Posts Tagged ‘Muslim Brotherhood’

Assad’s gambit but is it Putin’s end-game being played out in Syria?

November 10, 2013

The Hindu carries an interesting editorial on Assad’s Gambit:

In extending his cooperation to the OPCW – which has until June 2014 to oversee the elimination of Syria’s chemical stockpile – President Bashar al-Assad has signalled his indispensability to a diplomatic settlement. Mr. Assad has underlined that not only is he in control but he is also willing to make tactical concessions. The odds are now stacked heavily against the Syrian rebels. After the United States shelved its plan to intervene militarily, opposition groups have had to reconcile themselves to the option of sharing power with Damascus. That al-Qaeda and other terror outfits have infiltrated the rebels’ ranks has also substantially diminished the support they initially received from the West. Not surprisingly, many of the rebel factions have expressed their reluctance to participate in the “Geneva 2” diplomatic conference scheduled for later this year. Mr. Assad, on the other hand, has made the Syrian government’s participation contingent on his being allowed to complete a full term in office.

Paradoxically it is the destruction of his chemical weapons which has made Assad an indispensable part of the solution. If it was one of the rebel groups (Al Qaida or a group supported by Turkey or by Iran or by Saudi Arabia or by the Kurds or by the Muslim Brotherhood) which actually did use the chemical weapons (Sarin gas) in September, then their ploy has misfired spectacularly. If it was Assad’s forces which released the gas (whether with or without his knowledge), it has certainly brought matters to a head and – also spectacularly –  shifted the course of this civil war. Syrian Opposition became “armed rebels” and are now equated with “terrorists”. From being about Assad’s repression and justified opposition the conflict is being transformed to Assad versus the terrorists.

Keeping score in the Great Syria Chess Game is not easy and when the chemical inspectors were called in I wrote

Vladimir Putin and Sergei Lavrov are winning. The diplomatic path is now their creation. Suddenly Russia is the peace-maker in the face of US war-mongering! Not only was the US strike on their ally delayed indefinitely, it is now Assad’s Syria – and not the various opposition groups – which is required to engage with the international community. Any opposition forces who seem to be coming in the way of inspecting or securing control of the chemical weapons can now be attacked by Assad with the full support of the international community. Russia can continue supplying Syria with conventional weapons. ….

Bashar al-Assad is winning. He does not really need chemical weapons which cannot effectively be used anyway. Any US strike on his forces is postponed indefinitely. With no prospect of any no-fly zone being declared his air-force could be decisive in the civil war. The supply of conventional weapons from Russia is assured. His claim that rebels and terrorists were responsible for the use of Sarin is backed up by Russia and the UN weapons inspectors have no option but to investigate this (and they are on their way back to Syria).

But I think the Hindu is wrong to think that it is merely the infiltration of rebel groups by Al Qaida which has damaged their support from the West. The point is that the rebel groups supported and supplied by so many surrounding countries are not a home-grown opposition but are essentially a collection of mercenary groups fighting proxy wars for many players. Saudi Arabia and Turkey in particular were and are heavily involved – and may even have been instrumental in starting the armed conflict. Now of course Iran and the Kurds and the Muslim Brotherhood are providing succour and support for their pet groups. Al Qaida has its fighters from all over the region (and from radicalised youth in the West) trying to attain eternal salvation through martyrdom. The EU and the US supply arms through third parties to a variety of the rebel groups – and it often seems they have no idea who the arms are going to. Russia supplies Assad. Israel no doubt stirs the pot whenever it can and using whichever faction is available to maintain the turmoil.

As Aron Lund writes in his report,Divided they Stand” An Overview of Syria’s Political Opposition Factions

The opposition landscape is so fragmented and disconnected, that there is little clarity even among activists themselves about what groups and coalitions are truly effective or enjoy popular support. ….

While it is unlikely that any of today’s political opposition groups will control the future Syria, they are likely to play a significant role in a future transition phase or reconciliation process. Regardless of who rules Syria in the future – the current regime, breakaway elite factions, a government installed with foreign backing, or armed rebels – they will need to connect with the political opposition to legitimize their own position.

Assad’s Gambit may be paying off but it is just a few moves within the Putin initiated defence. Whether the Putin defence also has an end-game in mind is as yet difficult to discern. It may just lead to a stalemate and a long drawn-out conflict. It may lead – in the best scenario – to a gradual political transition where Assad has an “honourable” discharge and exile waiting for him sometime late next year.

There are no longer any outright victories in sight in this multi-dimensional chess game where the rules keep changing. But if there is any overall direction to this end-game it is probably coming from Putin and Lavrov. Whether Obama and Kerry are playing the game, or are just bystanders providing infrastructure for the playing of the game remains to be seen. The EU is almost as divided as the Syrian opposition and are very good at mouthing platitudes. The dilemma that the US and the EU face is that support for secular forces in Syria is inevitably support for Assad. Support for any armed rebel group is also support for Islamist jihadists.

Religion, democracies and the “restraint” which kept the death-toll to only 275

August 15, 2013

The numbers killed in Egypt were well over 250 yesterday. According to the Muslim Brotherhood the number could be as high as in the thousands. But half of Egypt approves of the actions of the security forces.

The US and Europe don’t really know how to react to the chaos in Egypt. The US  will still not acknowledge that they are dealing with a “military coup”. They have all “deplored” the violence but are secretly relieved that the Muslim Brotherhood was removed from power.  A strange view of democracy prevails – a blend of wishful thinking and a very flexible definition of what constitutes democracy and the values to be upheld. The West is willing to go along with the military actions – which of course they publicly deplore – if it can ensure that the Muslim Brotherhood is not voted into power again. So if it is mainly members of the Muslim Brotherhood who have been killed then perhaps it is time to express one’s regrets and just move on.

What nobody wishes to acknowledge is that Religions and Democracies do not – can not –  mix. With all the failings and weaknesses of democracies, “religious parties” still lead to a fundamental clash between the supremacy of the laws of the majority and the supremacy of the perceived – or proclaimed – laws of god (or gods). As long as any country permits political parties which are religious in nature, then any kind of real supremacy of the laws of the majority is not feasible. The fanatics of any religious political party always claim the over-riding demands of their gods and the supremacy of such demands whether to conduct jihad or to burn down mosques. And this applies to Egypt as well as to Israel or Indonesia or Malaysia or India or Sri Lanka.  Around the world, there are many more Islamist political parties than there are for other religions but there are plenty of “Christian Democratic” parties in Europe and in other countries. All of these religious parties – without exception –  are fundamentally opposed to – and have values inconsistent with –  the supremacy of the laws of man (only the majority of course) over the laws of their gods.

The Arab Springs will not lead to any real “democracies” in the Middle East and North Africa as long as inherently self-contradictory “religious, democratic parties” are around. For there is no religious party – in any country – which would accept that the laws of man could override the imaginary laws of their imaginary gods.

According to Reuters,

Egypt’s interim prime minister defended the government decision to storm pro-Mursi demonstrations on Wednesday. He says they had no choice after attempts at mediation with Mursi supporters failed. 

”When freedom of expression becomes terrorizing the public, carrying arms, blocking roads and violating public property — it is not freedom of expression. It becomes aviolation of the people and the people. For the government to continue to operate, it has to be respected. That’s why we had to take a stand and say this cannot continue. It should be stopped.”

Security forces shot and killed scores of people. By evening the death toll was well over 200 and the number injured was around 2,000. Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi praised the way forces handled the operation.

“I have to take this opportunity to thank the police because it has behaved with high levels of self-restraint. There were human rights observers and everything was publicized and there was filming. And it turned out that there were weapons and ammunition and other illegal material.”

Now under curfew Cairo’s streets were markedly different from earlier in the day. Asked how long the situaton could last el-Beblawi offered no specific dates, saying the state of emergency would go on for as short a period as possible. would go on for as short a period as possible, adding that the government is eager to restore democracy.

Is there an element of anti-Snowden PR in the current US security alert?

August 3, 2013

We shall never know of course.

Edward Snowden has revealed the absolutely massive scale on which the NSA gathers information – almost indiscriminately. The UK government and German government agencies are apparently complicit in this dredging of information. But in spite of this the US and its allies were not capable of anticipating events in North Africa and the Middle East. The Arab spring in particular seems to have caught all the Western intelligence agencies napping. The apparent lack of intelligence analysis about Egypt is particularly interesting. The threat to Mubarak – as close an ally of the US as you could get outside of Israel – was not anticipated. The threat of the Muslim Brotherhood was not anticipated. The dethronement of Mursi by the Army was not anticipated. The attack on the US Embassy in Libya – which was not some spontaneous mob action, but a planned attack  – was not anticipated.

The indiscriminate volume of intelligence gathering does not seem to be matched by the analytical capabilities of the intelligence gatherers. But they did find Osama – even if it took ten years. They did find the Boston bombers – very quickly but only after the event. But the intelligence for the drone attacks does not seem – from the number of civilians and children killed – to be very precise.

Post Snowden there is now considerable criticism even within the US about the level of intelligence gathering and leaves Obama and the Democrats looking like the enemies of civil liberties. The “escape” of Snowden and his asylum application in Russia leaves the Democratic administration in Washington looking inept at worst and severely embarrassed at best. After Snowden was granted a years residence in Russia, the White House media response was mere thrashing about. A summit meeting to be held this fall was threatened (does Putin even care?). Even the venue of next G20 meeing planned for St. Petersberg was “questioned” by a blustering White House spokesman.

And now comes this announcement of a Security Alert and an Al Qaida threat (unspecified) in North Africa and the Middle East. Perhaps there is a real threat. If it does not materialise then the NSA can take credit for thwarting the threat (even if it never existed). If some act of terror does materialise during August, the intelligence agencies will pat themselves on the back (but someone else will be blamed for not preventing the event).

BBC: The US state department has issued a global travel alert because of an unspecified al-Qaeda threat.

In a statement, the department said the potential for an attack was particularly strong in the Middle East and North Africa. It comes shortly after the US announced nearly two dozen embassies and consulates would be shut on Sunday.

The alert expires on 31 August 2013, the department said. It recommended US citizens travelling abroad be vigilant. “Current information suggests that al-Qaeda and affiliated organisations continue to plan terrorist attacks both in the region and beyond, and that they may focus efforts to conduct attacks in the period between now and the end of August,” the statement said.

Maybe there is a real threat — and maybe there is not. Certainly the track record of the intelligence agencies correctly forecasting events in the Middle East and North Africa is not terribly impressive.

The White House clearly does see an increasing need to justify the scope of its intelligence gathering activities. Obama needs to show his own left wing that he is not a “bad guy”. The Administration also needs to show that Snowden is not a hero and a defender of civil liberties and that he has actually put national security at risk. All these are matters of perception and can be addressed by “spin”.  I just observe that this current Security Alert – whether the threat is real or not – does achieve that – if only partially.

The Egyptian Army as King Sean

July 4, 2013

The goings-on in Egypt and Gaza and North Africa where democratically “elected” leaders – albeit leaders who are undemocratic and Islamist – cannot get acceptance in the rest of the “democratic” world brings to mind the story of the Irish, socialist monarch.

Two Irishmen were sorting out the problems of the world in the pub – as one usually does in a pub.

After the sixth pint they had resolved the Irish Unification Issue, the Palestinian Issue, the Syrian Issue and the Chinese-Japanese Territorial conflict. But they were floundering when they came to the issue of Poverty and Starving Children. They could not agree even on what constituted Poverty. Could it be if or when you could not buy the fourth pint? 

This led to the seventh pint. And the eighth and the ninth and then suddenly Sean’s face lit up.

“Begorrah Mick”, he exclaimed. “I have it now! The solushun is simpul. All the wurld has to do is to moik me the King of the World”.

“And how will that help?” asked a skeptical Mick.

“It’s reely simpul,” explained Sean. “If Oi was the King of the Wurld, I would collect all the monny there was or ever would be and Oi would distribut it equally – but equally – to evry living pershun – Cathlick or not”.

Mick was still marshalling his many cogent arguments against this vision of King Sean when Sean continued. “And when I had spent all moine, why I would just do it all over again”!

The Egyptian military would recognise the solution.

Democracy by “free and fair” elections is by far the best alternative – provided of course that you can have another “free and fair” election if you don’t like the result of the first one.

And so on ad infinitum till you get the result you want.


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