Tunisian opposition leader killed; 2nd assassination this year hurts hopes for democracy
Syrian refugee crisis escalates as 25% of country driven out of homes
Guardian to devote day of coverage to plight of those uprooted by fighting, to ensure their voice is not lost amid the rhetoric
The new Cold War dividing the Middle East
With battle lines based on religious differences, the region is lining up behind two rival powers
Once the violence in Iraq was reserved for Anglo-American occupiers. Now it dominates a sectarian struggle Photo: AP
By David Blair
8:23PM BST 23 Jul 2013
No Iraqi would have missed the subliminal message of al-Qaeda’s triumphant announcement yesterday. When the movement’s leaders claimed credit for two audacious prison breaks outside Baghdad, they declared how “months of preparation and planning” had culminated in these blows against a “Safavid government”.
The Safavids have not actually been in government for a while – for a good 300 years, in fact. They were a Persian dynasty that dominated Iran and its empire, including a big slice of present-day Iraq, in the 16th and 17th centuries. Under their founder, Shah Ismail I, the Safavids managed the extraordinary feat of making Shia Islam the state religion in Iran, while imposing their faith on conquered peoples living between the Tigris and Euphrates.
Iraqis will grasp the analogy: al-Qaeda’s Sunni zealots believe that the Shia politicians who dominate Baghdad today are heirs to foreign invaders. Once, the violence in Iraq was directed towards the Anglo-American occupiers; today, the killing has become a sectarian struggle between a Shia majority that holds the reins of power and a beleaguered Sunni minority.
Across the Middle East, tensions between Sunni and Shia are steadily being inflamed. No one was particularly surprised when Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the leading preacher of the (Sunni) Muslim Brotherhood, claimed last month that Shias in general – and Iran in particular – were plotting “massacres to kill Sunnis”. In most countries, the struggle between the two sects is not fought with guns and bombs, but today the religious fissures criss-crossing the region are probably wider than at any time since the First World War, when the Ottoman Empire’s demise led to the birth of today’s states.
Why is this happening? Partly, it is explained by the “new regional Cold War” dividing the Middle East, to use the vivid phrase of Toby Dodge, a reader in international relations at the London School of Economics. In this overarching struggle, Iran and Saudi Arabia are the key antagonists: the former representing the civilisation of Shia Persia, the latter guarding the Sunni Arab heartland and its holiest places. Both use the language of sectarian loyalty to rally supporters and demonise foes.
Most powers in the region have lined up behind Iran or Saudi Arabia. In 1980, Iraq tried to strangle Iran’s revolution at birth by invading the country. Today, Iraq has passed from being Tehran’s leading foe to its newest ally, thanks to the empowerment of the Shia majority since Saddam Hussein’s downfall.
Most of the rest of the region falls naturally into the Sunni Arab camp led by Saudi Arabia. Qatar tweaks the tail of its Saudi neighbour by pursuing a quixotic foreign policy with a finger in every pie, but, in the final analysis, it remains a loyal Sunni monarchy.
Then there are the contested countries: Lebanon, Bahrain and – most tragically of all – Syria. In Lebanon, a remarkable system of confessional politics excludes the Shia from the most powerful positions, reserving the presidency for a Christian and the prime ministership for a Sunni. The Shia may now be the majority – although there has been no census in Lebanon for generations – and they have responded by building Hizbollah into the most powerful military movement.
In Bahrain, a Shia-majority population lives resentfully under a Sunni monarchy; their fury spills on to the streets in the form of protests and stone-throwing almost every week. An uprising against the ruling Al-Khalifa family was crushed in 2011 with the aid of Saudi troops.
The message was unmistakable: Saudi Arabia will not tolerate the Shia seizing power in Bahrain, just a few miles across the causeway from the kingdom’s Eastern Province, where most of its oil reserves and, inconveniently, a sizeable Shia minority are both found. Saudi Arabia has demonstrated that it would prefer to stamp out the sparks of rebellion in Bahrain lest they ignite a conflagration at home. And so the Al-Khalifas still reign, suffering the humiliation of being kept on their Bahraini throne by foreign bayonets.
The bloodiest battlefield in this regional Cold War is, of course, Syria. With every passing month, the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad’s autocracy has become a theatre of sectarian struggle. Assad’s regime is dominated by the minority Alawite sect, a branch of Shia Islam. Accordingly, the Assad clan has turned Syria into Iran’s most reliable ally in the Arab world. Iran and Hizbollah, loath to lose this asset, are doing their utmost to keep Assad in power: their direct military and financial help in the past few months has been instrumental in helping him to turn the tide.
Meanwhile, the rebels draw their support from the 70 per cent of Syrians who are Sunni. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are duly arming them, with Jordan providing vital supply lines.
In this struggle, Iraq has lined up behind Iran, with the Baghdad government allowing weapons to cross its territory to reach Mr Assad. If he goes, after all, his successor would almost certainly be Sunni. With his own Sunni minority close to open revolt, the last thing that Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq’s prime minister, needs at the moment is a government of their co-religionists next door.
Our Cold War was about ideology and social organisation. The Middle East’s is defined by religion. If the Safavids could return, they would find the divides in their region strangely familiar.
Morsi’s ouster spells trouble for region’s other Islamist movements
Egypt’s president is ousted: The Egyptian military removed President Mohamed Morsi from power and suspended the constitution in moves it said were aimed at resolving the country’s debilitating political crisis.
By Liz Sly, Published: July 3
BEIRUT — The ouster on Wednesday of Egypt’s elected Muslim Brotherhood government barely a year after it took office represents a significant setback for the Islamist movements that have proved the biggest beneficiaries so far of the Arab Spring revolts.
From Tunisia to war-torn Syria, anti-Islamist activists have begun expressing unhappiness with the religious parties empowered by freedoms the turmoil unleashed. That the backlash has crescendoed in Egypt — the Arab world’s political and cultural trendsetter and the birthplace of the Muslim Brotherhood 80 years ago — is likely to resonate far beyond, perhaps most forcefully in Syria.
“What happens to the Islamists in Egypt will determine their status in the remaining countries of the region,” said Jordanian political analyst Labib Kamhawi. “This is making them nervous because they know that if they lose in Egypt, they will end up losing everywhere.”
It is far too early to write off political Islam as a force in the region, and the Egyptian army’s role in forcing President Mohamed Morsi’s departure sets a potentially worrying precedent for the future of democratically elected governments.
Islamist extremists, in Egypt and elsewhere, may argue that what many are calling a military coup validates the use of violence to achieve their aims. The regimes and monarchies still holding at bay the clamor for greater freedoms will cite the example of Egypt as evidence that elections that empower Islamists will lead to chaos, perhaps braking further progress toward political reform.
But there can be little doubt that the specter of the Arab world’s most populous nation rising up in seemingly unprecedented numbers against an Islamist leader has tainted the Brotherhood’s long effort to present itself as a viable alternative to the region’s mostly repressive regimes, in ways that it may find hard to redress.
“This is one of Islamism’s biggest crises in recent memory, indeed in decades,” said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar.
Molhem al-Drobi, a senior official with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, acknowledged the anxiety. “This is not what we hoped for,” he said.
Drobi defended Morsi’s record, saying he had not been given a chance, in just one year in office, to address the multiple problems confronting post-revolution Egypt. He nonetheless e-mailed Morsi on Tuesday to ask him to submit to fresh elections, out of concern that his refusal to surrender power gave “the wrong indication that indeed we are no different from any other ruler, that we want to stay in power even if the people don’t want us.”
He did not receive an answer, he said.
“We in Syria would love the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to prove they are really democratic,” he added.
Perhaps nowhere are the potential ramifications greater than in Syria, where the use of the army by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to violently suppress demonstrations prompted protesters to take up arms, triggering a civil war that has lured both Sunni and Shiite volunteers regionwide to fight in the name of jihad.
The Syrian government, which has long sought to portray its repression of the revolt against its rule as a crusade against Islamists, is relishing the Brotherhood’s humiliation in Egypt. Assad, in comments to be published in the state-run newspaper al-Thawra on Thursday, declared that “what is happening in Egypt is the fall of so-called political Islam.”
Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi on Wednesday called on Morsi to recognize that “the overwhelming majority of the Egyptian people want him to go,” and state television broadcast wall-to-wall live coverage of the crowds gathered in Tahrir Square.
“Will the Brotherhood see the reality of events — and they rarely see any reality other than the visions in their own minds — and step down under the pressure of tens of millions of Egyptians? Or will the country be pushed into a civil war?” asked the announcer who read Wednesday afternoon’s news broadcast on state television, ahead of the daily digest of army victories against “terrorists” opposing the government.
Meanwhile, in rebel-held portions of Syria, people are starting to chafe at the behavior of the Islamist groups who gained prominence on the battlefield and are now seeking to impose their authority on the areas they control.
The execution on the streets last month of a 14-year-old boy for making a blasphemous comment and a rule issued this week by the city’s self-appointed Sharia court banning women from wearing makeup have stirred anger in the northern city of Aleppo. Citizens in the northeastern city of Raqqah have staged small-scale demonstrations against the Islamists who hold sway there.
Some in Raqqah have watched with eager interest as the unrest unfolds in Cairo, said a resident who spoke via Skype on the condition that he not be identified because of the sensitivity of the subject. “The time will come when people realize that these groups don’t represent Islam, and they will kick them out,” he said.
Further afield, the recent mass demonstrations in Turkey, hailed as a model for emerging Arab democracies, were sparked by plans to chop down trees in a central Istanbul park but quickly grew into a wider expression of unease with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s authoritarian style and his policies of Islamicization.
In Tunisia, the ruling Ennahda party, a Brotherhood affiliate, has held the middle ground between the radical Salafis who have threatened to use force to impose Islamic law and secularist activists, in another reflection of the splits opening up across the region that could shape a new round of turmoil.
“There is a fundamental divide in the Arab world over big issues such as the role of religion in government . . . and the identity of the state,” Hamid said. “It is a real, fundamental divide, and there is a lot at stake.”
Islamist groups: Egypt’s crackdown vindicates use of violence as political tool
By Liz Sly, Published: July 8
BEIRUT — The Egyptian army’s escalating crackdown on supporters of the country’s ousted Muslim Brotherhood government is being seized on by many radical Islamists as proof that violence, not democracy, is the only solution to the region’s problems.
In the days since Egypt’s military toppled the country’s first freely elected government, jihadist groups in the region and elsewhere have rushed to assert the futility of elections and Western-style democracy, in statements and in chat forums on jihadi Web sites.
Among them is Afghanistan’s Taliban, which issued a statement Monday condemning the coup against President Mohamed Morsi after Egyptian troops killed at least 51 of his supporters.
“It has become clear,” said Taliban spokesman Muhammad Yusuf, that “so-called elections, the demands of the people, and justice, freedom, security and peace are merely hollow chants and slogans used by the West and the secularists to trick the people,”
Others had earlier asserted similar sentiments. “When will the Muslim Brotherhood wake up from their deep slumber and realize the futility of their efforts at instituting change?” asked the Somali militant group al-Shabab, an al-Qaeda affiliate, in a comment posted on Twitter after Morsi’s overthrow last week.
“Change comes by the bullet alone; NOT the ballot,” the group said in another tweet.
At least two new jihadi groups have been formed in a bid to counter the challenge to the Brotherhood. Within hours of the shootings Monday, a group calling itself the Abdullah Azzam Brigades of Egypt declared that it had been created to counter the “criminality” underway in the country.
Another hitherto unknown group, calling itself Ansar al-Sharia in Egypt, issued a similar statement last week.
“The truth that is apparent to every reasonable person is that it is a war declared against Islam in Egypt,” it said of the military’s removal of Morsi.
Rita Katz, executive director of the SITE Intelligence Group, which has been monitoring these and numerous other responses by jihadi groups to the events in Egypt, said there is no confirmation of the groups’ existence or of any increased jihadist activity linked to the turmoil.
But, she added, “this is a great recruitment tool for them. The bottom line is that a lot of incitement is going on.”
It is also too early to tell whether the calls will have any effect beyond Egypt’s borders at a time when the war in Syria has already mobilized thousands of young men across the region to volunteer to fight and extremists in Iraq are in the midst of an intensified bombing campaign that has killed thousands in recent months, said Steven Cook, senior fellow for Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
In Syria, government opponents long ago abandoned peaceful demonstrations after troops repeatedly fired on them, and Islamist groups affiliated with al-Qaeda are gaining influence as the war drags into a third year with no sign of a resolution.
The biggest effect, Cook said, may be in Egypt, where Islamist extremists affiliated with the Gamaa Islamiya fought a low-level insurgency in the 1990s before agreeing to lay down their arms in 2003.
Egypt is awash with weapons that have been smuggled across the border from Libya, and “given the political dynamics, you can see the outlines of how this might emerge,” he said.
If there’s one point on which all sides in Egypt agree, it’s their distrust of the US
What is quite remarkable about the current strife in Egypt is the common ground of antipathy the protagonists have towards the US. So what’s the West to do?
Egypt ignores Washington after U.S. policy missteps
Egypt: Military chief calls for mass rallies to give him mandate to go after Morsi supporters
A decisive confrontation may be looming between Egypt’s military and the Muslim
Brotherhood after General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the country’s top commander, issued an unprecedented call for mass demonstrations on Friday to grant his forces a “mandate” to crack down on “terrorism”.
Wednesday 24 July 2013
The Egyptian army wants to destroy the Muslim Brotherhood – but in many ways they are already history
Many see the Brotherhood’s defeat as the beginning of the end of the Islamist ideology
When a general asks the people to go on the streets to show their support for the army in its battle against “violence”, it could be a very dodgy day. Tens of thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters remain camped across Cairo and other Egyptian cities – “terrorists” is the tired but dangerous code word that General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi used about them yesterday – and at first reading his appeal looked like a call to the Brotherhood’s opponents to destroy what have in effect become “no-go areas” in Nasr City and Giza. The Egyptian press, ever ready to echo the general’s words, now uses “terrorism” with ever increasing promiscuity and el-Sisi’s demand for mass demonstrations in Egypt tomorrow raises some very disturbing questions.
Having been fingered for the massacre of Brotherhood members earlier this month, the army are in no mood for a repeat performance. So does General el-Sissi, self-declared Deputy prime minister, Defence minister and leader of the coup-that-wasn’t-a-coup want “the people” to do the army’s dirty work and storm into the Brotherhood’s tent encampments tomorrow? Or does he feel that the United States and Europe – who were not terribly keen on the coup-that-wasn’t-a-coup – will acknowledge the popularity of the military if millions of Egyptians return to Tahrir Square to give a further imprimatur to the army’s takeover?
El-Sisi’s talk of “terrorism” was principally referring to the daily attacks on Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai peninsula, which appear to be more the work of al-Qa’ida affiliates, smugglers and tribal leaders than any involvement by the Brotherhood. But for the moment, the existence of the Brotherhood’s camps – a ghostly mockery of the 2011 encampment that became the centre for the overthrow of Mubarak – are a constant reminder of the army’s failure to crush the movement and the Brotherhood’s continued demand to re-install Morsi. The army can bring out the people, to be sure, but what is the future of the Brotherhood itself?
Many are those who see its defeat as the beginning of the end of the Islamist “ideology”, the idea that Islam alone can right the wrongs of the world if only it was allied to political power. As Hussein Ibish, one of the most eloquent Arab columnists today, has said: “If the oldest Muslim Brotherhood party cannot maintain popular legitimacy in Egypt after only one year in office, then the ideology itself isn’t a practical model for governance anywhere.” Ibish’s line is simple: “Sunni Islamists will invariably fail in power because Islam is a religion and not a political ideology.”
It’s a bright idea, but even in the Islamic Republic of Iran – Shia, to be true – the opposition doesn’t want to destroy the Muslim foundations of their state. And the Saudi monarchy, constructed on the twin pillars of wahabism and the American dollar, is not going to deny its role as protector of the Two Holy Places. And after all, it’s not many centuries ago that the people of Europe regarded themselves as citizens of a place called “Christendom”. However politics develops, the church and the mosque and the synagogue have a habit of taking sides in national debates. The division of church and state – in France, for example – seems a very unnatural schism when you arrive in the Muslim world.
The reason is clear: Muslims – unlike the world of “Christendom” – have not lost their faith. This has in some way to be represented in the nations in which Muslims live. The challenge is whether slogans like that of the Brotherhood – “Islam has the answers” – really work. The “interim” Egyptian government, for example, has just discovered that Morsi’s administration underestimated the import of wheat necessary to sustain the population. The Koran cannot be eaten. Bread can.
These troubling equations are ever-present in the Muslim world. Many is the time I have woken in Cairo to read a diatribe in the Egyptian press about the sins of the US – often well-argued and absolutely true – but on travelling across the Nile, I have in the past found queues of Egyptians outside the US embassy, not protesting but waiting patiently in the oven-like heat. The message is obvious. The Koran is an important document. But so is a green card.
Religion is fine if we are talking about faith and values, but not so useful if we are discussing what Ibish calls “the detailed, technical problems of governance.” That, at least, is the story we are being fed by the Egyptian army and its supporters; that once Morsi picked up his 51 per cent of the presidential vote, he cared less about running Egypt than he did about empowering the Brotherhood itself. The Islamist “constitution” was to be proof of Muslim rule rather than Egyptian rule. And this led to further mistakes. Hence he could visit Muslims who had suffered from food poisoning, for example, but fail to visit the Coptic pope when Christians had been shot dead in the streets.
Ibish sniffs what he calls “a post-Islamist brand of politics in the Arab world”. I’m not so sure he’s right. When Mohamed Khatemi became president of Iran – a genuinely honourable man (one of the very few in the Middle East) – he talked of an Islam that would produce a “civil society”. Only America’s refusal to tolerate him brought us the dunderhead Ahmedinejad. The problem, I fear, is that the alternative to Islam as an ideology – which it is not – will turn out to be capitalism and superpower politics which will go on supporting corruption in Saudi Arabia and generals who call on people to demonstrate for armies which have staged coups that we cannot admit ever happened. And to encourage the use of that corrosive word – “terrorism”.
Showdown in Cairo: Egyptian general demands permission to take on the ‘terrorists’
General Sisi accused of resembling a banana republic dictator in appeal for masses to back ‘terrorist’ crackdown
Egyptian Liberals Embrace the Military, Brooking No Dissent
At a juice bar in Cairo, two men posed by a photograph of Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi. The general has become a popular figure among many Egyptians.
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
Published: July 15, 2013
CAIRO — In the square where liberals and Islamists once chanted together for democracy, demonstrators now carry posters hailing as a national hero the general who ousted the country’s first elected president, Mohamed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood. Liberal talk-show hosts denounce the Brotherhood as a foreign menace and its members as “sadistic, extremely violent creatures” unfit for political life. A leading human rights advocate blames the Brotherhood’s “filthy” leaders for the deaths of more than 50 of their own supporters in a mass shooting by soldiers and the police.
A hypernationalist euphoria unleashed in Egypt by the toppling of Mr. Morsi has swept up even liberals and leftists who spent years struggling against the country’s previous military-backed governments.
An unpopular few among them have begun to raise alarms about what they are calling signs of “fascism”: the fervor in the streets, the glorification of the military as it tightens its grip and the enthusiastic cheers for the suppression of the Islamists. But the vast majority of liberals, leftists and intellectuals in Egypt have joined in the jubilation at the defeat of the Muslim Brotherhood, laying into any dissenters.
“We are moving from the bearded chauvinistic right to the clean-shaven chauvinistic right,” said Rabab el-Mahdi, a left-leaning scholar at the American University in Cairo.
Many Egyptians are overwhelmed with dual emotions: relief at the end of an Islamist government that many called arrogant and ineffective, and a thrill at their power to topple presidents. The voices on the left who might be expected to raise alarms about the military’s ouster of a freely elected government are instead reveling in what they see as the country’s escape from the threat that an Islamist majority would steadily push Egypt to the right.
Many on the left are still locked in a battle of semantics, trying to persuade the world — and perhaps one another — that the overthrow of Mr. Morsi was not a “coup” but a “revolution.” The army merely carried out the popular will, they insist. On Sunday, one private satellite network in Egypt was running commercials of citizen testimonials proclaiming as much.
Some have begun to voice doubts. Amr Hamzawy, a political scientist who held a seat in the dissolved Parliament, was among the first to condemn the military’s shutdown of the Islamists’ satellite networks, the arrest of their staff members, and the detention of Mr. Morsi and hundreds of other Islamist leaders.
Mr. Hamzawy objected in a recent newspaper column to “the rhetoric of gloating, hatred, retribution and revenge against the Muslim Brotherhood.” After the mass shooting, he called the celebration of the military takeover “fascism under the false pretense of democracy and liberalism.” Fellow intellectuals who said nothing, he wrote, were “the birds of darkness of this phase.”
But he was almost alone. A chorus of liberals and leftists rushed to denounce Mr. Hamzawy for defending the Islamists.
Khaled Montaser, a liberal columnist, declared that the Islamists were worse than “criminals and psychopaths” because they could never reform. “Their treason, terrorism and conspiracies are an indelible tattoo,” Mr. Montaser wrote. “They do not know the meaning of ‘homeland.’ They only know the meaning of ‘the caliphate’ and their organization first.”
Ahmed Maher, a founder of the left-leaning April 6 group, initially joined a small volunteer team that tried to enlist Western support for the ouster. But after the arrests and shootings of Brotherhood supporters, he began to recall the generals’ long hold on power after mass protests drove President Hosni Mubarak from office two years ago.
Mr. Maher put his worries about the generals in a Twitter message to another activist: “If we assume it’s not a coup, and I tell people it’s not a coup, when they screw us again like they did in 2011, what would I tell people?”
His allies responded by trying to drum him out, not only from the volunteer team but also from the April 6 group. Esraa Abdel Fattah, a prominent activist, campaigned against him in the media and circulated a list of his statements questioning the “coup.” And Ms. Abdel Fattah insisted that the Muslim Brotherhood, whose political party won the post-Mubarak elections, amounted to a foreign-backed terrorist group.
“When terrorism is trying to take hold of Egypt and foreign interference is trying to dig into our domestic affairs, then it’s inevitable for the great Egyptian people to support its armed forces against the foreign danger,” Ms. Abdel Fattah wrote in a newspaper column.
In the turbulent period of military rule after Mr. Mubarak was ousted, many liberals and leftists stood shoulder to shoulder with Islamists to demand that the generals relinquish power to elected civilians. Now the liberals appear to have joined in a public amnesia about the abuses and scandals of that period — the forced virginity tests of female protesters; Coptic Christian demonstrators shot by soldiers or run over with armored vehicles; the videotaped stripping and kicking of a female demonstrator who became known as the Blue Bra Woman.
The activist Hassan Shaheen was captured in the same video, bleeding from the head as a soldier stomped on his chest. But this spring he helped lead the petition drive asking the military to remove Mr. Morsi. And he joined in the rejection of Mr. Maher, saying that by calling the ouster of Mr. Morsi a “coup” he was “following the rhetoric of the Muslim Brotherhood.”
“We will stand together, the people and the military, in the face of terrorism,” Mr. Shaheen wrote in a Twitter message, arguing that the Brotherhood’s political party “must be dissolved and all its leaders must be arrested.”
“No negotiation, no reconciliation, no going back,” he added.
Hossam Bahgat, founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, said the liberals’ goal — an Egypt governed by an inclusive civilian democracy — appeared to be further away than when Mr. Mubarak fell. Now, he said, the old institutions and elites from the Mubarak era are emboldened to push for a full return of the old order. “There is a powerful and well-resourced player now trying to push Egypt back to 2010,” he said.
Even those on the left who are critical of the military overthrow fault Mr. Morsi and the Brotherhood for their actions in power, for excluding other groups from decision-making, accusing critics of treason and exploiting religion as a political tool. They say that in recent days some Islamist leaders have told their supporters to prepare to use violence to defend Mr. Morsi, as they did during a crisis in December.
Brotherhood leaders say their organization has not condoned violence in Egypt since the days of British rule. They say private media outlets have worked for months to stir up nationalist sentiment against them, for example by circulating false rumors that they were considering giving away Sinai or selling the Suez Canal. Over the last week, many news outlets have claimed that Brotherhood leaders invited foreign interference by appealing for help from Washington to hold off the military takeover. Television hosts even assert that the crowds at pro-Morsi rallies are actually full of Syrians and Palestinians.
The military has set the mood as well. Before the takeover, it broadcast aerial images of the protests against Mr. Morsi, set to soaring martial music. On Sunday, it released another 30-minute broadcast depicting soldiers protecting the public, set to a similar score.
State and private television channels also broadcast images of Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi in his trademark black beret, explaining to admiring soldiers the military’s obligation to intervene in the national interest. “Egypt is the mother of the world, and Egypt will be as great as the world,” he declared.
Much of the public, fatigued by revolutionary turmoil, has embraced him. “The people had been saying, ‘Down, down with military rule,’ but Sisi completely changed them,” said Mohamed Mofeed, 38, a barber in downtown Cairo. “They love him.”
Mr. Morsi “should have been tougher with the media,” he added. “They were disrespecting him all over the place.”
Osama Mohamed, 20, a student sitting with a group of friends, said they wanted General Sisi to “leave his office and elect himself president.”
Mohamed Abdel Fattah, 24, an advertising manager, agreed. “For Egypt,” he said, “democracy is chaos.”
Sunday 12 May 2013
History lessons the West refuses to learn
World View: After the Great War, Britain and France carved up the Middle East between them. Now, plans for Syria have the same potential for disaster
In the aftermath of the First World War, Britain and France famously created the modern Middle East by carving up what had been the Ottoman Empire. The borders of new states such as Iraq and Syria were determined in keeping with British and French needs and interests. The wishes of local inhabitants were largely ignored.
Now, for the first time in over 90 years, the whole postwar settlement in the region is coming unstuck. External frontiers are no longer the impassable barriers they were until recently, while internal dividing lines are becoming as complicated to cross as international frontiers.
In Syria, the government no longer controls many crossing points into Turkey and Iraq. Syrian rebels advance and retreat without hindrance across their country’s international borders, while Shia and Sunni fighters from Lebanon increasingly fight on opposing sides in Syria. The Israelis bomb Syria at will. Of course, the movements of guerrilla bands in the midst of a civil war do not necessarily mean that the state is finally disintegrating. But the permeability of its borders suggests that whoever comes out as the winner of the Syrian civil war will rule a weak state scarcely capable of defending itself.
The same process is at work in Iraq. The so-called trigger line dividing Kurdish-controlled territory in the north from the rest of Iraq is more and more like a frontier defended on both sides by armed force. Baghdad infuriated the Kurds last year by setting up the Dijla (Tigris) Operations Command, which threatened to enforce central military control over areas disputed between Kurds and Arabs.
Dividing lines got more complicated in Iraq after the Hawaijah massacre on 23 April left at least 44 Sunni Arab protesters dead. This came after four months of massive but peaceful Sunni protests against discrimination and persecution. The result of this ever-deeper rift between the Sunni and the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad is that Iraqi troops in Sunni-majority areas behave like an occupation army. At night, they abandon isolated outposts so they can concentrate forces in defensible positions. Iraqi government control in the northern half of the country is becoming ever more tenuous.
Does it really matter to the rest of the world who fights whom in the impoverished country towns of the Syrian interior or in the plains and mountains of Kurdistan? The lesson of the last few thousand years is that it matters a great deal. The region between Syria’s Mediterranean coast and the western frontier of Iran has traditionally been a zone where empires collide. Maps of the area are littered with the names of battlefields where Romans fought against Parthians, Ottomans against Safavids, and British against Turks.
It is interesting but chilling to see the carelessness with which the British and French divided up this area under the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916. The British were to control the provinces of Baghdad and Basra and have influence further north. The French were to hold south-east Turkey and northern Syria and the province of Mosul, believed to contain oil. It turned out, however, that British generosity over Mosul was due to Britain having promised eastern Turkey to Tsarist Russia and thinking it would be useful to have a French cordon sanitaire between themselves and the Russian army.
Sykes-Picot reflected wartime priorities and was never implemented as such. The British promise to give Mosul to France became void with the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 and the Bolsheviks’ unsporting publication of Russia’s secret agreements with its former French and British allies. But in negotiations in 1918-19 leading up to the Treaty of Versailles, only the most perfunctory attention was given to the long-term effect of the distribution of the spoils.
Discussing Mesopotamia and Palestine with David Lloyd George, Georges Clemenceau, the French Prime Minister, who was not very interested in the Middle East, said: “Tell me what you want.” Lloyd George: “I want Mosul.” Clemenceau: “You shall have it. Anything else?” Lloyd George: “Yes, I want Jerusalem too.” Clemenceau agreed with alacrity to this as well, though he warned there might be trouble over Mosul, which even then was suspected to contain oil.
Those negotiations have a fascination because so many of the issues supposedly settled then are still in dispute. Worse, agreements reached then laid the basis for so many future disputes and wars that still continue, or are yet to come. Arguments made at that time are still being made.
Not surprisingly, the leaders of the 30 million Kurds are the most jubilant at the discrediting of agreements of which they, along with the Palestinians, were to be the greatest victims. After being divided between Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Syria, they sense their moment has finally come. In Iraq, they enjoy autonomy close to independence, and in Syria they have seized control of their own towns and villages. In Turkey, as the PKK Turkish Kurd guerrillas begin to trek back to the Qandil mountains in northern Iraq under a peace deal, the Kurds have shown that, in 30 years of war, the Turkish state has failed to crush them.
But as the 20th century settlement of the Middle East collapses, the outcome is unlikely to be peace and prosperity. It is easy to see what is wrong with the governments in present-day Iraq and Syria, but not what would replace them. Look at the almost unanimous applause among foreign politicians and media at the fall of Colonel Gaddafi in 2011, then look at Libya now, its government permanently besieged or on the run from militia gunmen.
If President Bashar al-Assad did fall in Syria, who would replace him? Does anybody really think that peace would automatically follow? Is it not far more likely that there would be continued and even intensified war, as happened in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003? The Syrian rebels and their supporters downplay the similarities between the crises in Iraq and Syria, but they have ominous similarities. Saddam may have been unpopular in Iraq, but those who supported him or worked for him could not be excluded from power and turned into second-class citizens without a fight.
US, British and French recipes for Syria’s future seem as fraught with potential for disaster as their plans in 1916 or 2003. In saying that Assad can play no role in a future Syrian government, the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, speaks of the leader of a government that has still only lost one provincial capital to the rebels. Such terms can only be imposed on the defeated or those near defeat. This will only happen in Syria if Western powers intervene militarily on behalf of the insurgents, as they did in Libya, but the long-term results might be equally dismal.
THE UNRAVELING OF SYKES-PICOT
By: Patrick J. Buchanan
5/28/2013 01:03 PM
The thrice-promised land it has been called.
It is that land north of Mecca and Medina and south of Anatolia, between the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf.
In 1915 — that year of Gallipoli, which forced the resignation of First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill — Britain, to win Arab support for its war against the Ottoman Turks, committed, in the McMahon Agreement, to the independence of these lands under Arab rule.
It was for this that Lawrence of Arabia and the Arabs fought.
In November 1917, however, one month before Gen. Allenby led his army into Jerusalem, Lord Balfour, in a letter to Baron Rothschild, declared that His Majesty’s government now looked with favor upon the creation on these same lands of a national homeland for the Jewish people.
Between these clashing commitments there had been struck in 1916 a secret deal between Britain’s Mark Sykes and France’s Francois Georges-Picot. With the silent approval of czarist Russia, which had been promised Istanbul, these lands were subdivided and placed under British and French rule.
France got Syria and Lebanon. Britain took Transjordan, Palestine and Iraq, and carved out Kuwait.
Vladimir Lenin discovered the Sykes-Picot treaty in the czar’s archives and published it, so the world might see what the Great War was truly all about. Sykes-Picot proved impossible to reconcile with Woodrow Wilson’s declaration that he and the allies — the British, French, Italian, Russian and Japanese empires — were all fighting “to make the world safe for democracy.”
Imperial hypocrisy stood naked and exposed.
Wilson’s idealistic Fourteen Points, announced early in 1918, were crafted to recapture the moral high ground. Yet it was out of the implementation of Sykes-Picot that so much Arab hostility and hatred would come — and from which today’s Middle East emerged.
Nine decades on, the Sykes-Picot map of the Middle East seems about to undergo revision, and a new map, its borders drawn in blood, emerge, along the lines of what H.G. Wells called the “natural borders” of mankind.
“There is a natural and necessary political map of the world,” Wells wrote, “which transcends” these artificial states, and this natural map of mankind would see nations established on the basis of language, culture, creed, race and tribe. The natural map of the Middle East has begun to assert itself.
Syria is disintegrating, with Alawite Shia fighting Sunni, Christians siding with Damascus, Druze divided, and Kurds looking to break free and unite with their kinfolk in Turkey, Iraq and Iran. Their dream: a Kurdistani nation rooted in a common ethnic identity.
Shia Hezbollah controls the south of Lebanon, and with Shia Iran is supporting the Shia-led army and regime of Bashar Assad.
Together, they are carving out a sub-nation from Damascus to Homs to the Mediterranean. The east and north of Syria could be lost to the Sunni rebels and the Al-Nusra Front, an ally of al-Qaida.
Sectarian war is now spilling over into Lebanon.
Iraq, too, seems to be disintegrating. The Kurdish enclave in the north is acting like an independent nation, cutting oil deals with Ankara.
Sunni Anbar in the west is supporting Sunni rebels across the border in Syria. And the Shia regime in Baghdad is being scourged by Sunni terror that could reignite the civil-sectarian war of 2006-2007, this time without Gen. Petraeus’ U.S. troops to negotiate a truce or tamp it down.
Sunni Turkey is home to 15 million Kurds and 15 million Shia. And its prime minister’s role as middle man between Qatari and Saudi arms shipments and Syria’s Sunni rebels is unappreciated by his own people.
Seeing the Shia crescent — Hezbollah in Lebanon, Assad’s Syria, Nuri al-Maliki’s Iraq, the Ayatollah’s Iran — imperiled by the potential loss of its Syrian linchpin, Tehran and Hezbollah seem willing to risk far more in this Syrian war than does the Sunni coalition of Saudis, Qataris and Turks.
Who dares, wins.
Though the Turks have a 400,000-man, NATO-equipped army, a population three times that of Syria and an economy 12 times as large, and they are, with the Israelis, the strongest nations in the region, they appear to want the Americans to deal with their problem.
President Obama is to be commended for resisting neocon and liberal interventionist clamors to get us into yet another open-ended war. For we have no vital interest in Assad’s overthrow.
We have lived with him and his father for 40 years. And what did our intervention in Libya to oust Moammar Gadhafi produce but a failed state, the Benghazi atrocity, and the spread of al-Qaida into Mali and Niger?
Why should Americans die for a Sunni triumph in Syria? At best, we might bring about a new Muslim Brotherhood regime in Damascus, as in Cairo. At worst, we could get a privileged sanctuary for that al-Qaida affiliate, the Al-Nusra Front.
As the Sykes-Picot borders disappear and the nations created by the mapmakers of Paris in 1919-1920 disintegrate, a Muslim Thirty Years’ War may be breaking out in the thrice-promised land
It is not, and it should not become, America’s war.
Tell Me How This Ends
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Published: May 21, 2013
SANLIURFA, Turkey — I’ve been traveling to Yemen, Syria and Turkey to film a documentary on how environmental stresses contributed to the Arab awakening. As I looked back on the trip, it occurred to me that three of our main characters — the leaders of the two Yemeni villages that have been fighting over a single water well and the leader of the Free Syrian Army in Raqqa Province, whose cotton farm was wiped out by drought — have 36 children among them: 10, 10 and 16.
It is why you can’t come away from a journey like this without wondering not just who will rule in these countries but how will anyone rule in these countries?
Of course, we should hope for those with sincere democratic aspirations to prevail, but clearly theirs is not the only vision being put on the table. These aspiring democrats are having to compete with Islamist, sectarian and tribal opposition groups, which also have deep roots in these societies. But no matter which trend triumphs, the real issue here is whether 50 years of population explosion, environmental mismanagement and educational stagnation have made some of these countries ungovernable by any group or ideology.
In Egypt, Yemen or Syria, it is common to see primary-school classes of 60 to 70 kids with one undertrained teacher, no computers and no science instruction. How are the 36 kids whose three fathers I met going to have a chance in a world where not only are robots replacing manual blue-collar workers but software is increasingly replacing routine white-collar jobs — and where some of them can’t go back to the family farm because the water and topsoil have been depleted?
And then I go across the Turkish border to Tel Abyad, in northeastern Syria, and I see broken buildings, electricity lines on the ground, half-finished homes and a gaping hole in a grain storage tower, and I think: Not only are they behind, but this war is still destroying what little they have left. They are in a hole and still digging.
The only way for these countries to catch up is by people uniting to mobilize all their strength. It is for Sunnis, Christians and Alawites in Syria to work together; for the tribes in Yemen and Libya to work together; for the Muslim Brotherhood, Salafists and liberals in Egypt to do so as well, particularly in implementing the proposed International Monetary Fund economic reforms. In today’s globalized world, you fall behind faster than ever if you are not building the education, infrastructure and economic foundation to take advantage of this world — but you catch up faster if you do.
But to pull together requires trust — that intangible thing that says you can rule over me even though you come from a different tribe, sect or political party — and that is what is missing here. In the absence of any Nelson Mandela-like leaders able and eager to build trust, I don’t see how any of these awakenings succeed. I keep thinking about the Free Syrian Army commander, whom I quoted on Sunday, introducing me to his leadership team: “My nephew, my cousin, my brother, my cousin, my nephew, my son, my cousin …” What does that tell you?
We can only properly answer the question — should we be arming the Syrian rebels? — if we first answer what kind of Syria do we want to see emerge and what will it take, beyond arms, to get there?
If we want Bashar al-Assad’s regime to be toppled and pluralistic democracy to emerge in Syria, then we not only need to arm the rebels but we need to organize an international peacekeeping force to enter Syria as soon as the regime falls to help manage the transition. Otherwise, when Assad is toppled, there will be at least two more wars in Syria. First will be a war between Sunnis and Alawites, the sect that Assad represents. The Alawites will fight to defend their perks and turf. After that, there will be a war within the opposition — between the Islamists and more secular fighting forces that have very different visions of a future Syria. Only an outside peacekeeping force could make up for the lack of trust and shared vision and try to forge a new Syria. And it would be a very, very long haul.
If our goal is to arm the rebels just to serve our strategic interests — which are to topple the Assad regime and end the influence of Iran and Hezbollah in Damascus and not care what comes next — then we need to be ready for the likely fragmentation of Syria into three zones: one Sunni, one Alawite and one Kurdish.
That might eventually solve the trust and civil war problems, as everyone would be living “with their own,” but I am not sure it would better enable Syrians to address their development challenges.
A third option would be to arm the rebels just to ensure a stalemate — in the hope that the parties might eventually get exhausted enough to strike a deal on their own. But, again, I find it hard to see how any deal that might set Syria on the long, difficult path to a decent, inclusive political system could be implemented without outside help on the ground to referee.
So let’s do something new: think two steps ahead. Before we start sending guns to more people, let’s ask ourselves for what exact ends we want those guns used and what else would be required of them and us to realize those ends?
Without Water, Revolution
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Published: May 18, 2013
TEL ABYAD, Syria — I just spent a day in this northeast Syrian town. It was terrifying — much more so than I anticipated — but not because we were threatened in any way by the Free Syrian Army soldiers who took us around or by the Islamist Jabhet al-Nusra fighters who stayed hidden in the shadows. It was the local school that shook me up.
As we were driving back to the Turkish border, I noticed a school and asked the driver to turn around so I could explore it. It was empty — of students. But war refugees had occupied the classrooms and little kids’ shirts and pants were drying on a line strung across the playground. The basketball backboard was rusted, and a local parent volunteered to give me a tour of the bathrooms, which he described as disgusting. Classes had not been held in two years. And that is what terrified me. Men with guns I’m used to. But kids without books, teachers or classes for a long time — that’s trouble. Big trouble.
They grow up to be teenagers with too many guns and too much free time, and I saw a lot of them in Tel Abyad. They are the law of the land here now, but no two of them wear the same uniform, and many are just in jeans. These boys bravely joined the adults of their town to liberate it from the murderous tyranny of Bashar al-Assad, but now the war has ground to a stalemate, so here, as in so many towns across Syria, life is frozen in a no-man’s land between order and chaos. There is just enough patched-up order for people to live — some families have even rigged up bootleg stills that refine crude oil into gasoline to keep cars running — but not enough order to really rebuild, to send kids to school or to start businesses.
So Syria as a whole is slowly bleeding to death of self-inflicted gunshot wounds. You can’t help but ask whether it will ever be a unified country again and what kind of human disaster will play out here if a whole generation grows up without school.
“Syria is becoming Somalia,” said Zakaria Zakaria, a 28-year-old Syrian who graduated from college with a major in English and who acted as our guide. “Students have now lost two years of school, and there is no light at the end of the tunnel, and if this goes on for two more years it will be like Somalia, a failed country. But Somalia is off somewhere in the Indian Ocean. Syria is the heart of the Middle East. I don’t want this to happen to my country. But the more it goes on, the worse it will be.”
This is the agony of Syria today. You can’t imagine the war here continuing for another year, let alone five. But when you feel the depth of the rage against the Assad government and contemplate the sporadic but barbaric sect-on-sect violence, you can’t imagine any peace deal happening or holding — not without international peacekeepers on the ground to enforce it. Eventually, we will all have to have that conversation, because this is no ordinary war.
THIS Syrian disaster is like a superstorm. It’s what happens when an extreme weather event, the worst drought in Syria’s modern history, combines with a fast-growing population and a repressive and corrupt regime and unleashes extreme sectarian and religious passions, fueled by money from rival outside powers — Iran and Hezbollah on one side, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar on the other, each of which have an extreme interest in its Syrian allies’ defeating the other’s allies — all at a time when America, in its post-Iraq/Afghanistan phase, is extremely wary of getting involved.
I came here to write my column and work on a film for the Showtime series, “Years of Living Dangerously,” about the “Jafaf,” or drought, one of the key drivers of the Syrian war. In an age of climate change, we’re likely to see many more such conflicts.
“The drought did not cause Syria’s civil war,” said the Syrian economist Samir Aita, but, he added, the failure of the government to respond to the drought played a huge role in fueling the uprising. What happened, Aita explained, was that after Assad took over in 2000 he opened up the regulated agricultural sector in Syria for big farmers, many of them government cronies, to buy up land and drill as much water as they wanted, eventually severely diminishing the water table. This began driving small farmers off the land into towns, where they had to scrounge for work.
Because of the population explosion that started here in the 1980s and 1990s thanks to better health care, those leaving the countryside came with huge families and settled in towns around cities like Aleppo. Some of those small towns swelled from 2,000 people to 400,000 in a decade or so. The government failed to provide proper schools, jobs or services for this youth bulge, which hit its teens and 20s right when the revolution erupted.
Then, between 2006 and 2011, some 60 percent of Syria’s land mass was ravaged by the drought and, with the water table already too low and river irrigation shrunken, it wiped out the livelihoods of 800,000 Syrian farmers and herders, the United Nations reported. “Half the population in Syria between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers left the land” for urban areas during the last decade, said Aita. And with Assad doing nothing to help the drought refugees, a lot of very simple farmers and their kids got politicized. “State and government was invented in this part of the world, in ancient Mesopotamia, precisely to manage irrigation and crop growing,” said Aita, “and Assad failed in that basic task.”
Young people and farmers starved for jobs — and land starved for water — were a prescription for revolution. Just ask those who were here, starting with Faten, whom I met in her simple flat in Sanliurfa, a Turkish city near the Syrian border. Faten, 38, a Sunni, fled there with her son Mohammed, 19, a member of the Free Syrian Army, who was badly wounded in a firefight a few months ago. Raised in the northeastern Syrian farming village of Mohasen, Faten, who asked me not to use her last name, told me her story.
She and her husband “used to own farmland,” said Faten. “We tended annual crops. We had wheat, barley and everyday food — vegetables, cucumbers, anything we could plant instead of buying in the market. Thank God there were rains, and the harvests were very good before. And then suddenly, the drought happened.”
What did it look like? “To see the land made us very sad,” she said. “The land became like a desert, like salt.” Everything turned yellow.
Did Assad’s government help? “They didn’t do anything,” she said. “We asked for help, but they didn’t care. They didn’t care about this subject. Never, never. We had to solve our problems ourselves.”
So what did you do? “When the drought happened, we could handle it for two years, and then we said, ‘It’s enough.’ So we decided to move to the city. I got a government job as a nurse, and my husband opened a shop. It was hard. The majority of people left the village and went to the city to find jobs, anything to make a living to eat.” The drought was particularly hard on young men who wanted to study or marry but could no longer afford either, she added. Families married off daughters at earlier ages because they couldn’t support them.
Faten, her head conservatively covered in a black scarf, said the drought and the government’s total lack of response radicalized her. So when the first spark of revolutionary protest was ignited in the small southern Syrian town of Dara’a, in March 2011, Faten and other drought refugees couldn’t wait to sign on. “Since the first cry of ‘Allahu akbar,’ we all joined the revolution. Right away.” Was this about the drought? “Of course,” she said, “the drought and unemployment were important in pushing people toward revolution.”
ZAKARIA ZAKARIA was a teenager in nearby Hasakah Province when the drought hit and he recalled the way it turned proud farmers, masters of their own little plots of land, into humiliated day laborers, working for meager wages in the towns “just to get some money to eat.” What was most galling to many, said Zakaria, was that if you wanted a steady government job you had to bribe a bureaucrat or know someone in the state intelligence agency.
The best jobs in Hasakah Province, Syria’s oil-producing region, were with the oil companies. But drought refugees, virtually all of whom were Sunni Muslims, could only dream of getting hired there. “Most of those jobs went to Alawites from Tartous and Latakia,” said Zakaria, referring to the minority sect to which President Assad belongs and which is concentrated in these coastal cities. “It made people even more angry. The best jobs on our lands in our province were not for us, but for people who come from outside.”
Only in the spring of 2011, after the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, did the Assad government start to worry about the drought refugees, said Zakaria, because on March 11 — a few days before the Syrian uprising would start in Dara’a — Assad visited Hasakah, a very rare event. “So I posted on my Facebook page, ‘Let him see how people are living,’ ” recalled Zakaria. “My friends said I should delete it right away, because it was dangerous. I wouldn’t. They didn’t care how people lived.”
Abu Khalil, 48, is one of those who didn’t just protest. A former cotton farmer who had to become a smuggler to make ends meet for his 16 children after the drought wiped out their farm, he is now the Free Syrian Army commander in the Tel Abyad area. We met at a crushed Syrian Army checkpoint. After being introduced by our Syrian go-between, Abu Khalil, who was built like a tough little boxer, introduced me to his fighting unit. He did not introduce them by rank but by blood, pointing to each of the armed men around him and saying: “My nephew, my cousin, my brother, my cousin, my nephew, my son, my cousin …”
Free Syrian Army units are often family affairs. In a country where the government for decades wanted no one to trust anyone else, it’s no surprise.
“We could accept the drought because it was from Allah,” said Abu Khalil, “but we could not accept that the government would do nothing.” Before we parted, he pulled me aside to say that all that his men needed were anti-tank and antiaircraft weapons and they could finish Assad off. “Couldn’t Obama just let the Mafia send them to us?” he asked. “Don’t worry, we won’t use them against Israel.”
As part of our film we’ve been following a Syrian woman who is a political activist, Farah Nasif, a 27-year-old Damascus University graduate from Deir-az-Zour, whose family’s farm was also wiped out in the drought. Nasif typifies the secular, connected, newly urbanized young people who spearheaded the democracy uprisings here and in Egypt, Yemen and Tunisia. They all have two things in common: they no longer fear their governments or their parents, and they want to live like citizens, with equal rights — not as sects with equal fears. If this new generation had a motto, noted Aita, the Syrian economist, it would actually be the same one Syrians used in their 1925 war of independence from France: “Religion is for God, and the country is for everyone.”
But Nasif is torn right now. She wants Assad gone and all political prisoners released, but she knows that more war “will only destroy the rest of the country.” And her gut tells her that even once Assad is gone, there is no agreement on who or what should come next. So every option worries her — more war, a cease-fire, the present and the future. This is the agony of Syria today — and why the closer you get to it, the less certain you are how to fix it.
Gwynne Dyer commentary: Dams on Nile mean trouble for Egypt
Wednesday June 5, 2013 5:35 AM
All students of geopolitics are familiar with the legend that Egypt has privately warned all the governments upstream on the Nile that it will start bombing if they build dams on the river without its permission. The truth of that story is about to be tested.
Last month, Ethiopia started diverting the waters of the Blue Nile in order to build the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, a $4.7 billion, 6,000-megawatt hydroelectric project that is the centerpiece of the country’s plan to become Africa’s largest exporter of power. Egypt instantly objected. “We have a strong legal case to insist that our share of the Nile water is preserved,” said an anonymous government source — but he didn’t mention bombers.
Egypt depends utterly on irrigation water from the Nile to grow its food. Even now there is not enough (it already imports almost 40 percent of its food), and Egypt’s population is still growing fast. If the amount of water coming down the Nile diminishes appreciably, Egyptians will go hungry.
A treaty signed in 1929 gave 90 percent of the Nile’s water to the downstream countries, Egypt and Sudan, even though all the water in the river starts as rain in the upstream countries: Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. It seemed fair at the time: the 20 million people in the downstream countries depended heavily on irrigation, while the 27 million in the upstream countries had plenty of rain-fed land and hardly irrigated at all.
Things have changed since then. According to the International Data Base of the U.S. Census Bureau, there are now six times as many people in the Arabic-speaking countries downstream, and eight times as many people in the African countries upstream. Egypt is using all of its share of the water — and the upstream countries are starting to use the water for irrigation, too.
This dam is just the start. Ethiopia plans to spend a total of $12 billion on dams on the Blue Nile for electricity and irrigation, and Uganda is negotiating with China for financing for a 600-megawatt dam on the White Nile. More dams and irrigation projects will follow — and the upstream states are in no mood to let Egypt exercise its veto under the 1929 treaty.
That treaty was imposed when all the countries involved except Ethiopia were under British rule, and it reflected Britain’s big investment in Egypt. In 2010, six upstream countries (including Burundi and Rwanda) signed a Cooperative Framework Agreement to seek more water from the Nile, effectively rejecting the colonial-era treaty and demanding that Egypt relinquish its veto and accept a lower water quota.
That’s not going to happen. Mohammed Allam, Egypt’s minister of water resources under President Hosni Mubarak when the upstream states signed their agreement three years ago, warned that “Egypt reserves the right to take whatever course it sees suitable to safeguard its share.”
The issue probably will be kicked down the road for a couple of years, because the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will not be completed until 2015 at the earliest. But there is big trouble for Egypt (and Sudan) further down the road.
By 2025, a dozen years from now, Egypt will be trying to feed 96 million people, which would be very hard even with its existing giant’s share of the Nile’s water and all its current food imports. The countries that signed the Cooperative Framework Agreement will have 300 million people, so by then they also will be extracting very large amounts of water from the Nile Basin for irrigation.
Without that water, Egypt’s only options are beggaring itself with massive food imports (until the foreign exchange runs out altogether) or famine. Unless, of course, it decides on war — but its options are not very good on that front, either.
Not only are the upstream countries a very long way from Egypt (the Nile is the world’s longest river), but they will have strong support from China, which is financing most of the dams they are now building or planning.
Egypt, by contrast, has repudiated its former American ally, and may find that the U.S. is reluctant to re-engage even if the government in Cairo can overcome its own distaste for Washington. Why would the United States want a confrontation with China over Egypt?
So there probably won’t be a war. And Egypt probably will face an apocalyptic food shortage in 10 or 15 years.
Ethiopia rejects Egyptian protests over Nile dam
Construction of Grand Renaissance dam to continue despite Eygptian concerns over impact on water supply and farming
Egypt frets, fumes over Ethiopia’s Nile plan
AARON MAASHO/AFP/GETTY IMAGES – Ethiopans walk in the source of the Blue Nile in northern Ethiopia. Ethiopia has begun diverting the Blue Nile as part of a giant dam project
By Griff Witte, Published: June 12
GIZA, EGYPT — Since long before the Pyramids towered above the rich soil of this riverside town, Egyptians have given thanks to the muddy waters of the Nile.
“Plants, animals, humans,” said Ibrahim Abdel Aziz, a 45-year-old farmer, “we all come from this river.”
But trace the Nile about 1,400 miles upstream and there’s a rising colossus that threatens to upset a millennia-old balance. There, in the Ethiopian highlands, one of the world’s largest dams is taking shape.
For Ethiopia, the dam promises abundant energy and an escape from a seemingly permanent spot in the lowest rungs of the world’s human development index. But for Egypt, the consequences could be dire: a nationwide water shortage in as little as two years that causes crop failures, power cuts and instability resonating far beyond even the extraordinary tumult of the recent past.
For a country facing daily domestic crises in the aftermath of its 2011 revolution, the dam is a foreign threat that Egypt can ill afford. And that may be the point. Analysts say Ethiopia is seizing on Egypt’s distraction and relative fragility to plunge ahead with plans that have long been on the drawing board but have always been thwarted by Egyptian resistance.
To Egyptians accustomed to thinking of their country as a powerhouse of the Arab world, the idea of bowing to a historically weaker African rival has been a sobering reminder of their nation’s diminished clout. It has also been an early test for the year-old government of President Mohamed Morsi — one that critics say he has badly mishandled.
“Now the options are very few,” said Talaat Mosallam, a retired major general in Egypt’s army. Diplomacy is the first, but Cairo’s leverage is “at rock bottom,” he said, and if talks fail, Egyptian military commanders may decide that “it is better to die in battle than to die in thirst.”
Indeed, the prospect of a water war has become a regular feature of Egyptian newscasts and front pages in recent weeks, ever since Ethiopia announced that it was diverting the river’s course immediately after a meeting between Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and Morsi in late May.
The announcement, which marked a milestone in the dam’s progress, was seen here as a humiliating slap and an indication that Ethiopia has no intention to negotiate over the dam’s construction.
Morsi responded last week by convening an emergency meeting of leaders from across Egypt’s political spectrum, a move that backfired wildly when the presidency decided to broadcast the session live on television without telling most of the participants.
Thinking that they were conspiring in secret, the politicians hatched plans to arm Ethiopian rebels, launch a whispering campaign about Egypt’s military might and send fighter jets to knock out the dam with one swift shot.
Morsi has not been so explicit, but he warned in a Monday night speech that “all options are open” in protecting the river, which accounts for 95 percent of Egypt’s water needs. The country, he told a crowd of cheering supporters, is ready to sacrifice blood to ensure that “not one drop” of the Nile is lost.
In an interview with state media on Tuesday, Hailemariam dismissed that as warmongering meant to distract from Egypt’s domestic issues.
“I don’t think they will take that option unless they go mad,” he said. The same day, the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the nation “will not even for a second” stop the dam’s construction.
‘A disaster for Egypt’
The standoff reflects the critical importance of controlling the region’s water resources at a time of rapidly rising populations. Egypt and Ethiopia each have more than 80 million people, double the population that existed just 30 years ago. By 2050, the combined population of the two countries is expected to rise by 100 million, even as climate change could reduce the supply of water.
Nonetheless, Ethiopia has said repeatedly that the Grand Renaissance Dam won’t cause a problem for Egypt. Ethiopian officials say the dam will be used to generate electricity, not to irrigate fields, meaning that all the water will eventually make its way downstream to Egypt.
Those officials see the dam as a chance to make right a colonial-era wrong that has preserved most of the Nile’s water for Egypt while leaving little benefit for upstream countries.
Egypt may be the gift of the Nile, as the Greek historian Herodotus once remarked, but the Nile is not Egypt’s alone. Eleven countries share the basin of the world’s longest river, which winds through much of East Africa before emptying into the Mediterranean in northern Egypt.
Ethiopia has won the majority of those countries to its side with the promise of electricity exports for a region that desperately needs new sources of energy. It has even offered to sell some of the dam’s 6,000 megawatts to Egypt.
Far from being soothed by Ethiopia’s promises, however, Egyptians have become increasingly panicked. And with good reason, according to former Egyptian water minister Mohamed Nasr Allam.
Allam said that if Ethiopia goes ahead with its plans to build the dam on the Blue Nile — which accounts for the majority of the Nile’s flow after converging with the White Nile in Sudan — Egypt could lose a quarter of its water.
“It will be a disaster for Egypt,” Allam said. “Large areas of the country will be simply taken out of production.”
Experts see the greatest peril for Egypt when Ethiopia fills the massive reservoir behind its dam, a process that could begin in 2015 and last as long as six years. Even afterward, however, the creation of the dam will mean that Egypt no longer has direct control over its primary water source, a troubling prospect for a country that receives negligible rainfall and is considered the world’s largest oasis.
Allam said Egypt should try to persuade Ethiopia to lower the 550-foot height of the dam, which would mitigate the effect. Ultimately, he said, international powers, including the United States, may be called in to help mediate.
A regional power struggle
The U.S. State Department has said that Egypt and Ethiopia, both American allies, should resolve the dispute through dialogue. But that dialogue would come at a time when Ethiopia’s influence in the region appears to be rising and Egypt’s is waning.
Hani Raslan, who heads the Nile Basin studies department at Cairo’s al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said it is no coincidence that Ethiopia announced plans to massively expand the dam and forge ahead with its construction just weeks after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in early 2011.
“Ethiopia has aspirations to be a regional power at Egypt’s expense,” Raslan said. “It is taking advantage of the instability after the revolution, especially now that there’s a weak Muslim Brotherhood president with no experience whatsoever who is not in sync with the institutions of the state.”
That’s a common sentiment on the streets of Egypt, and on the Nile, where fishermen, farmers and boat operators remember the country’s pre-revolutionary history with a heavy dose of nostalgia.
“When Mubarak was running the country, we didn’t hear about electric outages or fuel shortages. And no one would dare say that they would cut the water of Egypt,” said Abdel Arabi, 39, who sat on a tour boat watching sundown’s rays glint off the Nile as birds swooped in for the evening’s final catch.
For Abdel Aziz, the 45-year-old farmer, Ethiopia’s plans mean that his extended family of 28, which supports itself on a quarter-acre of corn, okra and eggplant fields, may go hungry.
“The water goes down, and it goes up,” he said. “But now it may go lower and never come back again.”
If it does, he said, there’s no question of the outcome: “An even bigger revolution, worse than the last one.”
Influx of Syrian refugees stretches Jordan’s water resources even more thinly
The Saudi-Egyptian Connection: The New Version Of The Quadruple Alliance Of 1815
By Dick Morris on August 28, 2013
Democracy has not worked in the Middle East or in North Africa. It has just led to the installation of Islamist regimes who use the power they acquired in free elections to end democracy, abolish civil and human rights, enslave women, kill Christians and Jews, and make war on Israel.
President George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice were wrong. Democracy would be the answer, but free elections without guarantees of liberty won’t work.
Prime Minister Recep Erdogen of Turkey said it best: “Democracy is a street car. When it gets to my stop, I get off.” He is using the power he got by democracy to end it and impose Islamist rule in his country, a nation that used to be the template for secular Muslim rule.
Saudi Arabia, which has neither the inclination nor the security to indulge idealism was never deceived by Bush’s vision and is now overcoming its opportunistic love affair with the Muslim Brotherhood to embrace the Egyptian military and to send it $12 billion of aid. Its generosity effectively replaces the $1.7 billion the United States — whose president supports the Brotherhood — is suspending.
Is the Saudi vision a combination of Egypt’s army and its money? Will this combination commit itself to intervening anywhere in the Middle East where free elections are likely to topple kings or dictators or to bring Islamists into power?
Egypt has a great army, having been built with American financing, but has no economy or money. Saudi Arabia has plenty of money but not a sufficient or sufficiently loyal population to develop significant ground military force. But together, they can rule the region.
The connection between the two reminds me of the Quadruple Alliance formed in the aftermath of the Congress of Vienna by the Czar of Russia, the Kaiser of Prussia, the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, and the King of France to intervene anywhere democracy was in danger of breaking out.
The Quadruple Alliance brought monarchy back to style after the French Revolution and Napoleon’s excesses gave democracy a bad name. In 1830 and 1848 it was decisive in killing off revolutions in Greece, Hungary, France, and Germany.
The Saudi-Egyptian alliance has the capacity to do just that.
Don’t think the military in Egypt lacks popular support. It may not have the majority needed to defeat the Muslim Brotherhood in a free election, but it draws strong support from the Egyptian middle class, intellectuals, merchants, and from the 10-20 percent of the nation which is Coptic Christian.
It need not be a military dictatorship as in Iran with the vast majority of the population in opposition. Rather the military can act as a sort of regent for the enlightened elements in the population and as a mercenary arm of a Saudi-Egyptian coalition.