Monday, February 21, 2011

The Arab World in Turmoil-The Doha Debates Chez Chiara

Things are moving very fast across MENA countries, both those directly experiencing anti-government demonstrations and those worried about the same, or the implications of events for the region. I have a number of posts in preparation addressing issues which have been raised here, and the more recent clashes.

However, I thought it would be a good time to pause to look at underlying issues in a bit more depth, particularly as the Western press is becoming more reductionistic (it's all about jobs!), amalgamating distinct situations (everything is/is not Iran/Israel/the US), and focusing more and more on oil prices.

There was a recent special Doha Debate to address "Turmoil in the Arab World" (hence the title of this post). The full information for that debate is not yet available online. When it is I will do a usual post of it for debate here. In the meantime, I thought the press release was worth noting, both for the synopsis, and the debatable issues it raises.

The Doha Debates also elicited commentary on the situation from previous speakers and put them together in a slide show. I have copied them out in full below, as it is hard to predict what may be most interesting to readers and why. Of course one is free to pick and choose, skip and skim. I found that ultimately each in its own way was of value, eg. David Frum's confirms his vapid pro-forma approach, though adding nothing of substance. Some are very substantive and well worth the full read (including the links in one case); others are a precise summary of issues and concerns; still others are personal testimonies of an almost lyrical nature.

Hence, the press release of the special debate on current events in the Middle East follows, then the 27 commentaries that are part of the Doha Debates feature on "Turmoil in the Arab World". Two other Doha Debates which  address essential concerns, and presciently, in the fall of 2010 will follow shortly. The Doha Debates category (DohaDebates) on the side bar has an introduction to the debates and to the format here, as well as a number of related debates here on specific countries and themes.

Turmoil in the Arab World-Special Debate--Press Release

An audience at a special Doha Debates public forum was told on Tuesday, February 8, that the revolution in Tunisia was not a media revolution, but rather a revolution in the media age.

"Media is not an institution but a force. A revolution is driven by people out on the streets campaigning and pushing for their rights; the media supports this process but does not drive it," Dr. Mohamed Zayani, Associate Professor of Critical Theory at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar, said.

Dr. Zayani and Rachid Khechana, the Head of North Africa for the Al Jazeera Network, spoke about the role of social media in the region's recent political upheaval and how technological advances will shape the future of events in Egypt and other Arab nations.

Dr Zayani argued that other factors such as politics and history were significant in the overthrow of the Ben Ali regime and that the role of the media is evolving with the advent of new technologies.

Mr. Khechana told the audience that Tunisian bloggers and online activists had developed an expertise due to their experience evading and dodging censorship under Ben Ali and that these lessons could be shared with protestors in Cairo and in other parts of the world. When asked what the future of media in the Arab world might look like, he responded by saying, "better than it has been in the past.

“I am hopeful and positive about the impact that new media can have on political reform. But we should not forgot the role that TV stations and newspapers continue to play", he added.

During the question and answer part of the evening students and members of the public questioned the speakers, both Tunisians and media experts, on the nature of the new online leadership and its ability to deliver in the political sphere. Questions were also asked about the possibility of revolution or revolt spreading to other Arab countries and what factors led to the uprisings in Tunisian and Egypt.

The session was held at Carnegie Mellon University, Education City, and was attended by more than 60 students and members of the community. The event was the second of its kind to be organised by The Doha Debates.

Turmoil in the Arab World--Commentaries

With protests taking place in several countries, including Egypt, following the fall of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali's regime in Tunisia, The Doha Debates will provide analysis of events as they unfold in the Arab world.

Former Doha Debates speakers share their views on the protests and the implications for the region and a background brief provides information on events in Egypt. Open public forums are being held in Qatar to provide students and the general public access to expert opinion.

Former British Ambassador to Iran,

The Egyptian army fears anarchy more than anything and has decided that its integrity as the protector of the state and the people is the most important single issue at present. They don't trust all their recruits and junior officers to obey orders to shoot on demonstrators, so they want to avoid any such outcome. Rather than take such a risk, they are seeking to manage the political and public order situation: that means acquiescing in expressions of popular feeling that they cannot prevent, such as today's huge demonstrations, while preventing looting. The army took a big step in acknowledging the legitimacy of popular demands, as they did in their 31 January statement.

The army won't jettison Mubarak yet: that is a card to play in the cross-party negotiations that will shortly begin. He will go, but timing is not yet decided. The government and army are seriously worried by the economic fall-out of the crisis: eg: the suspension of normal economic activity and collapse of day-to-day business leading to hardship, fears of collapse in foreign investor confidence and of the tourist trade: they must secure greater calm in the streets to preserve the economic basis of the state. Bloodshed in the streets is the worst scenario. Allowing political activity in the streets alongside the resumption of daily life is a much better one.

Former special assistant to President George W. Bush

At this moment of change for the Arab world, The Doha Debates represents a vision of the possible: discussion that is responsible, informed, and free.

Independent Diplomat
The message from the international community, particularly Egypt's allies, needs to be emphatic and clear: the Mubarak government should resign now, and there must immediate fresh elections - but this time free and fair. It is a pity, if not to say a disgrace, that in all the international reaction, this message has not been clearer.

Iraqi diplomat

The unfolding events in the north of Africa has astonished a lot of people but let us analyse the situation in Egypt, it has been simmering for a long time.

The facts :

· the population are 80 million and growing at a rate of 2 million a year .

· very high unemployment with no hope for the new graduates.

· one million lives in almukatam cemetary in Cairo.

· the government is semi dictatorship for 30 years with a very strong intention of handing the power to the son, this is a new (republican monarchy).

· the USA has been investing with billions of aids (waiting and advising) for reforms, greater liberty and freedom.

· heavy handed security apparatus .


There must be a time table for reforms:

· a transitional or a care taker government.

· free elections under a the watchdog of the UN.

· a new regional and global foreign policy.

Deputy Chairman
The Kanoo Group

It is a great time to be in the Arab world. Finally it is breathing again. What happened in Tunis and maybe in Egypt will be a positive catalyst for change. The sad thing might be that the rulers of some Arab countries will look at it quite negatively. Instead, this is a chance for them to follow the lead of an old Bedouin. Sheikh Zayed was a leader that his people and all those who lived on this land including the foreigners loved him not because they feared him. They loved him because he cared about them and set his goal on enriching as many of them as possible. True we can never have real parity no matter what but it was because the people who live on this soil understood, no matter what his faults were, he genuinely tried to better all of their lives. The only benefit of a revolution is temporary freedom. It is evolution that comes out of the revolution that sustains anything good. Revolution is a hungry monster that often feeds on its own children. The people will be jubilant once the dictator is gone. But the stump where the head is lopped off if not properly blamed, like a hydra many small heads will pop up and they can all be ravenous.

Georgetown University

Everyone supports the people of Egypt in their struggle for dignity and freedom. I would wager that Mubarak will vanish from the scene very shortly. However, I am skeptical that much will change. The military will guarantee the peace and of course future free elections. Even if they happen, the economic pressures on the people will not vanish for many years and capital will fly out. I fear that the day-to-day situation of the people may not improve greatly, and in fact even suffer in the short run. The main immediate change will be that people will be able to stand tall and be proud of their success. Unfortunately, in my opinion, it will take one hundred years for the system to truly digest the change. We have to remember that it took over 100 years and considerable violence in various episodes for the French revolution to actually make an impact on society.

Canadian author and activist

I fully support the Egyptian people's struggle to oust a 30 year old dictatorial regime and hope that their aspirations to achieve true democracy will be realized in full. Though fears abound as to who might fill the power vacuum, it is nonetheless essential to hope that a democratically elected Egyptian government will facilitate in developing strong political institutions, ensure civil liberties, guarantee equal rights to women and religious minorities and develop measures to achieve economic prosperity for its citizens. At present two major forces appear to be vying for control over Egypt's destiny. The secular democrats led by Mohammad ElBaradei and the Muslim Brotherhood are both striving to seize the political opportunity. While it is entirely up to the Egyptian people to elect their own leaders, it is my sincere hope that they will recognize the threats posed by Islamist regimes. Their human rights record remains abysmal. Wherever Sharia law has been implemented such as in Pakistan and Iran, the weakest and most marginalized have suffered the most. Women and minorities remain beleaguered under such regimes. The Egyptian people will be well advised to repudiate Islamist factions and ensure that one type of repression does not come to be replaced by another.

Detroit's Islamic Center of America

We salute the Egyptian nation and their quest for freedom. Their heroic acts during the last several days have demonstrated their powerful determination and absolute rejection of tyranny and dictatorship. We are confident that their sacrifices will yield an unparalleled victory. Egypt, 'The Mother of the World,' will resume its historic leadership position as the throbbing heart of the Arab world.

Former head
Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence

A few years back, when a countrywide movement in Pakistan led to General Musharraf's ouster from power, and restoration of a large component of superior judiciary dismissed by him, many of our Arab friends were very impressed. "You have a vibrant civil society, but in the Arab World it is practically dead" was how one of them gave vent to his frustration. Well, the shoe is now on the other foot. These days, the question most frequently asked over here is: would this "westerly wave", which erupted in Tunisia, has engulfed Egypt and unnerved many despots in the Middle East, ever reach Pakistan to shake us out of the current limbo?"

While it is true that the state of affairs in Pakistan causes much concern and a radical, if not a revolutionary, change is the popular desire, but then there are also important differences. The ruling regime, though performing poorly, came to power through polls generally accepted as fair, and the media is genuinely free. Along with an efficient unofficial sector that provides gainful employment to a large segment of the population, these factors have so far forestalled a popular uprising. All the same the present slide, if it continues or incidents like Governor Salman Taseer's murder and killing of three Pakistanis in Lahore may well lead to massive unrest. We will then witness some remarkable similarities between the reactions and responses with those already experienced in Tunis and Cairo.

Change in status quo, chaos, loss of "friendly" regimes, or takeover by "hostile" forces, have in any case been some of the common concerns, within and outside the three countries. The best organised groups or institutions can obviously exploit the situation better, to their or to the country' advantage. Armed Forces and groups like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the religious right in Pakistan are thus the natural power brokers. If pitched against each other, it would lead to civil war. Collaboration amongst them on the other hand, though desirable in many ways, would prevent the real change.

In Tunisia, the Armed Forces have nearly succeeded in ensuring a peaceful transition. In Egypt too they are well positioned to do so. If confronted with a similar situation, the Pakistani Military would find it much harder, but reaching out to at least some of the militant groups would be its best bet.

Georgetown Professor

Regime Change—Baghdad, Cairo, Tehran, and Tunis (3 February 2011)

Like Humpty Dumpty, when dictatorships fall, the landing is often so hard that all the king’s men cannot put the regimes back together again. Just as every war must end, moreover, all dictatorships must fall. The issues are when, how, and whether the landing will be hard or soft. Timing is more difficult to predict than how they fall and whether the landing will be hard or soft. When the people change a regime, as the case of Tunisia, its downfall took about a month.

When external militaries change a regime, as in the March 2003 takedown of Saddam Hussein, the fall was also about a month, but the landing harder because of the occupation of Iraq. But when internal forces change a regime, as in the case of the July 1958 coup in Iraq and September 1969 “bloodless” coup in Libya, the fall comes swiftly and the landing is often softer.

In the aftermath of the 2003 Iraq War, the term “regime change” suggested taking down a government by invading military forces. The short successful U.S. invasion of Iraq produced a lengthy unsuccessful American-led occupation later, giving “regime change” an appalling name. A reason for taking down Saddam by external military force, however, was absence of a viable opposition willing and able to do the job from within Iraq.

Other countries have oppositionists eager and capable to take down their rulers. Some, such as Iran, experienced regime change from both outside the country (1953) as well as from within (1979). A cycle of riots and state repression in 1978 culminated in the February 1979 Iranian Revolution. Also giving regime change a bad rap is that intelligence services of London and Washington plotted a 1953 Iranian coup that returned the Shah of Iran to power and toppled its elected nationalist leader—Prime Minister Mossadegh.

Commentaries about Tunisia focus on how rapidly former President of Tunisia, Ben Ali, fell from power. Without a military background, the army failed to back him, and he quickly fled the country. Of critical import was not Tunisia, but whether revolution in Tunis would recur in other Arab states, such as Jordan; but King Abdullah sacked his cabinet and preempted further expressions of discontent after a few demonstrations. And in Egypt, widespread protests against President Hosni Mubarak probably sealed his fate. With a military record, the Egyptian army backed Mubarak, but such support may not be enough to alter the trajectory of his downfall.

The fall of Arab rulers has implications for another Middle East regime that lacks popular legitimacy—Iran. Although it has institutions for bargaining among ruling elites from competing centers of power, Iran is really a dictatorship with complete control over its population, especially its internal opposition. Because domestic Iranian dissidents are under the thumb of the regime, it is critical to open the door to oppositionists outside of Iran, such as the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, so as to place the survival of the regime’s rule on the table.

Without threatening Tehran with regime change by a coalition of dissidents, Tehran poses a growing threat to moderate Arab states. Sponsoring a Hezbollah takeover in Lebanon, Hamas conquest of the West Bank from Gaza, and domination of post-Mubarak’s Egypt, Tehran would be on a roll. The Islamic Republic of Iran is also poised to foster a sister Islamic Republic of Iraq, which is increasingly vulnerable with the withdrawal of U.S. forces during 2011.

American attorney

When Egypt’s five-time “elected” president indicated in 2009 that he would seek a sixth term in
office, effectively declaring himself at 81 years old “president for life,” he struck a Pharaoh’s pose. Yet this was less a matter of posture than pragmatism and the gambit of a seasoned professional, with decades of success at the top of a spoils system, as a client of his American guarantors. One could hardly blame Mubarak, surveying the scene, for his determination to remain on the stage until the final curtain—after all, who could succeed him in his autocratic accomplishments? Yet only a few months earlier, the new American president came to Cairo University and extolled the “common aspirations” of humanity, and stressed his commitment “to governments that reflect the will of the people”—unless, that is, if you were one of the Palestinian majority voting for Hamas in 2006. Mr. Obama offered that day a long list of cherished civil and political values, warning that “elections alone do not make true democracy.” Perhaps President Mubarak was checking his email during that part of the speech—we may never know. But we do know that even as Obama spoke, Mubarak’s police and jails—subsidized by U.S. taxpayers—were busy locking up thousands of dissidents and cleaning up the “Arab street.”

Now, the western media and politicians desperately want to interpret the region’s popular uprisings—in Tunisia, in Jordan, in Yemen, in Egypt—as collective yearnings toward “western values” of political freedom, and to impose a narrative of democratic aspirations that positions the United States as its ideal and its inspiration. Yet this narrative construction is not helpful to understanding the events on their own terms. In truth, thirty years of U.S.-Israel policy has kept Mubarak in power, while solidifying Egypt’s position as the “indispensable Arab ally” to U.S. hegemonic strategy in the region—a true partner in protecting apartheid Israel. This precise disconnect between American words and American deeds explains why the U.S. will struggle to catch up to the events in the street.

The safe bet is: Egypt’s military—by design, the only truly stable institution in its society—will not jeopardize a penny of its endowment from Washington, and will likely sit back and wait, expecting their commander to have the good graces to leave when the U.S. tells him to go, so it doesn’t have to take matters into its own hands. Likewise, the army will not countenance any shift in its overall role in American strategy, which includes its legitimization of Israel, through regional cooperation in her territorial agenda, even at the point of keeping Palestinians caged up in Gaza. It will throw its weight behind the first “serious” candidate—and by that, it should be understood, “ex-military” politician—to emerge, with the understanding that the status quo will not be disturbed.

But “safe bets” may be looking not so safe. Surely, Arabs across the region do yearn for representative government, consumer and information freedom, dignity and economic opportunity. Yet this should not be mistaken as wanting to be “like America.” Rather, what the wave of popular activism expresses most is the exhaustion of the old politics, with its static system of American power exercised through surrogate states, Israel and Arab alike, which forecloses on any change. And no single situation embodies more the old, discredited politics than the deliberate U.S. stalling of Palestinian statehood, while Israel is free to take more land from the West Bank and keep Gaza imprisoned. The values of the United States—as demonstrated in the real politics of the region—must seem not an inspiration to the Arab street, but rather hopelessly retrograde, rooted in stagnant geo-politics, and part of the past. Why should anyone in Tahrir Square care what the White House has to say now?

And here is the bitter irony for whatever happens next: U.S. power likes Arab democracy when it elects “good Arabs,” and works to nullify any Arab democratic movement opposed to its regional agenda. I participated in the Doha Debates a few years ago on the issue of Hamas’ election victory in the Palestinian parliament, and events have since proved that the U.S. is an enemy to Palestinian democracy and even the very existence of a Palestinian state. The Obama government can no more support a truly open, democratic revolution in Egypt than it will support immediate statehood for Palestine. Locked into its position, with the weight of decades of realpolitik on its back, it is very difficult to understand how the U.S. can keep up with events. And ultimately this may be a good thing for Arabs everywhere.

Carnegie Middle East Centre

What is happening in Egypt's - and the broader Middle East - is a shared responsibility between its people and the US and Europe. The people are doing the right thing after decades of authoritarian rule by oppressive Arab leaders. The US and Europe should take responsibility for doing the wrong things; decades of failed Middle East policies.

They provided full support to Arab authoritarian regimes and now it is backfiring. Should they have put pressure on Arab dictators to loosen-up, there would be an organized opposition and an alternative to Mubarak and the Muslim Brothers who can implement demonstrators will for freedom and democracy.

Today, even the most liberal Arab has something to hate about the US and its failed Middle East policies. But today also, there is a golden opportunity to correct past Western foreign policy mistakes in the region.

Senior Arab Region Adviser, The United Nations Alliance of Civilizations

The Sudden Death of Fads

After years of being drowned in a deep sea of fads, Tunisia and Egypt have offered us the rare opportunity to call a spade, a spade. The first fad that already found its end is the proposition that the Arabs, per culture and religion, do not want democracy and if they call for change, due to adverse economic and/or political realities such as corruption or Israel's occupation of Palestine, they are calling for Islamism; another form of authoritarian regime.

The lie that any change in Egypt would bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power has been crushed. The Sunnis and Christians are not about to live the Iranian experience even if the top Mullah in Tehran has dreams. Never has there been an opportunity to measure the true size of the Islamists in Egypt's street than the opportunity offered by the Egyptian uprising that is all about who is whose size in the street, and the support they enjoy by the "silent majority."

The mother of all brotherhoods who gave birth to every Islamist movement in the world today turned out to be a minority, so much so, that they are willing to accept the demand of not pitching a presidential candidate during next elections in Egypt. Why not? Their candidate, as it turns out, would never win.

Why, out of all political powers would they have to negotiate on this at this early stage of the revolt? Because the Islamists, like Hamas that used elections to get to power and a military coup to keep it, are not about democracy, liberty and freedom. On the contrary, as they promise to steal the people's political freedoms they also kill their personal and social freedoms with an agenda that publicly calls for digression into the middle ages as a solution to the wows and pains of this modern day and age.

To achieve true democracy in Egypt, the constitution must be reformed to limit leadership tenure and ensure true representation of the people in parliament. This already has been achieved in principle, by the declarations of President Mubarak and his appointed government, and what remains is how to guarantee that the next elections will be fair; unlike its predecessors.

No wonder many amongst Egypt's political movements are calling for applying the Turkish model of democracy. In Turkey, the military "protects the constitution" and therefore ensures the state remains a democracy even when the Islamists make it to power. This can work out well in Egypt, if the Egyptians elect this option, because the Egyptian military is now proven to enjoy the respect of the masses and has declared that the popular demands of the street are legitimate.

The refusal of the military to conduct a coup and remove the Egyptian president by force to meet the street's demands is also a powerful statement that the military has a responsible leadership that doesn't believe in military coups to seize power; another fad that the Syrian experience would be relived, dead. Most importantly, this model offers the Muslim Brotherhood the opportunity to truly embrace democracy as a form of political life, rather than a means to reach power and steal the nation's rights.

Which brings us to the mother of all fads that is circulating today by westerners as well as others who declare that Democracy is a western concept being adopted by the Muslim Arab masses. If Democracy was developed in the West, so was Dictatorship including the dictatorship of political parties as pushed today by the Islamists and which is in line with the concept of the Soviet Union's Communist Party.

The Egyptian uprising proved that Democracy is today's chosen form of governance incorporating the majority's modern-day values; so much so that it should not be labeled "Western Democracy" by academicians or politicians. Those who demand it come from every walk of life, internet-savvy young, wisdom-rich old, rich and poor, religious or secular and whatever the religion is from whatever part of this global village we live in. To say Democracy is a set of western values is
to say Education is a western value and so is health!Last but not least, the question is clear to the "Only Democracy in the Middle East" that happens to be the only state of apartheid in the world: When the Middle East is soon democratic, what excuse will you have to win the minds and
hearts of those who support you merely for the sake of that notion? Now that it is the time for truth, I bet your blue eyes alone will not save the day.

Father of Lockerbie victim

What can one old man say about the way men rise and rule each other?

Is there an unavoidable law which dictates that if we climb above a certain point we shed the restraints our fellow men normally impose upon us?

Down the ages the tyrants rise and fall, Hitler, Stalin and Mao, Pol Pot, Idi Amin and a hundred other dictators have come and gone within living memory alone, leaving a trail of terror, murder, rape, and broken lives as their monuments. Yet are the times now changing?

Is it possible that the voice of the rest of us, those who did not want power over our fellows, those who want to be given the chance of a family life, of loving and feeding our families, of helping our neighbours and our friends, not subjugating them, has now come?

If the tyrants can no longer place the blinkers on our heads and blind us to the real results of their climb to power, has that power now passed to all of us, as we twitter and email and watch our myriad screens? Or is that old man's dream, never to reach the shores of reality?

And if our technology has passed the baton to all of us, do we, Egyptian, Tunisian, Chinese or American have the wisdom to wield it, really, for the common good?

Read the full article [not available at time of posting]

Independent political analyst

The only question is how bloody will this change be? If the US and the EU finally have the courage to practice what they preach and withdraw their support for these bankrupt rulers, then they will not only - for once - get out in front of the curve, but will be on the right side of history. It is not a matter of being on the side of angels; it is about not being on the side of devils.

The fall of the Mubarak regime is no less revolutionary than the rise of solidarity in Poland in 1989. It will bring enormous change to not only the Arab countries, but will have major repercussions around the globe.

In one swoop, the people power movements in Tunisia and especially Egypt, have laid waste to quite a few, long-held myths about Arabs:

1. That Arabs are not ready for democracy
2. That Islamists and Al Qaeda would be at the forefront of any alternative the Arab autocracies
3. That "stability" in the Arab world is better than democracy for the US and Europe.

Iran Professor of International Business and International Affairs
George Washington University

The demonstrations in Egypt are a symbol of the social and economic injustice that has prevailed in every Muslim country from Morocco to Afghanistan for decades. It is evident everywhere:

1. economic failure - slow economic growth, high unemployment
2. social failure - highly unequal income distribution, the elite living in luxury as the poor suffer with limited opportunities, poor educational opportunities, limited access to good healthcare
3. political failure - repressive dictatorships with no reasonable representations of the citizenry
4. corrupt institutions - that only serve the ruling elite
5. lost opportunities - wasted oil and gas resources in a number of countries.

The citizenry in all these Muslim countries have been awakened. Unlike the Iranian Revolution that was in large part directed at foreign interference, what we are witnessing today is an internal struggle that will lay the foundations of unprecedented social and economic revival in all of the countries, Arab as well as non-Arab. In time, it will be remembered as the dawn of a new era for the region.

American investigative journalist

Americans of good heart are wildly excited by the events in Egypt. The Arab imagination, the north African imagination, the Egyptian imagination, are showing the world what the power of the people means. I completely trust the spirit of the activists. They are lovers of freedom and free speech and diversity. Of course I fear what will come to pass. Of course I fear a loss of stability and what that could bring about. But the stability we have seen in this region has been very, very hurtful to so many people, and therefore the greatest gift of the Egyptian revolution for my country is that it will open American ears to the humanity intelligence and dignity of Arabs and help to change our cruel policies in the region.

Former Kuwaiti Information Minister

The ongoing fast-pace changes are a result of the digital revolution. The generational gap is no longer measured by time, but rather by the digital gap. In other words, those in power are out of time, because they don't realize how the world changed. The mindset of the Arab digital generation is a world apart from their parents and grandparents… more to come. Change is inevitable…

Director of Tehran University’s Institute for North American

The Islamic Republic of Iran’s interest in a stable Middle East is arguably greater than that of the United States--after all this is Iran’s neighborhood. For Iran to grow and prosper, it needs secure borders and stable neighbors.

Former US ambassador to Qatar

The "usual suspects" have accused AlJazeera of fomenting uprisings first in Tunisia and now in Egypt. Frankly, I think AlJazeera is only a major contributing factor but perhaps they should take the full credit as accused. We here in the United States value stability. Our legitimate interests are best served by a stable situation. But because we live in a free country we do not realize that keeping the lid on by oppression will ultimately lead to an explosion. This may be the first time red lines are moving upward in the last forty years.

Human Rights Lawyer/Founder of

The recent pro-democracy mass protests around the Arab world -- in places like Tunisia, Yemen and Egypt --reflect the beginnings of a "democracy Renaissance," launched by the millions of citizens within these countries that have been ruled for decades by ruthless autocrats and soft dictators… And every global observer should proudly remember the brave "Tank Man of Tiananmen Square" who, the day after Chinese police cracked down on demonstrations in 1989, defiantly stood in front of a column of advancing Chinese tanks with only his plastic grocery bags by his side. Refusing to yield to a column of tanks, this still-unknown "Tank Man" brought it to a halt. He would represent the aspirations for freedom for all people worldwide for generations to come. As we continue to see massive protests in places like Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and possibly elsewhere in the Arab world, let us all pray for safety and security for every citizen and hope that it does not take a brave act of nonviolent civil disobedience by some unknown Tank Man to awaken us to the Arab world's quest for true democracy.

Former head of the CIA’s Bin Laden Unit

The bankruptcy of America’s ideological and unrealistic educational system — especially its universities — has seldom been on better display than during this period of unrest in the Muslim world. For the most part, the well-educated folks offering analysis on television seem befuddled that anyone could think that the mass protests in Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen have anything remotely to do with religion. No, say they, the unrest is the result of poverty, oppression, and a dozen other things, but it has nothing to do with Islam. Well, no. While the immediate spark for events in Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen came from poverty, oppression, etc, the ultimate cause is the unIslamic nature of the dictatorial governments that long have ruled the three states in question.

Former victim of torture in Iraq

The more they stay the more damage they cause.
The more they stay the more the violation of human rights will occur under their leadership.
The more they stay in power the worse their ideas get stale.
The more they stay in power the more they will be hated by public. All past experience has proven their (leaders) desire to stay too long is just their love and passion for corruption and abuse of power unfortunately. I hope this human wave will not stop until they topple all the long-term rulers around the world and finally some changes come naturally from people and by people for a better life.

Women's Studies Institute Director
BirZeit University

Cyberspace is defeating the most resilient authoritarian regimes in the Arab world by opening new space for youth to fully participate in political life, a life that they used to be deprived of for a very long time. Virtual space turned to living reality in the hands of young Egyptians and Tunisians. The Arab world is shaking after long and painful years of enduring humiliation and marginalisation.

Director of the Cambridge Arab Media Project

Qatar: prestige and gamble 27 January 2011 [from Open Democracy]

The small Gulf state of Qatar has translated economic assets and creative diplomacy into extraordinary global influence. But the eclipse of regional giants such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia is also a high-risk strategy, says Khaled Hroub.

It’s nothing but a short lady in high heels”, one Arab politician described Qatar to me after it was named the 2022 host of football’s world cup. The reaction is typical, in that a mix of envy, cynicism and disparagement colours the attitudes (whether publicly or privately expressed) of Arab “big brothers” towards this tiny yet wealthy and influential Gulf state. No wonder, for Qatar boxes above its own weight, and is efficient and ambitious on various fronts. Its clear lesson to larger yet lazier neighbours, particularly Egypt and Saudi Arabia, is that size doesn’t matter.

Its triumph in winning the bid to host the world’s biggest sporting event is, after all, a continuation of previous successes. Its organisation of Asian sports, Asiad, in 2006 provoked similarly stunned reactions. But by winning the contest over 2022, Qatar scored not only regionally but also globally, particularly against a battered United States and (as England was also a competitor) Britain. Yet sport is perhaps the softest side of the Qatari story.

The roughness comes with politics. Qatar’s aggressive and proactive diplomacy has been causing waves of nervousness across those Arab capitals that like to think of themselves as “regional leaders”. Washington too has joined the club of the irritated. Much of Qatar’s regional diplomacy has deviated from preferred American positions, especially its relations with anti-American countries and movements. The sympathies of (Qatar-based and -owned) Al-Jazeera with causes opposed to Washington also play into this; some of the ensuing annoyance is revealed in the Wikileaks documents.

In relation to a number of protracted regional issues, it is the Qataris who have succeeded in mediating and brokering deals. To Egypt’s south, the Qataris have fronted efforts to bring peace between in Sudan's government and rebels in Darfur, while Cairo merely watched. To Saudi Arabia’s south, the Qataris have engaged the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels in talks, gaining the confidence of both parties, while Riyadh merely watched. In 2009, it was the Qataris who effectively prevented Lebanon from sliding into what appeared another imminent civil war by convening the main protagonists in Doha and striking a last-minute agreement.

A risky game

The larger picture is no less telling. Qatar at the same time hosts the biggest American military base in the world, has a friendly relationship with Iran, and maintains open commercial links with Israel (which have survived tremendous strains, including the second Palestinian intifada [2000-05], and Israel‘s war against Hizbollah in Lebanon [2006] and Hamas in Gaza [2008-09]; all the more remarkably in that Qatar enjoys the confidence of both these organisations as well as many other Islamist movements).

The ruling Qatari Emir and his globally active wife, Sheikha Moza, are close friends to a number of Arab presidents and ruling families. Yet Qatar is also the main destination for the leading political opponents (mainly Islamist) of many of those Arab regimes. Doha may be committed to the policies and decisions collectively adopted by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the regional body (controlled by Riyadh) that comprises all six Arab Gulf states; but it has created margins in which to manoeuvre its own independent diplomacy, frustrating the other GCC states in the process.

Its tactic of inducing each major player with a different prize allows Qatar to float above threats, remain off-target and build regional and global status. Within the current intra-Arab rivalry between the “axis of moderation” (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the UAE and most Gulf states) and the “axis of resistance” (Iran, Syria, Hizbollah and Hamas), it is difficult to pigeonhole Qatar. It chooses to stay close to the middle-point, shuttling relatively freely across sides.

A state in full

The question that arises is less why the Qataris are doing this than, perhaps, why the Egyptians or the Saudis are not. It is deeply puzzling for Arab intellectuals and publics alike how timid the big Arab countries have been over the past decade or so. The result of their inactivity or ineffectuality in most regional issues (Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, Sudan, Yemen, Somalia...) has been to create a political-regional vacuum that allows Iran and Turkey (states with regional agendas of their own) to assume more energetic roles - and opened space for small states like Qatar to stand out and gain prestige.

The benefit for Qatar extends far beyond mere pride and appearances, for with the prestige comes further layers of success and networking that becomes a strong aspect of its national-security strategy where potential threats are offset against each other and deflected away from the tiny state. The risks are evident: a strategy that has the US and Israel on board along with Iran, Hizbollah and Hamas requires iron nerves. If the extreme brinkmanship fails the consequences could be catastrophic.

Money helps. Doha would have never been able to achieve what it has thus far without resting on comfortable reserves of gas that make Qatar’s GDP the highest in the world. But money does not function on its own: examples of wealthy failures abound in the region and beyond. Qatar’s economy and finance are less based on credit and loans than its neighbours, allowing it to escaped the fate of Dubai, which found itself at the heart of the global financial whirl.

The ambitious Qatari Emir has supplemented active diplomacy by making his country a leading media hub, with Al-Jazeera now a flagship global brand; a leading regional education laboratory, with first-rate American and European universities establishing branches there; and a sports destination, with various international tournaments (the Asian football cup as well as the world contest) moving to Doha.

By allocating around $50 billion to build the infrastructure for the 2022 world cup, Qatar has set out both to outstrip wounded Dubai economically and to continue to surpass the much bigger Arab-Islamic states in the region in prestige and political clout for at least the next decade.

Former hostage and hostage negotiator

It is distressing to read of the current troubles in Egypt and other parts of the Arab World which have brought loss of life to many. To my mind the disturbances are due in part to several contributory factors coming together at this time.

First, we are experiencing a major change in global communications which means that the internet can spark off debates and actions at lightning speed. People who feel that they have been denied their democratic rights are immediately in touch with others with the same frustrations.

Second, the economically rich countries have courted oil rich regions and given support to corrupt and despotic regimes.

The democratic process has been far too slow to develop with the consequence that anger and resentment against corruption has built up in the population at large.

Third, the extreme edge of the Islamic Faith has not been slow to exploit this situation by paying a significant part in the protests and at persuading young dissatisfied young people to join their ranks.

Finally, underpinning all of the above is the fact that untold numbers of the population in Egypt and elsewhere live in grinding poverty. When the gap between the very rich and the poor becomes too great then trouble can be expected. This of course is true for all countries not only for the ones where there is currently unrest.

UAE-based political analyst

An element of political change that reformers and protesters must reflect about is what alternative they wish to bring to the table. Worthy aspirations do not always yield the desired impact in realpolitik. Tunisia witnessed a change in perhaps the world’s first revolution without a leader, but a credible Plan B is still elusive; Iran got rid of monarchy, only to be replaced by religious conservatism; and the US-led coalition ousted Saddam Hussein without a transition plan for change-starved Iraq. In fact, several democratic countries also frequently change governments that fail to deliver on their promises despite claiming to be ideologically different and administratively efficient than their predecessors. Thus, as much as getting rid of the existing political dispensation offers much-desired relief, it does not address the core problem of the aggrieved citizens, which is economic in nature.

What comments from the debaters or the commentators strike you the most and why?
Which are your favourites? Why?
What would you ask of the debaters?
What would you add to the commentaries?
Other comments, thoughts, impressions, experiences?


The next Doha Debate [Turmoil in the Arab World] will be broadcast on BBC World News on February 26th and 27th at the following times.

Sat 26th Feb: 09:10 and 22:10
Sun 27th Feb: 02:10 and 15:10

Doha times:
Sat 26th Feb: 12:10
Sun 27th Feb: 01:10; 05:10 and 18:10

The next debate will be held live in Tunis on February 22, 2011. For information about free tickets to attend the Doha Debates read "Attend the Debates".

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