The toppling of Tunisia’s Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak did not put an end to rallies in these two countries. Protests in other places such as Iraq and Lebanon, where parliaments were elected not long ago, also show that grievances go beyond this sovereign or that ruler. It seems that protestors in the streets want democratic systems that live up to international standards. The governments of Tunisia and Egypt, post revolution, and the elected governments of Iraq and Lebanon are simply not good enough. The people in the streets want more.
Despite the downfall of Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak, Tunisians and Egyptians are still rallying in the streets, both demanding that their transitional governments, by and large consisting of old time politicians, also resign and be replaced with new and more transparent officials.
In Iraq, where Iraqis elected their municipal officers in 2008 and their parliament in 2010, angry masses have taken to the streets to protest the performance of their elected officials, believed to be mired with chronic corruption.
In Lebanon, a deep political cleavage between two sides of the population was bridged when activists from both camps rallied for fundamental reform that would include the abrogation of the current confessional system and its replacement with a secular government. The Lebanese protestors also voiced concern over rampant corruption and the hereditary system which guarantees that power remain in the hands of a few families from across the political spectrum. Also in Lebanon, it is understood that the armed militia of Hezbollah has consistently undermined the political process at large, an issue which has been on the minds of demonstrators.
Protests are raging across the Middle East. Protestors, however, have not articulated any specific set of demands. It is most probable that these Arabs are, more or less, improvising, which is one of the main characteristics of popular revolts. Once anger recedes and the ruling elite are replaced, then reconstituting governments might become possible.
Monday, February 28, 2011
Post-Gazette.com - ZAWIYAH, Libya -- The Libyan rebels challenging Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi demonstrated their increasing military coordination and firepower on Sunday, as defecting officers in the east took steps to establish a unified command while their followers in this rebel-held city, just outside the leader's stronghold in the capital, displayed tanks, Kalashnikovs and antiaircraft guns.
In a further sign of their strength, the rebels also talked about tapping revenue from the vast Libyan oil resources now under their control -- estimated by some oil company officials to be about 80 percent of the country's total. And in recognition of the insurrection's growing power, Italy's foreign minister suspended a nonaggression treaty with Libya on the grounds that the Libyan state "no longer exists." Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the United States was reaching out to the rebels to "offer any kind of assistance."
The most striking display of strength was seen here, 30 miles from Colonel Qaddafi's Tripoli redoubt. Zawiyah is one of several cities near the capital controlled by rebels, who have repulsed repeated attempts by Colonel Qaddafi's forces to retake them. And the arsenal they displayed helped to explain how the rebels held Zawiyah.
"Army, army, army!" excited residents shouted, pointing to a defected soldier standing watch at Zawiyah's entrance as he raised his machine gun in the air and held up two fingers for victory.
A few yards away a captured antiaircraft gun fired several deafening salutes into the air, and gleeful residents invited newcomers to clamber aboard one of several army tanks now in rebel hands. Residents said that when Colonel Qaddafi's forces mounted a deadly assault to retake the city last Thursday -- shell holes were visible in the central mosque and ammunition littered the central square -- local army units switched sides to join the rebels, as about 2,000 police officers had done the week before.
And on Sunday, scores of residents armed with machine guns and rifles joined in a chant that has become the slogan of pro-democracy uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and across the Arab world: "The people want to bring down the regime!"
The opposition's display came as a global effort to isolate Colonel Qaddafi and possibly force his resignation gained momentum over the weekend, with the United Nations Security Council moving to impose punitive financial sanctions and NATO allies discussing steps that included a possible no-fly zone over Libya.
But with their increasing firepower, the rebels appeared to break the pattern of nonviolent revolts set by neighboring Egypt and Tunisia and now sweeping the Middle East -- just as Colonel Qaddafi has shown a willingness to shed far more of his citizens' blood than any of the region's other autocrats.
Saturday, February 26, 2011
The Washington Post
BAGHDAD - Iraqi security forces detained hundreds of people, including prominent journalists, artists and intellectuals, witnesses said Saturday, a day after nationwide demonstrations brought tens of thousands of Iraqis into the streets and ended with soldiers shooting into crowds.
Four journalists who had been released described being rounded up well after they had left a protest at Baghdad's Tahrir Square. They said they were handcuffed, blindfolded, beaten and threatened with execution by soldiers from an army intelligence unit.
"It was like they were dealing with a bunch of al-Qaeda operatives, not a group of journalists," said Hussam al-Ssairi, a journalist and poet, who was among a group and described seeing hundreds of protesters in black hoods at the detention facility. "Yesterday was like a test, like a picture of the new democracy in Iraq."
Protesters mostly stayed home Saturday, following more than a dozen demonstrations across the country Friday that killed at least 29 people, as crowds stormed provincial buildings, forced local officials to resign, freed prisoners and otherwise demanded more from a government they only recently had a chance to elect.
"I have demands!" Salma Mikahil, 48, cried out from Tahrir Square on Friday, as military helicopters and snipers looked down on thousands of people bearing handmade signs and olive branches signifying peace. "I want to see if Maliki can accept that I live on this," Mikahil said, waving a 1,000-dinar note, worth less than a dollar, toward Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's offices. "I want to see if his conscience accepts it."
The protests - billed as Iraq's "Day of Rage" - were intended to call for reform of Maliki's government, not revolution. From the southern city of Basra to northern cities of Kurdistan, protesters demanded the simple dignities of adequate electricity, clean water and a decent job.
Friday, February 25, 2011
The Syrians are trying their hand again at rallying enough protesters to end four decades of the rule of the brutal Assad dynasty.
If you support change in Syria, please post the picture to the left as your Facebook profile picture.
You can also show support by joining Syria's Day of Range by clicking here.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
The only Libyan with foreign connections is Moammar Qadhafi and his sons, according to Hussain Abdul-Hussain, who told Nile TV's Daily Debate show that civil war is not probable in Libya, because it would require sustained support for the Qadhafi faction, something the Libyan autocrat lacks telling from the absence of response to his speech in which he urged his loyalists to take on his opponents in the streets.
A Lebanese daily newspaper—backed by Hezbollah—has reported a curious story of international espionage, in which an Iranian general, whose testimony could alter the findings of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, has had his statements withdrawn from evidence. The story offers an alternative insight into the workings of shadow diplomacy.
Hezbollah-backed daily, Al-Akhbar, reported Tuesday that the prosecutor at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), Daniel Bellmare, has not included the testimony of Iranian General Ali Asghari in his indictment—submitted to the pre-trial judge weeks ago. The newspaper alleges that the prosecutor feared Asghari’s ties to the Mossad would show that Israel was the actual perpetrator of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005.
Al-Akhbar has quoted an STL “official” as reaffirming “previous reports” that Asghari’s testimony was in fact “withdrawn.” According to the newspaper, Asghari previously worked as an agent for the Savak—the intelligence agency under Iran’s former sovereign, Shah Mohamed Reza Pahlavi, who was deposed in 1979.
The newspaper reported that Asghari worked for the Savak between 1967 and 1979, later joining the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and eventually emerging as a “double agent” by working for the Israeli Mossad. Asghari ascended the ranks to become Iran’s Deputy Defense Minister, a post he held until the election of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad in 2005, after which Asghari was relegated to the position of “consultant” at the ministry.
The Lebanese daily also said that Asghari spent more than 17 years in Lebanon, where he supervised the training and anti-Israel operations of Hezbollah militants, during which time he cultivated strong ties with the party’s military leader Imad Mughniyah, who was assassinated in Damascus in 2008. A year later Asghari was last seen in Turkey. The Iranian general has since then defected and presumably found his way to the United States.
While the paper links Asghari to the Hariri murder to prove that Israel was behind it, another story emerges: Asghari, one of Hezbollah’s founders and senior Iranian general until recently, was a mere Israeli puppet.
Whether the story of Asghari’s testimony at the STL, as reported in the Hezbollah-backed newspaper, is true or not, cannot be independently determined. However, the story poses a different question: If Asghari was indeed a “double agent” working for Israeli intelligence, then who else in the current Iranian leadership is also receiving instructions from Tel Aviv? A paradigm altering question, which prompts even more mindboggling answers.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) released the following statement today in response to the attacks on civilians ordered by President Qadhafi:
“The Qadhafi government’s use of deadly force against its own people should mean the end of the regime itself. It's beyond despicable, and I hope we are witnessing its last hours in power. Libyans should have the opportunity to choose leaders who respect their basic rights.
“The question now is what can be done to send that message clearly and effectively. While it's true that America has less influence in Tripoli than elsewhere in the region, we're not without options, particularly in partnership with the broader international community. World leaders must together put Colonel Qadhafi on notice that his cowardly actions will have consequences.
“First, while Qadhafi himself is irredeemable, his senior military commanders need to know that their acquiescence in atrocities could open them to future international war crimes charges.
“Second, all American and international oil companies should immediately cease operations in Libya until violence against civilians ceases. The Obama administration also should consider re-imposing U.S. sanctions that were lifted during the Bush era.
“Third, United Nations leadership is on the line. Libya's mission to the UN bravely condemned their own government. Now UN action is critical. Today's emergency session of the Security Council should condemn the violence and explore temporary sanctions, including an arms embargo and protection for Libyan civilian centers. The United Nations should immediately remove Libya from the Human Rights Commission, appoint a special rapporteur on human rights conditions in Libya, and authorize the distribution of emergency humanitarian supplies.
“Fourth, the Arab League and African Union have an opportunity to create a new precedent in response to the crisis in Libya. American credibility was on the line with a key ally in Egypt, and President Obama acted with determination. Today, the world is watching how the region’s leaders will respond to Libya. The Arab League can demonstrate that after the popular uprisings across the region, the old rules of impunity no longer stand. And the African Union can vigorously investigate reports that African mercenaries are involved in the atrocities in Libya.
“These are concrete steps that must be taken now and in the days ahead to show that the world will respond with actions not just words when a regime wields reprehensible violence against its own people.”
The Wall Street Journal
fter two days of violent street protests in one week, Iran's opposition Green Movement said Monday it was pondering its next move and considering a continuation of street protests, according to opposition websites.
A new date hasn't been announced for antigovernment protests although supporters posted on the opposition's Facebook page that this Tuesday or Wednesday are possible.
Opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi have been under house arrest for over a week with little communication with the outside world. Their absence, however, appears to have had little impact on the organization of the movement or its ability to mobilize.
"Dictators should know that our fight is not going to end. God willing with courage, coordination and perseverance our next steps will be firmer and harsher," said Ardeshir Amir Arjemand, part of the committee and Mr. Mousavi's spokesperson abroad, according to the opposition websites.
A team of advisers and activists, mostly abroad, have formed a group called the Central Organization Committee for the Green Movement and are now calling the shots.
A group of youth activists inside Iran have joined with Iranian activists in the U.S. and Europe to help administer the Facebook pages set up for each protest day as a way to spread the news even when Internet communication is restricted inside Iran.
The wave of uprisings in the Middle East from Bahrain to Libya is helping boost morale and feed the momentum, Iranian activists say. One activist in Iran said there is a sense among Iranians that they don't want to be left behind on what he described as "a historic train of democracy going through our region."
On Sunday protests erupted once again across Iran as tens of thousands of people poured on to the streets chanting against the government and calling for the removal of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The opposition drew people to the streets last Monday after a yearlong period of dormancy.
The government cracked down with an extraordinary number of security forces that witnesses said beat people with steel batons, chains and even opened fire into the crowd. Three people were reported killed in Sunday's clashes; one of them identified as Hamid Nour Mohamadi, a college student in Shiraz, killed when security forces shoved him off a bridge, opposition websites said.
The semiofficial Fars News Agency, affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards, said Mr. Nour Mohamadi was killed in a car crash on Monday. Official news agencies dismissed Sunday's protests as insignificant and said cities were calm.
The opposition's strong comeback despite a year of arrests, executions and oppression appears to have taken conservative government supporters by surprise. Some openly pondered whether the heavy-handed crackdowns were backfiring and radicalizing the public's demands, which have gone from demanding new elections after the 2009 presidential election to demands of regime overthrow this week.
"The reality is that after 20 months of crackdowns of post-election crisis, the country is witnessing a big unrest," wrote Foad Sadeghi, a conservative columnist close to the Revolutionary Guards on Ayandeh news website. "It shows that the government's method of dealing with unrest has failed to bring results."
Journalists were banned from covering the recent protests, and the Ministry of Information sent a letter to foreign media offices in Tehran warning that their bureaus would be shut down and their reporters deported if they wrote "negative articles" surrounding the opposition protests.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
A Syrian rally at Al-Harika in Damascus on Feb. 17. 2011.
The Huffington Post
"I know we've had political differences, but there are only about a hundred people in Syria who care about political differences. We can easily throw them in jail," Hafez Assad told a political opponent he was trying to win over to his side, according to Joseph Kraft, reporting for The New Yorker from Damascus, in June 1974.
Assad's son and successor, Bashar, has honored this tradition. This week, a court sentenced 19-year old blogger Tal al-Mallouhi to five years in prison on some obscure charge of passing on secrets to the United States. Out of supposed patriotism, the girl's father publically "admitted" to his daughter's wrong-doing.
This is the Syria that the administration of President Barack Obama has been trying to engage since 2008. So adamant on engagement America has been that this president has appointed Robert Ford as US Ambassador to Syria during Congressional recess.
The reason behind engagement goes something like this: Assad intends to become America's friend, but his allies in Iran and his entourage have been misleading him with wrong advice. Sending back an ambassador will allow Washington to win Assad's ear and give him proper advice, or so engagement lovers argue.
Proper advice to Syria, however, excludes domestic issues, such as human rights, and is restricted to the realm of regional politics. When in Assad's presence, Ford is supposed to convince this autocrat of the rewards his regime will collect if it breaks with Iran and Hezbollah, and sign a peace treaty with Israel.
How much convincing do the Assads, the father and the son, need to go for peace with Israel? After all, the first peace conference was held in Madrid in 1991. Since then, eight prime ministers have governed Israel and four presidents have lived in the White House, all of whom have been engaged in Syrian-Israeli peace talks.
Exactly how complicated is it to negotiate the return of the Golan Heights, whose area is a mere 450 square miles, from Israeli to Syrian sovereignty?
This shows that the Assads were never interested in peace. Instead, they have entered talks whenever they fell out of favor with peace-seeking Washington. As long as Syria can win international acclaim for the never-realized peace, the world will look the other way when Assad throws all Syrians in prison.
But Tunisia and Egypt have shown that the popular political mood in the Middle East is changing, and so should American policy. Despite rampant anti-Americanism in Arab countries throughout the past decades, President Obama was seen to be fair, and was hoped to take the side of the Egyptian people against Washington's longtime ally Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, which he did. As a result, anti-American sentiment was invisible during the Egyptian revolution.
Siding with freedom and democracy in Egypt should apply to Syria too. The Assad regime is brutal, corrupt and has -- like Iran -- defied the world by turning down requests from the international community's nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, to inspect Syrian sites believed to have been part of a nuclear reactor that Israel destroyed in 2007.
If Washington was able to sacrifice Mubarak, there is no reason why it should engage Assad, knowing that Mubarak's 30-year autocracy pales in front of 40 years of brutal rule of the Assad dynasty.
Assad the father acceded to power after a coup in 1971. His son succeeded him in 2000 in the only succession of its kind in the banana republics of the Middle East. After the demise of Saddam Hussein and his sons and the toppling of Mubarak, only Libyan autocrat Moammar Qadhafi hopes to follow in the footsteps of the Assads by pushing one of his sons take over Libya.
By all international standards, Syria has ranked close to the bottom in all governance indicators and freedom placements. Despite the Syrians' miserable life standards, Assad argued that his regime would not face the fate of Tunisia or Egypt because he was staunchly anti-America and anti-Israel, thus winning favor with his subjects.
The revolution of Egypt and the rallies of Iran, in 2009 and this week, show that peoples of the Middle East are taking to the streets regardless of international politics. Instead, they are asking for their basic human rights and for better lives for themselves and for their children.
For Syrians to finally depose their dictator, like Egyptians did, they have to go to the streets, despite the regime's promised violence. If they do, America should be the first to endorse the Syrian revolution. Signs that Washington is prepared to do so, and not let the Syrians down, will help brew the revolution in Damascus.
Today is the time for a Syrian revolution. The Syrians should not miss their chance.
Jon Stewart speaks to the crowds attending the Comedy Central "Rally to Restore Sanity And/Or Fear" on the National Mall in Washington last year.
You know you are a political satirist when close to two million people religiously follow your TV show and call it their primary source of information. But when your satire results in the cancellation of a TV show on a leading news network, and when your comedy show helps pass a law that provides health care benefits to 9/11 first responders, and when you organize a rally days before national elections, then you know you have crossed the line between being a comedian and using your popularity to influence politics.
Jonathan Stewart Lebowitz, also known as Jon Stewart, is a political satirist, writer, TV host, actor, media critic and standup comedian. Since 1999, this multi-talented American figure has become best known for hosting The Daily Show on Comedy Central. Stewart was ranked fifth in Newsweek’s top 50 power profiles, with annual earnings of $15 million.
Because of his comedy, Stewart has been able—according to his critics—to assail politics and media from the comfort of his “fake news” desk. Stewart counters that he is neither a politician nor a journalist. In a recent interview on National Public Radio (NPR), Stewart said: "I think it made me less political and more emotional. The [more] you spend time with the political [world] and media, the less political you become and the more viscerally upset you become at corruption.”
According to Stewart, it is not politicians who irritate him as much as media. “I'm less upset with politicians than [with] the media,” he said. “The way I explain it, is when you go to a zoo and a monkey throws feces, it's a monkey. But when the zookeeper is standing right there and he doesn't say, 'Bad monkey'—somebody's gotta be the zookeeper. I feel much more strongly about the abdication of responsibility by the media than by political advocates.”
In September 2004, Stewart asked then-CNN personality Tucker Carlson and his co-host Paul Begala to “stop hurting America.” He described their show, Crossfire, as a “partisan hack” and ridiculed how its name implicitly referenced innocent bystander victims of street shootings. Despite having been invited on the program to comment on current events, Stewart shifted the discussion toward the show itself, saying that Crossfire had failed in its responsibility to inform and educate viewers about politics as a serious topic.
Stewart said that the hosts' assertion that their show was a debate show was like "saying pro wrestling is a show about athletic competition." Carlson countered by saying that Stewart criticizes news organizations for not holding public officials accountable, but when he interviewed presidential candidate John Kerry, Stewart asked a series of "softball" questions. Stewart responded that he didn't realize "the news organizations look to Comedy Central for their cues on integrity.” When Carlson continued to press his guest, Stewart said: "You're on CNN! The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls! What is wrong with you?" In response to prods from Carlson, "Come on. Be funny," Stewart said, "No, I'm not going to be your monkey."
In January 2005, CNN announced that it was canceling Crossfire. When asked about the cancellations, CNN officials referenced Stewart's appearance on the show and criticized “the noise level of these types of shows, which does nothing to illuminate the issues of the day.” Stewart later commented on the cancellation of Crossfire by saying: “I fought the law, and the law lost!”
In December 2010, Stewart hosted a group of 9/11 first responders who—because of their rescue operations on Ground Zero—had to exhale poisonous debris and have been facing health problems ever since. In Congress, the Republicans had been holding the money allocated for the support of these responders by obstructing the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. After voicing their appeal on The Daily Show, America sympathized with the responders and the Republicans in Congress were forced to let go of their hold.
Despite being a mere comedian, Jon Stewart has—even if unintentionally—become a progressive political force to reckon with. During the rundown to the November 2010 Congressional elections, he organized a rally to “Restore Sanity” in Washington. Stewart insisted that his activity was for comedy purposes only, but the timing of the rally, when rightwing activists were mobilized while their left wing counterparts were demoralized, suggested that Jon Stewart and his protégé, Stephen Colbert, intended to give the Democrats a hand in elections.
The Republicans humiliated the Democrats in 2010 and won the majority in the House, but not the Senate. The effects of the Stewart-Colbert rally were clearly insignificant on the national level. However, the rally itself, Stewart’s shrill cry against the media and his illumination of laws stalking in Congress, suggest that this remarkable satirist has sometimes shrewdly used his popularity to influence politics, something that certainly will not make him any less popular with his followers, admirers and America at large.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Iranian protesters run for cover from riot police (unseen) during an anti-government demonstration, under the pretext of rallies supporting Arab uprisings, in Tehran on 14 February 2011.
Iran’s anti-government rallies have shown that peoples of the Middle East are not protesting international politics, the occupation of Palestine, US imperialism or European colonialism. Protests rather show that whether their regimes are pro-West, like in Cairo, or anti-West, like in Tehran, people are demonstrating for their basic human rights and demanding a better future for themselves and their children.
The first days of this week have witnessed anti-regime protests throughout Iran, among other Middle Eastern countries. Because of complete government censorship, news from the streets of Iranian cities has remained scattered, even though leaks on social media have reported that the number of protesters have swelled to the tens of thousands, and that the regime’s forces have killed at least two demonstrators, injured dozens others and arrested a few hundreds.
Iran’s new revolution, the third after 1979 and 2009, is a revolution in the dark. Few know what is going on inside Iran, or the demands of the people on the streets. But given that the Tehran regime has maintained a staunch anti-western rhetoric, one can conclude that—like in Egypt where there were no burnings of flags of western nations—the Iranian protesters care little about international politics, and are more interested in basic human rights and the improvement of their economic conditions.
A few observers have argued that the revolutions that are sweeping Middle Eastern countries are “naked” revolutions, that are devoid of clear political demands, save for the single demand that ruling regimes, which have proven inadequate in governance, go away.
To learn which countries will contract the Tunisian Syndrome, one should take a look at governance indicators issued by western non-governmental groups. The more the government fails in freedom, the more it suffers from rampant corruption and lack of transparency, and the more people it has living under the line of poverty, then there is a higher probability that this government will face popular wrath.
After Tunisia and Egypt, protests have spread to Yemen, Bahrain, Algeria, Iraq, Jordan and Iran. With the exception of Iraq, where the government is elected and protests are directed more against corruption and poor economic conditions, the governments of these countries face serious risk of losing power.
Other countries that fail on all counts of good governance, but boast that their international politics will save them include Syria, where secret police are the most brutal. In fact, while revolutions were spreading across the region, the government-controlled Syrian judiciary sentenced Syrian blogger Tal Al-Mluohi to five years in prison on some obscure charges. The number of Syrians that the Damascus regime can fit in its prisons, before the people say “enough is enough,” is yet to be seen.
Revolutions are spreading in the Middle East. Tunisia was the beginning. Egypt does not seem to be the end.
Sunday, February 13, 2011
A cargo ship loads up as US Trade Representative Ron Kirk delivers remarks from the docks of Baltimore harbor on 20 September 2010 about the significance of exports in creating and supporting jobs in Maryland. Kirk discussed President Barack Obama's National Export Initiative, which aims to create two million jobs nationwide by doubling American exports to the world, and the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement.
If the US wants to jump start its sagging economy, American policymakers should turn their attention not toward innovation or education reform, but export growth. Transforming the US into an export-led economy will require a transition away from the country’s cancerous “Corporate America” culture—but it will also solve plenty of other problems along the way.
The debate over America’s long term economic recovery is exhausting. Republicans want smaller government, as long as they are not running it. Democrats want to limit spending, as long as they don’t control the White House. Both parties seem uncreative. They sometimes talk about innovation, at other times about education reform.
But perhaps what leaders from both sides of the aisle are really missing is a single idea: America should reinvent itself as an export-led economy. Export creates jobs and brings fortunes to America and Americans. In his State of the Union, President Barack Obama talked about the creation of 300 thousand jobs because of trade deals with Asian countries. He also expressed interest in education reform.
But experts have shot holes in both arguments. On the agreement of selling China $45 billion worth of exports, many analysts argued that this potential surge in US exports comes on the back of America finally transferring aircraft technology that the Chinese are determined to copy. Once China can manufacture its own jets, Americans will be taking their trips in airplanes “made in China.”
On education, many argue that America’s schooling suffers from fundamental flaws. Even where the government has shown the money, students are still low-ranked by international standards.
Mind boggling, isn’t it? Not really.
America falling behind in export, innovation and education is all related. The reason is simple. Just look at Germany and learn why the Germans—a developed nation with no cheap labor—have remained competitive in manufacture and exports. The Germans understood that, for a developed country to remain competitive, the model of shareholders must be replaced with that of stakeholders.
Shareholders are people who buy stocks of a given company. They are never interested in the long term health of the company. They seek instant profit. When the company’s returns decline, shareholders jump to the next company with best revenues. The more yields a company returns on its stocks, the bigger bonuses CEOs receive. As long as shareholders and CEOs make easy money, companies are depicted as prospering.
This model is wrong. There is no eternal cash cow in the world. Take American airlines that have been producing profit for a long time, more often than not through back scaling or turning capital assets into liquidity.
Meanwhile over the past decade, American airlines have shrunk seating space, scrapped their free meals and started charging for luggage. Since American airlines monopolize domestic flights, they have been locked in a competition over who offers crappier service, at lower prices, and still turn profit.
Compared to world competitors, no one wants to fly American airlines overseas. But hey, lobbyists convinced Congress to approve the “Fly America Act.” Now, for any government-funded business with trips overseas, federal contractors have to fly American. In a sense, lobbyists of American airlines succeeded in imposing tariffs of sorts on government-funded trips.
Partial government protection, however, does not mean that American airlines are competitive worldwide or prosperous as business models.
In Germany, famed car factories felt the heat of globalization and world competition. Instead of scaling back or liquidating capital assets to turn maximum profit on every quarter, German automakers invited to meetings shareholders, workers unions, government officials, education professionals and mayors of cities that host factories among others. All of these have stakes in seeing German car industry remain competitive and prosperous. This makes them stakeholders.
Automakers then told everyone that their factories were the cash cow that the German economy needed to survive. Therefore, it was everyone’s responsibility to make concessions here or there to ensure the industry remained competitive worldwide. When everyone agreed to compromise, German cars maintained their high quality at competitive prices. Car factories remained open in Germany, despite some off-shoring, and next to them in German cities, Research and Development continued alongside educational institutions.
America’s shareholding business model, also known as Corporate America, has grown alone like cancer that killed all the cash cows. But America’s economy retained some vital organs that have survived so far, like the huge consumer market. This organ cannot survive independently of manufacturing, which puts money in consumers’ hands. Still the Corporate America cancer invented yet another ingenious survival tactic: National Debt and household credit cards.
Debt, however, can go only so far. In September 2008, the debt bluff was called and America’s house of cards fell. Now the government has stepped in to give a hand, but even the government cannot live off debt forever.
The cure for America’s economy will have to get rid of the Corporate America cancer by shrinking it back to the size of other stakeholders. Limiting bank and credit card company risk-taking adventures and curbing corporate lobbying power was an Obama step in the right direction. Next is cultivating the concept of stakeholding and making it hard for Corporate America to cheaply manufacture overseas and dump products in American markets.
When America’s manufacturers come back home, the market will fix education and take care of innovation, just like in the past when shareholders were as responsible as everybody else.
Friday, February 11, 2011
He is gone. Mubarak has resigned. When will the Syrians force their tyrant Bashar Assad out of Damascus? When will Iranians kick out Ali Khaminei? History is being written, and peoples of the Middle East should hurry to have their names in it.
The news came in a brief statement from Vice President Omar Suleiman. His statement in full: "Hosni Mubarak has waived the office of presidency and told the army to run the affairs of the country. "
Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators erupted in jubilation in Tahrir Square as vice president Omar Suleiman announces that President Mubarak has resigned and called on the army to "run the affairs of the country."
MSNBC reports that President Barak Obama was notified of Mubarak's resignation during an Oval Office meeting. He then watched the TV coverage for several minutes in an outer office.
Essam El Erian, spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood party, which was banned by Mubarak, hails what he calls Egypt's "historic moment of victory." He tells Al-Jazeera TV that Egyptians brought about a "new history in the country and the region" and showed that they can accomplish it "without any help."
"This revolution was done by all Egyptians -- Christians and Muslims, old and young," he says.
He says the country has embraced a "new model of democracy" for freedom that can now be added to democratic models in the West.
Thursday, February 10, 2011
The Huffington Post
So delusional Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has become that, during his speech to the nation, he said "it is not about my person." He is wrong. His speech caused more frustration and will invite more chaos on the country. The question to Mr. Mubarak is: How many million Egyptians should take to the streets for him to say two simple words: I quit?
Instead, Mubarak, in a typical speech by an Arab autocrat, rambled about his love of Egypt, how the future of Egypt is at stake and how foreigners were concocting conspiracies to undermine the country. Even worse, Mubarak made it sound as if the two weeks of rallying were his idea, and promised that the ongoing Egyptian revolution will pay off. But he will stay.
So out of touch Mubarak has become that he talked about committees that he had formed to bring to justice the perpetrators of the crimes that resulted in the death of demonstrators, as if the murderers in Tahrir Square acted without orders from the regime that Mubarak heads.
So out of touch Mubarak has become that he rambled about constitutional amendments and cited article numbers, as if the millions who are in the street know the difference between Article 77 and Article 179.
With his out-of-touch speech, did the Egyptian president expect the hundreds of thousands of Egyptians to feel good? Or go back home? The answer is a resounding no.
Mubarak has lost touch with reality long time ago. Even an Arab-American like me in Washington could tell that the Egyptian president's speech would bring more frustration -- and hence more people to the streets -- than defuse the crisis.
Mubarak does not care. He believes his confidante-turned-Vice President Omar Suleiman will still be able -- through meaningless negotiations with so-called opposition leaders who mostly represent themselves only -- to go back in time to when Mubarak, Suleiman and a bunch of ruling security officers could run the country.
Perhaps it takes being an Arab, a citizen not an official, to realize that whatever Washington, Cairo or other world capitals are planning for an "orderly" transition of power means little to Egyptians in the streets.
The word "transition," the favorite in Washington these days, suggests that power should be "passed on" from whoever rules Egypt now to whoever should take over tomorrow. The word "orderly," the second favorite with American officials, suggests that the current rulers of Egypt -- Mubarak or his cronies like Suleiman -- will negotiate the transfer of power.
What American officials, and many other officials in the region, do not understand is that the Egyptian rallies are not "orderly" in the first place. Protestors have no plans to take power over from Mubarak. These protestors are "spontaneous," and expect to see "fundamental" change.
A final note to some American, and maybe Israeli, politicians: The Egyptian rallies are not about you. There has been no burning of American, Israeli or effigies of US Presidents because the Egyptians in the streets are not interested in politics per se. They do not fear that the Muslim Brotherhood will create an Islamic republic either. The Egyptians want change. Washington and other world capitals want "measured change" that can fit their interests, something that Egyptians are not thinking of right now.
Mubarak should go. His regime should go too. Here is an idea on how to handle this "radical" change and send Egyptians back home, in an orderly manner. Ask Mubarak or Suleiman to give dates for change. Assign dates for parliamentary and presidential elections. Let the new parliament supervise the formation of a cabinet. The new cabinet and parliament will see to it that constitutional amendments will take place.
Tell Egyptians on the streets that Emergency Laws will be removed the minute they go back home, not "when circumstances permit."
The Egyptians are revolting to see major change while Washington and the world want Egyptians to settle for the equivalent of a cabinet reshuffle. Until Mubarak and his sponsors in Washington and elsewhere grasp what is happening on the streets of Egypt, until they can get a feel of the popular pulse, Egyptians are not going anywhere.
The longer Egyptians stay in the streets, the more chaos there will be and the more complicated the solution will become.
In his most recent speech to the nation, Mubarak could have saved face and stepped down. Instead, he proved stiff, which might cause him to break and leave in humiliation. The longer the crisis drags the worst it turns for Egypt and its interests, something Mubarak talked about in his speech but clearly have no clue of how to deal with. Mubarak just does not get it.
In 1968, a congressman from Illinois, only 36 years old, interviewed a 27-year-old for the position of intern. Even though the applicant did not impress the congressman and failed to get the job, a friendship started between the two men that would prove to influence the history of the United States and the world. The congressman was Donald Henry Rumsfeld. The intern applicant was Richard Bruce Cheney, or Dick Cheney, America’s 46 vice president under George W. Bush.
The anecdote is one of many in Rumsfeld’s 800-page memoir, Known and Unknown.
The book interestingly opens with Rumsfeld telling the story behind one of the most played footages on TV before, during and after America’s Operation Iraqi Freedom: A younger Rumsfeld shaking the hand of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in Baghdad.
Rumsfeld, who served as chief of staff for President Gerald Ford and secretary of defense under Bush II, was also President Ronald Reagan’s special envoy to the Middle East. The former envoy puts his 1983 visit to Baghdad—and meeting with Saddam—in context. He writes: “Iraq’s Ba’athist regime was at the time the bitter adversary of two nations that threatened the interests of the United States—Syria and Iran.” He argues: “Syria, under President Hafez Al-Assad, was a leading supporter of international terrorism and occupied portions of Lebanon, a country that when left to its own devices favored the West.” Iran, according to Rumsfeld, “had been a close friend of the United States until the 1979 coup by militant Islamists led by a radical cleric, Ayatollah Khomeini.”
From the perspective of Reagan’s America in 1983, as spelled out by Rumsfeld, “Iraq sat between these two menaces—Syria and Iran. It must have taken a good deal of effort, or more likely some mistakes, for America to be on the bad side of all three countries.” Therefore, in 1983, “there was a clear logic in trying to cultivate warmer relations with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.”
As such, Rumsfeld flew to Baghdad where he met Saddam, and found him to be “reasonable.” He concluded: “I did not expect that Saddam’s regime would play such a prominent role in our country’s future—and in my life—in the years ahead.”
Even though the book covers Rumsfeld’s long career in politics, starting with his running for Congress in 1962, his invitation to the White House where he met President John Kennedy thereafter, his relations with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and his role in the Ford administration, among other domestic issues, the greater part of the book focuses on the Middle East.
In the first chapter, Rumsfeld explains America’s thinking after 241 marines were killed in Beirut in 1983. The former defense minister takes aim at the Syrian regime, which he describes as one that “possessed in the extreme two qualities particularly dangerous in a military adversary—ruthlessness and patience.” He added: “Like all dictators, the [Syrian] regime had the advantage of not needing to cater to its domestic opinion. It could do whatever it deemed expedient to achieve its goals.”
Rumsfeld concluded that Damascus has been “playing a diplomatic game” with the United States for decades. He accused Syria and Hezbollah of assassinating former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005, and argued that the international isolation that the US imposed on Syria—after the assassination—was paying off since the Syrians were willing to offer genuine concessions as they pulled out their troops from Lebanon. “In Bush’s second term, however, there was a change of course and the administration reengaged with Syria. The Department of State proposed relieving Syria’s diplomatic isolation and reverting to the practice of sending high-level US officials to Damascus for meetings.”
In Rumsfeld’s opinion, the American policy of engagement, combined “with our worsening difficulties in Iraq that were at least partly the result of Syria’s actions, sent a signal of weakness to Assad that he was quick to exploit.” Rumsfeld added: “He reverted to his earlier policies of greater hostility toward America and our interests. Yet even in 2007, the State Department invited Syria back to the negotiating table in pursuit of Middle East peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”
He concluded: “Seeing that the United States was again the supplicant, and with the ill feelings about their assassination of a democratic Lebanese leader seemingly having been forgotten, if not forgiven, the Syrians reverted to their tried-and-true ways: obfuscation and delay at the negotiating table and active support for terrorism and covert pursuit of illegal weapons programs.”
According to Rumsfeld, after the Abu-Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq, he submitted his resignation twice to President Bush, who turned it down. The former official also goes into detail to showcase how the decision to go to war in Iraq was taken. Since it is his memoirs, he tends to square the blame on other Bush officials, which is fair.
Whether you agree with Rumsfeld’s version of events or not, his book is certainly a primary source from one of the most remarkable people in the Washington decision-making circles. The style of the actual writers, Eric Martin and Stephen Elliot, is entertaining and smooth. For the political junkies and the curious, Known and Unknown is an interesting read.
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Lebanon's Prime Minister Designate Najib Mikati
The collapse of Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri’s cabinet in Lebanon opened the way for Hezbollah to bully President Michel Suleiman and politician Walid Jumblatt into voting for its candidate, Najib Mikati. Next will be the Revenge Revolution that Hezbollah and its allies have long promised their March 14 rivals. And since revenge brings more revenge, Hezbollah’s behavior in Lebanon should be expected to invite more vendettas in the future, a syndrome that the country has been suffering from for decades now.
The collapse of Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri’s cabinet in Lebanon was followed by Hezbollah twisting the arm of President Michel Suleiman to reschedule parliamentary consultations until Hezbollah could also twist the arm of Walid Jumblatt, head of a sizeable parliamentary bloc, to swallow his vow of renaming Hariri and give his votes instead to Najib Mikati.
The result of the Hezbollah bullying gave 68 parliamentary votes to Mikati and 60 to Hariri. Suleiman promptly called on Mikati to form the new cabinet, but Hezbollah’s twisting of arms can go this far only.
Mikati was elected to parliament in June 2009 on Hariri’s ticket. Two weeks ago, he defected to the Hezbollah side. He thus found himself without the support of Lebanon’s Sunni community, mostly under Hariri’s leadership. Since Mikati, a Sunni, does not want to look like the puppet of Shi’ite Hezbollah, he tried hard to depict himself as a neutral “centrist.” For Mikati to live up to his centrist claim, he needed to include in his cabinet ministers from the Hariri-led March 14 Coalition. Therefore, Mikati reached out to March 14 to join his government.
The March 14 Coalition agreed to join the Mikati cabinet on the condition that the new prime minister integrate their political rhetoric into his ministerial platform, the same way Hariri was forced by Hezbollah to include words of support for the “resistance” in the previous cabinet. Mikati, for his part, refused to integrate any March 14 rhetoric into his platform, arguing that he had not given the Hezbollah-led March 8 Alliance any promises, and that he would not do so with March 14.
While all of this political jockeying might seem complicated, the underlying motives are simple. In the new cabinet, Hezbollah will command a majority. No matter how centrist Mikati is, Hezbollah will be able to use its majority to win votes and force decisions on the government. These decisions are expected to include the abrogation of the protocol signed between Lebanon and the UN, promising Lebanon’s cooperation with the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), created to try the perpetrators of the 14 February 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
With Hezbollah’s forced-majority in mind, March 14 put forward the condition that they would join the Mikati cabinet only if Mikati agrees not to resist Hezbollah’s insistence to abrogate the protocol, just like Hariri did before him, and saw his cabinet crumble accordingly.
The ongoing process of the formation of the cabinet has put Mikati in a dilemma. He can either try to form a Hezbollah-only cabinet, or he needs March 14 to give him cover for a national unity one. Mikati wants the March 14 cover, but not the price that comes with it. In the midst of his dilemma, the formation of the cabinet has been dragging since 25 January.
Observers, however, expect Mikati to cave to Hezbollah’s pressure soon. After all, even heavyweight leaders, such as Jumblatt and President Suleiman, were forced to yield to the demands of Hezbollah and its armed militia.
Observers also expect that, once the Mikati one-color cabinet is formed, Hezbollah and its allies will not only abrogate the protocol, but will fabricate legal cases to prosecute their former rivals in March 14. News from Beirut reported that a number of March 14 politicians have already fled the country to western capitals, mainly Paris.
The Cedar Revolution broke out on 14 March 2005, forcing the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon and braking Hezbollah’s grip over the country. Less than six years later, Hezbollah has succeeded in forcing its way back to dominate Lebanon and its political scene. Next will be the Revenge Revolution that Hezbollah and its allies have long promised their March 14 rivals. And since revenge brings more revenge, Hezbollah’s behavior in Lebanon should be expected to invite more vendettas in the future, a syndrome that the country has been suffering from for decades now.
Monday, February 7, 2011
News from Washington
Those who believe Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has overstayed his tenure in power are right. But in the Middle East, especially in the so-called "democratic" Lebanon, a number of mini-tyrants have been in power longer than Egypt's autocrat, who became president in 1981, that is 30 years ago, emerging as the longest serving sovereign in Egyptian history since the days of the Pharaohs.
In Lebanon, the Lebanese have had to deal with a number of politicians, most of them assumed power before Mubarak, are as corrupt as Mubarak, are grooming their sons to succeed them like Mubarak was grooming his son, and some have either used violence in the past or still use it today against their fellow Lebanese.
When will the Lebanese follow in the footsteps of Egyptians and demand the toppling of their mini-tyrants, who form an oligarchy with players often shifting alliances?
Below is a random selection of half a dozen of Lebanon's oligarchs:
Amin Gemayel was elected to parliament in 1969 (42 years ago). In 1982, he was elected president of Lebanon until 1988. Today, he serves as the "president" of his Christian Phalange Party, which he inherited from his father. He has been one of the pillars of the Lebanese oligarchy. He is believed to be one of the most corrupt presidents (a close second to former President Emile Lahoud) as he embezzled huge sums of government money during his tenure. Gemayel is now grooming his son Sami for his succession. Gemayel is member of the anti-Hezbollah March 14 Alliance. During Lebanon's civil war, he was a commander of the Phalange militia.
Walid Jumblatt, the Druze chief, also inherited his father's group the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) in 1977 (34 years ago), and has been a militia leader, lawmaker, minister and head of parliamentary bloc since then. Jumblatt is also a fixture of Lebanon's oligarchy. His son Taymour is preparing to succeed him when need be. Jumblatt and his entourage have accumulated huge fortunes off of public office. Jumblatt was member of the anti-Hezbollah March 14 Alliance, but later switched sides to join the Hezbollah-led March 8 Alliance. During the civil war, Jumblatt was the commander of the PSP militia.
In 1978 (33 years ago), Nabih Berri became leader of the Shiite Amal militia. In 1992, Berri -- a puppet of the Syrian regime -- became Speaker of Parliament, a position he's been holding until today. Berri's wife Randa, his many sons, nephews and sons-in-law have accumulated huge wealth during Berri's long career in office. Berri has no heir apparent so far. He is member of the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance. During the war, Berri commanded the Amal militia.
In 1988 (only 23 years ago), Army Commander Michel Aoun became interim Prime Minister. He waged several unsuccessful wars against his opponents while stealing loads of public funds. In 1990, he was swept out of power and went into exile in France, to return in 2005 and strike an alliance with his former enemies (the Syrian regime and Hezbollah). Aoun's successor is his son-in-law Gebran Bassil, a populist figure like Aoun. Bassil has become famous for the enormous fortune he's made while in public office. Aoun and Bassil are new comers to the Lebanese oligarchy. They are members of the Hezbollah-led March 8 Alliance. During the war, Aoun transformed the army into his private militia.
In 1990 (21 years ago), Suleiman Franjieh Jr, grandson of former President Suleiman Franjieh and son of former lawmaker and minister Tony, was "appointed" Member of Parliament, and was since then elected to this position. The Franjiehs are family friends with Syria's ruling family Al-Assad. Franjieh has served in different ministry portfolios (health, interior,...) In every ministry, Franjieh made sure to receive his cut. He also receives money from the state-owned Casino du Liban, and several other ventures. He is one of the owners of the popular LBCI TV and is still too young (born in 1965) to appoint a heir. Franjieh is a known face of the Lebanese oligarchy and part of the Hezbollah-led March 8 Alliance. He commands the Marada bandit.
In 1992 (19 years ago) Hassan Nasrallah became leader of the Iran-created militia, Hezbollah, while still 32.Nasrallah boasts that he and his party belong to the peasantry and are no members of the oligarchy. But after 19 years at the helm of Hezbollah, Nasrallah has become a fixture of Lebanon's political life. While Nasrallah is not known for personal excesses or corruption, he leads the March 8 Alliance which is full of known thieves (Berri, Aoun, Franjieh and others). Hezbollah party officials who serve in government positions are also believed to have started behaving like everybody else by demanding their cuts and bribes. Nasrallah also commands an armed militia that -- even though it claims to exclusively fight Israel -- has often used its power to kill and/or terrorize its domestic political opponents.
On March 14, 2005, more than one million of Lebanon's four million population took to the streets to demand that Syria withdraw its troops, Hezbollah be disarmed and justice be served on political assassinations including the murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. March 14 politicians like Jumblatt and Gemayel eventually hijacked the popular uprising for their own narrow political ends.
Perhaps today it is time for the Lebanese to rally en masse again, and like the Egyptians, carry signs that read: "The People Demand Toppling of the Oligarchy."
POSTSCRIPT: A friend brought to my attention that I had left Samir Geagea and Saad Hariri out of my list. Another friend suggested the Karamis, Moawwads and Tuenis. There is no list that can fit all of Lebanon's oligarchs, but I will add Geagea and Hariri, even though I don't think they qualify to be Mubaraks. Both men are out of power, are not grooming any successors and are not known for corruption scandals.
Samir Geagea commanded the Lebanese Forces militia starting 1985 (26 years ago), and was the only Lebanese citizen to be punished for participating in the civil war in 1994. He was released from prison in 2005. Geagea is from the peasantry and has no successor. His group runs no significant government corruption, and it renounced violence by the end of civil war (1992). Except for his long career in politics, the major part of which he spent in jail, Geagea does not share the Mubarak description like others on this list.
Saad Hariri succeeded his father in 2005 (less than six years ago). He became prime minister in 2010, but was toppled by Hezbollah and its allies last month. The Hariris never commanded violence. They were constantly humiliated by the Syrian regime and Hezbollah and treated as cash cows (Hariris being expat construction billionaires). Even though a number of corrupt bureaucrats have hidden under the Hariri mantle, it is most likely that the Hariris have stayed away from government money. Hariri the son is too young to groom a successor. Hariri has refused to trade a tribunal set to try the perpetrators of the murders of his father and a dozen other public figures in return for staying prime minister.