Center for World Conflict and Peace

Center for World Conflict and Peace

Sunday, February 27, 2011

An Update on Egypt–Part II

My colleague Dina El-Gebaly is seeing–live and from the ground, mind you–the birth pangs of a state emerging from a revolution. Clearly, this is a unpredictable and chaotic environment for politics, the economy, and the security of all Egyptians.

Right now, it appears that there is a confluence of three important factors shaping events in Egypt. First, there are figures–those still working in the Egyptian state and those behind the scenes– who have entrenched interests in the old regime. It is in their political and economic benefit that either the old domestic political status quo is restored or that the new state does not deviate much from the old status quo. As Dina suggested, these people are Mubarak loyalists, and they are undermining and aiming to halt significant political change.

Second, the role of the military in the political landscape is still very fluid. The military is by far the central player in Egyptian politics, serving as head of state and directing the reform processes. But it is far from certain that the military is progressive enough to cede political power voluntarily to another individual or group or institution through constitutional guarantees and free and fair elections. Remember, it is usually very difficult to get militaries out of politics and back into the barracks, especially when they have been functioning as a de facto political actor as long as the Egyptian military has. Further, while the military has started to dismantle some of the vestiges of the old authoritarian regime, it has not completely done so (emergency law yet to be lifted, timelines on various promises are vague, Mubarak loyalists still government, and so on). And so at this point, we do not have sufficient information to know if the military truly intends to comply with or block the demands of the January 25th movement. At a minimum, the military will look to protect its commercial and business interests while maintaining some leverage over the Egyptian government.

Third, the protest movement and other anti-Mubarak forces are still disorganized. The youth–the people who were the vital cog in the revolution–believe that they are being sidelined and potentially sold-out by opportunistic elders who latched on to the opposition movement in the revolution’s last days. Even the much-hyped Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is not nearly as cohesive and unified as we believed. Heated debates on a host of issues, which first surfaced during the revolution, has caused fissures in the relationship between the leadership and the rest of the group. In fact, various MB members have publicly declared their intention to form their own political party. So overall, the people-power movement that we see right now is very splintered and weak, unable to assert itself meaningfully into Egyptian politics.

As we know, the Egyptian Revolution created a political vacuum. The above three factors, in combination, have filled and conditioned that vacuum with an unstable and combustible mix of pressures, incentives, and motivations. For all concerned parties, the next step is to think about the ways the Egyptian state can stabilize itself.

The next steps is a subject I am sure we will discuss in detail in the months ahead. For now, one fruitful path to consider is how the people can enhance their role and influence in the state. In short, the people must continue efforts at organizing themselves into effective blocs. Egyptians should look to form political parties that have a foundation in a deep pool of constituents (the youth, labor), and these parties ought to build linkages to each other–both of which should allow each party to be an independent group, with a distinct identity, but also capable of networking with other parties that have similar goals and interests to push their ideas forward. This could serve as a form of collective empowerment, enabling the people to make demands, articulate grievances and interests, and attract supporters from all walks of life–the basics of domestic political power. Furthermore, as the people acquire more political power, they would be better able to spotlight and thwart the re-emergence of the old guard. And they would be in an enhanced position to check the military, should it renege on its promises and commitments (to reform, to give up power, etc.)

Saturday, February 26, 2011

An Update on Egypt–Part I

The unfortunate news about Libya has dominated the news, and the most of the world is unaware of the situation in Egypt. My country is in chaos, and there is much panic and confusion. I am now witnessing a counter-revolution that aims to defeat the January 25 revolution. There are no security or police on the streets. I have heard of thefts and attacks in different parts of the country. And most schools that have been closed since the revolution (though schools are supposed to open tomorrow).

The major problem is that Egyptians are against Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik and his government, because Shafik is a student of Mubarak and remains very loyal to him. In fact, they believe that Mubarak is still ruling Egypt from Sharm El Sheikh through Shafik. As a result, there is a sense that not much has changed politically in Egypt.

There was a protest yesterday at Tahrir Square asking Shafik and his government to resign, but it ended up in disaster after midnight. The military police used force to send the protesters home, claiming that they were out way after curfew. I do not blame the military for trying to impose some kind of laws and regulations, but they never enforced the curfew when Mubarak was still in power. And why are they focusing on protesters and not guarding interior ministry labs that were burnt down this week to kill evidence against the former interior minister, members of the National democratic party and the businessmen who are in jail right now?

Shafik, with all his corrupt ministers from the old regime, should step down from power. In their stead, the "Wise Men" committee could take over until the elections are held in the fall. Egyptians do not want any symbols of the old regime to remain in power. They fear the old guard will use all means available to continue to rule Egypt and destroy everything the revolution has sought to achieve.

The Bush II Team and the Uprisings–A Response

On the one hand, I am not really sure about a direct linkage between the Arab/Muslim Street’s views of Iraq’s nascent democracy and the uprisings across the Middle East. Iraqi's democracy at this point is experiencing growing pains, with so many self-interested actors looking at short-term political gains and sacrificing the future of the nation (e.g. the botched elections that were finally won by al-Maliki). I doubt that the Street is inspired by this kind of phenomena.

On the other hand, it is also callous to dismiss that there is simply no impact of America’s involvement in Iraq on the region. The people must see some positive outcomes in Iraq, such as increased freedoms and openness. They must realize that the type of rancorous debates and critical comments on Iraqi politics just could not happen in their countries; if they did happen, imprisonment, abuse, torture, and so on, would surely follow. And we do know that some Arab reformers wanted George W. Bush to put more pressure on the region’s autocrats, especially Mubarak, to reform or to leave office. But how these things are causally related to what we are seeing in the Middle East, I am not sure.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Bush II Team and the Uprisings

Prominent supporters of George W. Bush's foreign policies have been out in full force in the media, joyous over the current wave of uprisings and protests in the Middle East. William Kristol, Elliott Abrams, and Paul Wolfowitz, among others, have pushed the message that these events vindicate Bush’s push for democracy in the Middle East. In their view, it is now clearly demonstrated that people around the world, especially those who live in repressive and tyrannical regimes, desire all of the political and economic freedoms and liberties associated with modern-day liberal democracies. To the Bush II Team, there is a group of critics who–at one point or another in the last ten years–doubted this inherent yearning for freedom in all people. This is preposterous. Sure, there have been voluminous critiques of Bush’s policy of militarized democracy promotion, and rightfully so. But only the fringes of the American political discourse expressed skepticism about whether people in the Middle East preferred democracy over authoritarianism.

I am quite surprised that the Bush II Team did not invoke a different, much stronger argument to defend their boss. Put simply, it is difficult to imagine mass protests, let alone revolutions, in the Middle East had the Iraqi state not been pried open by the U.S.

Yes, Iraq has been characterized by violence and instability since the invasion in 2003, and those facts have fed into specific, usually highly critical, narratives voiced by American and foreign opponents of the Bush II administration and U.S. foreign policy in general. But at the same time, the idea of democracy has not been tarnished. Contrary to conventional wisdom, America’s militarized efforts at democracy promotion in Iraq have not dampened the thirst that people in the region have for openness and transparency and free elections. The main worry, in the U.S., Europe, and among reformers in the Middle East, was that publics would see a dichotomy between safety and security and order on one hand and democracy on the other, and in the end opt for security, even if that meant a return to repressive rule. But this has not come true. Political reform is in the air and democracy is the goal. Why?

People in the region have watched Iraqis create a new constitution and electoral laws, organize political parties, and vote in elections. In this narrow sense, Iraq has served as a model for the Middle East, an unlikely source for inspiration and political empowerment. For events in Iraq have heightened expectations of freedom in the region. Freedom is not only something desirable but something that is attainable–thoughts that were rarely publicly expressed before Iraq’s (forced) transition to democracy. And as a result, people now want and demand political reform–that is, the ability to have a say in the direction of their state and a stake or sense of ownership in the politics of their country. This is a reality that dictators were going to face once the first authoritarian state in the Middle East substantially opened up. In this case, for better and worse, it took an exogenous shock to the regional order to produce that opening.

Clearly, the protesters across the region (in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Jordan, Yemen, Bahrain, Morocco, and Algeria) want democratic reforms implemented through their own efforts and on their own terms, without outside interference. So they do not wish to emulate how Iraq got to the point of political reform. But they do seek to get to and surpass Iraq’s current level of openness and freedom. That is the measuring stick for pro-democracy reformers in the region.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Obama Administration's Response to Egypt–The Final Word

Calvin Coolidge, one of the "greatest" US presidents once said "Never go out to meet trouble. If you will just sit still, nine cases out of ten someone will intercept it before it reaches you." From what Brad wrote, it seemed that Obama followed this dictum after he formulated his policy, and he was lucky because everything ended "well" in Egypt (that Mubarak resigned and a transition government was formed).

Note that I used the quotation marks around the word "well," because we are still unsure whether in the future the Egyptian military will truly honor its commitment toward democracy. It may simply just wait until people get tired of the instability and uncertainty that is inevitably around the corner before going back to business as usual.

Back to the main argument. If like Brad said, Obama made a policy (the "now" moment), and it was affirmed by Gibbs, then he should have reengaged when he was contradicted by both Wisner and Hillary, who I think correctly surmised that Obama's call would end up in a huge collapse of US credibility among these autocrats in the Gulf. Regardless how loathsome they are to their people, they still hold the levers to power (and oil) and they are still useful to counterbalance Iran.

Obama was vindicated because the Egyptian army folded and Mubarak resigned. Had Mubarak still had some fire in his belly, with the Saudis' help, events could have turned really ugly, much like what is currently happening in Libya. Counterfactually, I think, with a good nudge, Hillary and Wisner could have persuaded Mubarak to resign before he did, thus shortening the uprising. In short, Obama is lucky that events worked in his favor. Had Mubarak cultivated better ties with his military, and had the military developed more at stake with the Mubarak regime, things could have turned out much differently.

Still, like I noted in another post, the biggest problem now is that Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, which have noticed how the U.S. treats its loyal allies, will think twice before listening to the White House.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Defectors and Libya

Over the last two days, a number of Libyan cabinet ministers and diplomats have resigned their posts in frustration and anger over the violence unleashed by Gaddafi against political protesters. Furthermore, there have been isolated reports of various military personnel breaking ranks and siding with the protesters. Because of these events, Libya watchers have been waiting with bated breath to see if any high ranking military officials break with the government. To them, this would be a big game changer.

In theory, such defections signal to subordinates that allying with the protests is acceptable (perhaps preferable) behavior. And once the top of the military defects, many of the lower tiers--now no longer fearful of breaking ranks--will quickly follow. The crux is that these rapid moves would tip the balance of forces away from Gaddafi and spell the imminent demise of his regime. But would they really?

As Yohanes Sulaiman, my colleague, pointed out, Gaddafi has more than just conventional military forces on his side. Indeed, he has imported hundreds of mercenaries to carry out his plans to crush the protesters. On Monday, for instance, there were widespread reports of caravans of Toyota pick-ups packed with people from Sub-Saharan Africa, storming through Tripoli while causing bloodshed and mayhem. Additionally, Gaddafi has thousands of loyalists in various special forces branches. All of these people are armed and ready to implement Gaddafi's wishes.

This is not to suggest that Gaddafi will necessarily survive this uprising and hold on to power. If the military defects en masse from the state, then the protesters will win the struggle. But they will likely win only after paying a price and a period of armed struggle. Gaddafi is clearly a desperate man, and he still has just enough armed support to prolong his tenuous grip on power. This is what primarily distinguishes the case of Libya from the cases of Egypt and Tunisia. Once the military broke ranks, Ben Ali and Mubarak had no choice but to leave office. Gaddafi's reserves give him the option to stay another day and fight.

My hope is that the opposition patiently, strategically encircles Gaddafi in his home base of Tripoli. It is probably the best way to prevent mass death and destruction. The opposition has already begun to take chunks of territory, mostly in the east, away from the state. If this trend continues, moving to the west and south and north, Gaddafi and his allies will face significant pressure. And at that point, it is very possible, as Yohanes suggested in his last post, that most of the irregular forces would flee the scene rather than fight a losing, bloody battle for a man to whom they have no real attachment. Should this happen, we would find a fully-encircled Gaddifi with a limited number of fighters and almost no access to resources beyond Tripoli. While a defanged Gaddafi might not go quietly, he will be easier to tame and defeat than he currently is.

Why the "Tienanmen Solution" will fail in Libya

Machiavelli's the Prince, famous for supposedly being a handbook for successful autocrats, has a lot of warnings that are generally unheeded, most notably an admonition for autocrats never to rely on mercenaries:

"Mercenaries and auxiliaries are useless and dangerous; and if one holds his state based on these arms, he will stand neither firm nor safe; for they are disunited, ambitious and without discipline, unfaithful, valiant before friends, cowardly before enemies; they have neither the fear of God nor fidelity to men, and destruction is deferred only so long as the attack is; for in peace one is robbed by them, and in war by the enemy. The fact is, they have no other attraction or reason for keeping the field than a trifle of stipend, which is not sufficient to make them willing to die for you. They are ready enough to be your soldiers whilst you do not make war, but if war comes they take themselves off or run from the foe...."

In short, mercenaries exist and participate in sundry activities just for money. If a mercenary dies, then he/she cannot acquire money and thus the entire enterprise is for naught. So it is in a mercenary's best interest to stay alive. It will be an unscientific generalization to say every mercenary, so let just say for the sake of academic and political correctness, most mercenaries are like that.

So what functions do most mercenaries perform in real life? They suppress, terrorize, and kill ordinary people, who are generally unarmed and thus easy pickings. The brutalities in Tripoli in the past few hours should not surprise any serious student of ethnic conflicts and civil wars, as mercenaries and irregular forces are prevalent in these militarized conflicts. Once the other side organized well enough, however, usually the disciplined army will be able to crush the mercenaries pretty easily. That's why, once the people get organized in Benghazi, the hired mercenaries simply unable to bring the city back under government's control.

Of course, Qaddafi would not have to rely on mercenaries had he developed a very strong military institution in Libya. Unfortunately, his background works against him. Realizing that he came from an institution that was able to topple the old monarchy, it, he decided to disempower the military, unlike other autocrats who created and maintained its power. We cannot say this failed to work, considering the fact that he is still in power for the last 42 years, though his days is most likely numbered now. But during his tenure, he relied more on creating a state where the only certain thing was unpredictability. No constitution, no parties, no powerful military, and everything has been based on tribal loyalties and decrees, as well as by Popular Congresses that mandated every citizen to participate and to debate (a really good but very brief description of how this Congress work can be found in a really good book titled The Media Relations Department of Hizbollah Wishes You a Happy Birthday: Unexpected Encounters in the Changing Middle East (no, we are not paid by Amazon.com, but maybe we should be). By keeping everything in chaos, he ends up as the sole arbiter of power.

On the other hand, when the oppositions get their act together, Qaddafi found that he could rely on nobody aside of a bunch of mercenaries that he shipped from Chad and Sudan, but the again, these people are not particularly reliable.

Furthermore, by bringing in mercenaries. Qaddafi is actually shooting himself on his foot. Aside the fact that they are generally undisciplined and prone to exacerbating problems (witness the indiscriminate shooting in Tripoli and outraged people's reaction in Benghazi, e.g. just burned them to death), the mercenaries actually delegitimize the entire regime. While it is indefensible to have the Chinese soldiers shooting their own people in Tienanmen, apologists can argue that the state was trying to clean up the source of domestic instability and it is the Chinese own business to take care of its own internal business. In Libya's case, having foreign mercenaries shooting on a state's own citizens is just plain stupid, because such acts simply galvanized the population who saw the regime as no longer "one of us." Not surprisingly, Libyan diplomats are abandoning the sinking ship. Regardless of their motives, they are smart enough to understand that there are stark differences between Tienanmen and what is currently happening in Libya.

If the disenchanted masses manage to organize themselves and storm Tripoli, Qaddafi will likely find that his mercenaries will just melt away, especially if they see that they have the opportunity to their home countries.

(If you are still interested in learning more about mercenaries, try looking at John Mueller's The Remnants of War. )

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Obama Administration’s Response to Egypt–Part II

Sure, the early phase of the Egyptian Revolution was a bit rocky for Team Obama. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were slow to figure out the nature and direction of change in Egypt. Both Obama and Clinton publicly expressed support for Mubarak, and the "stability" of his regime, even as the number of protesters in the streets were growing. And then there was the problem of mixed, inconsistent messages being sent from Obama's Team. The most famous example occurred when envoy Frank Wisner argued that political reform had to be led by Mubarak. This statement was made well after Team Obama had begun to remove its allegiance to Mubarak and increase its support for the demonstrators. The role of the U.S. in the Revolution finally stabilized once Obama seized control over the messaging and response to Egypt–that is, once he limited the number of American officials commenting on Egypt, and once he exercised more control over the substance and tone of American policy toward Egypt.

In some ways, the above paragraph describes Obama’s style of leadership as president. He tends to delegate domestic and foreign policy responsibilities to his Team and then step out of the policymaking process, preferring to reenter only at specific decision points. This style can work, as long as his Team functions effectively without oversight. But more often than not, by refusing to maintain more control over the entire policymaking process, screw-ups and misstatements and confusion ineluctably surfaces. Still, Obama is able to salvage his policies, but only when he reengages with the policy process, becoming more assertive and pro-active. The process of forming, deliberating about, and eventually passing the recent health care program nicely illustrates my point Obama’s leadership.

All of this said, I am not sure that there is a whole lot to complain about, particularly when we look at the final outcome. Egypt pushed out a ruthless dictator. People power, while hardly guaranteed, is closer to reality. The revolution was a mostly peaceful event. That is good in itself, but it is also good because it helps to debunk an argument repeatedly put forward by al-Qaeda: revolutions will succeed only though force. The Egyptian military still has strong ties to the U.S. Despite the early equivocation from the U.S., there is no empirical evidence indicating that Team Obama has lost any support and approval from the Egyptian people. And Obama successfully avoided the temptation to lead events in Egypt, ensuring that the Revolution would not be in any way tarnished (in the region and worldwide) by a strong American connection.

In short, as far as I am concerned, with help from the Egyptian people (who peacefully protested) and military (which refrained from attacking the protesters), Obama did a very competent job. His next task is to push and prod the military into giving up power and paving the way for democratic reform. This will be a delicate and important task in which Team Obama must work cohesively, and Obama himself must exhibit considerable leadership.
 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Why Do Tiananmen and Iran Approaches Work?

An interesting comparison of how governments handle protest movements is to look at the difference in the cases of China-Iran and Egypt-Tunisia-Libya. In the first two cases, governments cracked down and managed to quell the protests. In the latter three cases, governments cracked down, killed people, and there was a huge backlash that left the state in peril.

These states used violence and yet the result is different. Why?

The answer lies in the government's structure and army's loyalty. China and Iran have strong bureaucracies, with a loyal army taking part and backing the government. In China and Iran, there are no singular strong ruler. There are a coalition of oligarchs, united in their fear of the popular will and willingness to use force to maintain their power. In China, the Communist Party, with their commissars in the army, and generals within the party's apparatus, made a bargain and agreed to be united. In Iran, it was the Revolutionary Guard's backing of Ahmadinejad that enabled him to remain on top. Ahmadinejad was known for bending backward to fulfill the will of the Revolutionary Guard's, including its quest for a nuclear bomb.

In Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, on the other hand, the government in each country had lost touch with both the population and the army. In Egypt, Mubarak's pursuit to have his son installed as his successor, not to mention his promotion of his son and cronies' businesses, threatened the army's interests. Even though Mubarak came from the army, his policies was no longer seen as beneficial to the military. In Tunisia, Ben Ali never had much influence on the military. Libya is harder to analyze due to limitation in data, but should the trickles of information that came in the past few days could be trusted, the army itself is deeply split, especially among tribal loyalties, and we may be seeing an impending a civil war within its ranks.

A divided army might be Qaddafi's strength, because he can be single arbiter of the different interests. It can also, however, be his Achilles heel, because a divided army based on tribal loyalties cannot completely be relied upon as a unified body to handle things when push comes to shove.

In this context, Bahrain is a very interesting case. Apparently, the order to fire on the protesters was not approved by either the King or the Crown Prince, but by the Prime Minister (the King's uncle). Still, with the army mostly Sunni and the protesters virtually Shiites, it is really a huge question mark whether the protests can truly overthrow the King, especially with the Saudis watching very carefully close by.

An Indonesian Twist on the Egyptian Revolution

As one of the two democratic Muslim-majority states in the world, Indonesia is supposed to be the beacon of the democratic movements, the proof that secular democracy can be and is compatible with Islamic values. Yet, surprisingly, only silence emanated from Jakarta weeks after the Tunisian and Egyptian revolts. In fact, something embarrassing happened during the celebration in the Tahrir Square: radical groups, comprised of paid thugs and criminals, attacked and killed several Ahmadiyah followers (a minority Islamic sect), churches were attacked in Central Java, and a Shiite group was attacked in East Java.

Let us set aside the debate on the relationship between the state and Christians and the Shiites for the purpose of this short essay, and focus on the Ahmadiyah problem. After an immense public uproar, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY), the Indonesian President, declared that the government needed to get rid of radical groups. The FPI (Islamic Defender Front), one of the well-known thuggish groups, challenged the President, claiming that should the government decide to disband it and not outlaw the Ahmadiyah movement, the FPI would create an "Egyptian Revolution" in Indonesia and overthrow the government.

It is a bold claim, and in fact, a claim that many serious analysts here in Indonesia ridicule due to its overtly bold and far-fetched bravado. Any serious and competent analyst will find a huge difference between the situation in Egypt and Indonesia. In particular, careful analysis on the democratic movements in both Tunisia and Egypt will find that the movements in those countries worked because they were secular and non-ideological, allowing everyone to participate.

Any attempt by the FPI to foment revolution will end up in failure, simply because they are unable to garner much support aside from some paid thugs and a minuscule segment of the Muslim population. Even though many people are upset with the government corruption's and incompetence, they find the FPI to be a far worse alternative (in terms of behavior, the Ikhwanul Moslem, or in the West known as the Muslim Brotherhood, would seem like a group of choir-boys).

What is equally ludicrous is the government's response to the FPI. Instead of acting decisively to either arrest them as a threat to society or to just ignore these attention-seekers, dismissing them as all hot air, the government managed to show its incompetence in handling this problem. The President himself, on a national TV address, deplored any attempt to unseat him by a radical group, giving the FPI another 15 minutes of fame. (For our American audience, it is like Barack Obama taking the time to publicly tell a bunch of survivalists in Montana to stop opposing the government, when in reality a sheriff deputy would be sufficient to tame their activities). Patrialis Akbar, the Minister of Justice and Human Rights, contradicted the President, saying that it was difficult for the government to disband any organization (legally, he was right, but politically it was a huge blunder). Timur Pradopo, the National Chief of Police, contributed little to the situation (he was infamous for actually approving the FPI in his confirmation hearing in Parliament last year).

Still, what is interesting is how much the "Tunisian and Egyptian revolution" discourse has spread all over the Muslim world, especially to Indonesia. Even though Indonesia has been a democracy since the overthrow of Suharto in 1998, many people still act like Indonesia exists still under totalitarian rule. It is very rare not to hear any discourse of "impeachment" in Indonesia, even though the President was reelected by 62% in 2009 (making any attempt unlikely).

Regardless how ridiculous the discourse, I would argue that it acts as a warning signal, a check to the Executive Branch, that a president should not try to monopolize power, making himself or herself another dictator in either Sukarno or Suharto's mold. Impeachment threats, I hope, will be able to restrain leaders and keep opponents satisfied enough to discard the idea of overthrowing Indonesia's new democracy. Unfortunately, however, Indonesians probably have never heard the story of the boy who cried wolf. The locals will be so used to these threats and grow to dismiss them that any discourse of impeachment will be relegated to irrelevancy. The fact that a thuggish and unpopular group like the FPI used the "Tunisian and Egyptian Revolution" example just seemed to underscore this point.

A Quick Post on Libya

Just another day in Libya. More protests and more violence. Unofficially tallies has put the death toll at about 200 so far. And unfortunately, it is hard to obtain good, verifiable information. Rumors are spreading that Muammar al-Gaddafi has fled the country to Venezuela (another OPEC country led by another autocratic strongman, Hugo Chavez). And there are fissures developing within the state. It seems that some of the Libyan security forces are aghast at the violence against their fellow citizens, and are vowing not to harm them. Additionally, members of the Gaddafi’s cabinet are reported to have resigned in protest at the crackdown.

Meanwhile, in the last hour, Gaddafi’s son, Seif al-Islam, took to the airwaves to explain the situation. And as Mubarak did in his last speech, it appears that Seif has only made the situation worse, arguing that civil war is imminent if the protests do not cease. He has blamed the unrest not on Libyan authorities, of course. Instead, he blamed the unrest on a motley crew of Muslim agitators aiming to split the country into several small Islamic states; opportunistic foreign states; and the youth who are under the influence of drugs.

Libya, as some of you may know, is an extremely closed state, far more closed than Egypt. Strict controls are placed on freedoms of speech and organization. Libyan journalists are subject to censorship, and worse, if their reports do not closely parrot state propaganda. And it is difficult for foreign journalists even to enter the country. Internet activities and phone conversations are monitored. And right now, because of the uprising, almost all forms of communication have been halted. Despite these efforts, Libyans are remarkably finding ways to get information to the outside world. Certainly, this must unnerve other closed states like China and Saudi Arabia with restive populations. These states have to see that no matter how hard they try to disrupt the flow of sensitive information, citizens will do their best to work around these restrictions. And as citizens become more adept at these efforts, uncovering and disseminating facts about the state of their country, they manage to undermine the authority and legitimacy of repressive regimes.

The Obama Administration’s Response to Egypt–Part I

President Barack Obama seems to want to achieve what I call as the "Goldilocks's point," where the U.S. would not be seen as overtly supportive toward the protesters (thus antagonizing Mubarak had he had managed to stay) and at the same time, nor especially supportive of propping up the authoritarian regime in Cairo. In the perfect world, this can happen. Unfortunately, this is not. And the end result of this is a credibility problem, where the US is no longer seen as a credible partner by both the government and the people. The people believed the U.S. did not have their backs. And by telling Mubarak that he had to leave office "now," Obama left him with no face-saving exit strategy, which mightily concerned other leaders in the region, particularly the King in Saudi Arabia, who fear that U.S. will turn on them in the future. Obama would have been better off had he picked one side in the Egyptian Revolution.

Arguably, the conflicting signals, sent by the White House and Hillary Clinton, did nothing but perpetuate the image that Obama administration was losing it, that when push came to shove, when the 3 AM call came, Obama acted like an amateur.

This credibility problem has repercussions for other revolts in the region. For instance, at this point, The King of Bahrain has no incentive at all to listen to advice from the Obama administration. What could they say?" Hey, it worked for Mubarak, right?" The King will likely think that attending to human rights issues only leads to an early retirement. And there is no way the King will opt for that.

So what Bahrain does now is follow the Iran model. By suppressing the protesters enough, the state will be able to silence them, allowing the internal status quo to hold. Plus, unlike Egypt, there are regional sectarian concerns here. Bahrain has a sizable Shiite population that is fueling the revolt, leading other states, notably Saudi Arabia, to worry that Iran is behind the unrest. Sunni states already see Iran as trying to extend its footprint in the Middle East. The more areas/issues Iran sticks its nose into, the more destabilizing it will be to the region. And this time, unlike Mubarak, the King of Bahrain will get all the help he needs from other Sunni states to hold the regional status quo in place.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Obama and Iran

It is clear that the Obama administration’s response to the current crackdown in Iran is more decisive and clear than it was last year, during the last round of protests and violence in Iran. Then, the administration tried to walk a fine line on two fronts.

One, it did not want to alienate the government in Tehran, for fear of jeopardizing nuclear talks, nor did it want to condone the violence committed by government-sponsored militias. And two, the Obama team did not want to interject itself too much on the behalf of the protesters, because of concerns that the Green Movement would be perceived by Iranians as American-backed, thereby spoiling the push toward more openness and freedom. Yet at the same time, officials certainly hoped that the Greens would succeed and push the theocratic/military dictatorship out of office. In the end, these strains of thought led to a very slow and muddy public position on events in Iran, and Obama was criticized on all sides of the left-right political spectrum in America and by foreign groups and organizations–all of whom thought that Obama had let the nascent reform movement down.

Washington is taking a different approach this year. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, among others, have already issued critical statements on Iran. And there has been virtually little gap in time between events on the ground in Iran and public declarations in Washington. Indeed, on Tuesday, Obama declared, "I find it ironic that you've got the Iranian regime pretending to celebrate what happened in Egypt, when in fact they have acted in direct contrast to what happened in Egypt by gunning down and beating people who were trying to express themselves peacefully....My hope and expectation is that we are going to continue to see the people of Iran have the courage to be able to express their yearning for greater freedom and a more representative government."

A part of this shift in approach by the U.S., I am sure, is due to the current push for reform throughout almost the entire Middle East, a push that looks inevitably successful–whether it occurs in the near future or at a later time. Obama himself has said on a number occasions in the last week that he believed it was important the U.S. positioned itself on the right side of history by supporting democratic reformers. After all, if Obama believes that "the people" are going to run governments in the region, then it makes perfect sense to build meaningful political, economic, and diplomatic bridges to them and to dump support for the dictators.

Another key factor is the state of nuclear talks with Iran. In 2009 and 2010, the Obama administration desired to give the talks a chance to work, if for no other reason than show that Tehran was not a sincere bargaining partner. By February 2011, after months and months of scant Iran-U.S. discussions, it is evident that the talks are dead and there are few expectations that Iran is willing to negotiate with the West’s demands anytime soon (verifiable inspections, no weaponization, enrichment not to exceed specific levels, no transfer of nuclear technology to proxy groups, etc.). In this policy vacuum, the Obama team is somewhat freed to speak their minds on behalf of the Green Movement (which by 2011 is really an umbrella term for various groups opposed to the Iranian government). Put simply, they do not have to worry so much about how their words and actions might jeopardize the pace and substance of delicate negotiations.

Surely, Obama and his team will have to calibrate carefully the words they use in public to describe, assess, and criticize events in Iran. It is highly probable the politico-clerical establishment will try to use them to buttress support for the government and thwart indefinitely the progress and momentum of the Greens. In the meantime, it is good that the U.S. has begun to implement a morally sound, pro-active, and principled stance toward the courageous reformers struggling in Iran.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Role of Social Media in the Middle East Revolutions

Given that demonstrators in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain and elsewhere in the Middle East have used Twitter and Facebook during the current popular uprisings and protests, it is no surprise that role of social media (SM) in such turbulent settings is the subject of an extensive debate and discussion among bloggers and pundits and scholars. Indeed, do a Google search for the terms "social media" and "Egypt," you’ll see how many words have been written on this topic. Even Malcolm Gladwell has gotten into the debate in an exchange with Clay Shirky in Foreign Affairs. At bottom, all of this writing explores three central issues: Are SM important to how contemporary protesters attempt and carry out political change? Do they change how we view revolutionary processes? And lastly, do Facebook, Twitter, cell phone technology, and the like cause these recent attempts at political change?

By themselves, SM do not cause popular uprisings, demonstrations, and revolutions. After all, SM are everywhere (though certainly with restrictions in some places), but we do not live in a world of constant global revolt. The current political upheavals are confined to particular nation-states with their own set of domestic political, economic, and cultural problems, which are usually created and exacerbated by elites and leaders. But SM are important tools used by protesters to help facilitate reaching specific desired political outcomes (e.g., open elections, minority rights, economic reform, and so on). Certainly, new technology, with its unprecedented speed of transferring information to an enormous number of people, can hasten revolutionary processes by compacting events–from initial stirrings of mass frustration and dissent to political change–into ever shorter periods of time. Look at the January 25th movement in Egypt. But the new SM tools can do more than that. Let us look at some examples, many of which might be familiar to you.

1. SM can be used to inform followers on, among other things, the failures of the state, as well as on the economic and political alternatives to those currently in place.

2. SM can be a tool to inspire supporters into action. The Facebook page "We are all Khaled Said," created by Wael Ghonim, the now-famous Google marketing executive, is one example. Dedicated to preserving the legacy of Khaled Said and detailing the excesses of the Egyptian police forces, who brutally tortured and killed Said, the page has served to motivate civilians to stand up against perceived injustices and abuses of power committed by the Egyptian state.

3. SM can be employed as a nifty mechanism to recruit like-minded people. As Facebook and Twitter posts and cell phone texts are spread from current followers/supporters to their friends, family, and various acquaintances, who then forward those messages to others, political opposition movements expand their bases of support.

4. As people use Facebook and Twitter to find sets of issues that resonate with their political sensibilities, and to cultivate affiliations with groups that embrace similar interests and grievances, SM can help people to develop a sense of political identity.

5. SM are useful to coordinating subversive political activities. One quick public post, or one quick text message, can give thousands, if not millions, of people with sufficient information on what to do, and when and where to go to act. Egyptian activists, who used SM tools in this way, have joked that their activities marked the first publicly preannounced revolution in recorded history. The problem, though, is that governments are learning from events in Egypt and Tunisia and now cracking down on Internet and cell phone service.

6. SM can be used for collaborative purposes, with disparate groups sharing information on a variety of topics. The New York Times recently published an excellent article on how the linkages between political activists in Egypt and Tunisia impacted the recent revolutions. So tight were these linkages that the activists "brainstormed on the use of technology to evade surveillance, commiserated about torture and traded practical tips on how to stand up to rubber bullets and organize barricades." Of particular interest is that these collaborative efforts are spreading to other countries in the region (Morocco, Libya, Iran, and Algeria).

7. Above all, SM are important in overcoming collective action problems, a point that has been rarely addressed this debate. Protest movements against ruthless regimes (like those in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Iran, etc.) often struggle in getting substantial numbers of people to leave their homes and workplaces and schools to protest in the streets, squares, and other public forums. People fear that most of their opposition compatriots will fail to join them in public, leaving them isolated and vulnerable to arrest, imprisonment, and torture by state security forces. No one wants to bear that burden alone. The end result, then, is that protests, in this type of environment, often do not make much of an impact and opposition movements are effectively stillborn.

SM tools can be crucial because they enable the opposition to determine loosely how many others will join them in their efforts. Put simply, they make the previously unknown (who intends to challenge state authority) a bit (though not by any means completely) clearer. Opposition leaders can build Facebook and Twitter pages devoted to special events, such as mass sit-ins, strikes, marches, and so on. And on these pages, evident for all to see, is a tally of those who plan to attend the event. Undoubtedly, not everyone who pledges to participate in these types of events will actually show up. But if mass numbers sign on, there is a good chance that quite a few will join the event. And if protest movements access significant numbers of people, for any opposition event, they can somewhat confidently act on their political motivations and challenge the state. (For instance, on one of his Facebook pages, Ghonim used 50,000 as threshold before moving to the streets; and he eventually waited until his page hit 100,000 people who committed to action.)

Why? The key is that once opposition members figure out that many of their colleagues will pour into the streets, each individual person is likely to feel more (even if only a little more) secure, since they possess greater safety in numbers. For if thousands of people demonstrate and security forces begin assaulting them, sure, some will get hurt and some may perish, unfortunately. But in probabilistic terms, the likelihood of each individual demonstrator getting hurt declines as the number of protesters rises. The most experienced and brutal security forces might be able to deter a throng of opposition members from executing their tactics (say, camping out in public areas, holding marches and rallies), but they cannot round up and harm a high percentage of such people. Hence, under these conditions, some of the fear attached to confronting the state is eased.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Egypt Is the Next...Algeria?

The attention of many foreign policy pundits, on television and blogs and in newspapers and magazines, has turned to a two-pronged debate about the future direction of Egyptian politics.

One side (international thinkers and writers, the American left), with a decidedly optimistic view, sees the future of Egypt through the lens of contemporary Turkey. Here, Egypt evolves into a secular state, fronted by non-religious (perhaps youth- or labor-oriented) political parties and backed by a strong military. It embraces the concept of democracy in principle and in practice. It comfortably straddles the worlds of the West and the Middle East, cultivating friendly and productive ties to both regions. Egypt harkens back to Nasserism by embracing nationalism, and its citizens expect the state to protect and defend national interests. As such, the Egyptian state becomes more willing to assert its preferences, grievances, and demands with rivals, friends, and foes. Egypt sometimes partners with the West on issues, but its cooperation is no longer to be taken for granted.

The other side in the debate (some American conservatives, some pro-Israeli groups, for instance), with a pessimistic perspective, views Egypt through the prism of present-day revolutionary Iran. Because it is the most bureaucratic and organized political group, the Muslim Brotherhood captures the state through elections later this year and eventually transforms Egypt into an Islamic theocracy. Egypt attempts to export its Islamic values, ideals, and beliefs to neighboring countries, thereby destabilizing the Middle East. It works to upset the regional status quo and puts Western interests in jeopardy. Egypt views the U.S., Israel, and the rest of the West suspiciously and sees its relations with them in terms of a zero-sum game, making cooperation extremely difficult and limited.

Unfortunately, given the extraordinarily dominating role of the Egyptian military for almost the past 60 years, there is another path that seems relevant and appropriate: the case of Algeria. Following closely to events in Algeria that began in the early 1990s, here is how this model could unfold. The Muslim Brotherhood wins free and open elections, but the secular military despises the results and blocks the rise of the Islamists. Either the military refuses to relinquish its political power or it overthrows the Islamic government. Muslim political parties and groups are banned, forcing them underground. Political bitterness and resentment and religious fervor fuse together to radicalize pockets of the Egyptian population. The country fractures along various political and religious fault lines, dramatically heightening the potential for violence.

I have no doubt that most Egyptian citizens prefer to follow Turkey’s example of a peaceful, responsible, Muslim country. But there is no necessary correspondence between what politics the Egyptian people want and the type of politics they will receive. Because Egyptians have proven that they can get people to come out of their homes and workplaces and schools and into the streets and public squares, they do have some political power right now–the power of protest and demonstration. As a result, they will surely play an important role moving forward.

But for now, Egyptian civilians are not running the state, nor do they have formal access to policymaking channels. For at least the next six months, the military will be the primary actor that molds and shapes Egyptian politics. And it is far from certain the military will cede power to another group, let alone to Islamic political parties. Furthermore, keep in mind that the military has not only domestic concerns but also regional and international pressures and incentives to behave in certain ways (e.g., upholding military might, thwarting terrorism, preserving regional stability), some of which can undermine internal openness and freedom.

What will happen? The answer to this question will be determined by a host of factors that are internal and external to Egypt. Arguably, the most important one will be the cycle of civil-military decisions and responses that are beginning today and will unfold over the next several months. Will both sides work to engender trust and reciprocation and peaceful co-existence? Or will they entrench hostility and fear and greed? Ultimately, the outcomes of these interactions will go a long way toward telling us which path Egypt will ultimately follow. It is good thing that the military and youth groups and the so-called "Wise Men" have already met and exchanged ideas. Let us hope that these conversations become an institutionalized part of Egyptian politics so disagreements (which will inevitably surface) do not become intractable and fester over time.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The South Sudan Referendum

Events in Egypt have dominated the headlines for much of the last two weeks, overshadowing other important news stories around the world. One such story is the recent referendum in South Sudan. For those who have not followed the story, as part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between North and South Sudan, which ended a decades-long civil war in 2005, the South recently held a January referendum on whether it should become an independent nation-state or remain part of Sudan. The results, announced last Monday, are clear: almost 99% (98.83%) voted in favor of independence.

There are two pieces of good news from these events. First, while there were some sporadic flashpoints of violence in the run-up to the vote, it was not large-scale and did not impede the conduct of the referendum. And in addition, the vote was largely seen as free and fair by international monitors, including the United Nations.

Second, it appears the outcome of the vote will be accepted by the North. Many inside Sudan and around the world have feared that President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the longtime ruthless strongman, would protest the result and, worse, unleash violence against Southern secession, thereby shattering the peace accord and paving the way back to civil war. But in a statement on Monday, Bashir said, "Today we received these results and we accept and welcome these results because they represent the will of the southern people." These words go a long way toward diffusing some tension between the Sudans. Indeed, southern leader Salva Kiir, in response, claimed that he would campaign to help the North reduce its massive debts and ease the international trade sanctions currently targeted against it.

The next change in the composition of Sudan could come when the status of Abyei, a border-town contested by North and South for supposed oil deposits, is finally determined. The 2005 CPA allowed for residents of Abyei to determine by ballot whether the town becomes a permanent part of the North or South. The vote was to take place simultaneously with the Southern referendum. But because the North and South could not agree on who could participate in the vote, the Abyei referendum has been indefinitely delayed.

Much like the case of Darfur, Abyei could become an explosive and violent area. Some local ethnic groups support joining the North, some support the South, and both sides seem willing to use violence to reach their desired outcome. Moreover, President al-Bashir has stated that he will not accept Abyei as a permanent piece of the South. Keep an eye out for this story as 2011 rolls on.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Military, Economics, and Democratic Reform in Revolutionary Egypt

Caution is never fun, but in today's Egypt, it's probably wise. When I see Egyptians celebrating the end of Mubarak, I'm torn between admiration and apprehension--admiration because the Egyptians did it and apprehension because of all future steps, the next one may be the most treacherous.

It was Burke, that cautious philosopher of democratic revolutions, who taught us that liberty is neither good nor bad--what matters is how people use it. I have little fear that the Egyptians are motivated by dreams of a new caliphate. The Muslim Brotherhood is powerful and organized, but it is neither the dominating force in modern Egypt nor the radical organization that Westerners fear. The Muslim Brotherhood may have produced al-Qaeda's intellectual leader, but it has decidedly moved on. It's moderate rhetoric and embrace of the leftist elements in the Egyptian protest movement show us that.

I'm even less worried about the Egyptian military. We're less than a month into this revolution, but the great irony is that after the Western media's fear of a post-Mubarak government, the one institution that's more amenable to U.S. interests than the Mubarak regime--the Egyptian military--now holds the reigns of power. Decades of military aid and mutual cooperation might pay off big, though the biggest question is how large the military's role will be in the medium and long term. With Mubarak gone, the military is the only centralized institution left, and I get the sense that it holds the veto over real democratic reform. Moving forward, the country could go one of two ways: either the military oversees a new transition to democratic government with elections later this year, or the military's coup is permanent, and the Egyptians have traded a civilian autocracy for a military one. Given the fervor of the protesters, and the military's continuing deference, I doubt the generals plan to follow in Mubarak's footsteps.

The fundamental problem with Egypt is economic, though, and democracy doesn't grow the economy. Mubarak may have been repressive, but the same can be said of Saudi Arabia's king. The difference between the two regimes is the material wealth of their populations--especially the youth. That difference is what made revolution possible in Cairo, but out of the question in Mecca.

Scholars sometimes view the developing world as trapped in a privatization-nationalization cycle. The unemployed masses revolt and governments nationalize industries, but government industries are too inefficient. When the governments privatize industries, economic growth resumes, but it's often too staggered and inequitable. So the masses return to the street, and nationalization efforts begin again. During the past decade, Mubarak privatized some industries with notable success--economic growth often topping 8 percent. But the financial crisis hit Egypt hard, and it's no surprise that many of Egypt's protesters cite Nasser--the country's great nationalizer--as inspiration.

The hope moving forward is that Egypt continues the economic liberalization of the past decade while transitioning to a more modern, freer society. I'm oddly optimistic. Egypt's revolutionaries are remarkably grounded; they've lashed out at Mubarak while respecting their nation's history, institutions and culture. They could have made this about the West, or Israel, but they didn't. They made it about their freedom and the president who took it from them.

But when they move from the streets to (hopefully) the ballot box, their country's future will depend on that same measure of prudence. They've earned their liberty; let's hope they use it well.

Friday, February 11, 2011

After Mubarak

Hosni Mubarak resigned from the Presidency today, and so we have now witnessed a second Arab revolution (Tunisia) in a matter of weeks. Crowds of people across Egypt heard the news they expected to hear yesterday. Victorious chants, dancing, tears of joy, fireworks, and above all unbridled enthusiasm permeated Tahrir Square. Once all of this settles down, the hard part of political reform and stability will begin–a road fraught with many obstacles and potential heartbreak.

Mubarak ceded political power to the military, which, in turn, will likely fire the cabinet, suspend parliament, and form a transitional government. Generally speaking, this is not an ideal scenario. In pursuing a path of domestic reform, countries usually strive to get the military out of politics, not enhance and entrench its role in politics. Militaries do not have a shining historical record of leading reform movements, and they are prone to aggrandizing political power. Reform of quasi or full military dictatorships (Egypt under Mubarak was a military dictatorship dressed in civilian clothes) usually occurs once the military steps out of the way (as in Indonesia, Chile, etc.).

Keep in mind that Mubarak, a military officer himself, came into office in 1981, promising a short tenure, and left office 30 years later only because a popular revolution forced him out. And for decades, ever since the coup in 1952, the Egyptian military has received enormous financial, economic, and political perks and it could find itself reluctant to relinquish them, as would be expected in a new democratic political system, particularly at a time in which its position in power (as both king and kingmaker) is expanding. Even worse, it is entirely possible that Saudi Arabia, clearly worried about the winds of political change sweeping the region, will attempt to line the military's coffers so as to bolster its position in power and thwart significant movement toward openness, transparency, and free elections. After all, the Saudis were so desperate to save the status quo in Egypt that they expressed willingness to financially prop up a delegitimized Mubarak had the U.S. pulled its support for his regime.

Furthermore, the military portrays itself as a neutral arbiter and a benign force in Egyptian politics, but a further examination calls this into question. The Guardian, a British newspaper, published a report claiming that the Egyptian army has secretly detained and brutally tortured hundreds of anti-Mubarak demonstrators. Relatedly, we know that the military had manned openings into Tahrir Square, purportedly to keep the protesters safe and secure, yet allowed pro-Murbarak thugs armed with weapons and knives to enter and cause chaos and violence.

Granting the military more power is what happens when a police state opens up rapidly. In these instances, we find very few credible, effective domestic political institutions and virtually no organized political groups able find an audience and supporters and articulate its policy interests and preferences. What has filled the power gap in Egypt is the military, which, despite its flaws, is the only institution that is respected enough to take the levers of power for a transition period.

The best hope right now is that the military keeps its word that Egypt is firmly on the road (however long) to democracy. As a first order of business, the military must permit and nurture an environment conducive to political change, starting by granting and protecting freedoms of speech, assembly, and the press, among other things. It is these things that provide the foundation of a (classically) liberal democratic order.

Recent Developments in Egypt

What really is striking is the fact that Mubarak gave up his authority to the "military council," suggesting that a palace coup might be going on. The Egyptian army most likely considered that the only thing that united the protesters at Tahrir Square was their intense dislike toward Mubarak and his regime and thus they decided to nudge Mubarak out.

Whether this will lead to true democracy remains to be seen, as the opposition will most likely split after losing their common enemy and will no longer be as intense in their pressure as when Mubarak was in power. This in turn will give the army a breathing space to consider their next steps.

For the time being, what I suspect we will see is massive populist acts in order to bolster the military regime's popularity among people, from canceling the emergency law to arresting many dead weights, such as Mubarak's unpopular cronies.

It will be interesting to observe in the next several weeks what the military will do, and this will heavily be influenced by the factions within the military itself, the other powers in the region (notably the Saudis), and the United States (regardless of its lack of focus in the past few weeks).

Should the protesters split between those who advocate for slow and ordered transition to democracy and those who want a quick leap across the chasm, the military will find itself at another crossroad, and here the split between the hardliners and the pragmatists within the military will be important. Basically as an institution, the Egyptian military, and in fact every military institution in the Middle East, has intense dislike toward political Islam, which probably dates from the modernization of the military during the Ottoman Empire, where the idea of professional army was spread from Europe. What important is whether the military's dislike toward the Muslim Brotherhood interferes with their commitment to democratization.

Should the hardliners, those who see the prospect of the Muslim Brotherhood's rise of power as a huge threat to the state, manage to prevail, they may decide to impose a crackdown, especially if the Saudis manage to influence the decision-making within the military. The unfolding events from the past few days made it clear that the Saudis' pressure to both the White House and Cairo was important to help maintaining Mubarak's tenuous grip to power. The Saudis might, in essence, minimize any risks of financial boycotts from both the United States and the European Union should the military decide to crack down. Besides, it is not in the Saudis' interests to find the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization that it did not approve, ruling the strongest state in the region.

Still, if the European Union be grows a spine and the Obama Administration finds its missing backbone, the pressure may be so intense that the Egyptian army may choose to pursue the Turkish path, where the military will consider itself as the guardian of revolution while closely watching the popular mood.

2/11 in Egypt

Statement # 2, issued today by the Egyptian Armed Forces, was delivered by an Egyptian TV announcer, unlike yesterday's Statement #1, which was made by an Armed Forces Official. Statement #2 guarantees that all the promises in Mubarak’s statement last night would be implemented.

Egyptian citizens predicted and feared that there would be bloodshed today and the government might use force. I believe it is highly unlikely since it is the weekend and the protesters still have the right to demonstrate peacefully. I also believe that the government would give verbal warnings before using force if life does not go back to normal by Sunday, which is the beginning of the work week in Egypt.

After Mubarak’s statement last night, there were feelings of mistrust and confusion among many protesters, while others interpreted his statement as a sign that his resignation is imminent.

It is apparent that what is underway is a gradual preparation for our full demands to be met. There will likely be several statements from Mubarak, Omar Suleiman, as well as the Armed forces before we hear that Mubarak has indeed stepped down. Rumor has it that he has already left the country and that his statement from yesterday was pre-recorded. 

I have asked my friends not to panic as I have a really good feeling about how things would unfold in the next couple of days.

It is a dramatic day in Egypt. Friday prayers have just ended and protesters are still defiant at Tahrir Square and all over Egypt. Millions are preparing to head towards Tahrir Square, including myself.

Stay posted for updates from me!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Murbarak Stays, For Now

Rumors abounded that today was the day that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak would step down from his post. So confident of this development, Wael Ghonim, the inspirational Google employee who was kidnapped and released earlier his week, Tweeted to his followers, "Revolution 2.0: Mission Accomplished." In anticipation of the change in power, an air of celebration pervaded Tahrir Square, the main gathering area for the Egyptian protesters, and the mood was jubilant. Given that there has been so little to cheer about in Egyptian politics for the past 30 years, it was hard not to be happy for the protesters.

The U.S. also believed that Mubarak was finished. CIA Chief Leon Panetta, speaking in front of the House Intelligence Committee, stated that there was a "strong likelihood" that Mubarak would leave office today. And other anonymous senior U.S. officials expressed similar views on Mubarak to various American news outlets.

Alas, the news of political change did not come true. Mubarak dd not resign from office, and he has continued his mantra of the last two weeks: He is a son of Egypt, he is s not leaving the country, and definitely not leaving the Presidency until his tenure ends in September. The spin from Egyptian state is that, though Mubarak is still President, he’s effectively neutered his political power by transferring a number of duties and responsibilities to Vice President Omar Suleiman (who has little reform credentials). Really, so goes the logic, Mubarak is just a figurehead, the Head of State but no longer the Head of Government.

But this spin fails to understand that Mubarak is seen by the Egyptian protesters as the primary example of the ills and problems of the country: rampant corruption, widening economic inequality, and severe political repression and brutality. The protesters not only want a change of system (from an authoritarian to a democratic state) but also a change in who fills the Presidency.

So what we have now is a growing contingent of Egyptians who are angry and confused at Mubarak’s moves. One protester, who was interviewed on CNN this evening, claimed that he felt a profound sense of disrespect because of Mubarak’s reluctance to listen to and comply with the demands of the people. Surely, the Egyptians are also suffering from dashed expectations that were extremely heightened today. Egyptian media reported the Mubarak rumors, and the Egyptian military publicly stated that all of the protester demands were going to be met. As a result, there are many different heated emotions in play, and they are only hardening as long as the political crisis persists.

Large demonstrations are expected on Friday. But this only begs a number of questions: Will the protesters continue to keep their emotions in check or will they eschew their current option of civil disobedience? How will Mubarak and his cronies respond to growing protests? Will the military intervene? And if so, which side will the military decide to defend?

2/10 in Egypt

Just came back couple of hours ago from Tahrir Square after spending joyous hours full of hope in hearing that Mubarak would step down. The feelings of joy and hope have turned into feelings of major dismay and disappointment! There is confusion and anger on the streets of Egypt. Everyone is telling us to be careful about going tomorrow. I doubt that they would attack peaceful protesters, but I still feel major fear!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

CWCP Contributors




Center for World Conflict and Peace (CWCP) is an independent, non-partisan think tank. It was formed in January 2011 by Dr. Bradley Nelson and Dr. Yohanes Sulaiman.

Previously, Dr. Nelson and Dr. Sulaiman were colleagues in the political science department at The Ohio State University and at the think tank/consultant firm Center for Democracy Integrated Peace and Security Studies (CDIPSS). CWCP has two offices, one in Orland Park, Illinois (USA), and another in Bandung, Indonesia.

CWCP primarily focuses on the issues, events, processes, institutions, and actors that are directly involved or indirectly related to conflict and peace in world politics–the very core issues that impact the safety and stability of politics around the globe. While CWCP touches on a wide range of issues and areas of the world, it does place a heavy emphasis on the politics, diplomacy, economics, and security affairs of Asian countries, as well as the relationship between Asia and the rest of the world.


CWCP's research, analysis, and writing falls into three categories: (1) posts on the CWCP blog; (2) published opinion pieces and commentaries; and (3) published articles in scholarly and policy journals.

CWCP staff members have placed articles and opinion pieces in, among other publications, E-IRThe Wall Street Journal, The Diplomat Magazine, Strategic Review, The Jakarta Globe, Al-Ahram, Tempo, Jurnal Universitas Pertahanan (Defense University Journal - in Indonesian), Jurnal UKI (Indonesian Christian University Journal - In Indonesian), New Eastern Europe and Sino-NK. Moreover, the work/views of CWCP has been mentioned by The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. 

Yohanes and Brad believe that the strength and quality of CWCP's work will serve as an important tool to help citizens, students, and leaders understand better the manifold issues affecting conflict and peace today.

CWCP Bios

Dr. Bradley Nelson, Co-Founder, President, and Director of the Orland Park office. Dr. Nelson received a B.A. in political science from Saint Xavier University, an M.A. in Foreign Affairs from the University of Virginia, and a Ph.D. in political science from The Ohio State University. Previously, Dr. Nelson has worked on institutional capacity strengthening and democracy promotion projects for a USAID-subcontractor, and served as an international relations lecturer for five years at The Ohio State University. In addition to his role at CWCP, Brad has also been an adjunct professor of political science at Saint Xavier University since 2014. His areas of interest U.S. foreign policy, Asian security dynamics, global terrorism, nuclear weapons, and realist theory.

Dr. Yohanes Sulaiman, Co-Founder, Vice President, and Director of the Bandung office. Dr. Sulaiman received a B.A. in political science and international relations from The University of Wisconsin-Madison, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in political science from The Ohio State University. He taught international relations for five years at The Ohio State University. He has been a regular contributor to the Indonesian newspaper The Jakarta Globe. Currently, Dr. Sulaiman is also a political consultant and a lecturer at Universitas Jenderal Achmad Yani. His areas of interest include terrorism, ethnic conflict, Indonesian politics, political leadership, and military bureaucracies.

Tony Rinna. CWCP Geopolitical Analyst. Mr. Rinna received his B.A. in global and international studies from Western Michigan University in 2010, and an M.A. in Eurasian affairs and security studies at La Salle University. He has served as a research intern on the Security and International Affairs with the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program, and as a Program Officer with Colleagues International, a partner of the U.S State Department's International Visitors' Leadership Program. His research interests focus on Russian foreign policy, the politics of international energy policy, nuclear proliferation, and the role of non-state actors in global security.

Current and Past Contributors

Dina El-Gebaly. Ms. El-Gebaly received a B.A. in international affairs from George Mason University and a M.S. in project management from George Washington University. She has worked in Management Consulting for the past ten years as a contractor for the U.S. Government and has served in several positions in the fields of international development/affairs. Her areas of interest are Egyptian politics, the role of Islam in politics, the role of women in the Middle East, as well political reform in the Middle East.

JD Vance. Mr. Vance received a B.A. in political science and philosophy from The Ohio State University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Mr. Hamel has served as a Public Affairs officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, and has interned for several Ohio State House representatives. Mr. Hamel is interested in approaches to deal with Islamic radicalism, the transition to market economies in closed, state-dominated societies, and American politics and economics. He is currently writing a book on economic inequality in the U.S.

Linda LaCloche. Ms. LaCloche received a B.A. in political science from Saint Xavier University. For the past 14 years, Ms. LaCloche has worked in various public affairs and public/media relations positions at several government posts in the United States. Her main areas of interest focus on how elites create and sell policy messages, target specific audiences, and deal with opposition narratives.