamists, keeps Egypt out of the Israel/Palestine cesspool, and acts as a counter to Saudi Arabia and other hard line Wahabi states. The last thing America wants is an elected Egyptian leader that supports an anti-american agenda legitamized by democracy.
See the above URL for a typical story on typical pre-Iraq invasion protest activity in Iran. Pretty lively polity over there, yet, it is still an "axis of evil" country.
we have some details on the protest mentioned in your post.
For demonstrator Walid Salah, a student in Cairo's Ummal University, social, political and economic problems can only be solved through popular action. "It is time Egyptians took such a stand," he told the Middle East Times. "The Arab world has been silent in the face of oppressive regimes and foreign occupations for too long. What you hear in Lebanon, Syria, everywhere in the Arab world, is that when Egypt moves, the whole region will move - so it's time we took responsibility as Egyptians. For Palestine and Iraq to be freed, Egypt must be freed first."
"The government is not interested in the people," said lawyer Mohammed Okeil. "It is not really an Egyptian government at all - for it is neither democratic nor representative. It is a government in place because of American and Zionist interests. It suits only the continuation of the suffering of Egyptians, Palestinians, Iraqis and Arabs."
"....Americans and Zionist interests....." That's what is on the mind of the protestors. So is this a good portent or a bad one, Greg?
Who are they more likely to put in office if an election were held tomorrow, a Madison or an Usama Bin Laden?
I know that neocon razzleberry flavored cool aid tastes good to you, but you've got to try cutting back a little.
Greg, the best place to go to follow trends in Egypt is to arabist.net, which benefits from having quality reporters who speak Arabic and live in Cairo.
From what I can tell from reading their site, there are some mixed feelings about it all. It's not clear to them what Gamal is all about, to what extent he is popular, etc. And the general consensus seems to be that the alternatives are either not capable of generating mass support or are somewhat scary (the Muslim Brotherhood). But I think it is good news that there is pressure--if small--to lift the emergency law and reform the judicial system, etc. At a minimum, I think that the NDP will have to do more to respond to the public's concerns and priorities. I'm going to be there beginning in June, so I'll have to see for myself. It should be an exciting time.
But again, I would look to other factors in addition to Iraq. Egypt's (tepid) economic liberalization began in the 90s. September 11th itself was a catalyst for reform -- remember, the Arab Human development report (written by Arab reformers) came out before Iraq, and caused considerable consternation within the upper levels of the NDP. And, surprisingly, the events in Ukraine have caught the imagination of many Egyptian reformers. Charles Levinson writes of an Egyptian pop star who wore orange at his concert, saying that he wore it "not because I am happy with the Arabs, but because I am happy with Ukraine.”
We Americans tend to see ourselves as these puppet masters who can foster change hither and yon by our bold actions and strategems. I myself suffer from this analytical handicap, but I try to read what people in other countries and with different perspectives are saying (Britain doesn't count).
That said, I do think that American actions have had an effect, but isn't it more likely that the fact that the U.S. is finally putting direct pressure on the Egyptian government to show some movement the most explanatory variable that we can control?
A complicating factor here is the Gaza and broader Israel/Palestine situation, which in my estimation gives ole Hosni some more maneuvering room with the U.S. gov't. He's a critical player there, and he knows it.
why is this blog run out of belgrade?
In a previous entry - possibly in another forum - a couple of weeks ago, I recommended we follow the example of Teddy Roosevelt after the Boxer Rebellion in China. Rather than cooperate with the other imperialists demanding compensation for damages, TR had all the funds that had been extorted from the Chinese government placed in a scholarship fund for Chinese students and universities. This act helped America's reputation in that country for decades afterwards. I think we should unambiguously state that we are going to convert the billions in aid we give to the Egyptian kleptocracy, within 3/4 years, to private educational assistance for American U and other non-madrassa style education facilities.
To those above who suggest the US might not be happy for the first several years of a legitimate democratic government - I agree, but I think the threat is managable. Look at Iran as a model.
Third, I've noticed "Praktike" posting frequently in the past, and am surprised at his comments in this post.
"We Americans tend to see ourselves as these puppet masters who can foster change hither and yon by our bold actions and strategems. I myself suffer from this analytical handicap, but I try to read what people in other countries and with different perspectives are saying (Britain doesn't count)."
I commend that self-criticism, usually he throws out spurious "facts" (e.g., the CIA parachuted 3 James Bonds into Iraq to install Saddam, or that we armed Saddam when in fact less than 1% of Saddam's weaponry came from the US). To Praktike I say keep up the progress, and congratulations on your mention by Matt Yglesis
of course one cant say for sure that progress in Egypt is due to what happened in Iraq. However if there were riots breaking out in the arab world (as there are not) it would quickly be attributed to US actions in Iraq. Heck, terrorist acts from Madrid to Indonesia have been attributed to Iraq, even when the terrorists belonged to groups that attacked the US when Clinton was president. Yet some folks are not so quick to shout "Post hoc fallacy" in those instances.
usually he throws out spurious "facts" (e.g., the CIA parachuted 3 James Bonds into Iraq to install Saddam, or that we armed Saddam when in fact less than 1% of Saddam's weaponry came from the US)
A cite? When did I say any such thing?
Oh, and re: American University in Cairo -- it's a private institution, and a rather small one at that. Egypt doesn't really have a higher education problem so much as it has a rural literacy problem -- Cairo's other two major schools (Al Azhar University and the University of Cairo) are pretty big and offer a decent education.
Just a couple of many available articles desrcibing the CIA's relationship with Saddam Hussien.
Sorry, Wayne, although there are no details regarding parachutes there are plenty of articles - some with information available through the Freedom of Unformation Act - that describe how the CIA participated in installing Saddam in power and why they did.
It's an indisputable fact. I wonder why you have such a hard time accepting this.
The CIA has a long history of this sort of activity - some of it even involving parachuting into foreign countries in order to accomplish certain aspects of missions.
As for arming Saddam, we certainly supplied intilligence and we certainly supplied pesticides and germs that are basic to chemical/bio warfare manufacturing.
We also certainly supplied rocket/missile components as well as ordnance giudance systems that would be critical to delivering explosives, germs, chemicals to targets.
Again, indisputable fact.
Wake up boyscout and get with it.
Praktike, I didn't know you knew about the James Bond operations. You never cease to amaze me...
I'm still waiting for the link to David Kay's conclusions that we were discussing in a prior thread before it got sidetracked.
And for the record Wayne, if someone points out that we provided arms to Saddam, it is not a rebuttal to mention the fact that other countries provided "more" arms. The argument is not "the US provided more than any other nation" nor is it specific about percentages, although the 1% may be a bit low if talking about just the 80's.
The point is, we gave Saddam arms and arms components, chem and bio components, as well as money and logistical support. It is not comforting nor absolving that other nations had equally poor judgment, or perhaps worse.
Regarding the U.S. tilt toward Saddam, the issues are nuanced, and they are discussed and--get this--backed up with actual government documents here.
Rumsfeld doesn't come across too good, Wayne.
This will really blow your mind. Wayne. It is something that I know a little about for reasons I'll never disclose.
Do a google search on Wackenhut (the US based international security company). Search something like Wackenhut, CIA.
Once you've digested that info. search something like Wackenhut, CIA, Cyanide, cherry syrup, subsidiary.
You'll be way into the realm of black-ops. Parachuting James Bonds pale by comparison.
Djerejian, you'll have to give us the secret of being able to keep a clear head with all these conspiracy loons crowding the threads.
Crap! We sent Saddam flowers in '81! Screw the Egyptians!
So, is the argument that Egypt (and much of the ME) shouldn't engage in democracy, because WE won't like the democracy that is wrought?
I don't think the US had a wonderful democracy from the starting gate (in 2004 hindsight) -- women's suffrage, abolition of slavery, etc.
I am not belittling the potential destructive capability of a freed, Western-unfriendly, theocracy. But I think the only long-term hope of bringing the ME into this century, and modern thinking, is to initiate chinks in the armour of its rulers, to RUSH capitalism into its countries, and to have a very savvy US political administration (including post-Bush) to try to stablize the situation via brute force as much as possible.
I really don't see what alternative there is, if you are thinking in terms of "better world for my grandkids."
Oh, and I forgot to add, it is ESSENTIAL that the UN be reconfigured as a body that recognizes only democratic national governance.
Allowing tyrannical nation states to sit at the world table with anything approaching legitimacy is a crime against humanity, and wastes the political/moral might that a global entity should wield.
Quite frankly, we need to all wake up and start getting this sh*t right.
Rushing capitalism did a hell of a lot of good for Russia, didn't it?
And as for the UN- if you think the body is flawed now, just imagine it without China or Russia. Morally better, perhaps, but absolutely devoid of might.
I think billions given to educational assistance would be more productive than our current foriegn aid priorities.
I agree the US has not been a saint in every instance of foriegn affairs, sometimes self interest or special interest groups have had a negative influence -- I was referring to the general tendency of the left to overemphasise the US role in every negative development and ignore the good we do - issues that used to be considered in the realm of patriotism. I agree the US should not have tilted towards Saddam in the Iran/Iraq war. I also think we should not have salvaged the Stalinist Soviet Union in WWII. I think you guys do the country a disservice when you refuse to acknolwedge that we clearly stated that we had strong disagreements with both parties, but that at the time Khomeni was a greater enemy.
As for my other points - can you honestly argue that it is not a touchstone of the left to accuse the US of massively arming Saddam before we had to face him? And I would like to see more documentation on the US culpablity of giving Saddam chem weapon components before I accept your interpretation - since the anti-US bias is so complete in other areas
Wayne,"I think you guys do the country a disservice when you refuse to acknolwedge that we clearly stated that we had strong disagreements with both parties, but that at the time Khomeni was a greater enemy."
I actually appreciate your concern that focusing on our more sordid policy efforts and chains of policy backfires - putting an oppressive shaw in power in Iran wich led to a Khomeni revolution which led to Backing Saddam...... - is a diiservice to our country.
Appreciate, but disagree. I, for one, believe it is necessary that we face our demons so 1) we understand where the people of the ME (or the region in question) are coming from. How do they perceive America?, why? and how can we improve that image so we can better achieve our objectives? 2) so we can genuinely develop better policy so that what we do today does indeed secure a better world for our great-grandchildren.
It is important to note that we have supported and do support oppressive regimes. The people living under these regimes know about our involvement. When they have a revolution they will turn to other ideologies because we've spoiled ours. Thus we have communist revolutions in south and central america, islamic fundementalist revolutions in the ME.....
CJ, on a related point, we must accept that not only has the US diminished the appeal of democracy in regions of the world, some people just don't care about democracy in the first place.
Trust me. I think that the governments of the US and the European Union are the best in the history of humanity. The ME would do well to emmulate us.
However, there are many many people out there - even here at home - that have higher priorities like security, order, religion, etc. THey will opt for the form of government that provides these things first and foremost. Let's face it. Democracy is messy and risky. Many people don't see the pay-off worth the risk.
So democracy promotion is just not the panacea that we would like it to be.
What is the solution? Probably a combination of approaches with each ingredient in just the right amount.
That the United States -only- provided approximately 1% of international armarments to Hussein's Iraq during the 1980s is especially relevant considering that the countries that provided much of the rest of the 99% (Russia, France, and China at the top of the list) were still supporting him in the 1990s.
This took place logistically (through holes in the sanctions, see the French resupply of Mirage replacement parts for example) and diplomatically (through the UN) vis a vis removing sanctions (pre-9-11) and opposing military action against him (post 9-11).
You're happy to air our dirty laundry, but you forget that those who opposed us this time around were not only much worse, but never drifted from that same realpolitik you condemn. We helped Saddam then. They helped Saddam then, and up until he was removed.
For example, the accusation that we supplied him with chemical and biological weapons might not ring so hollow if it were ever mentioned just who helped Iraq with the Osirak nuclear reactor, and just why it was given the nickname "Ochiraq" by the French press at the time.
Likewise, accusations that this is a "war for oil" ring hollow when it is realized that the contracts for Iraq's oil fields were given to countries from whatever country would willingly work to undermine Hussein's containment (i.e. France and Russia) and then take advantage of the development contracts.
Iraq acquired biological strains the same way that most third world countries did so in the 1980s, applying in the United States for "vaccine research," and receiving medical strands from US universities and the CDC that were then weaponized.
I don't know whether Congress was naive, idiotic, or willingly obtuse, but I also don't have anything invested in automatically condemning like so many anti-American bigots.
*were given to COMPANIES from whatever country...
I have no problem condemning France, Russia, China or any other nation. I do not take their side in any of this. They deserve the condemnation they receive for their actions. No excuses. I have never, ever, stated otherwise.
It does not absolve our own lack of judgment, however, nor should we ignore America's history in the region because these facts help to create a context and a frame of reference for understanding the dynamic in the Muslim world.
If I point out that we helped instigate a coup against Mossadegh and impose the Shah on the Iranians, and that this might help to explain some of the anti-American reaction in 1979 through the present, it would not contradict my statement to say that the Brits were knee deep in it too. Yes the British were culpable, but so were we.
I am not applying a double standard in any of this. I would not defend the British then, nor the French, Russians, etc., today.
As for the war for oil charge, while I am not weighing in on the ultimate validity of the claim, how does it counter the charge to point out that France and Russia were taking advantage of oil contracts beforehand (unless France and Russia are making the allegation)?
For an American, it could seem like war for oil, even if the tension is between the US on one hand, and France and Russia on the other, for Iraqi oil.
Yes we supported Saddam. Yes, we gave him weapons. Yes, the CIA has installed and propped up many illiberal leaders. The big question though is: So what? How does that affect today? George Bush has admitted that 50 years of supporting tryants was a crime and a mistake. Since realism failed should we not try democratization? Should the US never engage in foreign affairs ever again because of its sins? Once again the Left brings no ideas to the table. It offers nothing but a near-religious faith in the continuing wickedness of the US.
Here's a link to prove that Wayne is not insane. David Kay really did say Iraq was more dangerous than he thought. The link is the first one I came across when I googled it, but there were many more.
Thanks for the link Collin. I appreciate it.
As for the charge that the left has near religious faith in the wickedness of the US, I think that is a gross overstatement of the issue.
I for one never made any such statement, and I only addressed the issues in the context of setting the historical record straight so that we can better understand the underlying dynamics and attitudes in the region. It is better to have an accurate appraisal of the facts, as any student of history would tell you. In that regard, I appreciate the Kay link since I will be better informed as to his stance.
Certainly, our past support for dictators should not preclude our acting against certain of them in the future or present, but it should be a part of the discussion - at least to the extent that we should understand the effect of those prior actions on the target population and on the perception of our actions abroad. It might also inform our current policy with regard to dictators and despots.
For example, as much as Bush has declared that 50 years of supporting tyrants (probably more like 100+ if we want to be accurate) is a mistake, we continue to do so. Iraq was not the only tyranny in the region. Some we oppose, others we support with money and arms. It is a typical, though unfortunate, pattern.
As far as coming to the table with ideas, the left has produced many. I for one have called for efforts to promote the spread of democracy. I just happen to believe that doing so through invasion and war is a less than effective means. In that regard, I suppose I track with Francis Fukuyama.
Collin, I would say that your link regarding Kay is of questionable value.
Kay has essentially gone back on his statements made at the time the linked statement was made.
That statement is the DoD trying to put the best possible face on whatever Kay found - or didn't find - up to that point of the inspections.
Kay was grasping at straws. He presented no evidence. Only an opinion that Saddam might have done something in the future based on his actions of a decade earlier and his inabilitiy to prove a negative - that he didn't have WMD.
Again, Kay later - and I suppose after realizing that a further career with the Bush admin. was not going to happen - has made stronger statements, independent of the DoD that Saddam was not a threat.
I second Eric Martin's perspective on why re-tracing US involvement in the region is instructive and constructive.
I see that there is a schizm in our perception of foreign policy approaches to the ME.
Much of the disparity is based on a perception of the nature of the enemey.
One group sees the enemey as fanatical and hating the US because of what we are. The enmey wants to attack and destroy western civilization. For this group, solutions center around "bringing the ME into the 21st century", by force if necessary because, it is believed, that one Islam tastes the delights of western culture they will want to be like us and with us.
Another group - of which I am member - sees the enemy as ardent adherents to their religion and to the brotherhood of Islam. They hate us not for who we are and what we have, but for what we have done and continue to do in the Islamic world; proping up corrupt and oppressive dictatorships being one example. They attack us only in defense of Islam. They would be fine with a live and live approach.
While I believe that we must relentlessly kill all armed enemy (al qaeda) I also believe that we must sway current and future populations away from joining enemy combatants.
This we can do by truly exporting our highest virtues and by acting with respect to Islam at all times when interacting in the region.
Understanding the enemy and his motivations and the political environment he operates in is critical to our success in the region and our security at home.
We must honestly assess US actions and Islamic reactions if we are to understand the enemy - and millions of potential enemies or potential friends (depending on how we interact with them).
If the intention to develop WMD related programs is sufficient cause for war, then we really do have to be ready to invade most of the planet.
The war was started because Cheney, Bush, Rice, Rumsfeld, et al said there "is no doubt" that Saddam Hussien has ammassed "stockpiles" of WMD. That with said WMD he posed "a grave and gathering danger" to the US.
Kays weaseling just doesn't cut it as a cause for war.
There were no WMD. End of story.
Of course Wolfowitz says that WMD was only one reason to after Saddam. The real important reason was to bring democracy to the ME.
Interesting. I thought that in a democracy the people are supposed to have a say in the decision to do big things, like invading essentially unarmed countries.
So we will avoid the democratic system at home (lie to the people) and then the watching world is supposed to believe that the same actors are going to honestly install a real democracy abroad.
What is it about this that conservatives don't get. When I was coming up I was a conservative and we believed in the Constitution and transparency in government and fiscal resposibility.......etc, etc.
Now it seems like conservative means people that want to bankrupt government and spend lots of money fighting wars all over the globe against people that haven't attacked us (no Iraq did not).
But mostly I am pissed that conservatives accept that their government has a right to BS them into war.
For future reference, Wayne, I do not intend to defend "The Left" for whatever it did to anger you, nor will I defend the actions of other countries unless such defense is warranted. I will defend the facts as I know them and the arguments I make. That is all.
No James Bond's entered into it. Saddam was in exile in Baghdad, along with other Baathists, while
at law school at Cairo University in the Early 60s.
He was approached by officials from the Beirut
embassy, Copeland, Eichelberger, & Middle East;
the former followed the same broken template
that had failed ten years before with their choice
of Nasser; a third way nationalist strong man
Branch Chief Critchfield; formerly the man with
the Gehlen account. His was the most salient
faction to go ro; Adnan Pachachi, now the Sunni
statesman/ State Dept stalking horse, would not
seek exile, for another 5 years; until he tried
to rationalize Iraq's flawed intervention in the 6 day war; (re Oren's treatment of same; Saddam's faction did subsequently help Quassem out of power; they fell into squabbling, and didn't regain
power for another 4 years under Gen, Aref. By
then we were too preoccupied in Vietnam to focus