Erdogan Walks Out

Judah at World Politics Review posts on an interesting story:

For all the diplomatic fallout of the Gaza War, the deterioration in Israeli-Turkish relations might be the most alarming. This Youtube video of the Davos Forum where Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stormed off the stage (at the 1:01:30 mark) after not being permitted to respond to Israeli President Shimon Peres’ remarks, is stunning. Peres’ remarks, too, are remarkable for their passion at a forum that is known for its collegial calm. (They begin at the 39:30 mark.) Notice, too, the body language of Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa during Peres’ remarks.

Erdogan’s anger was directed at panel moderator David Ignatiius for not allowing him to finish his remarks, even if it was the bitter difference of opinion on Gaza that was the subject of discussion.

My Commentary
1) First, this is the same David Ignatuis who in November actually claimed that Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi   issued a fatwa in support of Obama’s campaign.

2)  Erdogan’s frustration is real and representative of widespread sentiment in the Arab and Muslim world.   Israel always trots out the elderly Shimon Peres to make the “why can’t we all get along” speech at these kinds of forums and that always wows Western audiences.  But from the perspective of the pro-Palestinian side  this is old and insulting.  Peres might be serious about peace, but he has very little influence in Israeli politics.   And when Peres talks about how much Israel wants peace, there’s 300 million Arabs scratching their heads,  wondering how that squares with the three week trashing of Gaza which left a good 400-500 women and children dead.  So I can easily see how Erdogan would be pissed sitting through Peres’ 25 minute “Let’s give peace a chance” spiel and then have  Igantius tell him its time to eat dinnner and no he can’t speak for more than a minute.


Monika Borgmann on Lebanon’s collective amnesia

Just quick post to direct Media Shack’s readers to have a look at this interviewwith Monika Borgmann, a German filmmaker and activist based in Beirut.

I’m referencing this interview as a follow-up to a discussionwhich took place a few weeks ago between one of readers and myself, regarding what he considered to be my excessively harsh criticism of Lebanon and what I qualified as its wilful blindness to its own past when I wrote about the Israeli film “Waltz with Bashir”. One of the comments we received mentioned a documentary film by Monika Borgmann about the Sabra and Shatila  massacres as evidence that, contrary to what I seemed to believe, there was a willingness by the Lebanese to deal with their recent past and come to terms with it. I thought it would therefore be interesting to juxtapose that discussion with Borgmann’s own statement:

“I think Lebanon never looked back to its past. There was an amnesty but there was also a kind of amnesia. And talking about the civil war became a taboo, because it was said that the wounds need to be healed, and if you open the wounds of the past new violence will emerge, we need time and so on. But, I think no country can escape confronting its past forever, it’s a painful process, but it’s one which is not avoidable.”


Obama’s Public diplomacy

Editor’s Note:  mregypt is an Egyptian  who lives in Cairo. 

I cannot find any other reason for the fuss that’s made for Obama’s speech except one:  that he came after Bush. I hardly noticed any attention to the interview in the Arab street, as for the Arab media I only noticed a passing reference here.   If anyone attempted to talk with one of the top Arab commentators about this interview I am confident that you will hear answers like “the US  has fixed interest that are not made up only by the president”.  For example,  in a previous post I mentionedthat  Heikal, who is a highly respected voice in the Arab world, thinks that Obama knew about the Israeli attack on Gaza. 

I think the only problem in the Arab world would be to understand what did Obama mean by things like “reaching out to the Muslim world” or “resuming the negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis” –who, by the way, have been negotiating since the establishment of the state of Israel 60years ago– or being somebody who “listens. ”  Listen to whom?  To the despotic Arab governments of  Egypt and Saudi Arabia for instance? Or the peoples of these countries who have no legal channels of expression? I even wonder why the Arabs would be impressed when Obama says that we are “going after terrorist organizations that would kill innocent civilians”?  First thoughts for an average Arab citizen is that he’s talking about Hamas or Hezbollah,  both  of which are greatly respected and supported in the Arab world and considered legitimate popular resistance, contrary to what the Americans might think. 

Furthermore, choosing Al-Arabiya is puzzling. If you want to approach the Arab world, do you choose a channel known to be friendly to the US and a voice of the Saudi royal family?   The interlocutor was very cautious, posing vague questions about Obama’s holistic approach towards the region and his new paradigm, or about his opinion about the Palestinians and the Israelis who are frustrated with the current conditions. I wonder what kind of questions are these? What kind of answer is expected for a question like “Are we expecting a different paradigm?” Please! Was that a question? And then comes the typical question that all the US presidents answered before “Will it still be possible to see a Palestinian state?”  Take a look on this answer:

I think anybody who has studied the region recognizes that the situation for the ordinary Palestinian in many cases has not improved. And the bottom line in all these talks and all these conversations is, is a child in the Palestinian Territories going to be better off? Do they have a future for themselves? And is the child in Israel going to feel confident about his or her safety and security? And if we can keep our focus on making their lives better and look forward, and not simply think about all the conflicts and tragedies of the past, then I think that we have an opportunity to make real progress.

In my opinion,  for an average Arab citizen this answer means nothing.  Why haven’t the situation for the Palestinians improved?  Whose  fault is it? More importantly, what situation are we talking about here:  the economic or the political?   Not only that, he’s supposed to be approaching the Arab world and listening to their people but at the same time asserts that the Israeli security is paramount and adds that there are some people who believe in creating peace after the recent onslaught that took place.  I wonder whom?  Livni?  Barrack? He is basically saying that the Palestinians are inferior to the Israelis. 

 I am surprised why does he think that Zawahiri or Bin Laden are confused? He emphasized that their ideas are bankrupt and leading only to death. But is that actually true? For the Iraqis, for instance, death, poverty and illiteracy came with the American invasion not with the ideas of Bin Laden.  Its true that under Saddam they lived in poverty.  But from  the Iraqi perspective, its ridiculous to compare the situation under Saddam to what took place after the US invasion. What about the Palestinians? Do they also think that shifting to peace and negotiations is the best alternative? For many people in the Arab world what Bin Laden and Zawahiri are doing is Jihad not suicide, and most believe  they are legitimate when they are attacking the US forces in Iraq or Pakistan or Afghanistan. In fact, I cannot think of any moderate religious leader or intellectual or commentator that would say what Al Qaeda’s doing in any of these places is illegitimate. Dealing with Bin Laden or Al Qaeda is only possible by addressing the social and cultural situations and backgrounds they came from and represent.  Thus if Obama’s job is to “communicate with the Arab world that the United States is not your enemy” this entails a totally different approach than “listening and communicating” with the Arab world. In conclusion, the US has policies and strategies in dealing with the Arab world and Middle East and only a shift in these policies and strategies could lead to some sort of rapprochement between the two entities.

The Coming Backlash? Don’t Dismiss Fatah Just Yet

Many people, especially in the popular Arab press, want to  declare Fatah as irrelevant.  If there’s no doubt that they are on the PR defensive, as passions die down and a sense of normalcy returns, they are going to make a comeback.   Today,  Al-Masri Al-Youm has a great   interview  with Fatah leader Mohamed Dahlan.   One big accusation thats been floating around the Arab world is that Egypt and Fatah “knew about” the Israeli attack on Gaza beforehand.  I think Dahlan has a pretty convincing answer to this: 

– أنا لا أشارك فى أى لقاءات ما دمت خارج الحكومة، وأتساءل من الغبى الذى لم يعرف بالضربة، كل الخطط كانت منشورة باستثناء توقيتها، ومن لا يعرف فهو غبى، وأتساءل لماذا أبقت حماس ضباطها يذبحون بهذه الطريقة المهينة التى تفطر القلوب فى المقار الأمنية، أنا عندما كنت فى السلطة وأسمع عن تهديدات كنت أعيد المساجين إلى منازلهم وأخلى كل المقار الأمنية، وأبقى حارساً أو اثنين عليها، وكان الزهار ينتقدنا ويقول عنا قوات الإخلاء، نعم قوات إخلاء، لأن حياة المواطن مهمة ومقدسة، لا يشرفنا أن نعد شهداء، بل أن نحمى الأرواح، لم تكن الضربة العسكرية سرا، ولا يوجدشىء سرى فى إسرائيل سوى القنبلة النووية.

“And I wonder who was the idiot that didn’t know an attack was coming.  Everything was clear except the exact time.  Why did Hamas officers stay in their security buildings?   When I was in charge, whenever there were threats, I evacuated the buildings…..Zahar [Hamas leader] criticizes saying we employed “evacuation forces” but yeah thats exactly it.  Evacuation forces because we care about the lives of our citizens.  The attack wasn’t a secret.

I suspect that Dahlan might be (intentionally) hitting on a sensitive point: If the Gazans perceive Hamas as having recklessly provoked the battle, then Fatah  stands to benefit.    Reading through the comments of a  post  at Abu Muqawama yesterday, one comment stuck out to me as plausible:

No one wants to say it, but I’d suggest a major problem HAMAS has is too much deadweight. If they’re telling the truth, HAMAS has up to 18,000 men under arms, or more than double the active cadres for Hizbollah.  Hizbollah has that number because that’s the optimum they can arm, supply, train, command and control on a daily basis, and then absorb volunteer militiamen (such as those from Amal) during emergencies.  Because of the economic crisis, HAMAS has put a lot of MAMs, especially teens, on its payroll, but that doesn’t mean that they’re effectively trained, armed or led.

On another point, my buddy in Fatah told me that they shared Israel’s estimate of about 800 or so HAMAS operatives killed in the fighting, especially the greenest and youngest troops that they pushed toward the Armistice Line (or border) in prepared fighting positions.  They were slaughtered. Apparently, there’s been some recriminations about the deaths on the partof formerly pro-HAMAS families. Indeed, the word is that the war was much more popular in the West Bank, where bombs weren’t falling, than in Gaza.

This comment gets to whether there might be an anti-Hamas backlash in Gaza.   Ultimately,  will Gazans be more pissed at Israel?  Or at Hamas for talking about how much they wanted the ceasefire to expire and then getting exposed as a bunch of amateurs militarily?  I suspect there’s a lot of angry mothers right now in Gaza who are wondering why their sons were slaughtered.   Because for all of their boasting, Hamas didn’t actually put up much Resistance.   Look back at 2006:  Hezbollah killed 120 Israeli soldiers in 2006.  Even in 2002, Palestinians were able to kill 17 IDF soldiers in   Jenin in only a day or two.  Yet  in 2009, half of Gaza is destroyed and Hamas was only able to take out 10? Arab analysts are saying that Israel’s failure_to_force Hamas to surrender after three weeks is a sign of the Resistance’s strength.  But with all due respect for Abdel Bari Atwan, how can we talk about Resistance when it doesn’t seem Hamas was able to inflict any significant casualties on the IDF?   Furthermore, as Dahlan said,  Hamas failed to take basic security precautions in the initial period that led to lots of their fighters being slaughtered.  Like holding conspicuous open-air ceremonies while your leaders are going on V taking about how much they want to resume the Resistance, which provide easy targets for Israeli jets.   See this picture here  which illustrates the point that Dahlan is making and there was a much more graphic version of its shown in the Arabic press.

I don’t know if the backlash will come.   But if I was the mother of  one of those young recruits who was slaughtered I’d certainly be demanding explanations from the Hamas leadership for their poor performance and preparation.   Of course, if you talk to Abdel Bari Atwan in London, or mregypt in Cairo, or Ahmed Monsour in Doha, they will all probably say that Fatah is doomed and Hamas is going to gain the upper hand because of the Gaza war.  But I don’t think their views are the ones that really matter here.  What do the mothers of  slaughtered Hamas fighters think about Hamas vs Fatah?  They are the ones with a “vote” on this issue and that’s where the media should be focusing.

Weekend Reading

1)  Judah  Grunstein. WPRWorst_Case_Scenarios_for_Afghanistan.  A good post which responds to the points I made yesterday about France and Afghanistan. 

2)  Nathan Brown.  Carnegie.  “Pointers for the Obama Administration in the Middle East; Avoiding Myths and Vain Hopes.”    Good commentary   by a top expert on Palestinian politics. 

3)  Samantha Shapiro. NY Times.   Revolution,_Facebook_Style.   When I first saw this I was skeptical, thinking it was going to be another soft-ball article on Facebook, but this is some really good journalism. 

4)  Ibrahim Eissa.  Al-DostorThe_Coming_Terrorism.   He argues that the government’s position against Hamas will be seen by many as a position against Islam, which will increase  religious extremism and terrorism.

5) Amr Ali Hassan, Al-Hayat.  Looksat whether the ancient Egyptian trait of sticking together in the face of foreign threats is breaking down because of the socio-economic trends over the past thirty years (ie the Infitah,  immigration abroad…)

6) On Tuesday,  I wondered what happened to the Daily Star Beirut which hadn’t updated their website since 14 January.   Apparently,  it has been shuttered forever.

Non monsieur le President, Je suis desole….

Under President Obama, the US is  going to shift its focus from Iraq to Afghanistan, the argument being that we need to “finish what we started.”    One of the key aspects of this new strategy is to convince the NATO countries to send more troops to Afghanistan.   Convincing them to do so, however, is going to be very, very difficult.  Lost in the inauguration hoopla, the French Defense Minister seemed to give a pretty strong signal of his country’s intentions: 

France’s defence minister on Wednesday appeared to rule out any immediate reinforcementof French troops in Afghanistan if requested by Barack Obama, the new US president.  Hervé Morin said deploying additional French forces to the war-torn country was “not a question for now”.  France had, he said, already made the “necessary efforts” when it sent 700 extra troops to Afghanistan six months ago, taking the total to 2,900.

These comments  prompted a couple negative posts from Daniel Drezner  ( here and here) who blames the decision on public opinion saying that  “less than five percent of those polled believed that European countries should send troops to Afghanistan as a gesture of solidarity with Obama.”   Here are a couple of points worth noting:  

1)   Public opinion is very important.  True, and here’s a great comment from the Drezner posts:

 I assume the French know their public better than the rest of us do. If they already know that their public will not support additional deployments of troops to Afghanistan, then the French did Obama a favor by clarifying this point now. The alternative would be to allow Obama to invest prestige in in a policy ambition that could not be achieved, and then face embarrassment and a loss mojo when he fails to achieve his aim. Better to make a clean and neat statement now

2)  But its more than just public opinion.   I recommend reading this post by Judah (who follows French politics closely)  at World Politics Review. 

But the reality of European resistance to an escalation in Afghanistan is much more complex than American caricatures which focus on public opinion (which certainly is lacking) or the willingness and courage to fight (which certainly is not). So before President Obama decides to go to that well, he might want to make sure there’s some water left in it.

Looking at this from the French perspective, its hard for me to see why its in French interests to send troops to Afghanistan.   If the US ship is sinking in Afghanistan, as many are saying, why should France jump on board,  given their long-term interest in maintaining a global foreign policy independent of the United States?  Furthermore, US-Europe relations during Bush term II   (and especially with France since Sarkozy took over)  weren’t  nearly as bad as the media sometimes portrays,  so its  not as if France feels any urgent incentive to make some gesture to the US on Afghanistan. Or even to “repair relations.”

Closing Guantanamo

Don’t get me wrong, President Obama’s order_to_close the Guantanamo Bay  prison is a good thing.  That being said, we should not exaggerate the effect that closing it will  have.  Of the things  that people are pissed off at the US for in the Middle East, Guantanamo Bay is not near the top of the list.   And if its not accompagnied by a serious US engagement in the peace process, noone in the region is going to give Obama any special “props” for closing Guantanamo.  We also have to remember that most of the remaining prisoners are hard-core security threats and they can’t just be put out on the street.   Today Robert Worth reports:

BEIRUT, Lebanon — The emergence of a former Guantánamo Bay detainee as the deputy leader of Al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch has underscored the potential complications in carrying out the executive order President Obama signed Thursday that the detention center be shut down within a year.

The militant, Said Ali al-Shihri, is suspected of involvement in a deadly bombing of the United States Embassy in Yemen’s capital, Sana, in September. He was released to Saudi Arabiain 2007 and passed through a Saudi rehabilitation program for former jihadists before resurfacing with Al Qaeda in Yemen.

His status was announced in an Internet statement by the militant group and was confirmed by an American counterterrorism official