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By Global Public Square staff
It's popular these days to say the Arab Spring has gone badly awry. It's a bit early to make these judgments – think of what America looked like in 1779, three years after its revolution – but if you were to compile a mid-term report, Syria would get a failing grade, Egypt's revolution has faltered badly, Libya is a mess. But there is one spark of hope for the revolutions of the Middle East, and it's a country that could be a model for all the others: Tunisia, which was the birthplace of the Arab Spring.
What has Tunisia done right?
Well, let's start with history. Tunisia has been quite different from Egypt and its neighbors for centuries. It was the first Arab state to develop a modern constitution, all the way back in 1861. Over time, Tunisia has developed stronger civic institutions than its Arab neighbors, including a human rights league that was founded nearly four decades ago. About a fifth of the government's budget has been allocated to education. And the demographics are largely homogenous: while Syria and Iraq are divided along sectarian lines – Shia or Sunni – some 98 percent of Tunisians are Sunni Muslims.
By Jane Harman, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Jane Harman is director, president and chief executive officer of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. She was a nine-term congresswoman from California and the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee from 2002 to 2006. The views expressed are her own.
Following the third anniversary earlier this month of the beginning of the “Arab “Spring,” it is easy to be depressed. More like an earthquake, the tectonic plates have shifted and there may be no way to “restore” stability to many governments in the region.
In hindsight, the “revolutionaries” in Tahrir Square and elsewhere were better at toppling governments than building new ones. Only in Tunisia – where Islamist and founder of the Ennahda party Rachid Ghannouchi has been prepared to cede power to build a stable pluralist government – do we see a glimmer of sunshine. Ghannouchi may turn out to be the new Mandela – a man who uses decades in prison as a ploughshare not a sword.
But many countries are becoming failing states: think Libya, which has become the arms bazaar for the MENA region. What must U.S. policy be? As former U.S. Ambassador to Brazil and now Counselor to Secretary John Kerry, Tom Shannon, says, we need “long diplomacy” to follow the long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
Fareed speaks with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, just days before the latest outbreak of violence, about Egypt’s government and the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi.
Would it be fair to say that Israel is quietly happy with the change of government, which of course many people regard as a coup, in Egypt? The new government has been much tougher on the border in terms of supplying Hamas.
Yes, you know, I don't think that we are really a major player in this. It’s a dramatic development for the Egyptian people and for the whole Middle East, the Arab peoples. Israel is not the center focal point of this.
You have the border with Gaza and this government has been...better than Morsi’s government?
Yes. But I think that the whole world should support Sisi. I believe that...
…the new Egyptian government?
I think that you have to support him. If we support him, it probably will embarrass him and it probably won't help him. But Sisi and the liberals, ElBaradei and others, they deserve the support of the free world. To whom else can they turn?
Morsi was elected relatively fairly, but he immediately turned to use the very tools...of [being] slightly and quite democratically elected into turning into a totally totalitarian, Sharia-like extreme Islamist system. And his own people rejected it.
By Geneive Abdo, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Geneive Abdo is a fellow at the Stimson Center and a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution. She is the author of "The New Sectarianism: The Arab Uprisings and the Rebirth of Shi’a-Sunni Divide." The views expressed are her own.
In overthrowing Mohamed Morsy, Egypt’s military, the judiciary, and the secular-minded revolutionaries in central Cairo just extended the political life spans of Islamists across the Middle East.
The Muslim Brotherhood, once at the vanguard of worldwide Islamist political and social movements, failed miserably in their year in power. Most likely, President Morsy’s term in office would have met a natural death during the next presidential election.
Instead, the coup has placed the Brotherhood in the uncomfortable but longtime position it had been in for decades — as the victims of a repressive, dictatorial state.
The coup has also empowered other, more socially conservative Islamist groups, whether or not they might be aligned with the Brotherhood.
The Salafists, in particular, stand to gain from the growing intensity of the broad-based Islamist movement as their vast social networks inspire popular support, and some Salafists are able to take the high ground as the true leaders of the faithful. The Brotherhood, meanwhile, could find itself more reliant upon the Salafists — adherents to a strict interpretation of the Islamic texts — if it wants to win future elections.
By Fareed Zakaria
The events in Egypt over the last week have been fascinating but also bewildering. Most of us don’t quite know what to make of them. Is what has happened a good thing or a bad thing? Let’s start with some basic facts.
The government that was deposed in Egypt was an elected government. Mohamed Morsy’s Freedom and Justice Party, won the presidential election, the parliamentary elections, and a referendum to approve a new Egyptian constitution. So there’s no getting around it – this was the party that represented the wishes of the Egyptian people as expressed through the ballot box.
On the other hand, the government ruled in an arbitrary and highhanded manner and in many, many cases, violated human rights and outlawed its political opponents. President Morsy announced that his decrees were above judicial scrutiny. He banned all members of the previous ruling party from participating in politics for life. He did little about attacks on Egyptian’s Christian minority. The Muslim Brotherhood, of which Morsy was a lifelong member, had promised not to seek the presidency or a parliamentary majority and it reneged on both pledges, creating this new Freedom and Justice Party as a façade.
By Christian Whiton, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Christian Whiton is the author of the forthcoming book, ‘Smart Power: Between Diplomacy and War.’ He was a State Department senior advisor from 2003-2009. The views expressed are his own.
That’s twice Washington was caught slack-jawed amid revolution in the world’s biggest Arab-majority state. But don’t blame the Obama administration exclusively for twice being on the losing side of events in Egypt. Reality in Egypt has also eluded Beltway Republican foreign policy mavens and America’s dysfunctional and distracted intelligence bureaucracies. That makes shaping events in Egypt nearly impossible.
The first shock for Washington came in January 2011, when hundreds of thousands of Egyptians demanding secular democracy filled town squares. According to Washington and its $80 billion-per-year intelligence bureaucracy, these people did not exist in the Middle East. The choice there was supposedly between corrupt strongmen like Egypt’s 30-year president Hosni Mubarak or repressive Islamists like those who run Iran and populate Muslim Brotherhood parties around the region.
Secular liberals were as rare as unicorns and supported by only a small number of Egypt’s urbanites – or so the story went. And yet there they were: mobs of young Egyptians not demanding Islamic law and clerical rule, but accountable government with democratic laws and institutions.
By Anas El Gomati, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Anas El Gomati is a visiting fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center, and director of Sadeq Institute, Libya’s first think tank. The views expressed are his own.
Libya may want to move on from its past, but a law passed earlier this month with the backing of more than 90 percent of lawmakers is the wrong way to go about it.
The “Political Isolation” law would be sweeping enough if it just stuck to the provisions barring anyone that held a senior position in the Gadhafi regime from holding office again for a decade. But it also states that intellectuals, academics, civil servants, security and army officials and leading media personnel should also be barred from doing so. Even exiles and defectors in opposition during Gadhafi’s reign who held senior positions in the distant past could also be barred from serving again for 10 years.
The law, which will effectively be policed by an “Isolation Commission” tasked with vetting officials, was pushed through in the wake of increased activism by Libyan militias. Indeed, militias were quick to seize on the aftermath of the bombing of the French Embassy on April 23, one of a string of attacks in the past year on foreign interests, to help further their agenda. And, even as Prime Minister Ali Zidan’s cabinet attempted to draw up a response for the international community, revolutionary and rogue militias seized four key ministries at gunpoint, demanding that the law be passed.
By Fred Abrahams, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Fred Abrahams is a special adviser at Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are his own.
All civilians deserve protection, but some civilians deserve more protection than others. Or so it seems in Libya today.
Two years ago, the U.N. Security Council authorized a military operation by NATO with a mandate to protect civilians who were under attack by Moammar Gadhafi’s forces. That operation led to Gadhafi’s fall.
Today, long after the fighting has stopped, those who are rightly or wrongly perceived to have supported Gadhafi are under threat. Thousands of women and children have been displaced from their homes and living in camps, often harassed. Men have been detained, tortured and killed. They need protection, but the nations that intervened two years ago have done virtually nothing on their behalf.
By Fareed Zakaria
The American public has lost interest in the Iraq war. A topic that was at the center of the national political debate is now barely mentioned in passing. The country has decided to move on, rather than debate whether the war was worth it - though for the vast majority of Americans, the answer to that question would be a decided, “no”.
Yet, it was the most significant military conflict that the United States has been in since the Vietnam War, and so it is worth asking – ten years after it began - what lessons might be learned from the war, aftermath, and occupation. Here is my list:
Bring enough troops. The Bush administration chose to go to war with Iraq in a manner that would make it relatively easy politically. It drew up plans for a small invading army and insisted that the costs would be minimal – silencing those within and without the Pentagon who suggested otherwise. In the first phase of the war, toppling Saddam’s army, the plan worked fine. But as the mission turned from invasion to occupation, the military’s “light footprint” proved to be a deadly problem. Iraq moved quickly towards chaos and civil war, under the eyes of American troops who could do little to prevent it. The lesson of the Balkans’ conflicts in the 1990s had been to have a much larger force, by some calculations four times larger than the United States had in Iraq. But that lesson was not learned in 2003. The next time, if it’s worth going to war, it’s worth staffing it properly.
By Sarah Leah Whitson, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Sarah Leah Whitson is the director of the Middle East and North Africa Division at Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
Bahrain’s Sunni ruling family and their allies in Washington and London say they are pinning their hopes on a new “national dialogue” to break the bitter stalemate with the country’s political opposition among the majority Shia population. But a just settlement will remain elusive unless the government delivers on two outstanding reforms: accountability at the highest levels of the country’s security forces for their abusive response to the 2011 uprisings, and freedom for the country’s unjustly imprisoned opposition and human rights leaders.
This tiny island country of 500,000 citizens, 600,000 expats and 15,000 personnel of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, convulsed by five weeks of mass demonstrations in 2011, has received its fair share of international attention over the past two years. Per capita, the participation of hundreds of thousands of the country’s citizenry may have set some sort of world record for mass protests – what other country can claim to have had most of its population out on the streets protesting at one time?
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In America, "Harlem Shake" may be the top pop single. In Egypt and Tunisia, there's some serious Harlem shaking going on. And it's causing leaders to tremble as it becomes a potent symbol of protest, revolt and defiance.
Take the kids in the video at a school in Tunisia. They danced en masse to the song and posted their exploits on YouTube. That prompted a quarter of a million hits and reports of an investigation by the country's minister of education and that prompted a backlash. Video after video after video of Tunisians proudly doing the Harlem shake in defiance.
By Madhav Nalapat, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Madhav Nalapat holds the UNESCO Peace Chair at Manipal University in India. The views expressed are his own.
Despite the 2008 economic crash and lingering possibility of a Eurozone collapse, the West still clings to its one-size-fits-all mentality – especially when it comes to political systems. Democracy is still almost inevitably defined in terms of the Western model, with periodic elections to choose representatives to a parliament or head of state. Local variants, such as Afghanistan’s Loya Jirga system, are dismissed as not really democratic. But this “universalization” of the Western approach – especially for countries embarking on the path of democratization – is misguided.
I was an early believer in the Middle East democracy project, with the caveat that first there needs to be a comprehensive reform of school curricula. The present fare offered to young minds, especially in Saudi Arabia, is a mishmash of confused ideas cloaked in theology. The result is that the education system fosters minds that are in many cases unable to properly grasp reality, ones that instead too often focus on vague concepts that get superimposed onto the real world. It’s little wonder that conspiracy theories are so prevalent in the region.