Monday, November 28, 2011

A Middle East View for November 28, 2011

Today, four major Egyptian party coalitions are vying for seats in their Parliament as the first stage of elections take place since the ouster of former President Mubarak earlier this year. 
Since the fall of Hosni Mubarak in February, ending decades of enforced one-party rule, dozens of parties have sprung up, all hoping to make it big. They fall into four major groups:

•The Democratic Alliance is led by the Freedom and Justice Party, a new party created by the once outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. The alliance includes a number of liberal forces in an effort not to scare off more secular voters.

•The Egyptian Bloc is led by the Free Egyptian Party a new party created by Coptic Christian. The alliance is largely secular and includes some left-leaning outfits. This is the biggest rival to the Democratic Alliance.

•The Islamist Alliance is led by Nour Party and other Salafis, ultraconservative Muslims whose ideology resembles Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabism. It includes the Gama’a Al Islamiyya terrorist group’s Building and Development Party. This group hopes to pick up support from those disillusioned by the Brotherhood’s apparent drift towards the political center.

•The Revolution Continues Alliance is leftist and includes many of the youth groups that helped lead the anti-Mubarak uprising in January, as well as the Brotherhood’s youth wing, which has broken away from its parent organization.

The Muslim Brotherhood has become more centrist than in the past, as it is torn between the vanishing old leaders, who yearn for the days of violence, and the youth groups that want it to become fully secular. It is expected to emerge as the largest party, though not a majority, since it has the best organization. Guardian
Some are touting this as an example of the 'Arab Spring' where Arabs, mainly young adults, took to the streets to protest and ultimately overthrow the despots who ran their countries.  They will point to this election, and others, as an example that these Arab nations are embracing the tenants of Democracy.  Perhaps...but I am highly skeptical that democracy and democratic principles will find a welcome home in the Arab nations which experienced the Arab Spring.

Instead, we are far more likely to see that the Arab Spring will result in the swapping of secular despots for Islamic despots....
Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Muammar Gadhafi in Libya were corrupt dictators who outlived their days. They all suppressed the Islamic movements in their respective countries, and were all thus on the side of the seculars in their own perverse way. The same holds true for Syria’s Bashar Assad, whose father, Hafez, killed some 20,000 people in the city of Hama in 1982, quelling a rebellion by the Moslem Brothers. Now, his son, Bashar, no less ruthless, seems to be about to go the way of Ben Ali, Mubarak and Gadhafi.

The demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt were initially led by secular groups – educated youngsters adept at using the Internet, Facebook and Twitter. In Egypt, they stood shoulder to shoulder with members of the Coptic Christian community, which constitutes 10% of the Egyptian population. Quite naturally, they called for the downfall of Mubarak to be followed by democratic elections. The motley crew in Libya that overthrew Gadhafi was supported by the democracies that make up NATO, and it is unimaginable that the bloodbath that rid the country of the “mad dog of the Middle East,” as former U.S. President Ronald Reagan called him, would not be followed by democratic elections – even under the chaotic conditions that followed Gadhafi’s downfall.

But who is going to win the elections when they take place – in Egypt, in Libya and eventually in Syria?

We already have a preview: In Tunisia, the country that had been the most secular and westernized of the Arab states, the election was won by Ennahda, the Islamic party, with the advocates of a secular Tunisia left far behind.  [Original here]
But with this disconcerting news that provides a grim forecast for the region, there still are signs that there may be hope for the Lebanon.

Syria has targeted and victimized the nation of Lebanon since the rise of the Assad family dictatorship in November 1970.  In 1973, Hafiz Assad declared his intent to annex the nation of Lebanon, saying that Syria and Lebanon were one nation with two governments.  From this point, the Syrians actively worked to undermine the Lebanese government by promoting terrorists, primarily those of the Palestinian Liberation Organization under Yasser Arafat, to take action against the government and promising the PLO a safe haven in Lebanon.  To facilitate this, in 1976, tens of thousands of Syrian troops invaded Lebanon and occupied large portions of the country - while the PLO consolidated it's positions in the southern Lebanon and Beirut.  From this point - Lebanon became the real 'occupied' country.

The actions of the PLO ultimately motivated Israel to invade Lebanon in 1982 and force the removal of the PLO from the country.  The IDF ultimately reached Beirut before international mediation resulted in a plan, to be protected by a US / European peacekeeping force, for the withdrawal of the Israeli's from Lebanon, the withdrawal of Syrian troops, and the relocation of the PLO to Tunisia.  While the Israeli's only partially withdrew, and the PLO leadership moved to Tunisia, Syria refused to leave Lebanon. 

Not until 2003-2004 did Western nations, in particular, the US take a renewed serious examination of Lebanon and it's victimization under Syria and it's puppet, Hezbollah.  The International community resumed pressure on Syria to fully withdraw from Lebanon and to permit the Lebanese people resume control of their own country.  Former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, one of the leaders of the effort to get Syria removed from the country was assassinated in February 2005.  This proved to be the catalyst for the Cedar Revolution - the uprising of the people of Lebanon which ultimately forced the Syrians to end their physical occupation of Lebanon.  The outrage towards the assassination led towards the establishment of a UN Special Tribunal to investigate what everyone suspected - that Syria and Hezbollah were behind the murder of Hariri.

Unfortunately, it didn't end the efforts of the Syrian's or Hezbollah to control the government of Lebanon.

Hezbollah had gained control over southern Lebanon in 2000 and established itself as a major political force in Lebanese politics.  Using force and intimidation, they limited opposition to their efforts while expanding their control.  When Najib Mikati was named the Lebanese Prime Minister in June of this year, it was generally understood that Hezbollah had successfully engineered a coup that put the country in their pocket - Hezbollah was now the defacto control of Lebanon.

But the efforts to remove the influence of Syria and Hezbollah continue.  Syria is now engulfed by popular demonstrations against the Assad dictatorship.  Preliminary reports from the UN Special Tribunal indicated that high ranking officials of Hezbollah and the Syrian government were actively involved in the assassination of Hariri - an action which still motivates and unifies many Lebanese.

In a surprising move, Lebanon's Prime Minister Mikati is saying that he will resign his post if the Lebanese Parliament does not agree to fund the UN Special Tribune for Lebanon that is working with investigating and, more importantly, prosecuting the assassins of Hariri.
“Syria, Iran and Hezbollah don’t have as many genuine allies in Lebanon’s government as it appears. A large number of Lebanon’s elite only works with them and for them because they have guns jammed into their backs.”
This could be the latest in an effort by the people of Lebanon to regain control of their own country.  Pushing for the continued investigation and prosecution is a major stand against both Syria and Hezbollah who are supposedly pulling Mikati's strings.  It is a brave step if sincere and real.

This is an effort that the United States has an obligation and responsibility to support...if we had any real leadership in the White House.

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