Thursday, March 30, 2006

The New Era: Hamas Versus Kadima

The newly created centrist Israeli party Kadima has won 28 seats in the Knesset from a total of 120. Labor came in second place with 20 seats and the conservative parties Yisrael Beitenu and Likud took 12 and 11 respectively. Kadima has not won by a landslide as predicted but have taken precedence in the Knesset. They will be able to lay out their centrist and less conservative/orthodox solution to the current problem’s stagnation.

Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has promised to work toward a compromise with the Palestinians but clearly stated that “We [the Israelis] will not wait forever.” Kadima’s win was subsequently followed by an American and Canadian refusal to contract with Hamas unless they renounce violence and abide by forming a two-state solution.

The political environment has rapidly changed since Hamas’ landslide win last January. International reaction to Hamas’gain of power was largely one-sided. It is worrying both Arab and Western countries. Both Canada and the US have clearly exemplified their skepticism and cautiousness. As discussed in my previous posts, forecasting future Palestinian-Israeli relationships is at this point ambivalent (given both an optimistic and pessimistic perspective). On the one hand, former US president Jimmy Carter argued that Hamas should be given a chance while on the other hand Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been touring the Middle East and Europe encouraging governments to curtail aid to Hamas.

According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Palestinian Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh promised to give the Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas a chance to negotiate with Israel. This should certainly shed some essence of optimism and possibly alleviate some of the tensions and skepticism rampant on the global forum.

From an Egyptian perspective, Hosni Mubarak has refused to fund Hamas or even meet with them. Moreover, he has boycotted a visit to the Knesset since his accession to power in the fear of being assassinated like his predecessor Anwar Sadat. Also, since the Muslim Brotherhood has accentuated their stance and gained momentum, Mubarak needs to be careful with his foreign policy, especially with Israel and the US. Hamas have already made close friends with the Muslim Brotherhood which has proven to be a formidable adversary to Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP) and so the dynamics are sensitive and require accurate calculations.

It is difficult to realize what to expect. However, Hamas will need to be watched closely and their militant activity monitored. They have already learned that using the ‘stick’ approach will not gain them international acknowledgment and recognition nor will they be able to gain worthy concessions. Hamas need to cooperate with neighboring Arab countries as well as Mahmoud Abbas to reach pragmatic compromises to the problem.

Change should be embraced at this point, the momentous political events of the last few months will be the protagonists in instigating a new era.

Olmert has promised a table for negotiation which Hamas has already been invited. This is a chance for them to redeem themselves and offer a civil approach to the problem. Hamas need to RSVP soon before it is too late and before the Palestinians start to give up. This is critical as it will reduce the likelihood of commencing another intifida which has sparked immense violence from both Israelis and Palestinians in recent decades.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Embracing Change In Israel: Going Kadima or Backwards?

So far 57% of registered Israeli voters have headed over to the voting polls. The clock is ticking quickly. Israelis vote today with the newly elected Hamas in power and with the absence of Ariel Sharon. The Palestinian parliament approved the Hamas-led government after a 71-36 vote and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh’s government will be sworn in this coming Thursday.

Thus, what should one expect?

Pre-election polls have shown that the nascent Kadima (which means forward in Hebrew) party formed by Ariel Sharon and currently led by acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has an edge over the traditional power holders Likud and Labor.

Historically, no main right or left-wing party in Israel has been able to gain majority seats in Knesset (at least 61 out of 120) and governments have always been a coalition of both. If Kadima wins, it is likely that the government will remain the same. Nonetheless, it will be a turning point in Israeli politics. The outcome will produce a platform which is neither completely dovish nor completely hawkish.

What does a political circle with Hamas and Kadima in power hold for the future of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?

The speculated dynamic between both parties presents a very interesting outlook. This is the situation: given that Hamas is already in power, from a moderate Israeli perspective, Kadima’s possible rise to power will make Israel face backward and not forward.


From the eyes of Israelis, Hamas is an occupation party which represents a return to the traditional and original values of the post-1948 war – in other words Hamas is bad news. What exacerbates the situation is that on paper, Kadima is a party of territorial withdrawals and disengagements where Hamas (on paper and from history) is the clear opposite; aggressive, non-negotiating, non-withdrawing and intransigent.

From the eyes of Palestinians, Hamas is the best thing that has happened in recent years. With a swarming popular vote, Hamas beat the old and corrupt Fatah party which has been unable to attain to Palestinian demands since 1948. Hamas is aggressive and determined to gain back territory and remove the Israeli occupiers. Moreover, they refuse to acknowledge Israel and use Islam as the solution to the problem. Kadima’s rise to power is ideal for Hamas since they do not have to deal with the conservatism of the Likud party (under ex-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) but with a party willing to attain to their concessions (on paper only at this point) and "give in."

The compatibility is iron-clad at this point. However, both Hamas and Kadima will stay on their guard. On the one hand, Hamas have quickly learned that using rhetoric of violence and terrorism will only exacerbate their chances of gaining international recognition as well as ultimately gaining the concessions they and the Palestinian people seek. Moreover, the recent aid boycotts by the West as well as some Arab countries could lead Hamas in to financial catastrophe – a crisis they seek to avoid. In essence, Hamas might end up toning its voice down and putting up a more diplomatic-friendly face.

On other hand, Kadima will remain skeptical and cautious of Hamas’ intentions and their methods of turning a blind-eye to their militant faction (which have been responsible for a plethora of terrorist acts since the start of the quarrel in 1948). In essence, Kadima might want to portray a more hawkish and less lenient attitude towards Hamas.

This potential tit-for-tat will potentially lead both parties to play the uncertainty game which by de facto assumes the irrationality of the opposing party. This will in fact lead both Hamas and Kadima to think rationally of their decisions, actions, rhetoric and intentions.

The voting is in progress and so the speculation in this article could be near infallible or completely futile – time will tell.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Once a Muslim always a Muslim!

The recent attempts by Afghani authorities to put Abdul Rahman, a 41 year old Christian convert on charges of rejecting Islam has further called in question the compatibility of Islam, the Sharia Law and modern day democracy.

In Islam, it is forbidden to convert to different faiths. The idea is that God slowly provided the world with his divine words progressively through the Bible, the Torah and lastly the Koran. Islam is the faith which EVERYBODY should follow because it is God’s final words. Thus, it is completely blasphemous to revert back to the ‘old’ and ‘outdated’ faiths – in essence one should keep with the trend and if it isn’t fashion then it should certainly be their spiritual connection to God.

As much as this could be a source of mockery and tongue-in-cheek sarcasm, this is truly the situation. It is very rare for Muslims to revert to other faiths and if that is the case, it is usually kept under wraps. In Egypt, the most common situations revolve around Christian women converting to Islam for purposes of marriage. However the opposite is rarely heard about.

Why is that the case?

For the exact same reason Abdul Rahman is going through. Even if Abdul Rahman manages to flee persecution (under the auspices of the United States), he will still face incredible social scrutiny if he stays in Afghanistan. He will be looked down upon and be considered an outcast, a heretic and a complete anti-Christ of Islam.

The Muslims, who have the urge to convert to Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism or any of the plethoras of religions available today, don’t dare. This is why the case of Abdul Rahman is gaining incredible attention from the media – the situation is very rare.

Moreover, the fact that the ‘Christian US army’ was the prime protagonist in overthrowing the tyrannical Taliban from power has further called in to question on whether the Afghanis have truly appreciated the work of the Americans. Ironically, it was a Christian (and only with Muslim help) jihad against the Taliban which led to the enemy’s demise. Now, the Afghanis are trying Abdul Rahman, someone who seeks to follow the same faith which helped overthrow the Taliban.

This will cause an interesting moral, ethical, judicial conundrum.

Most important of all, Rahman’s case has painted the split in Afghani society on how to interpret the constitution which in an incredibly contradicting manner has called for religious freedom while also claiming that any Muslim which renounces Islam should be punished by death.

Is this democracy?

Obviously not.

Sharia Law advocates the latter point (i.e. punishes heretics and those renouncing Islam) and thus by default (in its current state), it cannot be compatible with modern day democracy.

As I argued in my previous post ‘Democracy: Does It and Will It Work in The Middle East?’ Arab and Muslim countries have a long way to go before they should officially introduce the ideas of democracy in their respective societies. Afghanistan is no different. The US tried to introduce democracy but this ended up in a hybrid of Sharia Law garnished an ‘essence’ of constitutionalism.

This is a disaster which is slowly surfacing and Westerners are starting to realize the futility of their intervention in such seemingly archaic and ‘middle-age-like’ societies. It is difficult for Americans to understand the cultural idiosyncrasies of complicated societies such as that of Iraq of Afghanistan and the result is an utter mess.

Internal change needs to take place – Arab and Muslim countries need to educate their populations. They also need to have moderates in power which would be able potentially appease the majority of the sects in their societies and most importantly create a pragmatic solution to bringing Islam in to the 21st century.

My Current City of Residence: A Break from The Middle East

The Economist loves Chicago but I do have my qualms. Regardless of the typical Mid-Western culture, the beer drinking and the obsession with Football and Baseball - it is certainly a must-see city.

Mar 16th 2006

Chicago has come through deindustrialisation looking shiny and
confident, says John Grimond. Can other rustbelt cities do the same?

APPEARANCES often deceive, but, in one respect at least, the visitor's first impression of Chicago*[1] is likely to be correct: this is a city buzzing with life, humming with prosperity, sparkling with new buildings, new sculptures, new parks, and generally exuding vitality. The Loop, the central area defined by a ring of overhead railway tracks, has not gone the way of so many other big cities' business districts--soulless by day and deserted at night. It bustles with shoppers as well as office workers. Students live there. So, increasingly, do gays, young couples and older ones whose children have grown up and fled the nest. Farther north, and south, old warehouses and factories have become home to artists, professionals and trendy young families. Not far to the east locals and tourists alike throng Michigan Avenue's Magnificent Mile, a stretch of shops as swanky as any to be found on Fifth Avenue in New York or Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Chicago is undoubtedly back.

Back, that is, from what many feared would be the scrapheap. In 1980, when THE ECONOMIST last published a survey of Chicago, it found a city whose "facade of downtown prosperity" masked a creaking political machine, the erosion of its economic base and some of the most serious racial problems in America. There followed an intensely painful decade of industrial decline and political instability during which jobs, people and companies all left Chicago while politicians bickered and racial antagonisms flared or festered. Other cities with similar manufacturing economies, similar white flight and similar problems of race and class looked on in dismay. If Chicago, the capital of the Midwest, the city of big shoulders, the city that works, that toddlin' town (few places have generated so much braggadocio), were to descend into rust-bound decay, what chance was there for Pittsburgh, Cleveland, St Louis, Detroit and a score of smaller places?

Chicago's revival should not be judged merely by the manifest sparkle of the Loop and such districts as River North, the Gold Coast and Streeterville. A more telling indicator is the growth of population recorded in the most recent (2000) census: an increase of 4.0% for the city since 1990 (compared with 3.9% for Minneapolis, and losses of 5.4% for Cleveland, 7.5% for Detroit and 9.6% for Pittsburgh). Other signs of economic vigour include the arrival of Boeing, which moved its headquarters from Seattle to Chicago in 2001, the growth of the futures and derivatives markets embodied in the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Board of Trade, and the decision to expand O'Hare to ensure it keeps its place as the busiest (depending on the measurement) airport in the country.

Just as significant have been some of the events that have not happened. For 21 years after 1955, Chicago was run by Richard Daley senior, a machine politician of the old school whose style was already looking anachronistic when his police enthusiastically beat up dissenters (as well as journalists and bystanders) at the Democratic convention in 1968. By the time of his death in 1976, he looked like a throwback to an earlier age. Despotism, however, was then replaced by factionalism and racism, and when Chicago got its first black mayor, Harold Washington, in 1983, he was rendered all but impotent by the implacable hostility of 29 of the council's 50 aldermen. The squabbling earned the city the title of "Beirut on the lake".

Since 1989, though, relative harmony has reigned under a second Mayor Richard Daley, who has skilfully modernised his father's approach to government, embracing rather than suppressing opponents and working with prominent businessmen to improve life in the city. Although the whiff of scandal has latterly been swirling through the ranks of his administration, most of the headlines have been about policy decisions, not political deadlock. And no wonder: many of the decisions, especially those concerning housing, education and the environment, have been bold, earning the mayor plenty of criticism but probably more approval.

So Chicago seems to have weathered its period of deindustrialisation and emerged looking pretty robust. Other cities still groping for life after manufacturing death and trying to restore hope to their citizens and to the benighted neighbourhoods in which they live would do well to see what they can learn from Chicago's experience. This survey will try to do the work for them. It will examine an American success story. Is it as good as it seems? How much of it depends on Chicago's peculiar circumstances? How much could be repeated elsewhere? And what happens

*The greater Chicago area consists of six Illinois counties: Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will. The city itself lies entirely within Cook county, but makes up little more than half its population. The Census Bureau's Chicago-Naperville-Joliet metropolitan area includes parts of Indiana and Wisconsin. In this survey, the term Chicago means the city alone.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Eastern Tripartite: China, Russia and Iran

Russia and China understand diplomacy, or do they?

Both countries have deflected Western moves to authorize any U.N. Security Council threats against Iran. Representatives from both countries believe that the Iranian nuclear issue can be resolved through negotiations and compromises.

The U.N. Security Council compromised of China, Russia, the United States, Britain and France has been unable to reach a plan of action on how to deal with Iran – they are divided. On the one hand, the Americans, Britons and French are determined to have Iran halt its alleged nuclear ambitions as well as reveal any clandestine nuclear program they might have been pursuing. On the other hand, the Chinese and Russians believe that the situation is being blown out of proportion where diplomacy and negotiations should be the key to a successful solution.

The divisions in the Security Council are quite peculiar. The United States considers Russia an ally in the war against terrorism and an old-foe-turned-friend after the end of the Cold War. Moreover, the United States considers China as a strong trading ally however fears its Communist doctrine and its prospects of achieving hegemony in the Northern Hemisphere.

The Russians consider the United States an ally however there continues to be competitive tensions as Vladimir Putin tries to put Russia in the international spotlight. According to Ariel Cohen at the Heritage Foundation Putin’s policies present challenges to the current Bush administration. These areas of concern include: National Missile Defense, proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and the issues surrounding selling arms to Iran and China.

The Chinese pose a defensive guard vis-à-vis the US. After experiencing a period of foreign policy leniency from the Clinton administration, the Chinese realized that the current Bush administration is tougher and will not always acquiesce. The prime example of US-Chinese disagreements rests on the sovereignty of Taiwan. China considers Taiwan part of its sovereign territory whereas the US believes that the Taiwanese issue should be agreed upon on both sides. But at the same time the US conspires with Taiwan independence supporters in order to keep it separate.

Russian-US and Chinese-US tensions certainly exist.

The Russians and Chinese are using their veto power in the Security Council to test Western powers’ waters – especially the United States. Iran is an ally of both the Russians and Chinese and they are not willing to give that up.

In essence, the Sino-Russo collaboration via the Iranian crisis seems to be a method of standing up to the US, proving to them that they will not always have it their way. Naturally, both the Russians and Chinese seek to enhance their military and their position of power politics. The Iranian crisis is the perfect way of using ping-pong diplomacy in order to achieve the latter and to strengthen their soft-power influence in the region. In fact, both countries will like to see Iran strengthen its own military so as to balance the power in the region. Moreover, on a collective basis, China, Russia and Iran would pose a formidable military strength against the US – no matter the diplomacy, it is a world where ‘survival of the fittest’ clearly reigns.

Both countries have been able to keep a civil, diplomatic and a superficial ‘icing on the cake’ relationship with the US however the current crisis with Iran might reveal true governmental disagreements which have merely been suppressed for the sake of stability.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Bin Laden and….Sex?

To the average person the two terms (Bin Laden and sex) seem to have absolutely no association whatsoever. Recently the name associated with terrorism and 9/11 has been in the media but with connotations of sexiness, pretentiousness, flamboyance and that of a wanna-be celebrity.

Thanks to Wafah Dufour Bin Ladin (please not the difference in spelling of her last name) whose mother was married to the Osama Bin Laden’s half brother. She was born in California but lived in Saudi Arabia from the age of three to ten, the Bin Laden’s family’s awful reputation has taken quite an interesting turn.

Wafah Dufour Bin Ladin (who goes only by the name Wafah Dufour) appeared in an exposing, seductive GQ photo spread. The wanna-be celebrity’s mother Carmin Bin Ladin is half Swiss and half Persian and has written a bestseller about her experiences married to a Saudi and living in Saudi Arabia. Wafah’s story and recent exposé stirs up interesting discussions on whether a bridge exists between the cultures she’s experienced. On the one hand, she was raised in Saudi Arabia, a country which enforces Islamic Sharia Law by the dot – strict, oppressive and ‘regulated’ and on the other hand she’s lived in Europe and America – in countries where libertarianism, freedom and democracy are the fuel driving peoples’ lives.

Wafah was probably too young to remember the restrictions imposed on her when she was a child however in retrospect and living the experiences vicariously through her mother, it is obvious she has a clear picture of the differences.

It certainly “…isn’t easy being the sexy Bin Ladin…” as George Gurley of GQ reports. It isn’t easy for a variety of reasons.

First, as an independent woman who considers herself completely detached from the Bin Laden family, Wafah Dufour needs to work immensely hard to remove any incriminating stigma which her uncle’s last name brings to her.

Second, since she is Muslim by birth, it is hard for traditionalists as well as members of the Bin Laden family (and others in Saudi Arabia) to accept her ‘blasphemous’ acts of sin. The fact that she is promoting herself as a musician is itself a sign of religious infidelity. The fact that she is promoting herself “…reclining on satin sheets wrapped in feathers and posing in a bubble bath wearing nothing but a necklace…” means that she is certainly going to hell. This is all in the name of the extremist doctrine of Wahabism.

Third, Wafah Dufour will become (or if she already hasn’t) a symbol of women’s rights in the Middle East. Although she does not speak Arabic, her roots to a prominent Saudi family as well as her upbringing in Saudi Arabia has provided her with a sort of responsibility. Human and women’s rights in the Middle East and especially in Saudi Arabia have been constantly violated. Saudi Arabia represents quite an oppressive example and this very well enforces her responsibility. However, at this point, Wafah Dufour seems more concerned with re-painting her image as opposed to representing the rights of women in the Middle East – for now she is at least symbolic.

The example of Wafah Dufour brings an interesting reality to the Western world. In recent years, there has been an influx of wanna-be woman celebrities in the Middle East – all aspiring actors and actresses seeking stardom and fame. Some have come under great scrutiny such as Muslim pop star Deeyah who has been facing death threats because of raunchy new music videos and some remain accepted within reason such as Nancy Ajram. Nonetheless, these divas have emitted incredible sex appeal which has received positive responses from the Western world.

It has also revealed a sort of progression in to the new age for woman in the Middle East. They are redefining stereotypes, breaking traditional taboos and surviving an upsurge of criticism from extremists. In the case of Wafah Dufour Bin Ladin, she has done a great job at improving the general Bin Laden family's name stigma. People will start to realize that the Bin Laden family is very large and that Osama is merely one ‘huge hiccup’ which has caused incredible damage all over the world.

One should embrace her stardom and anticipate social and political repercussions.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Peace And Security in Southeast Asia

The biggest threat to the maintenance of peace and security on both an international and intranational level in Southeast Asia is Al-Qaeda.

Southeast Asia has had frequent episodes of political upsurge which has been linked to terrorism. Al-Qaeda was at the forefront of all such calamity. According to Rohan Gunaratna’s estimates, in 2002 one fifth of Al-Qaeda’s organizational strength was in Asia.

Al Qaeda remains a global threat, its decentralized and clandestine nature makes it hard for governments to track down the terrorists and stop them before committing heinous acts. There is much more Asian governments and especially those of the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and Pakistan can do to crack down on terrorist cells and reduce the likelihood of terrorist acts.

There are several issues that could be addressed by each country’s respective governments as well as the United States in order to collaboratively combat Al-Qaeda and terrorism. First, law enforcement in the region needs to improve drastically. According to the Heritage Foundation, in 2003 the United States provided $20 million of military assistance to the Philippines and only $2 million for law enforcement purposes. The funds provided for the military would be more beneficial if they were allocated to better enforcing domestic law. Due to the non-state actor nature of terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda, the military will prove futile in disrupting plans for attack thus domestic law enforcement is a more effective tool.

Second, Southeast Asian governments need to set up specialized anti-terrorist units (with the aid and expertise of the United States and Europe) in order to designate ‘watch-dogs’ which would be able to track potential terrorist activity or the location of cells. In essence, the decentralized model of Al-Qaeda has proven its effectiveness in remaining undetected and active. Thus this model could be mimicked for locally designated anti-terrorist units. These units would be independent of each other in their daily activities but would collaborate and act as a single counter force.

Third, a more idealistic and long-term approach for Southeast Asian governments is a strict program aiming to cut down general corruption. Corruption will hinder attempts to locate terrorists and disrupt any plans and schemes they might have. The issue of corruption is rampant in many developing countries and Southeast Asian countries are also prime victims. Al-Qaeda is able to use its bureaucratic connections to sneak weapons, supplies and launder money over borders without any detection. On a more micro-manageable level, an active effort to cut down corruption will increase transparency and make it difficult for terrorists to operate in a ‘safe’ environment.

Finally, since it is in the interest of the United States to succeed in the war against terror, they should maintain support of Southeast Asian governments and continue to provide funding as well as their expertise. Moreover, Congress should reverse the prohibition on training foreign law enforcement agencies so as to strengthen their Southeast Asian allies in combating terrorism.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Egypt’s Youth – What Is Really Going On?

In my previous post ‘A Moment of Epiphany’, I started to discuss Egypt’s youth but never fully concluded my remarks. This post will address the title’s question.

Is it really sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll? Young Egyptians have gone to extremes. There are those which decided to embark on the Islamist path and there are others which have turned to a life of hedonism and extreme indulgence. Thus for some, it certainly has become a life of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll but for others Islam holds the answer.

Having lived in the United States for quite some time, I’ve been exposed to a quintessential Western lifestyle – that of a ‘work hard, play hard’ philosophy. In my opinion, people in corporate America possess a peculiar schizophrenic personality. From Monday to about Friday afternoon, they present their serious, hard working, capitalist, money mongering personas but from Friday night to Sunday night, they are completely different people – the ideal consumer searching for happiness and utility.

The Christmas party I attended stunned me.

I tried as much as possible not to apply a double standard to Egypt’s social atmosphere. Given that I grew up in a pseudo-conservative society all my life, it was difficult for me to see the progression and the changes. Nonetheless, I am liberal and open minded, but what I experienced was far from anything Western.

The party was infested with drugs and copious amounts of drinking. The latter is totally acceptable coming from a Western society but the former has its legislative repercussions in almost all countries of the world (and even stricter persecution in the Arab world). The US and Europe are able to tolerate mild consumption of soft drugs (such as marijuana) but possession/consumption of hard drugs (such as cocaine, ecstasy and heroin) have an absolute zero-tolerance policy.

One word summed it up: indulgence.

I felt that young Egyptians – both males and females – felt that they needed to catch up on what they lacked not living in the West. There was a strong fascination with consumerism, materialism, Americanism and general aestheticism. This phenomenon draws many parallels to a Platonic mimesis. Although Plato and Aristotle used the concept of mimesis in the arts, mimesis can be seen as a method of cultural survival.

Given that imitation is a method of survival, what is this young generation trying to survive?

I believe they are trying to survive a ‘revolution.’ They are trying to survive a revolution incited against them and they themselves are trying to instigate a ‘passive revolution’ in retaliation.
The young crowd at the party was the crème de la crème of society – the haute couture, the upper echelon, the jetsetters and the globetrotters, the sons and daughters of wealthy businessmen and politicians. Last September’s presidential and parliamentary elections have proven to them that change is around the corner. In the eyes of those young, pleasure-searching, trigger-happy individuals this change will be for the worse. If the Muslim Brotherhood and its members attain majority seating in parliament as well as the presidential seat then it is highly likely that such extravagant and ostentatious Christmas parties might cease to exist.

At this point, it is difficult to determine the Brotherhood’s perspectives on basic domestic issues. For example, will they ban alcohol? Will they force women to wear the Hijab? Will they ban Western music? Will they censor the internet and satellite broadcasting? These have been questions occupying the minds’ of all Egyptians especially the young generation.

I call it a ‘passive revolution’ because as Egypt’s borders become more porous, Western ideals slowly and passively infiltrate. This should certainly be the case, young Egyptians need to be exposed to the West especially with regards to its socio-economic methods, functions and systems.

However, the problem is that the majority of the young, rich and powerful generation has employed a ‘play hard, play hard’ mentality on life. They fail to realize that Westerners are able to divide their life in a productive manner, working hard and rewarding themselves when the time is right. Moreover, given their apathetic political concerns (germinating from their aristocratic status), this young ‘hopeful’ generation does not understand that they hold the future of the country in their hands.

If Egypt’s youth seeks to turn their passive cultural revolution in to an active, progressive and forward thinking movement, they need to feel accountable and responsible. The possibilities look grim at this point and once they tackle the general ambiance of apathy plaguing them, there will certainly be room for a non-Islamist, liberal and secular change.

Friday, March 10, 2006

The Semantics of Jihad And The Road To Paradise

Jack Thomas is an Australian born convict to Islam who went to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban. Before converting to Islam, he considered a variety of religions but did not study them with a complete tableau rasa; he was born Christian. He chose Islam because the religion advocated ‘Jihad.’ He even chose to change his name to Jihad, since it meant struggle and in his opinion signified his 23 years on Earth (back in 1997 when he converted).

Jihad Jack was being radicalized and utterly brainwashed when he went to Afghanistan in 2001. He found al Farouq, an al-Qaeda training camp to be his new home and his sanctuary.

To join al-Qaeda, Jack Thomas needed to read, sign and date an al-Qaeda ‘employment contract.’ A close analysis and dissection of this contract reveals several interesting observations. The six page document lays out Al-Qaeda’s mission, its belief, objectives, sphere of activity and most importantly its regulations and instructions.

Despite a possible loss in translation (from Arabic/Urdu/Farsi to English), the legal employment contract retains its essence. There is no doubt that the document had been written by a wise, erudite individual who has indulged in the knowledge of Islam and most importantly Sharia Law. The contract is flooded with references to Koranic verses justifying the organization’s motives, purpose and its activities.

The contract includes a concise and bulleted ‘duties’ section which includes somewhat trivial obligations such as eating Halal food to more salient orders such as ‘preserving Islamic morals and avoiding means of corruption and bad companions.’ The sentences are succinct and straight to the point.

If one views the document from an objective, non-Muslim standpoint, its biggest flaw is that it fails to define ‘Jihad.’ Jack Thomas understood Jihad based on his own notions, interpretations and subjective perspectives. In fact, the constant rebuttal plaguing many contemporary Muslims’ discourse surrounds what Jihad entails.

For Osama Bin Laden and his followers, Jihad is simply a Holy war against infidels (i.e. non-Muslims in general and especially Jews). Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda would use any means necessary to fulfill the goals of Jihad and thus they have resorted to methods of violence and terrorism.

For moderate Muslims, Jihad is understood in context. As a child, I remember understanding Jihad as dying in the name of Allah (God) for one’s country’s cause. For example, if I had participated in fighting the Jewish occupation of Palestine in 1948 or died in the 1956 Suez Canal War (against France, Britain and Israel) or either the 1967/1973 wars against Israel – that would be Jihad fee sabeel Allah (dying in the name of God).

The four wars mentioned above had justifications. The Palestinians required the help of neighboring Arab allies to fight the Jewish occupiers. Egypt needed to nationalize and liberalize the Suez Canal from Franco-British control. Moreover, Egypt needed to retaliate against Israel’s preemptive strike in 1967 and finally Egypt sought to take back the Sinai from Israel in 1973.

These wars had historical context and a justifiable reason for using armed conflict. Nasser and Sadat did not fight Israel in the name of Jihad, but in the name of nationalism and freedom.

The difference between the war waged by Al-Qaeda and those involving Egypt and Israel is that the former uses the philosophical concept of Jihad to justify war whereas the latter uses the pragmatic version of Jihad as a consequence of war. Nasser and Sadat did not rally Egyptians to fight the Israelis by telling them that this was a war of Jihad – for a greater cause – but simply to defend the honor of their country and regain back occupied territory.

In essence, Al-Qaeda’s greatest assets are Western converts in to Islam - like Jack Thomas. For obvious reasons, they integrate in to their respective countries with utter ease and are able to remain discrete and inconspicuous. Al-Qaeda drills their extreme understanding of Jihad in to the nascent minds of such converts and turns them in to human weapons.

Jack Thomas was taken aback at the events of 9/11 and they utterly horrified him. This leads one to believe that Al-Qaeda’s interpretation of Jihad is falsely misconstrued or better yet completely radical. On the other hand (similar to the Arab-Israeli wars aforementioned), Jack was ready to take arms when the United States began bombing Afghanistan as part of its campaign to topple the Taliban – here Jack was fighting a Jihadi war against the enemies who sought to infringe upon the sovereignty of his new ‘home.’

The comprehension of Jihad is where Al-Qaeda differs from moderate Muslims. The fact that the employment contract chose not to define the term implies that the new recruits of Al-Qaeda should have already understood it. However, Jack Thomas’ reaction to 9/11 has shown otherwise.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Bush’s Approval Ratings: Does He Manage to Control Them?

Since 9/11, both Osama Bin Laden and his right hand man Ayman Al Zawahiri have used privately recorded video footage to communicate with the Western world. These videos intend to give the leaders of the Western world words of advice as well as act as a conduit to disseminate and issue fatwas. Their videos have been aired on Al-Jazeerah at very strategic moments.

For example, Bin Laden surfaced on video four days before the US presidential elections. His message (although not drastically different than before) was for the US to change its behavior with regards to the Muslim world. He informed the American people that, “your security (US population) is not in the hands of Kerry or Bush or al-Qaeda,” he warned, “your security is in your own hands.” Bush believes that the Bin Laden’s tape helped him win the presidential election. The US population (swayed by the media’s influence) was reaffirmed that terrorist threats are still imminent and that Bin Laden is still at large.

Bush used the war on terror to fuel his campaign for presidency. This seemed to be a perfect fit: Bush seeks to hunt down Bin Laden and Bin Laden seeks to attack the West and especially the United States. Given these complementarities, does the Bush Administration know the location of Bin Laden and are waiting for the “right” time to strike?

What is this “right” time? Bush was fortunate to be elected for a second term, giving him another four years in office and a total of eight years. With Bush’s current approval rating at 38%, there is much more he and his administration need to do to redeem themselves. The war in Iraq has taken a wrong turn and sectarian violence has exploded in recent weeks. The aftermath of hurricane Katrina revealed the inefficiencies of the world’s strongest economic powerhouse and Bush’s handling of other domestic affairs have been shy of successful.

The “right” time will be the near end of his term. Once he captures Bin Laden months before his resignation, the American people and the world will remember his administration as an incredible success (regardless of any hiccups during his time in office). This is a de facto nature of the public’s reaction. History has shown us that leaders use positive news as a political tool to distract the public from any domestic or foreign woes (for example, in 1935 Benito Mussolini invaded Ethiopia in a clear act of bigotry in order to distract the public from Italy’s beleaguered economic situation). After Saddam’s capture, Bush’s approval ratings soared and he vowed to capture Bin Laden soon thereafter. This removed some of the doubts which plagued the minds of skeptics who believed that the Iraq war was a complete mistake.

The reason why the Bush Administration has not captured Bin Laden yet is because they are using his propaganda and harangue against the United States to fuel further support for their platform and its goal to fight terrorism.

Iraq saw the capture of Saddam but an increase in sectarian violence and a complete mess of the socio-political system. Thus, Saddam’s decapitation attack has not revolutionized internal Iraqi affairs nor has it reduced the chances of civil war. In fact observers are rethinking about whether Saddam’s dictatorship was preferable. On the contrary his capture increased Bush’s approval rating during that period and has led people to believe the legitimacy of the US-led invasion.

In essence, the case of Al-Qaeda is similar to that of Iraq. On the one hand, Al-Qaeda has its symbols: Osama Bin Laden and Ayman Al Zawahiri. They are Al-Qaeda’s visual connotations. However, Al-Qaeda is a decentralized terrorist network stretching all over the globe. If either’ of the two leaders are decapitated, Al-Qaeda will still prevail and continue its operations. However their capture will bring rejoice to Americans and the West, primarily because of their symbolism.

Their capture will cause Bush’s approval ratings to sky-rocket and again only for a temporal period. Thus, that is why Bin Laden’s capture will take place a short time before Bush’s term ends. The proceeding administration will still continue to deal with Al-Qaeda and terrorist attacks but they will be thankful for the detainment of Bin Laden.

The US government claims that they cannot pinpoint the exact location of Bin Laden. They only manage to state that he is probably hiding in the rugged terrains between the borders of Afghanistan and Pakistan or that he is still in Tora Bora. Whether the US government is concealing information from the public is subject to much debate. Sooner or later, such conspiracy theories will be either confirmed or refuted.

For now, there is reason to believe that delaying Bin Laden’s capture is a strategic decision taken by the Bush Administration.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Iran and Its Clandestine Nuclear Program Or Not?

At recent talks in Vienna, the head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog said he was hopeful that a deal with Iran and the Western powers is still feasible.

The problem is simple. The West is accusing Iran of using its uranium enrichment program to develop nuclear weapons while Iran is refuting such a claim. Tehran insists that it has the right to develop its nuclear sector to produce energy for civilian purposes.

As of now, there is no substantial evidence to indict Iran on charges of having clandestine nuclear military operations. However, given President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent tirade against the United States and Israel, Western powers are anxious.

So why should several countries in the world have the right to develop nuclear weapons while others be restricted? Today, there are eight countries which possess nuclear weapons: 1) United States, 2) Russia, 3) United Kingdom, 4) France, 5) China, 6) India, 7) Pakistan and 8) North Korea.

Of the countries listed above, both Pakistan and India refused to sign the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) whereas all other countries have signed and agreed to restrict their number of nuclear weapons. However, given the nature of Mutually Assured Destructed (MAD), the United States is not worried that neither Pakistan nor India will use a nuclear weapon against one another. MAD assures that a country with a second-strike capability will be able to obliterate its opponent.

In essence, in the case of India-Pakistan, the presence of nuclear weapons on both sides has guaranteed that warfare would only be conducted conventionally. Russia, France and the United Kingdom are all prime allies of the United States and China is a strong trading partner. The only country from the list (like Iran) which the United States fears is North Korea.

The United States believes that both North Korea and Iran are irrational state actors. Such an assessment is made based on perception and intelligence. In the case of Iran, Ahmadinejad’s public outcry against the West has exacerbated the US’ notion that the country is an irrational actor. North Korea would have a motive to use its nuclear weapons against its arch rival South Korea. Iran would use nuclear weapons against Israel or use them as political tools to gain concessions or for blackmail purposes.

Perception is critical and if Iran is to really prove to the West that it does not plan to implement a nuclear military program then Iranian figureheads and especially Ahmadinejad should halt their public ranting. The ranting and critical remarks only give the West more reason to believe that the country has malicious intents.

For now, there is no proof that Iran possess a clandestine program, it is easy given the current perceptions to believe that is the case. Iran doesn’t deserve to possess nuclear weapons unless it can prove to the international community that it has no offensive and dangerous intentions. However, given the extremist nature of Shiaism, the radicalism of Ahmadinejad and Iran’s tumultuous past it will be very difficult at this point to relieve any doubts.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Palestine’s New Face

In last month’s election, Hamas won 74 of 132 seats in the Palestinian Parliament. Ismail Hanieyh, a ‘moderate pragmatist’ Hamas leader from Gaza was named prime minister and the Islamist group gained incredible momentum.

What does this mean for the future of Palestinian-Israeli relationships? Consequently, is there hope for a viable road map to peace?

These are very important questions. Unfortunately, Yasser Arafat and his Fatah party failed to satiate the Palestinian peoples’ demands. These demands evolved during the years. Right after the occupation in 1948, the Palestinian peoples’ demands were simple: ‘give us back our land which you (the Jewish occupiers) unlawfully took from us.’ However, today the majority of Palestinians (84%) are pro-peace and would like Hamas’ call for the destruction of Israel to be dropped.

The half century after the occupation witnessed tit-for-tat aggression, diplomacy, concessions, compromises and terrorism. Arafat’s reign was a political rollercoaster. The 1993 Oslo accords injected sentiments of hope for a peaceful, compromised resolution between the two sides. However, Israel’s broken promises as well as aggression from militant Palestinians led to the accords demise and instigated the second Intifada.

As discussed in my recent post ‘The Rise of Pan Islamism’, Hamas’ rise to power is at this point problematic. However, this does not suggest that it will jeopardize any hopes for peace. Their accession to power is problematic because they’ve acted violently and aggressively in the past. Thus based on Hamas’ precedent behavior, the West is very skeptical of their future actions and most importantly their intentions.

However recently, Former President Carter recently said that Hamas deserves to be recognized by the international community, and despite the group's militant history, there is a chance the soon-to-be Palestinian leaders could turn away from violence. In essence, there is already immense pressure on Hamas to act diplomatically and peacefully. In order to salvage any hopes for long-term peace, the West should certainly give Hamas a chance but at the same time remain cautious of their actions.

It is very important for the United State to uphold and maintain such a position. This is in their foreign policy interest because they were prime protagonists in promoting democratic norms in the Middle East. However Condoleezza Rice’s recent touring of the region persuading Arab governments to curtail their funding to Hamas gives the impression that America is applying double standards.

This could backfire badly because Hamas could easily use such excuses (i.e. America’s reluctance to cooperate, negotiate and compromise) to resort back to violence. Moreover, this gives off the impression that America made a mistake by allowing the Palestinian people (in a lawful and democratic election) to vote for the party they sought.

The situation is complex and tense. On the one hand, cutting funding to Hamas is leading to a financial crisis and on the other hand the Palestinian people are not ready to resort back to Fatah’s corrupt ways. If Hamas find a way to eliminate corruption in the current government and manage with a reduced amount of funding, they will empower themselves from within and gain more political leverage.

General public sentiments regarding Hamas are mixed. In his recent posting, my friend Lebanon.Profile argued that Hamas’ victory is good for Palestine. LP’s argument is also in line with Saeb Erakat’s (a PLO bureaucrat) as he stated that “the Hamas victory cannot be allowed to obscure the reality: the Palestinian people want a negotiated peace, and in Mr. Abbas they have a Palestinian Authority president and P.L.O. chairman who shares their view, enjoys a mandate to act and has the ability to deliver.”

Learning from their past mistakes and Fatah’s mistakes, Hamas’ rise to power might in fact be the missing link to peace – this is a very optimistic position. But, Hamas still needs to reform the government and control corruption. For now, a realistic position would be to give Hamas a chance but remain cautious – their actions need to speak for themselves and their rhetoric of upholding peace and the Palestinian peoples’ requests needs to slowly but surely manifest., The World's Blog Aggregator Blog Directory & Search engine