By Dimitri Gkiokas, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Dimitri Gkiokas is a banker who now lives in Germany. The views expressed are his own.
“Can you believe these things happened just 150 years ago?!” exclaimed a young voice behind me. Lincoln had just finished in a Parisian cinema. I was not surprised by the audience's exuberant applause at the end credits: Well-deserved for the tired, yet persistent president, who had finally made it through the painful vote for the abolition of slavery. But that “just 150 years ago” reminded me of the modern-day slavery that continues today.
I recently left the Middle East after a decade in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Both are places of invariable desert yellow monotony and mind-blowing heat, with a fine touch of 90 percent humidity during the summer months – unbearable for most, but apparently not the tens of thousands of Indian, Nepalese and Bangladeshi construction workers melting in the heat of the Arabian Peninsula.
The prize for their back-breaking work: $5 a day for working in appalling conditions 12 hours a day 7 days-a-week; for frequently being deceived and blackmailed by rogue employment agencies back home; for signing contracts they cannot read and effectively being held hostage by an all-mighty employer in their new destination country; for being fully marginalized by the host societies; for living with hundreds of other workers, and as the BBC notes, sometimes six or seven crowded into a 3-by-3-meter room in dreadful desert camps without proper sanitation; for abandoning all hope of ever enjoying the love of family life.
By Mohammed Ayoob, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Mohammed Ayoob is a distinguished professor of International Relations at Michigan State University and adjunct scholar at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. The views expressed are his own.
President Barack Obama is just beginning his first visit to Israel and the West Bank since he assumed the presidency, but skeptics have already been suggesting that those expecting much more than a photo-op are destined for disappointment. Indeed, the reality is that even if there is a desire within the Obama administration to cajole the two sides into resuming an active search for peace, this visit is unlikely to bring the results the president may be hoping for.
Why? The most obvious reason is the inability of President Obama to persuade Prime Minister Netanyahu to stop building settlements on occupied Palestinian lands, making it impossible for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to come to the negotiating table while preserving credibility among an already highly skeptical constituency. It is ironic that despite U.S. aid to Israel running at about $3 billion a year, Israeli influence in Washington far outstrips American influence in West Jerusalem.
By Gabriel Kohan and Mark Donig, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Gabriel Kohan and Mark Donig are Middle East policy analysts whose work has appeared in CNN, Foreign Policy, Forbes, and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The views expressed in this piece are their own.
Since the White House announced last month that President Obama would be headed to Israel, analysts have floated numerous flawed theories suggesting that the president’s trip is motivated primarily by either a desire to enhance cooperation on various security issues or to thaw the frosty relationship between the president and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Advocates of the first theory overlook the fact that, while security issues will be addressed, this trip to Israel is not necessary for the two countries to enhance their already unprecedented security relationship – the president could accomplish the same without leaving Washington. Meanwhile, proponents of the second overestimate the impact of one more face-to-face meeting between a president and prime minister who have already met in person a number of times over the previous four years.
Rather, the greatest impact that this trip could have is not between leaders or governments, but between President Obama and the Israeli public. By using this trip to speak directly to the Israeli people and to reassure them of America’s commitment to Israel’s security, President Obama can begin to forge the kind of trust with the Israeli public that has so far eluded him, in part due to his previous requests for Israeli concessions on territory and settlements that some perceived as insensitive to Israel’s precarious security situation. In building this good faith, Obama can begin to “reset” his relationship with Israelis who may not trust today that the president will “have Israel’s back,” and can use that newly built trust to help achieve longstanding American foreign policy goals in the Middle East.
By Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber is United Arab Emirates special envoy for energy and climate change and CEO of Masdar, an Abu Dhabi-based renewable energy initiative. The views expressed are his own.
Four months ago today, U.S. President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency for five states and the District of Columbia over the approach of Hurricane Sandy. The super storm was a reminder that climate change is blind to faith, socio-economic status and geography. It also underscored that supplying cheap, sustainable energy and mitigating climate change is not a challenge for future generations – it is our challenge today.
And energy-rich nations have a shared responsibility to do more. After all, they have the financial and technical ability, as well as decades of expertise, to create the necessary growth of a new energy industry balanced by renewable sources of power.
"Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
By Fareed Zakaria
The scenes of chaos and strife in Egypt that you've been seeing during the second anniversary of the Tahrir Square uprising are just the latest and most vivid illustration that Egypt's revolution is going off the rails.
It has revived talk about the failure of the Arab Spring and even some nostalgia for the old order. But let's remember, that old order was doomed. Arab dictators like Hosni Mubarak could not have held onto power without even greater troubles; look at Syria.
But events in the Middle East the past two years do underscore something I've long believed that constitutions should take precedence over elections. Let me explain.
Watch the video for the full Take.
By Soner Cagaptay, Special to CNN
Soner Cagaptay is a Beyer Family fellow at The Washington Institute and author of 'Turkey Rising: The 21st Century's First Muslim Power.' You can follow him @sonercagaptay. The views expressed are his own.
Today’s attack against the U.S. Embassy in Ankara suggests Turkey’s radical leftist Marxist groups, as small as they might be, could be mobilizing against America.
Turkey’s political landscape continues to bear the vestiges of violent leftist movements from the 1970s, laden with deep-rooted Cold War-style anti-Americanism. These small but active movements have rallied against the deployment of U.S. and NATO Patriot missiles in southern Turkey, and are believed to have been behind a January 21 protest aimed at Patriot teams arriving in the port of Iskenderun.
Although such groups operate at the political margin, they could have an outsized impact. Iranian and Russian media have covered these incidents extensively, no doubt in order to feed into anti-NATO sentiment and to increase the political costs for Ankara supporting the Syrian opposition. Indeed, small Turkish Marxist groups could even emerge as nodes of broader opposition to Ankara’s effective policy of working to help oust the al-Assad regime.
By William Young, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: William Young is a senior policy analyst at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation. He was formerly a senior officer with the Central Intelligence Agency with extensive experience in the Middle East. The views expressed are his own.
All roads lead to Damascus…and back out again. Financial and military aid flowing into Syria from Iran, Russia, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and other Arabian Gulf states aims to influence the outcome of the conflict between a loose confederation of rebel factions and the Bashar al-Assad regime. But this outside support could merely perpetuate the existing civil war and ignite larger regional hostilities between Sunni and Shia areas, reshaping the political geography of the Middle East.
In many ways, this is a continuation of the historical struggle between Sunni against Shia for dominance in the Islamic world, with Israel as another nearby target. Historical hatred between extremists on both sides of the conflict has already begun to spread fear and influence political sentiment north and east into Turkey and Iraq, west into Lebanon, Israel, and Palestine, and south into Jordan and the Arab Gulf. To understand these trends, it is important to ask: Who benefits from the conflict in Syria, and who loses?
By Fareed Zakaria
The Arab world’s two largest experiments in democracy, Iraq and Egypt, have, unfortunately, poor choices in common. Both placed elections ahead of constitutions and popular participation ahead of individual rights. Both have had as their first elected leaders strongmen with Islamist backgrounds who have no real dedication to liberal democracy. The results have been the establishment of “illiberal democracy” in Iraq and the danger of a similar system in Egypt.
The best role models for the region might well be two small monarchies. Jordan and Morocco have gone the opposite route, making measured reforms and liberalizing their existing systems. The monarchies have chosen evolution over revolution. So far, it seems the better course.
"Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
Fareed Zakaria speaks with King Abdullah II of Jordan about the future of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria and radical Islamists in the region.
What would you like to see happen in Syria? You are facing an extraordinary crisis. And I think people need to remember you have now 300,000 refugees from Syria. You have just gone through a decade in which you took in hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees. The Iraqis have just started going back, and you now have this new influx. Do you think that the fall of al-Assad will, in some way, end this crisis? Or will that launch the beginning of a larger Syrian civil war?
Well, the challenge that we have with the longer this conflict goes on, the more the country will implode. And so for the first time, again, there’s talk of is there going to be a fragmentation of Syria? The breakup into different smaller states, which I think would be catastrophic and something that we would be reeling from for decades to come? But the longer it goes on, the nastier it gets, the more complicated it gets. But at the same time, anybody who’s saying that Bashar’s regime has got weeks to live, really doesn’t know the reality on the ground. They still have capability. So I give them a strong showing, at least for the first half of 2013.
Why is it that the army has not gone to al-Assad and said, you have to leave? In other words, there’s been relatively little defection at that highest level. Help us understand what the dynamic is that keeps the regime together.
Well, the regime was based on Alawite leadership that gives this a lot of its strength. And, again, part of the problem is with some of the minorities, especially if you look at the Christians and the Druze. Part of the issue that we’ve been tackling over the past several plus years and a half is seeing this influx of radical fighters coming into the country. So if you’re a Druze or you’re a Christian, who is sitting on the side of the fence…and even certain Alawites are not happy with the way Bashar is dictating the future of his country. But the other alternative, radical Islamist groups coming…is more frightening. So I think that’s what’s kept them on the sidelines.
By Julien Barnes-Dacey, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Julien Barnes-Dacey is a senior policy fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations. The views expressed are his own.
Last week's parliamentary elections in Jordan have been widely hailed as a success. Domestic and international observers have praised the integrity of the vote and the turnout figure of 56.5 percent has been taken, by some, as a popular endorsement of King Abdullah’s reform track. The Royal Palace is likely enjoying a moment of renewed confidence following a difficult year, particularly as fears about the spread of instability from Syria are also dampening opposition activism. Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the King hailed a “wonderful election outcome.”
Yet while the general integrity of the electoral process was a positive improvement on past elections, in and of itself, the vote may not actually mean that much. Following two years of low level – but nationwide – protests provoked by a lack of substantial political reform or the tackling of state corruption, the country remains in a precarious position. Much will now depend on the King’s willingness to push through bolder measures aimed at cementing a more inclusive order if further unrest is to be avoided.