Middle East Weekly Wire by POMED

These are some excerpts from the latest Weekly Wire by the Project on Middle East Democracy.

December 17, 2007

Stability & Security in Iraq: Last week, one pundit argued that the US can still stabilize Iraq if it steps up its efforts and addresses what Iraq really needs , which is “a surge of political, military, diplomatic, and humanitarian activity across the board,” which will lead to “more ambitious goals” and the possibility that “US forces can begin to withdraw.” Others highlight US counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq and the construction of security walls throughout Baghdad , writing that “While many here are grateful for the newfound calm, they say the price is an increasingly segregated city that is starting to feel like a collective cage.” Another critic argued that calling the security walls “successful” is “ only true if the goal behind them was to achieve less violence, as opposed to broader political reconciliation .”

Thoughts on US Involvement in the Middle East: Last week, various analysts discussed US foreign policy, pundits argued that the US should continue to promote democracy in the Middle East because “ societies where people can freely express support and dissent without fear of tyrannical retribution is something we should fight for and champion .” Still, others argue that “the rhetorical attention devoted to promoting freedom, liberty, and democracy has greatly outpaced actual progress in advancing democracy.” Additionally, one pundit argued for a middle ground in between unilateralism and multilateralism, suggesting a “ path of reform that recognized both the existence of new threats and the vital importance of a rules-based response .”

Lebanon’s Obstacles; Delayed Election, Assassination, and Syria: Last week, the political crisis in Lebanon continued when the presidential election was postponed for the 8th time and rescheduled for December 17th in order to give rival leaders more time to reach a deal to amend the Lebanese Constitution. The crisis was exacerbated when a car bomb killed Brig. Gen. François al-Hajj who “was a top contender to succeed Gen. Michel Suleiman, the army chief who is poised to become the country's next president.” The White House condemned the assassination and pundits weighed in and offered analysis on “ Why was he murdered, who may have perpetrated this terror attack and what could be the consequences of this dramatic development ?” Moreover, one pundit argued that the attack struck “the last remaining symbol of unity” in the country, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). Also, others noted that “ As Beirut's latest political crisis drags on, more and more Christians are leaving the country.
Additionally, one pundit suggested that the attack was “ a message to Suleiman ” from Syria. Still, others maintained that the attack was an indication that “ The Syrians are accelerating their return to Lebanon” while the United States is “comatose ” and “caught between the constraints of the Annapolis process…and the need to reduce pressure on Iran after the release last week of a National Intelligence Estimate.”

Also, it was reported that Syrian authorities began an arrest campaign last week of participants of a conference held by the Damascus Declaration for Democratic Change.

With Emergency Rule Lifted, Many Obstacles Lie Ahead for Pakistan: President Musharraf has lifted six weeks of emergency rule ; however, leading up to the announcement one critic warned that “ Pakistan is heading into a four week election campaign fraught with great uncertainties ,” in which “Intelligence agencies are warning of a new round of suicide attacks” and “Opposition parties are already complaining of electoral fraud…and others planning to contest and then protest the results .” Similarly, another analyst warned that although Parliamentary elections are scheduled for January 8th there are many “worrying signs of corruption…” and “if credible elections are not held, it will have dangerous consequences for Pakistan and the rest of the world community… ” Others warned that “Today, the only thing that unites this country…is Pakistanis' wish to see an immediate a-politicization of the army …” Additionally, as American lawyers and law students show their support for the thousands of Pakistani lawyers who have protested against Musharraf's emergency rule, one observer notes “ there is an important lesson for what American lawyers can do for restoring accountability at home.

Grassroots Counterinsurgency Efforts in Iraq: One analyst highlighted the “ Concerned Local Citizens phenomenon in Iraq ” which are groups of citizens mobilized to fight against militias and terrorists , and called them an “unimaginable success.” Others responded to the “tribal alliances strategy” and said that while “Low level reconciliation is all fine and well…it fundamentally misses the point” and “does nothing to increase state capacity .” Others say that the reduction of violence shows that the “ worst is probably over in Iraq” and the notion that “Iraq's civil war is unstoppable…” is “less certain today .”

Ahmadinejad Facing Iranian Criticism: Last week, “ Hundreds of Iranian students expressed their anger over a government crackdown on activists in a protest…at Tehran University .” Moreover, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s policies were attacked by his predecessor, Mohammad Khatami , “ who warned that political suppression, questionable economic policies and defiance on the nuclear issue were leading Iranians in the wrong direction .”

Terrorism in Algeria: One pundit addressed another analyst's suggestion that poverty may have been a factor in last week's suicide bombing in Algiers , arguing that scholars have made “a pretty persuasive case that poverty has little to do with terror …” Moreover, another pundit said that although Islamic extremists are setting bombs off almost daily in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and Turkey, “ Algiers stood apart because it embodied, in agonizingly precise microcosm, the dreary evolution of this global conflict over the decades .”

An End to Muslim Brotherhood Blogging: Last week, one of the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood blogging movement, Abd al-Monem Mahmoud (“Ana Ikhwan”), “ declared a mournful end to the Brotherhood blogging opening .” Blogging offered many young members of the MB a way to put a human face on an often secretive organization and a means to challenge the organization's status quo and openly discuss its political platform and tactical political decisions.

“Stable Authoritarianism” in Jordan: According to one observer, the Jordanian government's claim that last month's parliamentary elections “reflected a spirited Arab-Islamic democratic example was not very credible…,” however, the observer noted that “ Jordan is neither a shining Arab democracy nor a vile police state …It is, rather, a relatively typical modern Arab security state that assigns top priority to law and order and makes no allowances for opposition forces assuming power or influencing policy-making.”

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