Saturday, December 14, 2013

Syria: Citizenship in the Midst of Chaos

Ongoing discussions about the crisis in Syria are nestled in the ugly confines of sectarianism.  Despite the very human suffering and crimes against humanity committed in Homs, Aleppo, Malula, and Adra, which have not spared any ethnicity or religious domination, yet the default trend in political discussions are the criminal categorizations of citizens by their factional identity. Unintentionally, this trend among intelligent people echoes the practical mentality of the criminals and terrorist who diminish the whole of a person to fit the simplifications of a demented ideology.

When the Islamists entered Adra few days ago, a city housing factory workers initially but has received and is housing refugees from neighboring cities, they targeted and sorted out families, mothers, fathers and children through their religious sects. What these families have suffered for two and a half years did not matter, what mattered was the preconceived ugly notion of eliminating the "other".  The "other" is not only used to justify the slaughter but to establish a political agenda for Jabhat Nusra, ISIS, and newly formed alJabha al Islamia. 

It is a continued travesty that the discussions on Syria echo and reenforce the criminal sectarian mentality, and repackage it to be palatable around dinner tables or at higher level committee meetings.

The criminal oversimplification should not find its way into the discussion among solution-seekers for the Syrian crisis. Syria needs to be aware of the shortsightedness and long term weaknesses imbedded in a sectarian solution. Syrian citizens is what Syrians are, nothing less. Lebanon which tried to emerge from the factional infighting during the Lebanese civil war through a factional constitution is still suffering.

While forming a coalition between the Syrian government and the inside opposition to unite against the terrorist groups could set Syria on the road of deliverance, there is no doubt that factional crimes are rampant. Pushing back against the criminal sectarian categorization of citizens is a political and educational endeavor to be started as soon as possible.

What intellectuals owe themselves is not to muddy their truth-seeking mentality with criminal simplifications, which consistently justify certain solutions on sectarian considerations. This is a slippery slope with no end in Syria, the land of ethnic and religious diversity.

What Syrians owe Syria، after all the lessons have passed، is to anchor the meaning of citizenship in the hearts, and uphold the love of country above any ethnic or religious affiliation.

سوريا حبيبتي...الحرية و الكرامة

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Iran's Political Capital and the Pursuit of Resolutions

Mohammad Javad Zarif's real mission has just begun. Iran's foreign minister who successfully spear headed Iran's team during the Geneva negotiations that resulted in an initial six month deal, has his work cut out for him. 

Iran acquired considerable political capital after the successful nuclear deal was signed by the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany with Iran. Partial sanctions were lifted, corporations are looking to invest in Iran, Iran's auto industry will receive a significant boost, and 5% enrichment will continue.This diplomatic breakthrough shifted Iran's standing from isolated and sanctioned into an emerging state with considerable domestic industry and international clout. 

While Iran's diplomatic and economic relations with Pakistan and Iraq have been in good standing for more than ten years, Iran's relations with Saudi Arabia have not. Both states clashed over and in Syria. A dialogue between Iran and Saudi Arabia seems to be a prerequisite before a deal can be reached in the Syrian crisis. The Iranians are heading in that direction by smoothing out relations with Turkey and Egypt in the interim.

The question is how can Iran incorporate its new regional and international political capital to resolve regional files? Iran's role in working on expanding its efforts towards a resolution in the Syrian crisis will help  Iran reposition it as cooperative and solution oriented, rather than the conventional Gulf states perception of Iran as a provocateur.

Foreign minister Zarif has many regional diplomatic trips ahead of him, not that the burden of proving good intentions is solely on Iran, but rather it is a mission of a skilled statesman to invest the acquired political capital where it will bear the most fruit in the long run. The long term strategy is to solidify Iran's new standing with a proactive diplomacy that reaches out of its comfort zone to warm up cold relations.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Iran's Nuclear Deal and Political Independance

When Israel's prime minister Netanyahu called Iran's Nuclear deal with western powers a historical mistake, and when U.S., EU, Iran, UAE and others called it a historical success, both would be correct in that the deal is unprecedented and historical.

The way this deal came to fruition is a marker of our new multi-polar international order, and it translated effectively the U.S.'s transitional position from hegemony. 

The transition to a multi-polar system allows disgruntled states, such as Iran, the political opportunity to assert their rights. Iran has been calling its right to have peaceful nuclear capability, according to international law and the NPT convention, as its "Haq". Iran has achieved that Haq, and the international community legitimized Iran's nuclear program. Far from Iran becoming a U.S. partner or ally, this deal paved the way for much needed cooperation between the U.S. and Iran on crucial regional files, such as Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen. In the larger context, expanding U.S.'s partnerships in the region against terrorism, the strategic priority, is of mutual interest to both U.S. and its allies and Iran and its allies.

This deal also signified the success of negotiation, and finding grounds for mutual interests, preceded by accepting the opponent as an equal... A far cry from the archaic and failed carrot and stick mentality.

The nuclear deal signifies the possibility of the long sought after Political Independence in the region. Ever since Pakistan's Zulfikar Ali Bhutto declared in 1978 that the Islamic civilization will also possess nuclear arsenal, in order to not be subject to blackmail, the underlying current to strive for greater political independence and attaining regional power is getting stronger in the Middle East. Iran proved that resisting the subordination of policy to U.S. and western interests is possible. Egypt under al Sissi is taking note and so is Iraq. 

Autonomous policy making and resisting subordination to the west does not translate to becoming an enemy of the U.S. and the west, quiet to the contrary. It is a blunt political stance that implies the need to being treated as an equal, and recognized as having legitimate national interests. For these states coordination and cooperation are the preferred courses of action with great powers. Because only through cooperation and coordination with great powers can these states recognize and legitimize their statues as equals. From a strategic stance; accounting for the U.S.'s proactive management of the historic transition to a multi-polar system, this initial/6 month Nuclear deal qualifies for a win/win statues.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Syria: Rising from the Ashes of the Arab Spring

In the past three years, Tunis, Egypt, Yemen and Libya experienced the Arab Spring triology of uprising, regime change and political stagnation marred with instability and terrorism. The Syrian crisis is closer to one long episode of political and ideological rivalry concerning the future identity of Syria, carried out through a history making carnage. 

What the Syrian crisis has revealed, although not for the first time, is that the Syrian opposition does not understand politics, coalition making, or what negotiations are meant to deliver. The illogical stubbornness of demanding US military intervention, and the failure to come up with plan B other than insisting on depleting every last drop of Syrian lives, treasure and dignity, is a symptom of intellectual and moral deficiency. 

On a practical level, the Syrian opposition, as in the SNC, is still not capable of negotiating a common thread linking all the outside opposition factions, from the leftist to the Islamists. If they are not capable of producing a united group to represent the SNC at Geneva 2, how can we expect them to find common ground with the Syrian Coordination Committee (inside opposition), let alone finding common ground with government representatives?

Well the answer came today from the SNC as they opted against attending Geneva 2. Their insistence on Bashar alAssad ouster before attending Geneva 2 is just a thin veil covering their internal turmoil.

Whether the SNC attends Geneva 2 or not, there are other opposition groups with real on the ground connections to Syria and Syrians; groups committed to putting an end to the crisis, start the rebuilding efforts, and fight the terrorist groups that have spread across Syria.

The international dynamics, after the chemical weapons agreement with the Syrian government, which actively re-legitimized the Syrian government internationally, and the subsequent regional maneuver of Turkey, Iran,Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are reactions to a critical threshold reached by the Syrian government.

1- There is an international consensus that president Bashar al Asad will complete his presidential term until June 2014.
2- The Syrian military is gaining ground, not just in the Damascus suburbs, but also up north near Aleppo. The infighting amongst the Islamists  militia is increasing.  
3-Qatar has played a critical role recently in freeing the nine Lebanese hostages (kidnapped for more than a year) , sending a message of reproachmant to the Syrian government.
4-Turkey has announced that it is actively combating the presence of ISIS and Nusra Front in the north, and no longer allowing the boarder infiltration of weapons and militants.
5- Jordan has sent messages that it is supporting the efforts of fighting terrorism and combating the terrorist groups active in Syria. 
6- Saudi Arabia is slowly adjusting, with some diplomatic fanfare,  to the realities of US-Iranian dialogue and to the increased US support for the Maliki government.   
7-Iran emerged more powerful after the democratic elections which ushered Rohani's presidency that started with a proactive diplomacy towards both US and Saudi Arabia.
8-Egypt, and the counterrevolution of June 30th hastened the departure of the Muslim brotherhood from Arab politics, not just in Egypt. 

The geopolitical developments of the region are not in the SNC's favor, considering that some SNC members still insist that the ISIS and Nusra are fighting for freedom, and that deserting them is deserting the Syrian revolution. 

It is quiet possible that the SNC lacks organizational flexibility to adjust to the facts on the ground. One possibility is that we might see the dissolution of the SNC  and the emergence of individuals from the outside opposition, which later merge with an opposition representative group comprised of the Syrian Coordination Committee and Kurdish representatives. 

The Syrian developments influenced US, Russian and EU diplomacy, and changed the dynamics between regional states. What is clear by now is that the final straw that broke the Arab Spring was delivered in Syria. The ashes of the Arab Spring are most visible through the daily violence and bombings  of al Qaeda affiliated groups in Libya, Sinai,Tunis, Yemen and Syria.

The fallout of the Syrian crisis is slowly merging past adversaries on mutual interest grounds. US and Iran, Turkey and Iran, Egypt, Syria and the Arab states interests are slowly converging and redirecting the compus of the region towards the most pressing security issue of our time, and that is terrorism. 

سوريا حبيبتي...الحرية و الكرامة

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A U.S. Military Strike on Syria: Dead Wrong

It is quite baffling to hear advocates of a military strike on Syria talk about how it would serve America's national interests.With thousands of al Qaeda militants permeating the northern and eastern parts of Syria, and more militias declaring loyalty to al Baghdadi and al Jolani in the southern districts, escalating the chaos that would lead to state collapse is hardly a reasonable option. 

Reshuffling the cards on the ground with a military strike might have served as a tactical advantage for the Syrian opposition early on in the crisis. But certainly not now after two and a half years of mutual destruction between the armed forces and the rebels, countless acts against humanity, millions of displaced people, and vast lawless regions saturated with weapons and black markets for arms and chemical weapons.

The intention of defending an international norm, that is the ban of use of chemical weapons, can not be served by the proposed military strike. The United States must support the UN investigation into the various incidences of chemical attacks that occurred in Syria, and use its coercive diplomacy and political clout to uphold the perpetrators accountable in International courts. Agreements to send experts to work on controlling and securing the chemical stockpiles in Syria could be worked out with the future Syrian coalition government. This is the only approach that would serve the United States' credibility and interests in that part of the world.

In addition to the political obstacles facing the build up of an international coalition to support such an attack, the Obama administration is risking abandoning its "corrective" stance in US Foreign Policy. After years of promoting a foreign policy approach that differed with the Bush administration's take on international issues, the Obama administration is being influenced by Syrian Chalabies. The neo-Chalabies, who are abusing America's support for human rights  principles for their own political advantage, do not have any control over the various armed militias or al Qadeda fighters on the ground. They will pragmatically adjust and abandon their "pro American" stance, once the reality of the factional infighting in Syria kicks in. By that time however, if the United States chose to strike, it would have been morally implicated in the civil war and its outcome, and entrapped by the hideous dishonor of commitments that plagues Middle East politics. 

The United States military might must not be tainted by the Syrian civil war. The United States has a moral obligation to support efforts to bring both sides to the negotiation table. Years of civil war in Lebanon and the ten year civil war in Algeria did only end through a negotiated settlement, with both sides at the table.

The severe humanitarian and security crisis in Syria calls for an end to armed confrontation, not an escalation.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

أبرياء الحرب العبثية

لم أكن أتصور أن يجتمع هول و بشاعة مجزرتي حلبجة و سربنتشا في مكان واحد . مكان تكسرت فيه الطفولة و ضحكات الجيران. مكان آثر السكون من بشاعة مشاهد الموت.

 شهدت الغوطة على عبثية العنف و الاستهانة بأرواح الناس.شهدت كما مدن  سورية كثيرة كخان العسل، الحولة، ادلب و ريف اللاذقية، على أن ما أمكن تمريره و تبريره من قبل آلة الحرب على أنه "ثمن" التحرير، لهو صادر عن هياكل على شكل إنسان.. هياكل بلا ضمير..هياكل لاتعني لها لغة العمل على إنهاء العنف و حفظ الأرواح شيء.هياكل تفضل الغرق في وحل العمل العسكري كي لا تضطر للتفاوض و تقديم تنازلات لحفظ البلد و أرواح الناس

 عندما كانت القذائف الآثمة تدمر و تدمي و تميت في أنحاء سوريا، كان بعض الناجين قادرا على لملمة ما يمكن إنقاذه .أما في الغوطة فالسكون و الشحوب الذي جلل الضحايا شاهد على ان خيار نفض غبار الهجوم كان مستحيل، أن خيار الإسعاف كان مستحيل...حتى الناجين لم يكن بإمكانهم ممارسة انسانيتهم و التخفيف عن من تخنقه الغازات السامة

اصبع أصغر طفل توفي أو جرح أو تألم في هذا الصراع أشرف و أطهر من أكبر رأس سياسي سوري متعنت من الطرفين

يجب تقديم الجهة المسؤولة عن الهجوم الكيميائي للمحكمة الدولية... يجب تقديم كل من مارس جرائم ضد الإنسانية للعدالة

ترابك يا سوريا حضن كتير من ولادو..بيكفي ...  

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Libya, Egypt and Syria: The Common Thread

After popular uprisings erupted in Sidi Buzaid in Tunisia, in 2010, and spread to Egypt, Libya and Syria, the common feature, after two years, between these three countries is not transition to democracy. It is rather the spread of terrorism. The vacuum in leadership and instability manifested a fertile environment that expanded al Qaeda operations in the Middle East.

Al-Qaeda, and its affiliates, established, for the first time, permanent bases in Libya, in Sinai Egypt and in Syria. These three bases work as strategic hubs for attracting jihadists from three continents: Africa, Asia and Europe. These three hubs, extend al Qaeda operations in northern Africa, Sinai, and provide a logistical extension to the Islamic state of Iraq.

There is not one catalyst to this security failure. Yes, there are ethnic and religious grievances that have not been settled in the Middle East. Yes, transition to democracy is messy and will take a long time, since it strives to overcome the old entrenched authoritarian order. Yes, the United States was well intentioned in its intervention in Libya, supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and refusing dialogue with al Assad in Syria.Yes, the U.S. could not have sided with Qaddafi, Mubarak or al Assad against the people in these countries.

Yet none of these readily available talking points explain the lapse in judgement and miscalculation that bolstered al Qaeda operations. In Libya, the U.S. supported the Islamic fighters that have helped overthrow Qaddafi and then denied them any role in government. The importance given to establishing a secular government in Libya, isolated and sidelined the fighters who formed militias, and in turn attacked U.S. and Libyan establishments.

The U.S. polished the image of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in 2011, with countless media appearances, PR campaigns in academic, think tank and political circles. After a year in office, the U.S. had to contend with the utter failure of the Muslim Brotherhood in governing, and subsequent popular ousting of president Mursi in 2013, that was confirmed by a military coup. Meanwhile, Islamists fighters and jihadists that have been pardoned by Mursi, are regrouping in Sinai. Increasingly, the Islamists in Egypt are converging with their likes in the region, who are not equipped to incorporate compromise and negotiations as political tools.  

In Syria, the United States refused any negotiations with the Syrian government, a stance shared by the Syrian opposition residing outside of Syria. In turn, the bloody confrontation called upon willing fighters, funds, and weapons that have flooded the country for two years. Two sides have been on a quest for mutual senseless destruction. Meanwhile, eighty thousand foreign Islamists fighters, with money and weapons, are working on their own agenda in Syria.

The U.S. was in dire need to regain its stance as an international leader in the Middle East after the troop withdrawal from Iraq in 2011. Instead the United States has bleed credibility in 2011 and 2012, undermined its national interests, and threatened the security of its allies in the region. 

When state secretary Kerry took over these files, with input by the Department of Defense, the corrective shift in American foreign policy in 2013 started to show.

Negotiation between representative of the Syrian government and Syrian opposition is prioritized over other solutions in the Syrian case. Fighting terrorism is on the agenda during U.S. discussions with Syrian opposition groups. In Egypt, the strong military ties between the U.S. and Egyptian military helped adjust U.S. policy.  The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood failure in governing, and subsequent ousting, is seen as a strategic loss for them as an organization, and it increased skepticism regarding the competence of political Islam to provide solutions to social, economic and political problems. 

In Libya, considerable steps are taken to adjust the composition of the Libyan government to accommodate representatives of the fighters who overthrew Qaddafi.

In these three countries, the United States is on a quest to solicit cooperation and partnerships to combat terrorism, and prepare for slower more calculated steps towards more equitable forms of government, lead by Libyans, Egyptians and Syrians. 

I hope that the Syrian opposition, SNC, is adjusting and preparing for direct negotiations without conditions, to end the bloodshed and spare Syria total collapse. 

سوريا حبيبتي ...الحرية و الكرامة

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Syrian Opposition and Geneva 2

A truth became evident when a Iraqi tribal leader, in Anbar province, heading the demonstrations against Maliki government, refused to repeat the "Syrian scenario" in Iraq. The same sentiment was repeated by opposition leaders in Huwija, near Kirkuk (100 km north of Baghdad). After all Iraq has been through since 2003, yet what unfolded in Syria in the past two years stood out as a story... a story to be told, but never repeated. 

Now there is a "Syrian scenario" that is feared and must be avoided by governments and opposition groups alike in neighboring countries. Governments and opposition groups throughout the Middle East just witnessed in Syria the upper bound of a national crisis. More than 100,000 dead, 1.4 million externally displaced people, more that 5 million internally displaced. Cities, villages, and communities throughout Syria deemed unrecognizable. The sons of Syria are killing each other with support of complicit foreigners.

Syria became the worst case scenario imagined from a government security standpoint, and from an opposition's political gain perspective. 

The futility of a military solution in this crisis was evident since last year, hence the call of the International community headed by Moscow, for both sides to meet at the Geneva convention in June 2012. The idea of negotiating with the Syrian government was rejected by various opposition groups. While Moscow and Iran were fully committed to the path of negotiation from the beginning, the US and it's Arab allies were not. The Syrian opposition, represented by the Syrian National Council turned to the militarization path, as the only option to topple the regime. 

The Syrian opposition (SNC)'s calls for arms, US and NATO military intervention, and no fly zones, increased between June 2012 and April 2013. On two occasions, the EU refused to lift the arms embargo put on the opposition. Since June 2012, additional 50,000 Syrians died, 800,000 Syrians left the country and more than 10 million Syrians are living at the poverty threshold (1$/day). 

New calls to a second Geneva Peace convention, to be held in June/July, are garnering support from the international community. 

This time however State Secretary Kerry's diplomatic consultation, in the last couple of months, has converged the U.S. position with that of Russia, China, Germany and other EU countries.  Finding a political solution through negotiation between Syrian government representatives, and opposition representatives, via the Geneva plan, is seen as the only viable option... it always was.

The only difference this time, compared to June 2012, is that the Syrian government is at a significant advantage, for the following reasons: 

1- The international community has recognized the threat of radicalized armed groups in Syria, such as Annusra Front, along with other 27 groups. The FSA lacks arms and refused an infighting with the Islamist groups. The job of fighting the Islamist groups has been left in the hands of the Syrian Army. That aspect of the Syrian military operations is supported by the International community.

2- The International community has been consistently averse to military intervention in Syria. NATO command does not consider military air strikes, or no fly zones . Supplying Arms to the rebels have also been discounted, in fear that it will reach the most organized among the rebels, namely the radical Islamists.

3- The Syrian army made strategic advancements on the grounds in the past two months, especially in alQussair near Homs, in Daraia near Damascus, and in Ghuta Sharqia. The logistics and supply routs of the militants have been severely damaged. 

4- The political infighting, and mistrust among SNC members, have damaged their reputation as effective future statesmen. Many individuals are well intentioned and working towards a solution to the crisis. Yet many others are there to serve their own agenda, with disregard to the unprecedented humanitarian devastation reached in Syria. 

5- Qatar who supported the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood stance within the Syrian National Coalition has taken a back seat recently in the Syrian crisis. Saudi Arabia is taking a bigger role along with Iran, Egypt and Russia. 

6- The recent rapprochement between Egypt and Iran (also Jordan and Iran) have further bolstered "Direct Negotiation" as the only option to gradually resolve the crisis in Syria. 

My hope is that talks about a transitional government, and transitional justice will replace the news stream of devastation, death and destruction of Syria in the coming months.

سوريا حبيبتي.. الحرية و الكرامة


Saturday, February 2, 2013

Syria: The Case for Direct Negotiations


Since March 2011, demonstrators in towns of Dar’a and Homs voiced their longing for freedom, dignity, and justice.  Syrians across the country, who took to the streets to demand change, also voiced their awareness of the diversity of Syrian society, hence the famous chant of “One, one, one, the Syrian people are one”.  

The initial momentum of the uprising morphed into a crisis over time, resembling a civil war.  Sectarianism seeped into the fore; communities and people were targeted based on their ethnicity and religious sect. Which in a country like Syria is a recipe for self-annihilation. The full capability of the Syrian army was launching on all out assault on armed groups, which did not spare innocent communities from its wrath. Two years of mutual destruction fueled and prolonged by regional and international power tug, resulted in more that 60,000 dead, and millions displaced internally and externally. Towns and villages across Syria deemed unrecognizable. 

Neither side, the predominantly Islamists armed groups and the Syrian military, are able to assert control and restore stability.  Prolonged attrition warfare even if it resulted in a pyrrhic victory would not serve the political cause of either side. In short, it is a lose/lose situation, and the cost in lives and infrastructure are much too great.  The urgent reason to start direct negotiations between the two sides is to stop the blood spilling, continuous displacement of people and the senseless destruction. But that is not the only reason.

If there was one virtue in the time passed since March 2011, it would be the painful and incremental political maturing of the Syrian opposition.  It might not be a stretch to say that hundred of thousands of Syrians had to pay the price for political incompetence, fragmentation, and short sightedness. The inescapable path to negotiation was paved with delusional demands for American military intervention, demands for direct arms supply from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and the hope that Russia, China and Iran detract their support for the Syrian government.  It is a disgrace and a dishonor to everything that was sacrificed by Syrians, willingly or unwillingly, if the opposition prolongs the crisis when the writing is clearly on the wall. 

There are long-term reasons to start negotiation between the Syrian government and the Syrian opposition with minimum condition: that is to set an elite precedent that solution oriented discussions among situational adversaries is possible.  Not only possible, but that it is the only way for Syrians to coexist in a non-coercive environment, for democratic practices to be institutionalized for the benefit of larger and more diverse segments of society, and to establish the start of an inclusive national dialogue.

The social, political, and economic fabric of Syria is woven by a multi ethnic and religious daily exchange. Disenfranchised communities in Idleb, Dar’a, Raqqa and Dair al Zur can not flourish and benefit form future political reform and economic development if they are not integrated with and the benefactor of the diverse socioeconomic reality of the rest of the country.  From the time you leave your apartment in downtown Damascus to get coffee, croissant and a newspaper, you would have run into, talk to, ask for and receive from, people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds . The factory owner in Aleppo buys his material from, employs, and sells to most if not from all ethnic/religious groups in Syria.

Any attempt to institutionalize democratic practices, rehabilitate communities across the country, and start the rebuilding process, must start with a meaningful attempt at a dialogue, negotiation and compromise between the two sides at the top. Yes, between Syrians themselves.