THE END-GAME IN SYRIA? A COMMENT
"One needs to look at it from a variety of different perspectives. First, if you look at it just from what I could describe as the Arab Awakening, what you're seeing is a leader [Bashar al-Assad] who, in the face of his people's peaceful desire for change, decided that the right answer was to engage in a kind of "killing machine," to quote the Saudi king. What you're seeing is someone who is resisting change and is prepared to use all the means at his disposal to kill his own citizens to resist that change. It is a measure of how this region has changed that the Arab League voted for sanctions.
Did the Arab League sanctions surprise you?
Although that is something that would have been literally unthinkable even a year ago, it's another reminder of the realities of the region. It was impossible for those in the Arab League to look like they would do nothing in the face of a regime killing its citizens the way the Syrian regime was doing. The first point is to put it in the context of the Arab Awakening, both in terms of what it says about a regime trying to hold on, but also what it says about others in the region who realize that you can't simply be passive in the face of that....
When the Assad regime goes--and it seems almost inevitable that it will go--it is going to be a major loss for Iran. The Saudis and others in the Gulf Cooperation Council see it through that lens.
Do we have any idea who would succeed Assad?
This is a regime that is entirely dependent on coercion, and the coercion is failing and when a regime is entirely dependent on coercion that is not succeeding, you know that that's a regime that's not going to be around for an extended period. I would say in answer to your question on succession, if you look at the Syrian National Council (SNC), if you look at local coordination committees, you know they represent a cross section of Syria.
One interesting thing about the opposition is that it's not sectarian. The Assad regime is trying to create the impression that it's the opposition that's sectarian and the reality is that it's the regime itself that is sharpening the sectarian divide and is increasingly responsible for the sectarian conflict.
When there were the first demonstrations in Syria in Daraa in March, many experts in the region thought Assad would make some reforms and that would quiet things down. Why did he become so hard line?
One of the great paradoxes is that he had presented himself to be avant garde, a reformer, a modern person, and he had convinced many that that was his persona and identity. Had that actually been the case, he would have actually been given the benefit of the doubt by the Syrian public.
In the very beginning, because he had cultivated an image of being modern and he had created the impression that he was opening up Syria, had he actually made reforms and acted on them and shown that he was truly determined to modernize Syria, both politically and economically, he could have succeeded. You asked the question why the crackdown. At the end of the day, the image he'd created about being a modernizer was purely an image and didn't reflect reality".
Dennis Ross interviewed by Bernard Gwertzman. "Why Syria's Regime is Doomed?" The Council on Foreign Relations. 21 December 2011, in www.cfr.org.
"Assad depends on the backing of key members of the Alawite clan, a quasi-Shiite group consisting of between 12 and 15 percent of Syria's mostly Sunni population. The Alawites make up 70 percent of Syria's career military, 80 percent of the officers, and nearly 100 percent of the elite Republican Guard and the 4th Armored Division, led by the president's brother Maher. In a survey of country experts we conducted in 2007, we found that Assad's key backers -- those without whose support he would have to leave power -- consisted of only about 3,600 members out of a population of about 23 million. That is less than 0.02 percent. Assad is not alone in his dependence on a small coalition. Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's coalition is even smaller. His essential supporters include the Revolutionary Guard's leadership, the economically essential bonyad conglomerates, key clerics, and a smattering of business interests, totaling, according to our survey of Iran experts, about 2,000 in a population of well over 70 million.
Any political system that depends on such a small percentage of the population to sustain a leader in power is destined to be a corrupt, rent-seeking regime in which loyalty is purchased through bribery and privilege. Syria possesses these traits in spades. Transparency International reports in its latest evaluation that Syria ranks in the top third of the world for corruption. So, when Assad says it is not his government, he is right. If he betrays the interests of his closest Alawite allies, for instance by implementing reforms that will dilute their share of the spoils, they will probably murder him before any protesters can topple his regime. Of course, the uprising or international intervention might eventually end his rule. But those possibilities remain potential. Should the loyalty of his 3,600 supporters falter and they stop working to neutralize protest, Assad will be gone immediately. Captive to the needs of his coalition, he ignores the welfare of the 23 million average Syrians and shuns world opinion....
And with the Arab League endorsing stiff economic sanctions, Assad's regime now risks steep economic decline. With Syrians facing a society in which the rewards go to so few and confronted with the example of the uprisings elsewhere in the Arab world, it is little wonder that the people have rebelled. It is equally unsurprising that the privileged few have responded brutally to preserve their advantages.
There are two effective responses to a mass uprising (other than stepping down, of course, which leaders almost never do until all other options have been exhausted): liberalize to redress the people's grievances or crack down to make their odds of success too small for them to carry on. Leaders who lack the financial wherewithal to continue paying off cronies often choose to liberalize. (Remember South Africa's F.W. de Klerk, who negotiated a government transition with Nelson Mandela's African National Congress when economic decline made the apartheid system unsustainable.) Those who can muster the money to sustain crony loyalty do so. This is why the rich oil states to Syria's south have resisted reform and why, despite its popular uprising, Libya will not become democratic. Here is another case where Assad's statement that it is not his country is true, but only partially. As president, he could liberalize to buy off those rebelling, but his key backers will almost certainly not allow him to do so as long as there is enough money to keep paying foot soldiers to crack heads. With Syria's oil wealth in decline and with stiff economic sanctions, the regime's two choices are to liberalize or to find new sources of money. They have succeeded in the latter pursuit.
Reuters reported on July 15 that Iran and Iraq offered Assad's regime $5 billion in aid, with $1.5 billion paid immediately. The $5 billion is equal to about 40 percent of Syrian government revenue. Since the announcement of Arab League sanctions, Iran, Iraq, and Venezuela have signed agreements to expand trade and investment in Syria to the tune of more than $7 billion in 2012, including building an oil refinery. That is just what Assad's political-survival doctor ordered. This injection of cash in the short term is likely to keep the military and security forces on his side. The military core of his coalition is likely to do whatever it takes to keep the president in power as long as that money keeps on flowing. That is the essential synergy of all leader-coalition arrangements".
Alastair Smith & Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, "Assessing Assad: the Syrian leader isn't crazy. He just doing whatever it takes to survive." Foreign Policy. 20 December 2011, in www.foreignpolicy.com.
The two above differing assessments of the current situation in Syria raises the acute question as to the the likelihood of the survival of the Assad Regime. For the most part it is not so much differing data which results in the differing assessments of the future trends in Syria so much as the differing views of the weight to be given to certain pieces of data. Dennis Ross the ultra-intelligent, veteran State Department & NSC official places it seems to me greater weight to the regional dynamics and opinion as well as the fact that per se
Assad has not totally crushed the opposition to his regime. That notwithstanding the five thousand, mostly civilian and opposition deaths, there are still ongoing demonstrations and even armed attacks on the regimes forces. What I would say that Ross is missing is that the sine qua non
of the fall of the Assad Regime is not merely the fact that the regime seems to be unable to crush the opposition, but that the regime commences losing territory, space to the opposition. Cities, towns, provinces, et cetera
. At present there does not appear to be anything of this sort occurring. For reasons which are cited by Messieurs Smith and Mesquita. I myself would place a great deal of importance on the fact that the regime has been able to obtain financial assistance from its allies such as Persia, Iraq (!) and Venezuela as well to a lesser extent Russia and China. And while economic sanctions by the European Union and the Arab League will no doubt hurt, it seems to me that as long as Persia in particular is willing to under-write financially the Assad regime, then it is much, much too early to make predictions of its downfall 1
. In the absence of course of outside military intervention by either the Turks or the NATO powers. Something which at the present time seems to be a very very far prospect indeed. For my own part, my surmise is the short of outside intervention or an internal military coup d'etat (also to my mind very unlikely) the Assad regime will be able to surival in power, albeit with difficulty. Just as the regime of Saddam Hussein was able to survive in power after both its defeat in the First Persian Gulf War and the twin uprisings by the Shiites in the South and the Kurds in the North, and the rigors of the sanctions regime from
1991 to 2003 2
. A situation which informed opinion argued, Hussein was surviving quite easily 3
. For how ambiguous is the Arab League's role in the Syrian Crisis, see: William Wallis, et. al., "Alarm as Arab League Monitoring appears to play down Syria crisis."The Financial Times
. 29 December 2011, in www.ft.com
. For negative reviews of the sanctions regime, see: F. Gregory Gause III, "Getting it Backwards on Iraq." Foreign Affairs. (May / June 1999), pp. 54-55, et passim; Daniel Byman, "Farwell to Arms Inspection." Foreign Affairs.(January / February 2000), pp. 119-132. For the non-likelihood of American & or NATO military intervention in Syria, see: "U.S. quietly preparing to support the Syrian Opposition: report," Syria Comment
30 December 2011, in www.syriacomment.com
. See, Gause, op. cit., p. 55, where he states: "crippling economic sanctions on Iraq that have neither weakened Saddam's hold on power nor prevented him from pursuing his WMD programs" (sic!). And of course the ultra-influential The Threatening Storm: the case for invading Iraq.
by Kenneth Pollock, (2002), pp. 71-103, 211-233 & passim.
VACLAV HAVEL: REQUIESCANT IN PACE
"The role of Havel was equally crucial - no one individual of comparable public standing emerged in any other Communist country, and while most of the practical ideas and even the political tactics of the Civic Forum might have been forthcoming in his absence, it was Havel who caught and channeled the public mood, moving his colleagues forward while keeping the expectations of the crowds within manageable bounds. The impact of Havel and his public appeal cannot be overstated. Like Tomas Masaryk, with whom he came increasingly to be compared, the improbably charismatic Havel was now widely regarded by many as something akin to a national saviour....It was not just Havel's multiple incarcerations and his unflinching record of moral opposition to Communism that place him upon this pedestal: it was also his distinctly apolitical disposition."
Tony Judt. Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945. (2005), pp. 620-621.
"A specter is haunting Eastern Europe: the specter of what in the West is called 'dissent'. This specter has not appeared out of thin air. It is a natural and inevitable consequence of the present historical phase of the system it is haunting. It was born at a time when this system, for a thousand reasons, can no longer base itself on the unadulterated, brutal and arbitrary application of power, eliminating all expressions of nonconformity. What is more, the system has become so ossified politically that there is practically no way for such non-conformity to be implemented within its official structures....The profound crisis of human identity brought on by living within a lie, a crisis which in turn makes such a life possible, certainly possess a moral dimension as well; it appears among other things as a deep moral crisis in society. A person who has been seduced by the consumer value system, whose identity is dissolved in an amalgam of the accouterments of mass civilization, and who has no roots in the order of being, no sense of responsibility for anything higher than his own personal survival, is a demoralized person. The system depends on this demoralization, deepens it is in fact a projection of it into society. Living within the truth, as humanity's revolt against an enforced position, is on the contrary, an attempt to regain control over one's own sense of responsibility. In other words, it is clearly a moral act."
Vaclav Havel. "The Power of the Powerless," in Open Letters: Selected writing, 1965-1990. Edited & translated by Paul Wilson. (1990), p. 127 & 153. First written and distributed in 1979.
"When I have gone, perhaps the age will have played out its role."
Charles de Gaulle quoted in Andre Malraux, Fallen Oaks. (1971), p. 16.
The passing away of playwright, ex-dissident, ex-President, Vaclav Havel encapsulates a moment, nay an era of European history. In some respects, Havel can be said to have been the last 'hero' in European history. In an age when public discourse is dominated by the banalities of International Economics and Finance, Havel spoke to a period in time, which while not so long ago chronologically speaking, seems centuries away in terms of dominant ideas. The period being that of the latter half of the Cold War, when ideas concerning 'truth', 'human rights', 'honesty', 'justice', in the Communist-dominated half of Europe suddenly seemed to acquire an intrinsic importance. When the 'machtpolitik
' realities of diplomacy and International politics gave way to concerns about the fundamental importance of the individual and his place in society. Then and only then could someone of Havel's ilk have made his mark. By background coming from a haute-bourgeois
family in Prague, Havel was by virtue of the same, completely excluded from participating in public life in Communist Czechoslovakia 1
. Something which meant that unlike say his older contemporaries like the writer, Milan Kundera, Havel never had any illusions about 'reforming' Communism and never associated himself in any way with the post-February 1948 Communist regime 2
. And yet by not emigrating, Havel was able to participate fully in both the Prague Spring of 1968 and the dissident movements of the 1970's and 1980's. His participation in the latter costing him several years in Czech prisons.
The above background, while unusual, was hardly unique to Havel and cannot per se
explain his importance in the 'Velvet Revolution' of November 1989. What made Havel the indispensable man in Prague at that time, was the fact that due to his time in prison and his involvement in the dissident movement of the 1970's, he had given a great deal of serious and involved thought to the quandaries posed by both the totalitarian society and the banalities and alienation of modern-day, Western existence. As rendered in his essay, 'the Power of the Powerless', Havel sketched out an idea of a 'post-political' form of politics. The fact that this form of politics has not (post-1989) gained much traction in any of the other former 'Peoples Democracies', nor in the rest of the Advanced, Industrialized world, much less in the place of its origins, does not obviate the seminal importance of Havel's concept in the transition from Communism to Capitalist Democracy. Alongside the cry of 'return to Europe', Havel's ideas concerning 'post-politics' politics, exercised for a short, but needed amount of time, enormous influence on the course of events in Central & Eastern Europe 3
. The fact that within a few years time, Havel's ideas and indeed Havel himself became to a degree passe
, were in retrospect, par for the course. Like Churchill, like De Gaulle, Havel could be said to have been appointed by History to play an important but finite role. Once completed, Havel became politically sidelined and superfluous and his remaining years in power have an element of constant frustration to it. As more natural political animals, like the Cech Premier (and eventually Havel's successor as President) Vaclav Klaus, came to the fore. The fact that Klaus was able to steamroll the partition of the formerly unified Czechoslovak state in 1993-1994, over Havel's opposition being sine qua non
of the new realities in post-Communist Cech politics 4
. Havel's subsequent complaints about "the reemergence of Czech (sic) small-mindedness in Czech politics", while no doubt accurate enough are the off-stage laments of what Henry Kissinger once characterized as a "prophet" 5
. Someone who:
"is less concerned with manipulating than with creating reality. What is possible interests him less than what is 'right'. He offers his vision as the test and his good faith as a guarantee 6."
As Kissinger notes, the prophet is opposed to the "Statesman", someone who is primarily interested in manipulating reality and whose 'first goal is survival'. Once again, like his historical confreres
in European heroic status, Churchill and De Gaulle, Havel was in essence, a prophet with little or no honor in his own country at times. The only difference being that while Churchill and even De Gaulle were greatly honored in retirement by their countrymen, Havel was viewed more skeptically by his own. He was truly the last European Hero. I very much doubt that we will ever seen another one of his type on the European continent.
. Vaclav Havel, Disturbing the Peace
. Edited and translated by Paul Wilson. (1990), pp.3-8, et passim.2
. Ibid., pp. 93-99 & 171-178, et passim.3
. Besides Judt's book, see: Gyorgy Konrad's 1984 book, Antipolitics
, as well as Adam Michnik's essays from the period (especially 'The New Evolutionism'), for the latter see: Adam Michnik, Letters from Prison and Other Essays
. Translated by Maya Latynski. (1985), pp. 135-148.4
. Havel's description of Klaus in his memoirs are especially insightful as to why Havel became sidelined in the post-1989-1990 period: a "smart politician who is not overly burdened by scruples." See: Vaclav Havel, To the Castle and Back
. Translated by Paul Wilson. (2007), p. 133 et passim. 5
. For Havel's complaints about Cech 'small-mindedness,' see, Havel, To the Castle and Back
, op. cit., p. 12, 117, 133, 173, et passim, see especially the latter for its complaints of Cech: 'mediocrity, banality, and a kind of middle-class philistinism'. 6
. Henry A. Kissinger, "Domestic Structure and Foreign Policy. " Daedalus
. (Spring, 1966), pp. 526-527.
THE RUSSIAN DUMA ELECTIONS RESULTS: A CRISIS OF THE REGIME?
"The disgruntlement has been there for a while. If you look at the polls one or two years ago, you will see a vast majority, way over 60 percent saying that civil servants in Russia do not live by the law or that abuse by the police is routine. However, it looks like people were ready to adjust to it and put up with it until it came to this election in which the obvious discontent was precipitated by exactly the factor that you mentioned, Putin's comeback as president after two terms in office. This sense of "Oh no, not for another twelve years" indicated the obvious fatigue that had accumulated. People may have expected him to run again, yet when it was eventually announced the reaction was that of frustration.
Also, the public was insulted by the way the two leaders traded places without even pretending that somehow public participation was involved. They decided it between the two of them and only presented it to the public as a fait accompli. Putin and Medvedev worsened the discontent and frustration that had already been there.
What the press is lacking is an accountability role in which the public can hold the government to account.
Finally what happened in this election was the shameless manipulation and fraud that was evident during the campaign; the harassment of activists, leading websites were under severe cyber attacks, and administrators blatantly abused their authority in order to deliver the desired result of the vote. These sort of shameless violations pushed people to a vote of defiance, in which they would do anything that would undermine the showing of United Russia".
Masha Lipman, "Understanding Putin's setback." The Council on Foreign Relations. 6 December 2011, in www.cfr.org.
"Vladimir Putin still has formidable financial resources, and the police has not yet hesitated to tackle the protesters roughly. The opposition is still split between the so-called “systemic” parties, to be represented in parliament, and the “non-systemic” groupings that are driving the street protests. The population, though increasingly restless, wants the system to improve, not another revolution. All this favours the Kremlin. However, other factors are eroding the regime’s ability to respond to the situation coherently.
Firstly, the United Russia party’s ratings have been falling for more than a year. But the government expected its usual combination of cash injections and vote rigging to maintain its previous parliamentary majority. People’s willingness to turn out and vote for any party but United Russia took the regime by surprise. The vehement reaction to the usual practice of stuffing the ballot boxes was also unexpected. Mr Putin and his team seem to have no “Plan B”.
Courts hand out sentences to protesters – but Russia is not Belarus and Mr Putin is not Alexander Lukashenko. While activists in Minsk serve five-year terms in tough prisons, their Russian counterparts get 15-day spells in city police jails – which merely boost their credibility. As previously apolitical celebrities rushed to the rally, some carried off to police vans in fur coats, one Moscow wit twitted: “Soon you won’t be received in polite society without a spell in a jail”.
This is another bad sign for the Kremlin. It is losing credence with intellectuals, bohemians and with a swathe of thirty-somethings, who have moved from political indifference or even support for Mr Putin to principled opposition. These people are not numerous, but they are educated, travelled, internet-savvy and forward-looking. They are irretrievably lost to the Kremlin and United Russia – and with them the majority in the nation’s two capitals. This is very significant. Both the Bolshevik coup of 1917 and the great anti-Communist revolution of 1989-1991 were decided by active minorities in Moscow and St Petersburg.
This was also the last election in which the government could rely on state-controlled TV to set the agenda. Internet penetration in Russia rose to more than 50m daily users in 2011: people are increasingly reading news from independent sources and comparing opinions with little or no state interference. State media must either ignore the facts, damaging their already shaky credibility, or present what is really happening – and thus contribute to the critique".
Konstantin von Eggert. "Spring comes to Moscow - the tug of war begins." The Financial Times. 7 December 2011, in www.ft.com.
The election results for the Duma in the Russian Federation, and the resulting protests last week-end in Moskva and other cities, with some of the largest demonstrations in the last twenty years taking place have raised questions about the long-term viability of the Putin regime. What does the relatively unbiased observer make of it all? I for one, can see that while it would be extremely erroneous to characterize what has occurred in Russia as a Russian 'Arab Spring', it would also be equally inaccurate to characterize what has occurred as merely a damp squib. What appears to have happened is that the lay, university-educated, liberal-bourgeois, Western-oriented elements in the major cities of European Russia in particular, have in electoral terms revolted against the type of neo-authoritarianism that has governed Russia since mid-1999. Which is not to gainsay the fact that a good portion of the anti-Kremlin vote in the elections, was a protest vote, pur et simple
. And that currently there does not appear to be either a plausible candidate to stand against Putin or a plausible political organization to oppose the Kremlin-backed United Russia. Unless of course considers the Communist Party....Similarly, it would be good to remember that the strongest elements of the non-communist opposition, consists of strongly Russian nationalist elements, whose views are quite at variance with the more cosmopolitan, liberal-bourgeois elements that tend to be highlighted by Western journalists. Indeed, it would be a good surmise that if the Putin Regime were to be ousted and or voluntarily fall from power, it is more likelier than not that it would be followed by a much more, xenophobic, nationalist regime and not the Western-style, liberal-bourgeois politicians of the former 'Apple Party'
and the 'Union of Right Forces'
. Alternatively, it could be that elements within the existing regime, will join hands with former members of the same, like the ex-Finance Minister, Alexei Kudrin to expedite a transition to a neo-Putin regime, as sort of 'Putinism without Putin'. As the British commentator, Alex Nice of the Royal Institute of International Affairs recently noted, any sign that the Putin project was in serious difficulty, would result in a situation where "there could be a sudden surge for the exits", by said elite 1
. The upshot of the current situation is that after a long period where politics in Russia appeared to be frozen in time, 'politics', 'events' of a unpredictable sort have returned. For good or for ill. With that in mind, one may only care to remember Tocqueville's dictum in his chef d'oeuvre
, L'Ancien Regime et la Revolution
"It is not always going from bad to worse that a society falls into revolution...The social order destroyed by a revolution is almost always better than that which immediately preceded it, and experience shows that the most dangerous moment for a bad government is generally thatin which it sets about 1
. Alex Nice, "Russian Elections: leadership doubts." Chatham House
. 5 December 2011, in www.chathamhouse.org
. Alexis de Tocqueville, L'Ancien Regime et la Revolution
THE INITIAL EGYPTIAN ELECTIONS: A COMMENT
"In retrospect, it was all desperately naive.
Remember all that excitement about the Facebook revolution? The image of hip young Egyptians, organizing through social networking sites, to overthrow a military dictator was irresistible to many in the west. We were down with the kids in Tahrir. They were using our ideas and our gadgets to overthrow a crusty old dictator. Bliss was it on that dawn to be watching CNN.
Now the results of the first round of voting in the Egyptian elections are in – and we are discovering that things are a bit more complicated. Islamist parties have won around two-thirds of the vote: the Muslim Brotherhood seems to have got about 37 per cent; the Salafists, whose puritan version of Islam is much harder line even than the Brotherhood, have won about 25 per cent. Parties representing Egyptian liberals are trailing in third – despite the fact that the first round of voting took place in their strongest areas. When the rural south of Egypt votes in the next rounds, the Islamists are likely to do even better. Just after the revolution, Wael Ghonim, the young Google executive who organised the first Facebook protests against Hosni Mubarak, was put at the very top of Time magazine’s list of the 100 “most influential people in the world”. As a US official commented to me drily this week: “He may be the most influential man in the world, but unfortunately he doesn’t seem to have much influence in Egypt.”
It wasn’t just western observers who failed to understand the nature of Egyptian society. Many Egyptian liberals were also operating in the dark, after decades of authoritarian rule that had forced all sorts of social and political forces underground. Back in April in Cairo I met Mohammed ElBaradei, the man who many liberals still hope (forlornly) will emerge as president. With commendable honesty, he admitted that he had barely heard of the Salafists, until they had emerged after the revolution and begun to give interviews. He was clearly horrified. “Some of them, well there is no common ground,” lamented Mr ElBaradei, an urbane international civil servant. “They want a completely theocratic state.” Returning from Egypt, I wrote that Salafists might get up to 10 per cent of the vote – and was worried that this might be considered hysterical".
Gideon Rachman, "Western Dreams and Egypt's reality." The Financial Times. 5 December 2011, in www.ft.com.
"The first round of Egyptian parliamentary elections has taken place, and the winners were two Islamist parties. The Islamists themselves are split between more extreme and more moderate factions, but it is clear that the secularists who dominated the demonstrations and who were the focus of the Arab Spring narrative made a poor showing. Of the three broad power blocs in Egypt — the military, the Islamists and the secular democrats — the last proved the weakest.
It is far from clear what will happen in Egypt now. The military remains unified and powerful, and it is unclear how much actual power it is prepared to cede or whether it will be forced to cede it. What is clear is that the faction championed by Western governments and the media will now have to accept the Islamist agenda, back the military or fade into irrelevance. One of the points I made during the height of the Arab Spring was that the West should be careful of what it wishes for — it might get it. Democracy does not always bring secular democrats to power. To be more precise, democracy might yield a popular government, but the assumption that that government will support a liberal democratic constitution that conceives of human rights in the European or American sense is by no means certain. Unrest does not always lead to a revolution, a revolution does not always lead to a democracy, and a democracy does not always lead to a European- or American-style constitution.
In Egypt today, just as it is unclear whether the Egyptian military will cede power in any practical sense, it is also unclear whether the Islamists can form a coherent government or how extreme such a government might be."
George Friedman, "Egypt and the Idealist-Realist debate in U.S. Foreign Policy." Stratfor. 6 December 2011, in www.stratfor.com.
Notwithstanding the arriere-pensee
comments by Gideon Rachmann, there were some commentators, such as Stratfor's George Friedman who were highly skeptical of what Rachmann now refers to as 'desperately naive' hopes that Egypt was securely headed on the road to democratization. I myself in my own initial comments on the upheaval in Egypt, stated that there was a possibility of genuine Democratization in Egypt. I also stated that there was equally a possibility of an 'Algerian Scenario' 1. What I did not discuss in depth, nor do I believe many others commentators did, was to examine the likelihood that 'free and fair elections', would result in a heavy majority by the Muslim Brotherhood and related parties. A state of affairs which has now come about. The 'problems' raised by the election returns in Egypt, which as Rachmann cogently points out, are likely to become worse rather than better, are as follows: i
) how radicalized will any Muslim Brotherhood government become under pressure from the more radical Islamists elements who look to gain a substantial representation in parliament? ii
) how will the self-same government deal with the 'deep' Egyptian military apparatus which has been in place since July 1952? And concomitantly how will the self-same 'deep' military apparatus deal with a Muslim Brotherhood government? Will they endeavor to peacefully co-exist with each other, or will it be an omnium bellum contra omnies
) how will said regime deal, given the pressures coming from its hardline domestic critics and its nominally pro-Western military, craft its relations with Israel and the USA? Will Egypt remain on the sidelines peacefully during the next Israeli-Palestinian imbroglio
? Given its domestic pressures can it afford to do so?
The above are some of the issues raised by the prospect of a future Muslim Brotherhood government in power. Per se
, the fact that the Brotherhood would form a government is not a reason for alarm. What is a reason for alarm is that the next Egyptian Parliament will have a substantial radical Islamic presence. And as the Revolution in Persia, in fact as almost any revolutionary situation tends to show, it is the radicals and not the moderates who come to the fore. And in Egypt at the moment, it is the Muslim Brotherhood who are the 'moderates'. That fact alone is more than sufficient to be alarming. Perhaps not alarming enough to hope for a military coup d'etat
, but certainly at this point in time, any reason for optimism as it concerns the situation in Egypt is completely unwarranted.
1. "Egypt without Mubarak: Revolution or Regime musical chairs?"Diplomat of the Future
. 15 February 2011, in www.diplomatofthefuture.blogspot.com
THE EURO-ZONE IN CRISIS: THE TRIUMPH OF ADENAUER OVER DE GAULLE?
"Nixon had the amazing idea of asking me what I thought of de Gaulle's views on Europe....'I found it fascinating', I said. 'But I do not know how the President will keep Germany from dominating the Europe he has just described'. De Gaulle, seized by a profound melancholy at so much obtuseness, seemed to grow another inch as he contemplated me with the natural haughtiness of a snowcapped Alpine peak toward a little foothill. 'Par la guerre', he simply said."
Henry A. Kissinger, The White House Years. 1979, p. 110.
"For the first time in the history of the EU, Germany is the unquestioned leader, and France is number two. Since the financial crisis struck in 2008, the economic inequality between France and Germany has grown. Although regular summits between Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy maintain the appearance of parity, France's higher levels of debt and public spending, its lower level of exports, its less well capitalised banks and its rising borrowing costs vis-à-vis Germany have forced it to accept German leadership on economic policy.
Last week I talked to officials in Paris about the eurozone crisis. The franker among them admit that on many of the key arguments – should the eurozone be run according to strict rules that minimise the scope for political discretion, should there be a treaty change, should the European Central Bank (ECB) intervene massively to support governments in trouble, and so on – German views have prevailed.
French officials fret about the sustainability of the euro. Their analysis is similar to that of the Anglo-Saxons: they worry that the German medicine being applied to the eurozone ignores the importance of demand and growth, and that few German policy-makers understand financial markets. But unlike the Anglo-Saxons, they think it better not to lecture the Germans in public on what they should do. The French think that the Germans will probably do what it takes to preserve the single currency, in the end. But several officials expressed the concern that, by the time the Germans decide to move, it may be too late to save the euro.
The French are reticent about the German plan to change the EU treaties. They assume that a new treaty will have to be preceded by a convention, as was the constitutional treaty. But when the convention – consisting of MEPs and national parliamentarians, as well as governments – meets, can the Germans ensure that it discusses only the euro, rather than every subject under the sun? Then there is the difficulty of ratifying a new treaty. The Irish, for example, would have to hold a referendum and in their current mood would probably vote no. But the French are going along with treaty change, because they hope that a new treaty with strict rules on government borrowing will make it easier for the Germans to change their current policies on the euro. In the short term that means accepting that the ECB should become a lender of last resort to eurozone governments.
In the forthcoming treaty negotiations, the French want to balance the German emphasis on budgetary discipline with some distinctively French thinking. Officials talk of treaty articles on economic growth and the co-ordination of macro-economic policy, tax rates and labour market rules. They also want to amend Article 136 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which allows the eurozone countries to adopt new rules on budgetary discipline. The French want to broaden the scope of that article, beyond the Germanic preoccupation with budgets.
The French hope that the new treaty will pave the way for eurobonds, but know that collective eurozone borrowing only makes sense once budgetary policy has been centralised, which will take several years. In the meantime the French think that the eurozone needs a European Monetary Fund (EMF) to support countries in trouble. An EMF would, like the IMF, lend to countries that cannot borrow commercially, and set conditions. It would also lend preventively to countries that might face problems. It could be based on the European Stability Mechanism, the bail-out fund that is currently under construction.
Many parts of the French government would be happy to see an EMF become a rival source of expertise and power to the European Commission, though the Trésor has doubts about such duplication. France would like an EMF to take decisions by majority vote, so that it could move quickly and not worry about, say, a potential Slovak veto. But the Germans generally prefer unanimous decision-making on bail-outs....
The French government worries about Le Pen – who is currently polling between16 and 21 per cent. In past presidential elections the Front National has scored better than the polls predicted. If the euro crisis worsens, and requires France to adopt painful austerity measures, Le Pen's implacable hostility to the single currency could earn her extra votes. She could get through to the second round of the presidential election in May 2012, as her father did in 2002, though she could not win. The presidential election is unlikely to change the broad thrust of France's EU policy, but the euro crisis and the increasingly dominant role of Germany could push the French people in a eurosceptic direction".
Charles Grant, "The French Learn Followership," The Centre for European Reform. 30 November 2011, in www.cer.org.uk.
One of the results of the yet unfinished crisis of the Eurozone is that in superseding of Mao's Tse-tung's infamous dictim, 'economics takes command'
. And with this change over, it is Berlin rather than Paris which is truly in the driving seat as per formulating policy for both the seventeen members of the Eurozone and the twenty-seven members of the European Union. The fact that Berlin's ideas as how to resolve the crisis of the Eurozone are dangerously inadequate if in fact not dangerous, as sort of modern-day Brunningism, merely highlights Berlin's almost complete dominance 1. This 'dominance' one should remember is however not entirely structural in nature. While Berlin can boast that it is the fourth largest economy in the world, and the largest exporter, and that it has so far ridden out the financial crisis since 2007, infinitely better than any other large, advanced industrialized country, that per se
does not obviate the fact that Germany's economy in the overall context of the Eurozone or the European Union, is not so large that it can issue diktat
to the other members of the two unions. Which in turns highlights the near constant muddle that is current European Union policy making. German pre-dominance such as it is, is not of the type that can result in quick action on policy. And if nothing else, the financial and economic crisis of the last four plus years now, have shown repeatedly is that the traditional 'trade-offs' and bargaining that makes up European Union and Eurozone decision-making is antithetical to successful policy in the current situation. Hence what Martin Wolf in to-day's Financial Times
characterizes as 'Euro-porridge'
, rather than effective policy which will save the Eurozone. Noting that:
"If the most powerful country in the eurozone refuses to recognize the nature of the crisis, the eurozone has no chance of either remedying it or preventing a recurrence. Yes, the ECB might paper over the cracks. In the short run, such intervention is even indispensable, since time is needed for external adjustments. Ultimately, however, external adjustment is crucial. That is far more important than fiscal austerity" 2.
. Martin Wolf, "Merkel failed to save the Eurozone." The Financial Times.
7 December 2011, in www.ft.com