Archive for the ‘North Africa’ Category

Paradigm shift: The beginning of the end of Jihadism

May 9, 2011

I have posted earlier that the death of Osama bin Laden represents a paradigm shift for US foreign policy where after a decade the “Get Osama” game is over. The question of evidence of Osama being dead is already obsolete. Doubts about the legality of  executing a self-appointed enemy in another country without the tacit approval of that country have also become irrelevant. The bottom-line is that it is the end of one chapter – if not the whole book – of the 9/11 tragedy. US Policy can finally begin to look beyond the nebulous “War on Terror”. The lack of definable boundaries for this “War” has actually led – in 10 years – to the loss of many of the civil liberties which had been won slowly in the previous 50+ years since the end of World War II. Perhaps some of these will be restored.

But the shift may be more fundamental and more widespread than just for US policy. The Spring revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East have  actually caused change on the ground and have been more effective than any ideology based on jihadism or terrorism. As this movement spreads to Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and perhaps even to Saudi Arabia, the value and even the capability of jihad being a vehicle for revolutionary change is losing ground.

The world has shifted away from Ben Ali, Mubarak, Osama bin Laden, Gaddafi, King Abdullah, Assad and their ilk.

Paradigm Shift

The violence of jihad is no longer being seen as a credible method of change against the authoritarian regimes of the Arab World. Other methods are clearly more effective. Jihad has few definable objectives left. 

Der Spiegel writes:

Osama bin Laden’s violent ideology may have once garnered support in the Arab world, but his death this week came at a time when the burgeoning pro-democracy movement in the Muslim world had rendered his ideas and his international terror network al-Qaida irrelevant.

… Many Muslims admired Osama bin Laden, and not secretly. A study by the Washington-based Pew Research Center conducted two years after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington found that 72 percent of Palestinians, almost 60 percent of Indonesians and Jordanians and almost half the Pakistani population considered bin Laden to be “trustworthy.”

Given such overwhelming support back then, it is amazing how little interest there is today in the former batal, or hero, in the Arab world. The news of the audacious Navy Seals raid electrified the West, but in North Africa and the Middle East it was merely one story among many. On Tuesday, the front page of Dubai’s Al-Bajan newspaper was dedicated to the 40th anniversary of the founding of the United Arab Emirates. In Cairo, the lead article in the Al-Wafd newspaper addressed worries about money flowing out of Egypt. The Arab News in the Saudi capital Jeddah reported that English would now be an obligatory subject at school from fourth grade onward. Only then did it mention and comment on the death of “the Sheikh,” as bin Laden was always respectfully and reverentially referred to.

Not much of that respect and reverence appears to remain, and both bin Laden’s reputation and the violent culture he symbolized have been on the decline in the Muslim world for years. Since 2003, researchers at Pew have asked the same question about bin Laden every year. While 72 percent of Palestinians backed him in 2003, that figure has now fallen to 34 percent. Jordanian support has dropped from 56 to 13 percent, while Pakistani backing for bin Laden has slumped from 46 to 18 percent. ….. But as dangerous as al-Qaida remains as a terrorist organization, its political ideology has become virtually irrelevant in the Middle East. The more attacks it has carried out since 9/11 — including on targets in the Muslim world — the harder it has been to justify that terrorism to ordinary Muslims. …

…. The upturn in fortunes in the Persian Gulf, the resulting opening of previously closed Arab economies and the simultaneous boom in the use of social media have threatened to sideline al-Qaida completely. A growing majority of mainly young Arabs are no longer primarily interested in fighting presumed American hegemony in the Middle East or pushing for the acceptance of a religion allegedly repressed by pro-Western regimes. Instead they want a share of the economic growth from which only their rulers’ clans have profited until now.

Pious jihadist philosophers simply have no answers to such aspirations. Religious arguments are as useless in countering anger at the unjust division of wealth as the sham reforms with which autocratic leaders in the region have tried, and in several instances, failed to cling to power. It is ironic, for example, that bin Laden’s killing comes only weeks after the toppling of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who claimed until the bitter end that “hundreds of new bin Ladens” would make the world unsafe unless his advice was heeded. 

Other dictators and terrorist leaders will undoubtedly follow Mubarak and bin Laden into the annals of history. As the commanders of a sinking epoch both men managed to cause a lot of harm, but their philosophies are finished.

Blood and oil in the sand: Is Gaddafi still getting the money from Libyan oil?

March 27, 2011

Apparently Libyan oil is still flowing while bombs are falling .

But who is getting the money for the oil?

And is oil the only reason why the West and Nato are supporting the rebels in Libya but not those opposing the oppresive regime in Bahrain?

Der Spiegel:

Are countries involved in the international operation in Libya hypocritical? That, it would seem, is the belief of German Development Minister Dirk Niebel, who criticized participants for continuing to draw oil from Libya. The comments show just how wide the gap between Berlin and its NATO allies has become. …

On Thursday evening,  Dirk Niebel  a member of Merkel’s junior coalition partners, the Free Democrats (FDP), accused the United Nations-backed military alliance currently operating in Libya of hypocrisy. 

“It is notable that exactly those countries which are blithely dropping bombs in Libya are still drawing oil from Libya,” he said.

Niebel also said that Germany was “not consulted” by France prior to the start of the campaign in Libya and added that European Union foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton’s coordination of the EU position on Libya had been “suboptimal.”

Niebel’s comments came on the heels of a demand by Merkel, made during the ongoing European Union summit in Brussels, for a complete oil embargo against Libya. The international community, she said, “must clearly show that we will not do business with anyone who wages war against his own people.” …..

And the implied accusation that oil interests are one motivation behind the Libya mission is not likely to be well received in Western capitals. …

Meanwhile, on Thursday, an agreement was reached among NATO member states that the trans-Atlantic alliance would take control of the no-fly zone over Libya.

Towns, tribes and oil fields of Libya.

Gaddafi sets his sights on Benghazi

March 17, 2011

While the situation in Japan captures the world’s attention, Gaddafi’s troops are ready to attack Benghazi. All the talk about no-fly zones by European countries and NATO have not led to anything – yet. Reuters reports:

Libyan government soldiers battled rebels on the road to the insurgent stronghold of Benghazi on Thursday as the United States raised the possibility of air strikes to stop Muammar Gaddafi’s forces.

The army told people to leave opposition-held locations and arms dumps. But its advance on Benghazi — and the prospect of a decisive battle in the insurrection — was hampered by clashes around Ajbadiyah, a strategic town on the coastal highway.

Slow-paced international efforts to halt the bloodshed moved up a gear when the United States, previously cool on the idea of a foreign military intervention, said the U.N. Security Council should consider actions beyond a no-fly zone over Libya.


Gaddafi gains ground while protests spread to Saudi Arabia

March 11, 2011
Location of Benghazi within Libya.

Image via Wikipedia

The Gaddafi end-game gets murkier as he uses air power, regular troops and heavy artillery to retake towns controlled by the demonstrators. Zawaiyah and Ras Lanuf have been ruthlessly bombarded into submission. In the process many (at least 1000) Libyans have been killed by other Libyans. In the meantime NATO, the European Union, and the UN are dithering about the introduction of a no-fly zone across Libyan air space. It is conceivable that with no other forces coming into play Gaddafi could even try to retake Benghazi. In any event without US support such a no-fly zone would be difficult to implement. Any UN Security Council resolutions will be watered down since Russia and China have a fundamental aversion to the support of any group challenging authoritarian rule.

Gulf Arab states said the Gaddafi regime was illegitimate, and urged contact to be made with the rebels while President Barack Obama’s top intelligence adviser James Clapper predicted government forces would defeat the rebels.

Gaddafi has to go but the end-game for him and his family could be a long drawn-out affair. While France has recognised the rebel National Libyan Council as the legitimate government, other countries concerned that may well have to deal with Gaddafi for some time yet have not had the courage to follow suit. Berlusconi will see to it that any European consensus will be hard to come by.

But these hot and humid winds of change in North Africa and the Middle East represent a fundamental shift of political climate and are unlikely to be stopped. What is commonly known as the Sirocco is called Chom (hot) or arifi (thirsty) in North Africa and Simoom in Palestine, Jordan, Syria, and the desert of Arabia. In Libya it is called the Ghibli, in Egypt it is the Khamsin  and it is the Sharavin in Israel.

File:Persian Gulf Arab States english.PNG

map via Wikipedia

And the winds are now blowing towards the House of Saud. Yesterday (Thursday)

Saudi security forces fired on scores of protesters in the city of Qatif, according to two witnesses and an activist.

The protests took place one day ahead of a planned “Day of Rage” in the Middle Eastern country.

Defying a Saudi government ban on all kinds of public demonstrations, more than 100 people in the predominantly Shiite city in eastern Saudi Arabia urged authorities to release Shiite prisoners, the witnesses and activist said.

At some point, the witnesses said Saudi security forces shot to disperse the crowd. It was unknown if the forces fired rubber bullets or live ammunition. Those injured were taken to Qatif Central Hospital for treatment, the activist and witnesses said.

The Jerusalem Post writes:

The time after Friday prayers has proved to be crucial in popular uprisings that have brought down Tunisian and Egyptian rulers who once seemed invulnerable.

Gulf leaders are struggling to hold back an Internet-era generation of Arabs who appear less inclined to accept arguments appealing to religion and tradition to explain why ordinary citizens should be shut out of decision-making.

Saudi Arabia, the largest country in the Gulf, is home to Islam’s holiest sites – and is a long-time US ally that has ensured oil supplies for the West. More than 32,000 people have backed a Facebook call to hold two demonstrations in the country, the first of them Friday.

Riyadh has tried to counter the call with promises of money and other measures – including a pro-government Facebook page “against the revolution” with 23,000 supporters.

The protest movements hit populous Yemen a month ago, and spread to the Gulf states, where dynasties secured their rule in colonial times.

Bahrain – an island state, whose rulers look to Riyadh for support – has been the most vulnerable so far. This week, hardline Shi’ite groups formed an alliance to ditch the monarchy and turn Bahrain into a republic.

New French Foreign Minister moves quickly to rectify Sarkozy’s blunders

February 28, 2011
Michèle Alliot-Marie

Alliot-Marie: Image via Wikipedia

Sarkozy has always given me the impression of being rather condescending with former colonies and of running a foreign policy based almost entirely on short-term economic benefit. The French Government – as most others – has been caught completely unprepared by the upheavals in North Africa and the Middle East. But Sarkozy and his ministers have been particularly inept with Tunisia and Egypt and to some extent with Morocco and Libya.

Foreign Minister Michelle Alliot-Marie was stupid enough not only to accept air travel and holidays from Ben Ali’s friends but also to actually offer French support for the Tunisian security services when the demonstrations first began. Alliot-Marie’s partner, Patrick Ollier is also accused of using his close relationship with Muammar Gaddafi to secure French arms deals with Libya. He remains in the cabinet in charge of parliamentary affairs but she has now been sacked by Sarkozy. The Prime Minister, Francois Fillon who also accepted free holidays paid for by Mubarak remains in place.

Sarkozy also found another scapegoat in Pierre Menat the Ambassador in Tunis and sacked him as well. His replacement – the brash and arrogant Boris Boillon – then went and endeared himself to the Tunisians by immediately throwing a tantrum and calling the Tunisian press “stupid” at a press briefing on his arrival. Naturally the video found its way to You Tube ( 2:40 into the video). The Tunisians demanded his removal and he was forced to apologise.

“I say I am sorry, I regret my words, I was stupid,” Ambassador Boris Boillon said over state television. “I ask for the forgiveness of all Tunisians.” Tunisians are deeply suspicious of former colonial ruler France’s role in supporting Ben Ali, who ran the North African country repressively for more than 20 years.

Sarkozy is known for not caring much for diplomats while diplomats consider him impulsive and an amateur:

Mr Sarkozy has been criticised for several years over the way his government has run foreign policy. Critics accuse him of riding roughshod over foreign service chiefs at the Quai d’Orsay while keeping key decisions in the hands of his Chief of Staff Claude Gueant.

Last week an open letter from a group of diplomats, published in the newspaper Le Monde, slammed the “amateurism” and “impulsiveness” of Mr Sarkozy’s policy. Former ambassador Jean-Christophe Rufin criticised the “damage” done to France’s image. “Contrary to the announcements trumpeted for the past three years, Europe is powerless, Africa escapes us, the Mediterranean will not talk to us, China has tamed us and Washington ignores us!” wrote the diplomats.

The letter was seen as a response to Mr Sarkozy’s claims that his ambassadors in Arab capitals had failed to foresee the North African unrest.

It is now the more sober Alain Juppe, the former French prime minister, who will be given the job of restoring France’s diplomatic credibility as the country’s new foreign minister. He will seek to ensure France takes the right approach to the pro-democracy movement.

And, significantly, Mr Sarkozy is moving Claude Gueant, his wing-man for years and the driver of his foreign policy, to be interior minister – a move seen as a concession to Alain Juppe, who will want to run foreign affairs his way.

The new Foreign Minister Alain Juppe is now moving fast to try and rectify a string of blunders and to try and restore some cohesion to French foreign policy.

Now comes a French move to win hearts and minds in the new Libya: the first consignment of humanitarian aid. The two planes France sent to the eastern city of Benghazi carried doctors, nurses, medicine and medical equipment to ease the pressure on hospitals in the east of Libya.

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon hailed “the beginning of a massive operation of humanitarian support for the populations of the liberated territories. And you will have seen that France was in the forefront of the decisions taken to sanction Col Gaddafi,” he said. “We were the ones who called on the European Council to adopt a joint position on this matter.”

The French moves are a start and almost forced on them since  the writing is already on the wall. Whether Alain Juppe will be able to inject a measure of principle into French foreign policy and lift it up from the level of the pig-trough remains to be seen.

But with Sarkozy’s approval ratings at less than 30% and a difficult presidential election coming up in 2012, his amateurish impulsiveness and his quest for short-term gains may prevent foreign policy from being about anything else.

Political earthquake spreading and claims Tunisian PM and French Foreign Minister

February 27, 2011

The earthquakes that are ripping across the political foundations of North Africa and the Middle East are producing an uncharted landscape which is still changing everyday. The after-shocks continue in Tunisia where it all started and new shocks were felt in Oman today. In Libya, Gaddafi is increasingly isolated and further shocks will no doubt be felt. The speed of propagation is stunning and beyond anything predicted by “domino theories” and the directions of movement are quite unpredictable. That Egypt’s Mubarak would fall in 18 days is hard to believe. That his departure did not produce a long period of chaos is even more remarkable. That Saudi Arabia could be vulnerable at all seems ridiculous on the surface but the events in Bahrain and today in Oman suggest that the sand under the House of Saud is highly unstable and could be susceptible to very sudden shifts.

The consequences will be felt far outside the immediate region and not least in the old colonial powers of France and Italy and the UK. All the so-called defenders of freedom and democracy who -on the grounds of stability – continued to support the string of repressive dictators will have to devise new policies. The new found revolt against the corruption in North Africa and the Arabian peninsula will create new stresses in Europe and the US where the “establishments” have all been complicit in the corrupt practices and especially in the sale of defence equipment and in the extraction and refining of oil. How to continue supporting absolute monarchs and dictators in some countries while supporting the establishment of democratic institutions in others is going to be particularly challenging for the US.

French Foreign Minister Alliot-Marie quits over Tunisia

Embattled French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie has announced her resignation after weeks of criticism over her contacts with the former Tunisian regime. But in announcing her resignation, she said she had committed no wrongdoing.

A veteran conservative politician and cabinet minister, she had been in her new job for just three months. She was heavily criticised for initially offering French help to quell the uprising in Tunisia. Subsequent revelations about her and her family’s links to the regime of former President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, and the fact that she had taken a Christmas holiday in Tunisia during the uprising made her position increasingly untenable.

Tunisians celebrate prime minister’s ouster

Less than a minute after Tunisian Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi resigned Sunday in a speech on national television, the massive crowd filling this city’s Casbah Square suddenly halted the angry chants that had continued around the clock for days. There was silence, and then cheers, chants and circles of ecstatic dancing.

For the second time in as many months, the people of Tunisia had toppled their government, and now their chant changed to “the act is done, the rest is yet to come.”

Ghannouchi, 69, quit because he had been unable to overcome his past as part of fallen president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali’s government, and the peaceful demonstrations that forced Ben Ali out had turned violent and police seemed unable to control the crowds, according to activists in several newly formed political parties.

Libya protesters control Zawiyah

Forces loyal to the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi have surrounded the city of Zawiyah, where anti-government protesters are bracing for an attack. Men opposed to Gaddafi were patrolling the streets of the city 50km from the capital on Sunday, saying they had seized weapons and even tanks which they would use to defend themselves.

Ezeldina, a Zawiyah resident, told Al Jazeera that people in the city had raided some military camps.

“We are expecting an attack at any moment,” he said. “We are forming rotating watchgroups, guarding the neighbourhood.” Police stations and government offices inside the city have been torched and anti-Gaddafi graffiti painted of walls. Hundreds of protesters in the city centre chanted “Gaddafi Out”. Some stood on top of a captured tank, while others crowded around an anti-aircraft gun. Women stood on top of buildings cheering on the men in the crowd below.

An effigy of Gaddafi hung from a light pole in the main square.

A group of foreign journalists were driven to Zawiyah by Libyan authorities on Sunday to show that forces loyal to Gaddafi still held the town. But once there, it was evident that the protesters were in control.

Protests turn violent in Oman port

Thousands of Omani youths confronted police in the industrial port of Sohar on Sunday after witnesses reported that two protesters had been killed in clashes with the security forces. The small Gulf state, a close ally of the UK, is the latest country to be rocked by the wave of youth-driven democracy movements that have spread through the region since the fall of the Tunisian and Egyptian leaders.

Unprecedented unrest in northern Oman marks an escalation of civil protest in the oil-rich Gulf, sparking fears of further contagion in a region whose oil reserves are vital to the global economy.

The flare-up follows rising tensions in Bahrain, where pro-democracy protests have shaken the country for the past two weeks, prompting other states such as Saudi Arabia to offer citizens billions of dollars worth of benefits in an attempt to ward off unrest.

Sultan Qaboos bin Said al-Said, Oman’s ruler, reshuffled the cabinet at the weekend. But this failed to placate the protesters in central Sohar. “We want all these ministers to go,” said one demonstrator. “They are thieves.”

Protest marches fill Bahrain capital as pressure mounts on rulers

Thousands of protesters streamed through Bahrain’s diplomatic area and other sites Sunday, chanting against the country’s king and rejecting his appeals for talks to end the tiny Gulf nation’s nearly two-week-old crisis.

At least three processions paralyzed parts of the capital, Manama, and appeared to reflect a growing defiance of calls by Bahrain’s rulers to hold talks to ease the increasingly bitter showdown in the strategic island nation, home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.

“No dialogue until the regime is gone,” marchers chanted as they moved through the highly protected zone of embassies and diplomatic compounds. No violence was reported.

Other marchers shouted slogans to oust Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and plastered fences with flyers denouncing security forces for attacks that have killed seven people since the first protests Feb. 14 inspired by revolts in Tunisia and Egypt.

%d bloggers like this: