By Steven A. Cook, CFR
Editor’s note: Steven A. Cook is the Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This entry of From the Potomac to the Euphrates originally appeared here. The views expressed are his own.
Egypt is a mess. Just two short years after the uprising that brought Hosni Mubarak’s long rule to an end, the country is paralyzed politically, protests have become increasingly violent, sectarian tensions are high, the public health system is in total disarray, and the economy is near collapse. Nothing has gone right in this country of 84 million people that has traditionally been the most influential in the region – for good or bad – and since the mid-1970s a pillar of U.S.-Middle East policy. It is not only the peace between Egypt and Israel, but also the U.S. Navy’s access to the Suez Canal, the many daily U.S. military over flights critical to the United States in confronting the Iranian threat, and Egypt’s logistical assistance for U.S. operations in Afghanistan and until not too long ago Iraq that are of paramount importance to Washington.
As a result, an objective observer might come to the reasonable conclusion that Egypt needs help and that the international community should do what it can to help pull Egyptians back from the brink. That is certainly the view of most analysts from across the political spectrum, yet in one corner of the commentariat, they are actually hoping for Egypt to fail.
By Randall Kuhn, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Randall Kuhn is director of the Global Health Affairs Program at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
As we mark its two year anniversary, it has become fashionable to dismiss the Arab Spring as a false opening at best, or a gateway to an Islamist takeover at worst. Others have argued compellingly that radical extremists represent a small minority of citizens with little legitimacy. A more fundamental concern is whether the moderate Arab majority has the political capacity and motivation to overcome special interests who seek to undermine the original vision of social justice. My research on the role of human development in the Arab Spring suggests that they do.
On measures of human development such as infant mortality, life expectancy, and schooling, the Arab nations of today look far more similar to the nations of Eastern Europe in 1989, the revolution we all hope for, than to Iran in 1979, the revolution that many fear. Since 1980, no region of the developing world saw as much progress on basic indicators of health and education than the Arab States, fueled by foreign aid, oil money, and despots looking to placate the masses. In 1970, an infant born in Egypt was more likely to die in the first year of life than in India or most of Sub-Saharan Africa; by 2005 the infant in Egypt was less than half as likely to die. Moreover, by 2009 the average Tunisian 15-year old had a better chance of seeing their 60th birthday than the average American.
By Mustapha Tlili, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Mustapha Tlili is the founder and director of the Center for Dialogues: Islamic World – U.S. – The West at New York University, and a member of the advisory committee for Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
There is universal agreement that unemployment (in particular youth unemployment) and poverty played a significant, if not the most important, role in the Arab Spring. High levels of youth unemployment and economic problems prompted civil unrest and dissatisfaction with the government, and gave many young people the time to network and organize. Yet now, economic woes – initially a democratizing force – have turned into an obstacle for many young democracies. Solving youth unemployment will therefore be instrumental in determining the long-term success of the Arab Spring.
Tunisia, where it all started, is a good case study. No wonder that the revolution in Tunisia began in the central region of the country rather than coastal areas, where about 80 percent of the population live in much better economic conditions. These central lands are economically depressed, neglected for decades by various Tunisian governments.
By Isobel Coleman, CFR
Isobel Coleman is a senior fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy and director of the Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy Initiative at the Council on Foreign Relations. This entry of Democracy in Development originally appeared here. The views expressed are her own.
Egypt’s constitutional assembly pulled an all-nighter last week to hastily approve a controversial draft of a new constitution. However, the constitutional battle is far from over. Yesterday, protests rocked the country, and a crowd of some 100,000 people staged a so-called “last warning” demonstration near the presidential palace against President Morsy’s heavy-handed tactics. In addition, hundreds of journalists marched on Tahrir and at least a dozen of the country’s independent newspapers did not publish to protest against Morsy’s “dictatorship.”
The battle now moves to December 15, when Egyptians are slated to vote on the constitution in a national referendum. Liberal and secular opponents of Morsy, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the draft constitution are urging widespread civil disobedience to derail the vote; on the other hand, the Brotherhood and its allies are portraying a “yes” vote as crucial for restoring stability to the country and moving forward. Given Egyptians’ weariness of nearly two years of political paralysis and economic dislocation, the Brotherhood’s arguments for stability could easily carry the day.
Barack Obama has won reelection as America’s president. But while the economy – and avoiding the so-called fiscal cliff – will inevitably take up much of his time, there are numerous foreign policy challenges facing the next administration. GPS asked 10 leading foreign policy analysts to name 10 things that Obama should focus on next. The views expressed are, of course, the authors' own.
Keep Arab Spring on track
By Kenneth Roth
Kenneth Roth is executive director of Human Rights Watch.
The biggest human rights challenge facing President Obama in his second term is finding ways to help keep on track the reform agenda that launched the Arab Spring. Most important is ending the horrible slaughter of civilians in Syria. Obama should stop pretending that Russia’s and China’s obstructionism absolves the U.S. of responsibility to continue ratcheting up pressure to stop the atrocities.
In Egypt, the regional trendsetter, Obama has properly said he respects the election that brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power, but now he should press the government, like all others, to respect basic rights, including of women and minorities. In Libya, Obama should stop treating the country as a “mission accomplished” and actively help elected authorities build the rule of law. And Obama should keep his promise to “promote reform across the region” and stop the discrediting double standard of making exceptions for U.S. allies, whether friendly monarchs or Israel.
By Michael O'Hanlon, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellow at Brookings (where he was a colleague of Rice’s for several years), teaches at Princeton and Columbia and Johns Hopkins and is a member of the CIA External Advisory Board. The views expressed are his own.
Ambassador Susan Rice has been roundly criticized of late for her comments made on five Sunday morning talk shows the weekend after the Benghazi tragedy in which four Americans lost their lives to a terrorist attack. Because Rice stated her belief that the violence was the result of a mass demonstration gone bad, rather than the planned extremist attacks we now know them to be, some have even gone so far as to demand her resignation from her current cabinet position as United States ambassador to the United Nations.
This is way off the mark and extremely unfair to a dedicated official who has served the country tirelessly and remarkably over her four years in the Obama administration. Rice did not choose all her words perfectly that weekend, even based on what was known at the time, it is true. There should have been a bit more nuance and more acknowledgement of the uncertainty in some of them. But there is no basis for concluding that she sought to mislead, and no reason to think that harm came to the country's interests because of her comments. While there are issues worth debating in regards to Benghazi, to Libya, and to the state of the Arab awakenings more generally, the unkind focus on Rice badly misses the mark.
By Sarah Chayes, CEIP
Editor’s note: Sarah Chayes is a senior associate on the South Asia program of the Carnegie Endowment for International for International Peace, which published this article here. The views expressed are her own.
Protesters “were piled into pickup trucks with their black flags,” recalled two Tunisian eyewitnesses, the co-founder of a humanitarian group and a college professor. Both requested anonymity for security reasons. “I knew something would go wrong,” shuddered one. Although no loss of American life resulted, last month’s organized attack on the United States embassy in Tunisia – in which four locals did die – was at least as portentous as the sack of the Libyan consulate.
Unlike residents of Benghazi, Tunis-dwellers did not turn out to challenge the commandeering of their public space by well-marshaled extremists. And, whether through immaturity or latent connivance, the attitude of the Tunisian government has been equivocal. Further incidents, such as the roughing up of an elected official a couple of weeks ago, suggest that the ruling Islamist Ennahda Party may be flirting with violence to help ensure its grip on power.
In a major speech two weeks before he debates President Barack Obama on international issues, Mitt Romney argued that Obama is failing to provide the global leadership needed and expected by the rest of the world.
Romney called for the U.S. to join allies in ensuring that rebels fighting government forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad get military hardware they seek. He also criticized Obama's overall approach to the Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And he argued that last month's attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans "was likely the work of the same forces affiliated with those that attacked our homeland on September 11th, 2001."
What's the difference between the candidates' stances and what does this mean for U.S. policy? Fareed Zakaria weighs in on this and more in this edited conversation:
Q: One of the points you've brought up before is that these two candidates really see eye-to-eye on a lot of foreign policy issues. The only one that we really heard that was different was Romney's stance on arming the Syrian rebels. How does the United States go about doing that?
ZAKARIA: If you were to have listened to that speech, you would assume, atmospherically, that Romney had very strong disagreements with the Obama administration, but his problem is that Obama has run a foreign policy almost like a moderate Republican. It's been internationalist. It's not been too liberal in the sense of human rights oriented. It's been tough. So the Syrian issue is the one place Romney can find to make a distinction. FULL POST
By Fareed Zakaria
Mitt Romney and his campaign feel that they have an opening in the presidential campaign, on foreign policy at least. The unrest in the Middle East the past couple of weeks, including the killing of the American ambassador to Libya and widespread protests over a controversial YouTube video that has been condemned as blasphemous, has left a general sense of turmoil in the region. The Romney campaign wants to take advantage of it.
On the surface, it seems like a reasonable idea. And Obama has made some missteps including the inexplicable decision to not meet with any foreign leaders this week during the U.N. General Assembly. But I don’t think it will work. And one need look no further than President Obama’s speech at the General Assembly to see why.
International events, even crises, typically help the president because they make him look, well, presidential. The symbolism of Obama delivering a speech at the United Nations will have been a powerful reminder to the public that Obama is the president and Mitt Romney is not. This in turn has the effect of conferring a certain gravitas on the incumbent.
By Fareed Zakaria
There is a kind of bipartisan arrogance that is often at work in Washington, where both sides believe that everything happening in the world is a consequence of American power and policy. If only we had made a different speech or implemented a different policy, or sent out a different tweet. But the truth is, what is happening in the Arab world is not about us – it is really about them.
Watch the video for Fareed's take on the reasons for the unrest in the Arab world. Fareed Zakaria GPS airs on Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET.
By Nick Witney, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Nick Witney is a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations and former head of the European Defense Agency. The views expressed are his own.
It has been a good couple of weeks for extremists on both sides of the divide between the Western and Muslim worlds. In Benghazi, jihadists killed the U.S. envoy and three colleagues – an act of barbarity guaranteed to create shock and revulsion. Like-minded fanatics fanned the flames through attacks on embassies across the Middle East. The authors of the poisonous little video that began it all thus found themselves succeeding beyond all possible expectation.
Better still, from the perspective of this improbable coalition of hate-mongers, has been the way in which, in the run-up to the U.S. presidential poll, the “clash of civilizations” narrative has been embraced by many in the Western media. So much for the Arab Spring, we are told, when the heirs to the toppled autocrats turn out to be anti-Western Islamists. So much for the chances of Arab democracy, when the right to freedom of expression is so little respected. Time to stop apologizing, and stand up for “Western values.”
Such conclusions may tell us more about their authors than about the real world. Islamists were, after all, soundly defeated in Libya’s recent elections, and the United States is in a minority of Western countries where an absolute right to freedom of expression is not constrained by some form of “hate speech” legislation. Yet the mutual suspicion, and sometimes antipathy, between the Islamic and Western worlds cannot be gainsaid. It has been going on for centuries – and the appearance of large Western armies in two Islamic countries over the past decade, let alone the issue of Palestine, has done little to help. Which makes it all the more important for the West to do whatever it can to help the Arab Spring succeed.