Arab Spring

Containing the Islamist Revolution

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When politicians are in election mode, they can see nothing but victory. All decisions, all considerations, are subservient to one question: how they can convince voters to check their name at the ballot box. As someone who ran for office nine times, I know what I am talking about. But for the candidate who wins the election, and for the voters, there is always the day after.

The rise of anti-Western Islamist movements — exemplified this week by the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi in Egypt’s presidential election — represents a grave threat to U.S. interests and values in the Middle East. The next president of the United States, on the day after the election in November, will have to cope with this new reality. If he is to be successful, he must develop a strategy that takes into account the new state of affairs in this region and develop a long-term strategy to unite America’s friends and confront its enemies.

Unfortunately, the new reality in the greater Middle East is bad for the United States and its allies, including my country. Most importantly, the president should recognize that Islamist forces are on the move: They have seized control from Waziristan to the Atlantic Ocean in almost uninterrupted territorial contiguity. Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Libya are at the midst of a brutal and destructive battle for their identity. Their future territorial integrity is in doubt. In these five countries, and now in Egypt, the Islamist and extremist forces have the upper hand. The media has already replaced the term “Arab Spring” with “Arab Awakening.” Sooner rather than later, it will be replaced again by “Islamist takeover.”

In no country are these Islamist forces friends of the United States. The extremists among them despise its culture and way of life. They deplore its status as a global superpower. The pragmatists are ready to receive U.S. financial and military aid, but will not heed U.S. advice on foreign and domestic policy.

As Islamist movements gain strength, America’s traditional allies are wavering about how to confront this new threat. They doubt the loyalty of the United States, and wonder if they will enjoy American backing and support when they need it most. They are exploring other options to protect their interests.

Nor are there any glimmers of progress when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. The Israeli government continues to expand and foster settlements in the West Bank. The Palestinians — to whom everybody, including their Arab brothers, have given a cold shoulder — are swept into a dangerous despair and growing radicalization. The lack of a serious Israeli-Palestinian dialogue is leading to a binational state, which would signal the end of the Jewish national dream and the Palestinian one.

The complete international illegitimacy of the settlement project and of the occupation aimed to protect it — combined with the combustibility of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — is a liability for U.S. foreign policy. It will remain so even if other parts of the world become a higher priority to the United States than the Middle East.

Both U.S. presidential candidates and their advisors need to begin thinking about the day after the election, and how the next American president will deal with this complex reality. As one who lives in the midst of it, here is my advice.

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The future of the Arab Spring: Islam, Islamism, growing paranoia and future prospects – Part II

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English: Map showing the territorial four main...

English: Map showing the territorial four main races/ethnicities/colors of South Africa in 1979: Whites, Coloureds, Blacks and Indians. The gray areas indicate the Apartheid-era Bantustans, which are almost exclusively black. This map is a photoshopped version of the CIA-made original map at Perry Castañeda map collection at the University of Texas website. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Written by Raeesah Cassim Cachalia (1)

Part I of this discussion explored the paranoia around the growth of political Islam after the Arab Spring. The discussion explained many of the issues involving Islam and Islamophobia and where these issues stem from. Continuing from this, part II briefly examines democracy as well as the Islamic state and explains why democracy, as we know it today, should not be the only option considered for regime change in Arab Spring nations.

The flaws and fallacies of democracy

Democracy needs to be evaluated as more than a theoretical ideal but in light of its implementation and track record as well. This is because freedom and justice, among the other values which democracy is meant to entail, do not merely exist in the right to vote or in the existence of a peoples’ constitution. Democracy, at its core, is a system meant for the benefit of the masses. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said: “…freedom translates into having a supply of clean water, having electricity on tap; being  able to live in a decent home and have a good job; to be able to send your children to school and to have accessible health care. I mean, what’s the point of having made this transition [to democracy] if the quality of life of these people is not enhanced and improved? If not, the vote is useless.”(2) South Africa, despite having come a long way from its Apartheid past, is an example of the distance between democracy in theory and practice.

The past six months have seen a number of South African citizens worked up into a frenzy over Government attempts to impose toll tariffs for the use of major public roads. Government claims the tariff is necessary to cover a large ZAR 20 billion (US$ 2.6 billion) debt accrued for various road projects. In considering why the regular national budget does not cover such expenses, many angrily point to Government corruption along with gross wastage of state expenditure by South African politicians. To name but one example, that of former Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Sicelo Shiceka, we may look at the following official findings regarding the former Minister’s expenditure of state, and thus taxpayers, money in 2011 (keeping in mind that poverty rates are as high as 64% in parts of South Africa with these parts of the population living on less than ZAR 10 (US$ 1) a day):

  • ZAR 546,864 (US$ 71,687) for a personal trip to Switzerland under the pretence of official Government work.
  • ZAR 640,000 (US$ 83,920) in one year spent by the Minister and his immediate staff on one of South Africa’s most costly hotels.
  • ZAR 55,793 (US$ 7,300) for a one night stay for the Minister and a private acquaintance in the same hotel.
  • ZAR 160,000 (US$ 20,975) in eight months for flights for the Minister’s family members (including an “estranged wife and current girlfriend”).(3)

South Africa may be a relatively new democracy, but even established democracies indicate the illusions of this system. Read the rest of this entry »

Why Do They Hate Us?

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The real war on women is in the Middle East.



In “Distant View of a Minaret,” the late and much-neglected Egyptian writer Alifa Rifaat begins her short story with a woman so unmoved by sex with her husband that as he focuses solely on his pleasure, she notices a spider web she must sweep off the ceiling and has time to ruminate on her husband’s repeated refusal to prolong intercourse until she too climaxes, “as though purposely to deprive her.” Just as her husband denies her an orgasm, the call to prayer interrupts his, and the man leaves. After washing up, she loses herself in prayer — so much more satisfying that she can’t wait until the next prayer — and looks out onto the street from her balcony. She interrupts her reverie to make coffee dutifully for her husband to drink after his nap. Taking it to their bedroom to pour it in front of him as he prefers, she notices he is dead. She instructs their son to go and get a doctor. “She returned to the living room and poured out the coffee for herself. She was surprised at how calm she was,” Rifaat writes.

In a crisp three-and-a-half pages, Rifaat lays out a trifecta of sex, death, and religion, a bulldozer that crushes denial and defensiveness to get at the pulsating heart of misogyny in the Middle East. There is no sugarcoating it. They don’t hate us because of our freedoms, as the tired, post-9/11 American cliché had it. We have no freedoms because they hate us, as this Arab woman so powerfully says.

Yes: They hate us. It must be said.

Some may ask why I’m bringing this up now, at a time when the region has risen up, fueled not by the usual hatred of America and Israel but by a common demand for freedom. After all, shouldn’t everyone get basic rights first, before women demand special treatment? And what does gender, or for that matter, sex, have to do with the Arab Spring? But I’m not talking about sex hidden away in dark corners and closed bedrooms. An entire political and economic system — one that treats half of humanity like animals — must be destroyed along with the other more obvious tyrannies choking off the region from its future. Until the rage shifts from the oppressors in our presidential palaces to the oppressors on our streets and in our homes, our revolution has not even begun.


So: Yes, women all over the world have problems; yes, the United States has yet to elect a female president; and yes, women continue to be objectified in many “Western” countries (I live in one of them). That’s where the conversation usually ends when you try to discuss why Arab societies hate women.

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But let’s put aside what the United States does or doesn’t do to women. Name me an Arab country, and I’ll recite a litany of abuses fueled by a toxic mix of culture and religion that few seem willing or able to disentangle lest they blaspheme or offend. When more than 90 percent of ever-married women in Egypt — including my mother and all but one of her six sisters — have had their genitals cut in the name of modesty, then surely we must all blaspheme. When Egyptian women are subjected to humiliating “virginity tests” merely for speaking out, it’s no time for silence. When an article in the Egyptian criminal code says that if a woman has been beaten by her husband “with good intentions” no punitive damages can be obtained, then to hell with political correctness. And what, pray tell, are “good intentions”? They are legally deemed to include any beating that is “not severe” or “directed at the face.” What all this means is that when it comes to the status of women in the Middle East, it’s not better than you think. It’s much, much worse. Even after these “revolutions,” all is more or less considered well with the world as long as women are covered up, anchored to the home, denied the simple mobility of getting into their own cars, forced to get permission from men to travel, and unable to marry without a male guardian’s blessing — or divorce either.

Not a single Arab country ranks in the top 100 in the World Economic Forum‘s Global Gender Gap Report, putting the region as a whole solidly at the planet’s rock bottom. Poor or rich, we all hate our women. Neighbors Saudi Arabia and Yemen, for instance, might be eons apart when it comes to GDP, but only four places separate them on the index, with the kingdom at 131 and Yemen coming in at 135 out of 135 countries. Morocco, often touted for its “progressive” family law (a 2005 report by Western “experts” called it “an example for Muslim countries aiming to integrate into modern society”), ranks 129; according to Morocco’s Ministry of Justice, 41,098 girls under age 18 were married there in 2010.

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Morocco Islamists poised to win parliamentary vote

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King Hassan of MOROCCO arrives for a visit to ...
Image via Wikipedia

By Souhail Karam

RABAT | Sun Nov 27, 2011 8:59am IST

Morocco‘s moderate Islamist PJD party is on course to win a parliamentary election, partial results showed on Saturday, in what would be the second victory for Islamists in the region in the wake of the “Arab Spring” uprisings.

Incomplete results from Friday’s vote indicate that PJD will lead a coalition government in partnership with the secularist party of the outgoing prime minister and two other groups.

Tunisia, birthplace of the Arab Spring, sent ripples through the Middle East last month when a moderate Islamist movement won the country’s first democratic election.

Morocco has not had a revolution of the kind seen elsewhere in the region, with its ruler, King Mohammed, still firmly in charge. But it has witnessed some protests inspired by Arab uprisings, mostly to demand fewer direct powers for the monarchy and an end to corruption. In response, the king has introduced limited reforms.

Ali Anozla, editor of the independent news portal, said the monarchy emerges as the main winner of the election. “It now has a lot of time to hold back real reform.

“PJD should hold the biggest number of portfolios in the next government. But how will it be able to govern when the palace holds sweeping prerogatives?” he said.

The party has said it will promote Islamic finance though it will steer clear of imposing a strict moral code on society. The party, whose deceased founder was a physician of King Mohammed’s grandfather, is loyal to the monarchy and backs its role as the supreme religious authority in the country. Read the rest of this entry »