Thursday, February 28, 2013

Yemen Struggles for Stability after Transition

            Protests spread to Yemen in 2011 in opposition to the regime of long time ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh.  The protests were met with repression, and in a context of escalating violence and external pressure, Ali Abdullah Saleh agreed to leave power in a deal brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council in 2011.  This agreement arguably averted civil war, and the Obama administration has held it to be a model for resolving Syria's civil war.  However, progress in Yemen under the new government has been painfully slow and the country remains deeply divided.

Yahya Arhab/European Pressphoto Agency

            The new president Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi was the Vice President under Saleh.  He was elected in part because he lacked an independent support base.  This allowed him to be an acceptable compromise between the old guard of Saleh's regime and the powerful tribal leaders.  As a whole, he has proven not to be a strong and decisive leader and it is rumored he fears for his life.  He has successfully removed Saleh loyalists from key positions in the military and government, but much of Saleh's old patronage network and tribal influence remains.  His lack of resolve is understandable given his limited popularity and desire to avoid a full blown civil war, but has serious consequences for the country as a whole.
             While the struggle for power continues in the capital Sana, long standing problems remain unaddressed in the rest of the country.  The Huthis, an armed group belonging to the Shiite Zaydi sect in the northwest, continue to be a problem.  A recent raid on a smuggling boat seized advanced weapons, leading to speculations that Iran is supporting them militarily.  They have had repeated clashes with Islah, Yemen's main Sunni Islamist party, which receives support from Saudi Arabia.  Some worry that Yemen could devolve into a proxy battleground between Iranian backed Shiites and Saudi backed Sunnis.

            The scenario in southern Yemen is even grimmer.  The south was rejoined with the north in the 1990s, only to be neglected by Saleh's government.  An independence movement is gaining momentum, which Hadi has struggled to placate effectively.  The Yemeni franchise of Al Qaeda has a widespread presence and considerable influence in the south, even controlling entire towns for long periods.  They have obtained support by providing services that the government has long failed to.  They continue a bloody campaign of assassinations against government figures.
            Altogether, the mediated transition in Yemen has not resulted in an improvement in its prospects.  Yemen remains painfully poor and uneducated, with a high birth rate.  The economy is in ruins and the government continues to run a deficit.  The state's capacity is severely limited by a lack of resources and internal divisions.  The transition agreement calls for a council of national dialogue in order to achieve reconciliation between all the major actors.  While this could potentially bring the disenfranchised into politics, key groups, such as the independence movement, are refusing to participate.  How this tense situation will unfold remains to be seen.

Works Cited
Kasinof, Laura. "For Yemen's New President, a Battle for Control and a Tug of War With the Past." The New York Times. The New York Times, 14 June 2012. Web. 28 Feb. 2013.
Washington., C. J. Chivers And Robert F. Worth; C. J. Chivers Reported From The United States And Robert F. Worth From. "Seizure of Antiaircraft Missiles in Yemen Raises Fears That Iran Is Arming Rebels There." The New York Times. The New York Times, 09 Feb. 2013. Web. 28 Feb. 2013.
Worth, Robert F. "Yemen, Hailed as Model, Struggles for Stability." The New York Times. The New York Times, 19 Feb. 2013. Web. 28 Feb. 2013.
"Yemen Overview." New York Times. N.p., 28 Feb. 2013. Web. 28 Feb. 2013.

Tunisia Nabs Suspects in Politician's Murder

This article, taken from a February 25th post on Al-Jazeera, was written because two arrests have been made in the murder of Tunisia’s political opposition party’s leader, Chokri Belaid, which took place on February 6th.  From what has been disclosed about the arrests, the murder consisted of a single gunman and a getaway driver.  Many Tunisians, both a part of and separate from Belaid’s political party, are following the claim made by Belaid’s family which accuses the current party in government, the Ennahda party, of plotting Belaid’s murder.  While the article does not stress this point, they bring it up with uncertainty.  I also took away that the protests that followed Belaid’s murder were not merely out of suspicion of a governmental conspiracy but rather served as an outlet for the Tunisians to show their frustration with the lack of political progress that has been made since Ben Ali’s departure back in 2011.
Although this situation has received only a little of the attention it deserves, Tunisia is in the lead of the Arab Spring countries and they are being watched to see if political success is possible.  Tunisia is in a precarious position right now.  To the Tunisian people, it’s not just about whether they accept what their government is telling them, that they had no hand in Belaid’s murder, because if they do accept this the ignition that started the new rounds of protest calling for political reform will be burnt out thus halting any new momentum they might have gained.  This would be disastrous for all of the Arab Spring countries because if the little, non-populous Tunisia cannot change their government, the rest of the Arab world will be sent a signal that change might not come.  This leaves the government scrambling to find non-disputable evidence that they were not responsible for Belaid’s murder and hoping that by doing so they will remain in control without the mass protests.
Tunisia’s current calls for a government overhaul are best described by the preference falsification model.  There was obvious mass support for the original revolution that took place in February 2011 but once elections were held and a new government took shape, the majority of people seemed complacent to watch the newly formed democracy take shape.  The government did not know how much time they had to form a working democracy but I assume they felt that they had more time than two years.  Once this murder took place, Tunisians used it as a tool to air their grievances.
The article also mentioned that the Ennahda controlled parliament had rejected the prime minister Hamadi Jebali's urge to turn the government into one of technocrats.  Jebali promptly resigned after this failure.  This was a good first step for policy makers to regain control of their constituents because it signaled that they were not planning to change the government as soon as their main opposition was out of the way.  I feel that the only way to fully end these protests is to find solid evidence that Belaid’s murder was not a governmental conspiracy.  This must be done soon so the events that took place in Tunisia in 2011, where the man set himself on fire in protest after police kicked him around, even though later it was discovered that police did not abuse him, do not happen again.  This needs to be a single issue protest that can be resolved without taking on a life of its own.
"Tunisia Nabs Suspects in Politician's Murder." Al-Jazeera. 25 Feb 2013: n. page. Web. 28 Feb. 2013. <>.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Morocco: Cosmetic democracy and unfulfilled promises

In early 2011, protests and uprisings against repressive regimes began in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia. Wildfire, pro-Democracy movements spilled into surrounding regions, engulfing the Arab world and many areas in the Middle East, spinning their world into a whirlwind of violent and non-violent revolutions. Morocco’s Arab Spring and its goals, when compared to those of Egypt or Syria, were similar, perhaps not as drastic or dramatic— but the demands of the people, as they took to Rabat’s streets in February of 2011, were just as warranted and justifiable.

Before delving into their demands, it is important to understand Morocco’s social, economic and political compositions.  Morocco’s population is roughly 33 million, mostly Arab-Berber Muslims[1]. A little over half of the population is literate (66 percent of males and 40 percent of females over the age of 15); the median age is 26 years of age and about 58 percent of Moroccans live in urbanized areas. Morocco’s economy relies heavily on agriculture, phosphate production (just world’s third-largest producer, behind the United States and China) and tourism. Morocco has taken steps to integrate itself into the global economy and welcomes foreign investment but improvements in the economy have dwindled as Morocco is met with challenges of widespread corruption and massive government spending. 

Morocco is a parliamentary constitutional monarchy. Morocco's supreme ruler is King Mohammed VI, who began his reign in 1999[2]. When he ascended the throne, he promised to address poverty and corruption, create jobs and pursue a cleaner human rights record. In 2004, he enacted a new family code, Mudawana[3], granting women more equality and power. His techniques of reform initially angered many Islamist conservatives and fundamentalists. The rise and expansion of radical Islam in Morocco caused Mohammed VI to slow his reformist pace of change, disappointing and frustrating many Moroccan citizens. Words spread of his toleration for corruption and accusations emerged of him permitting friends and advisers to amass monumental fortunes from state contracts. 

On Feb. 20, 2011, after a call to protest by young Moroccans on YouTube, students peacefully took to the streets and demanded for King Mohammed to give up some of his powers, revise the constitution to be more democratic, change the governmental structure and bring a stop to corruption. Initially, pro-democracy protesters received little opposition from police forces and the king attempted to appease their demands by agreeing to reforms that would diminish his near-absolute control. But by May of 2011, the Moroccan government cracked down violently as government troops and police forces beat peaceful demonstrators with clubs.

Despite the violence, the protesters did not retaliate and continued tactics of peaceful protest.

What differentiates the Moroccan Arab Spring from others is the protesters were not interested in pushing Mohammed out of power, like in Egypt or Libya, but instead wanted a true constitutional monarchy. Finally, in July of 2011, King Mohammed VI unveiled a reform, which would strengthen the role of the elected government, strip him of some of his powers and protect equality and civil liberties for all.

Fast-forward to 2013 and it seems the democratic changes promised by the king were purely cosmetic. Many Moroccans are questioning whether the king really gave up any power at all. While the king created a constitution that was to shift power to elected officials, he remains the head of the Council of Ministers, the Ulama Council (which runs the mosques), runs the military, security forces and intelligence services. The rights of women are still compromised and inequality exists between the sexes.

Hamida Al Filali holds a poster of her sister Amina who committed suicide last week after a six-month marriage to her rapist. She was attending a sit-in protest outside the local court in Larache that approved the marriage. (Abdelhak Senna/AFP/Getty Images)
Recently, the Moroccan government announced its plans to finally change a law that allowed rapists to avoid conviction if they married their rape victims, following the suicide of a 16-year-old girl, who wanted to escape her marriage to her rapist[4].  Despite the family code in 2004, violence against women is just one of the many issues the Moroccan government continues to avoid addressing. King Mohammed VI is safe from an overthrow, for now, but if he continues to only placate protesters and not enact the promised reforms this (coupled with issues of high unemployment and rising poverty) will just add fuel and fire to even more civil unrest.

Israel Takes Hit From Forces In Gaza

February 26, 2013

            A rocket shot from Gaza penetrates Israeli soil.  This put to rest a 3 month ceasefire agreement that had been in place between Hamas and Israel.  Even though this agreement had been trickling down Since Israeli forces had been firing upon the Palestinians.  The agreement between The Hamas, which is an Islamist group, which primarily owns the Gaza strip, and Israel began on November 21st, 2012 after Israeli operations. 
The anger between the Hamas and Israel had its biggest escalation in November when the Israeli operation attacked 177 Palestinians in which 100 were civilians (  Israel targeted many buildings in aims of hitting the Hamas.

Israel is criticized for its brutish force used against the Gaza Strip in those attacks.  This angers people and fingers get pointed at the UN for backing Israel or letting Israel settle the problem itself using as much force needed against the Gaza Strip.
Palestinians mourn death after Israel Operations (Nov 17, 2012)
(file photo) /

Hamas intentions through fighting with Israel have never been to win with military force but to make a political statement for the Palestinians of the territory.
The Hamas were involved with the rocket attack on Tuesday morning.  The Rocket landed on the border of Israel in a city called Ashkelon.  The rocket caused little damage and nobody was hurt in the action.
The Palestinian group was behind the launching of the rocket into Israel territory.  Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah took full responsibility for the attack and responded by saying it was in retaliation of a member dying in Israel’s jail.  Arafat Jaradat was the man that died under custody of the Israeli police.  He was being interrogated for throwing rocks back in November of 2012 during the operations of Israel.  The Shin Bet internal security services held him under the provision that he was a “stone-throwing terror attack” Also forensics showed that Jaradat had broken ribs and bruising indicating signs of torture.  When this made news in the West Bank it angered people, which began protests on the streets. 
Border Crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip has currently been shut down in response to the rocket attacks as the Palestinians continue to avenge their lost hero.
Tsafrir Abayov/Associated Press

Cited Sources
·      Greenberg, Joel. "Responding to prisoner’s death, Gaza militants fire rocket at Israel." The Washington Post. N.p., 26 Feb 2013. Web. 27 Feb 2013. <>.
·      Paq, Anne. "In Pictures: Gaza Strip under Israeli attack." Aljazeera. N.p., 12 Nov 2012. Web. 27 Feb 2013. <>.
·      Mohammad, Majdhi. "Conflict With Israel, November 2012." New York Times. N.p., 4 Jan 2013. Web. 27 Feb 2013. <>
·      Rudoren, Jodi. "Israel Struck by Rocket From Gaza After a Death." New York Times. N.p., 26 Feb 2013. Web. 27 Feb 2013. <>.
·      "Rocket fired from Gaza Strip hits Israel." The Telegraph. AFP, 26 Feb 2013. Web. 27 Feb 2013. <>.

More Sources on Israeli Operations in November

Video- Nov. 19, 2012 Israel bombings on the Gaza Strip

Pictures of Attacks in Gaza Nov. 19, 2012

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Avoiding Another Quagmire in Mali

In his 2012 presidential campaign, Mitt Romney warned that Mali was to be the next Afghanistan. Since fighting broke out in 2012, the United States has been reluctant in getting heavily involved in the Mali conflict fearing of making the same mistakes of the past.  However, on Friday, President Obama announced that a 100 American troops have been sent to a drone base located in Niger. The unarmed drones will be sent out to surveillance the area of Islamic militant groups to assist the French involvement in Mali. The French and African troops have had relative success in retaking a number of Mali cities since their involvement in January of this year. Despite these successful efforts, a number violent attacks and suicide bombers still have recently occurred since Friday.

French troops claim they are in their final stages of their military operations. The major question is whether or not Mali will be able to successfully reestablish its democratic government and restructure it in a way that will include the demands of the Tuareg people. Although prior to the coup d’etat, Mali was a democratic government, it still discriminated again the Taureg people and excluded them from political power. After gaining its independence from France in the 1960’s most leaders have been chosen from the Southern ethnic groups. The government was and has been neither sympathetic nor accommodating of the Taureg traditional lifestyle. According to Cederman, Wimmer, and Min, a reason why ethnic groups rebel is if they are excluded from central power. In the case of Mali, the discrimination and exclusion have led to the Taureg people struggling for independence from the Malian government and is the base cause of the current Malian conflict. The Taureg dominated group, National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) have realigned with the Mali government to fight the Islamic militants on the basis that North Mali will receive autonomy once the Islamic insurgents are pushed out of the area.
Assistant secretary for the State of Africa, Johnnie Carson says that the success of Mali depends on the return of democracy. In my opinion, it depends on not only the return of democracy, but transforming the democratic system that satisfies the needs of the Taureg ethnic group to avoid future problems to make a stronger Mali. Only then can we assure that the future of Mali will not be reliant of foreign aid and thus not become another Afghanistan.
America’s intervened in Afghanistan and Iraq without sufficient evidence. The United States became too involved under false pretenses, which resulted in a quagmire. With North Africa being the new Middle East, the United States, so far, has shown that they have somewhat learned from their mistakes. President Obama has specifically said that he will replace troops with other tactics, such as the use of drones. However, even though the United States shows to remain relatively uninvolved, the French seem to be following the immediate post 9/11 United States. The French president says that they will stay in Mali as long as necessary to expel the Islamic militants. The similarities are prevalent that do make us question if Mali will still be yet another Western world quagmire.

Hammrick, Denise. “Frances’ Military Operation in Mali in ‘Final Phase’”. BBC News. 24 Feb 2013. Web.

Schmitt, Erick. “New Drone Base in Niger Builds U.S. Presence in Africa. New York Times. 24 Feb 2013. Web.

“Heavy Casualties  in Northern Mali Fighting”. Al Jazeera. Web. 24 Feb 2013.

“Iraq to Mali: The Changing Calculus of War”. Al Jazeera. Web. 25 Feb 2013.

DB Devon. “The Crisis in Mali A Historical Perspective on the Tuareg People. Global Research. Web. 24 Feb 2013.

Cederman, Lars-Erik, Andreas Wimmer, and Brian Min. “Why Do Ethnic Groups Rebel?: New Data and Analysis”. World Politics. 62:1.  January 2010. Pages 87-119. 

Libya: Two Years Post-Revolution

In the aftermath of the Arab spring, Libya has found itself two years into it's “post-revolution” with little to show for it. After the ousting and subsequent killing of dictator Myanmar Qaddafi, who ruled for over forty years, tribalism, factionalism, and religion have made developing Libya's newly formed government institutions challenging and painful.

While the desire for a completely new government seems widespread, issues that were not debilitating under Qaddafi’s absolute rule are now proving to be roadblocks to progress. Amidst a fledgling government with minimal means of providing security and a constitution that has yet to be passed, citizens as well as observers are concerned. At the heart of the issue lies disagreements in the type of government that should be born. This is due, in large part, to tribal and regional factions worried about their respective representation in any centralized government. As a result, there has been a push to institute a more decentralized government by many who fear their interests will not be duly cared for. This sentiment is particularly strong in the eastern part of the country where 80% of the oil reserves lie. Concurrently, concerns about a centralized government are also held by tribal minorities, particularly in the ethno- African south.

The third aspect challenging a unified Libyan government is perhaps that which is of most concern to outside observers particularly in the West: conservative Islam. Religious conservatism has clashed with the left- leaning legislature worried about the protection for gender equality in a new constitution.
This issue is of great importance for The West because any amount of discontent/ destabilization in the Arab World has often been accompanied by an influx of Islamic fundamentalism both ideologically and operationally. The possibility of either a conservative Islamist government or a destabilized environment in which fundamentalist NGOs might be free to operate have been at the forefront of concern for the State Department for the past decade. The fear that Libya could turn into a situation mirroring that of Afghanistan or Somalia, where primordial tribal conflict have consistently prevented stability, is not without warrant.

While the future is uncertain, given the lack of severe violence in the two years following the initial revolution, I would expect Libya to eventually develop a stable government. The fundamentalist influence is definitely a concern, however the moderate views of the population, combined with the time passed since the revolution, make it hard for me to see a theocratic government developing similar to Iran's. What is probably of more concern to stability is the issue of primordialism. The tribal/ regional tensions will be challenging to overcome; they have been suppressed under the iron fist of Qaddafi for over forty years and are only now beginning to sort themselves out. While this is of concern, the fact remains that the majority of the population is still Arab and Muslim. Therefore, I would expect a stable government to emerge, however not necessarily in a smooth or expedient manner.

Monday, February 25, 2013

A State in Chaos

Two years after their initial protest, the Bahraini people have taken to the streets once more. As expected, they were met with a firm resistance from the government.  Again, Bahrain is in the midst of civil unrest, political violence and an unclear future ahead of them.Why are these protests happening? What do the protestors wish to get out of these demonstrations? Well, the Shiite Muslim majority feels although they have been discriminated against in terms of employment and pure inequality.  The corruption and unjust ruling of the Monarchy has gone on too long and the people of Bahrain are demanding a real change.  They are asking for a constitutional reform in form of a legitimate democracy with equal representation, naturalization and an end to the corruption. This second major revolt is important to look at because it displays many of the theories behind a civil conflict. There is a clear ethnic divide where one ethnic group, the Sunnis, is oppressing another, the Shiite. Through this oppression, the Shiites are excluded from participating in ruling the country even though they have a 60% majority of the countries population. Furthermore, there was a previous conflict in 2011.  All of these dynamics of the country enhance the probability of rebellion, and as we have seen another major civil conflict is occurring.
The results of the 2013 anniversary protests are similar to the results of 2011. Major clashes between the opposition parties and the security forces have the streets of Bahrain in chaos. Again, due to Saudi Arabia’s interest in the region, they have stepped in to reinforce the Monarchy’s power.  It has become clear that protests, peaceful or violent, is not working in Bahrain as it did for other nations. An alternative strategy needs to take place for the betterment of both sides.

Although it seems unlikely, negotiations between opposing sides needs to occur. “Sensible people in Bahrain know that the only way out of this is negotiation.” A national dialog has begun, with the goals needing to be a more power sharing system. This dialog has yet to be proven effective, but only time will tell if Bahrain takes the necessary steps to lead it’s country out of turmoil.

"BBC News - Bahrain negotiations 'only way forward'." BBC - Homepage. 12 Feb. 2013. Web. 26 Feb. 2013. <>.

Khalifa, Reem. "Clashes Mark Bahrain's Second Uprising Anniversary - ABC News." - Breaking News, Latest News & Top Video News - ABC News. N.p., 14 Feb. 2013. Web. 26 Feb. 2013. <>.