Commentary Magazine


Topic: Algeria

Remembering Forced Expulsions in the Arab World

There are two ironies concerning refugee flows in the Arab world. The first is how selective some Western advocates are when they focus exclusively on displaced Palestinians and Palestinian refugees, and the second is how they effectively punish those countries which do the right thing and absorb and settle refugees rather than using them as a political pawn.

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There are two ironies concerning refugee flows in the Arab world. The first is how selective some Western advocates are when they focus exclusively on displaced Palestinians and Palestinian refugees, and the second is how they effectively punish those countries which do the right thing and absorb and settle refugees rather than using them as a political pawn.

Attending the concurrent NGO fair, I spent some time at the booth of the Association des Marocains Victimes d’Expulsion Arbitraire d’Algérie (AMVEAA). Basically, there story is this: On December 18, 1975, the Algerian government expelled 45,000 families—about 500,000 people—who were legally resident in Algeria, and many of whom had lived in Algeria for decades. Houari Boumediene, the chairman of Algeria’s Revolutionary Council, ordered the Moroccans detained and expelled in response to the Moroccan “Green Marchinto the Western Sahara.

The condition of the Moroccans’ expulsion was appalling, and it was done without prior notice. Algerian police hunted down Moroccans wherever they could be found and dumped them across the border. Many Moroccans died, and the humanitarian crisis caused by hundreds of thousands of individuals strained the Moroccan government. Meanwhile, the deportation split mixed families, and the expelled Moroccans lost pensions, and left behind bank accounts and personal property.

AMVEAA wants restitution for lost property and cites language from the UN’s Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families to support their claim.

Realistically, the chance they will collect is between zero and null. But, there case does illustrate just one more case—the mass expulsion of Jews from Arab lands following Israel’s independence being the other—of the hypocrisy of the refugee issue. The 500,000 persons expelled from Algeria are greater than the 472,000 Palestinians which the United Nations Mediator on Palestine concluded had left Israel in 1948.

Israel, however, settled the refugees as did Morocco. They are cases to be celebrated, and examples of responsible governance. Why the world continues to subsidize Palestinian refugees rather than disbanding the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and handling management of any remaining issue to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is beyond any logic and, indeed, UNRWA’s founding purpose.

Whether or not Algeria comes clean on its actions taken against the backdrop of Cold War animus, let us praise the Moroccans for doing the right thing. It’s time to recognize that Rabat and Jerusalem represent the best practices in refugee resettlement, and UNRWA the worst. Let’s replicate a model that works, and recognize UNRWA not only betrays Palestinians, but refugees around the world, many of whom desperately need aid not to build rockets but rather to get their lives restarted after suffering dislocation and tragedy.

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In Mali, Stand with the French

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spent much of Wednesday being grilled on Capitol Hill about the conditions which led to the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. As John McCain, among others, pointed out, the chaos which prevailed in Libya was not inevitable; it was due in no small part to the administration’s failure to do more to support state-building after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in an American-supported insurgency.

The failure to follow up has destabilized not only Libya but also nearby countries such as Mali, where the French have felt compelled to rush into the vacuum to prevent Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and associated extremist organizations from consolidating their hold on the northern part of the country and even marching on the capital. What’s truly odd is how reluctant the administration is to help the French, even though they are on the front lines of our common battle against jihadism.

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spent much of Wednesday being grilled on Capitol Hill about the conditions which led to the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. As John McCain, among others, pointed out, the chaos which prevailed in Libya was not inevitable; it was due in no small part to the administration’s failure to do more to support state-building after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in an American-supported insurgency.

The failure to follow up has destabilized not only Libya but also nearby countries such as Mali, where the French have felt compelled to rush into the vacuum to prevent Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and associated extremist organizations from consolidating their hold on the northern part of the country and even marching on the capital. What’s truly odd is how reluctant the administration is to help the French, even though they are on the front lines of our common battle against jihadism.

The administration has finally agreed to airlift a French battalion into the fight but is still holding off on a French request for aerial refueling. The reason for the administration’s reluctance is truly bizarre: According to the New York Times, “A French official, speaking on ground rules of anonymity to describe bilateral discussions, said some officials in Washington were concerned that assigning American tanker planes to refuel French warplanes bombing Islamist militant targets in Mali might make the United States appear as a co-belligerent in the conflict. Even if that view was not supported under international law, it could be the perception across the Muslim world.”

If accurate, this would suggest that “some officials in Washington” are worried that by fighting terrorists we ourselves will become a target for terrorism. Earth to Washington: the jihadists already hate us and are already doing everything possible to do us harm.

Americans, after all, were just killed along with the citizens of other countries in the hostage-taking at a gas plant in Algeria. It seems a little far-fetched at this late date to imagine that we might propitiate the extremists by not fighting them too hard. Actually, if we abstain from the fight, the most likely result is that the Islamists will be able to consolidate their gains in Mali and then turn Mali into a base for terrorism against Western interests—including American interests.

The French may not always stand with us, but in the present instance we must stand with the French and not imagine that we can somehow get out of the line of fire.

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Algerian Tactics Recall Russian Disasters

Reports out of Algeria are still sketchy but it appears that Algerian security forces attacked the Islamist group holding hostages at a gas plant near the Libyan border—and in the process killed a number of hostages along with hostage-takers.

This is not exactly how the United States, Britain, Israel, France or other Western nations would approach a hostage crisis. The security forces in all those countries would seek a resolution that would be most likely to leave the hostages unharmed and plan an attack only if there was absolutely no alternative or if there was actionable intelligence which suggested a good chance to free the hostages. See, for instance, the hijacking of the merchant ship Maersk Alabama that ended with Navy SEAL snipers taking out the hostage takers and freeing the captain, Richard Phillips.

The Algerians, by contrast, appear to have blundered in, guns blazing. This should not be particularly surprising since (a) Algeria is not a democracy and (b) it has long cultivated a ruthless style of counterinsurgency. During the war pitting Algerian security forces against Muslim militants (including the predecessors of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) in the 1990s, an estimated 100,000 or more people died as a result of the indiscriminate and heavy-handed tactics employed by both sides.

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Reports out of Algeria are still sketchy but it appears that Algerian security forces attacked the Islamist group holding hostages at a gas plant near the Libyan border—and in the process killed a number of hostages along with hostage-takers.

This is not exactly how the United States, Britain, Israel, France or other Western nations would approach a hostage crisis. The security forces in all those countries would seek a resolution that would be most likely to leave the hostages unharmed and plan an attack only if there was absolutely no alternative or if there was actionable intelligence which suggested a good chance to free the hostages. See, for instance, the hijacking of the merchant ship Maersk Alabama that ended with Navy SEAL snipers taking out the hostage takers and freeing the captain, Richard Phillips.

The Algerians, by contrast, appear to have blundered in, guns blazing. This should not be particularly surprising since (a) Algeria is not a democracy and (b) it has long cultivated a ruthless style of counterinsurgency. During the war pitting Algerian security forces against Muslim militants (including the predecessors of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) in the 1990s, an estimated 100,000 or more people died as a result of the indiscriminate and heavy-handed tactics employed by both sides.

The Algerian way of fighting Islamist militants is eerily similar to that of the Russians who have pursued a similar scorched-earth approach in Chechnya. When confronted with Islamist hostage-takers, Russian security forces also rushed in–and the result was hundreds of dead hostages in a Moscow theater in 2002 and a Beslan school in 2004. In all these cases the assaults went so wrong partly because of a lack of skill on the part of the attackers and partly because their superiors simply didn’t care that much about who lived and died.

Of course there was no accountability for the Russian forces because their government is not democratic. The same undoubtedly will be the case in Algeria. Such blunderbuss tactics can work, at least for a time, but in the present instance they will exacerbate Algeria’s relations with the U.S., Britain, Japan and other countries whose hostages were in the line of fire and which were not consulted before the assault.

All of this should make us all the more thankful for the highly skilled and highly humane U.S. Special Operations Forces as they have developed over the last few decades. Some of their operations go awry too, but if you are ever taken hostage, you had better pray to be rescued by SEAL Team Six or Delta Force—not by the Algerian army.

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The U.S. and Al-Qaeda: Mission Still Not Accomplished

News is still filtering out of Algeria as we wait to see just how many people were killed when government forces stormed a gas facility where Islamist terrorists were holding dozens of workers, including some Americans, hostage. While initial reports speak of many hostages being killed, we can only hope that the casualties turn out to be fewer than feared and that none of the terrorists involved have escaped. But the attack, like the 9/11 assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, highlights the fact that contrary to the tone of much of President Obama’s re-election campaign, al-Qaeda and its network of affiliated terrorist groups is very much alive, especially in North Africa.

At the Washington Post, Max Fisher writes to emphasize what he says are the “sketchy” links between al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, an offshoot of which appears to be behind the Algerian operation, and the al-Qaeda that is fighting the United States in Pakistan and Afghanistan. That is true. The fact is, as he points out, Islamists have been fighting in Algeria since the 1990s. Moreover, the notion that al-Qaeda was a centralized group with a unitary command was always something of a myth. However, these different national branches always cooperated and were part of the jihadi pipeline across North Africa and the Middle East. All of which is to say that the claim that the terrorists in Algeria are unrelated to the Islamist terror war on the West is not true. That leads to the inevitable conclusion that the administration’s attempt to portray the conflict with Islamists as having essentially been ended by the death of Osama bin Laden is also a myth.

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News is still filtering out of Algeria as we wait to see just how many people were killed when government forces stormed a gas facility where Islamist terrorists were holding dozens of workers, including some Americans, hostage. While initial reports speak of many hostages being killed, we can only hope that the casualties turn out to be fewer than feared and that none of the terrorists involved have escaped. But the attack, like the 9/11 assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, highlights the fact that contrary to the tone of much of President Obama’s re-election campaign, al-Qaeda and its network of affiliated terrorist groups is very much alive, especially in North Africa.

At the Washington Post, Max Fisher writes to emphasize what he says are the “sketchy” links between al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, an offshoot of which appears to be behind the Algerian operation, and the al-Qaeda that is fighting the United States in Pakistan and Afghanistan. That is true. The fact is, as he points out, Islamists have been fighting in Algeria since the 1990s. Moreover, the notion that al-Qaeda was a centralized group with a unitary command was always something of a myth. However, these different national branches always cooperated and were part of the jihadi pipeline across North Africa and the Middle East. All of which is to say that the claim that the terrorists in Algeria are unrelated to the Islamist terror war on the West is not true. That leads to the inevitable conclusion that the administration’s attempt to portray the conflict with Islamists as having essentially been ended by the death of Osama bin Laden is also a myth.

The large scale of the Algeria attack, which was reportedly carried out by terrorists based in the new Islamist stronghold of Mali, points to the scope of the problem that is still posed by al-Qaeda affiliates. It also makes it clear that the triumphalist tone that has been the keynote of the administration’s representation of its counter-terrorism effort is not justified.

At the very least this ought to complicate John Brennan’s confirmation as the new director of the CIA. Brennan has largely flown under the radar of the national press in his role deputy national security advisor and the White House’s point man on counter-terrorism. Brennan has yet to be grilled about what he knew and when he knew it about the Benghazi fiasco, and who it was that circulated talking points claiming the terror attack was an out-of-control gathering of film critics. Now we may have more dead Americans to account for and just as few answers about what is being done to deal with this threat.

With most of the focus on the nomination of Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense, the rumblings of discontent about Brennan have been muted. But this new outrage ought to wake up even those senators who have been inclined to take it easy on him in order to concentrate their fire elsewhere.

But whatever happens to Brennan, Americans should be even more aware than they were in September that the idea that America’s mission to fight al-Qaeda was accomplished with bin Laden’s death is a terrible mistake. Let’s hope that even more Americans won’t have to die before this fight once again becomes a foreign policy priority.

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Conflict in Mali Just Getting Started

Mali is getting even more deeply enmeshed in a guerrilla war pitting Islamist insurgents against French troops and their African allies. The latest developments include reports that, following air strikes, French troops are involved in their first ground combat. Rather predictably, despite their blood-curdling rhetoric–one fighter with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb told a Western reporter, “Even if they come at us with nuclear bombs, we will defend the terrain. This is going to be worse than Afghanistan!”–the rebel fighters generally prefer to melt away rather than confront far better-armed and better-trained French forces.

This is straight out of the Guerrilla 101 playbook. As Mao Zedong famously counseled: “The enemy advances, we retreat; the enemy camps, we harass; the enemy tires, we attack; the enemy retreats, we pursue.”

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Mali is getting even more deeply enmeshed in a guerrilla war pitting Islamist insurgents against French troops and their African allies. The latest developments include reports that, following air strikes, French troops are involved in their first ground combat. Rather predictably, despite their blood-curdling rhetoric–one fighter with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb told a Western reporter, “Even if they come at us with nuclear bombs, we will defend the terrain. This is going to be worse than Afghanistan!”–the rebel fighters generally prefer to melt away rather than confront far better-armed and better-trained French forces.

This is straight out of the Guerrilla 101 playbook. As Mao Zedong famously counseled: “The enemy advances, we retreat; the enemy camps, we harass; the enemy tires, we attack; the enemy retreats, we pursue.”

While waiting for the enemy–in this case the French–to tire, the insurgents are striking out in other directions against easier targets. Thus they ventured into Algeria to kidnap foreign oil workers, including American, British and French citizens. While this kidnapping operation has already made a media splash, it is a miscalculation on the insurgents’ part.

For a start, it only reinforces the general perception throughout Africa and the West that the rebel fighters are savages who must be resisted, while doing little to undermine the French will to stay on the offensive. More significantly, this criminal act risks widening the number of enemies the rebels must face. By violating Algerian sovereignty, the Malian Islamists risk drawing into the conflict against them the Algerian armed forces, which repressed an Islamist uprising on their own soil in the 1990s with considerable brutality and effectiveness. And by kidnapping Americans, they could well lead to the deployment of U.S. Special Operations Forces to rescue the hostages and assist the French. Thus the rebels have actually handed a gift to their enemies.

That does not mean, however, that the campaign will finish anytime soon. It is one thing for the French to take a few towns out of rebel hands. Altogether more difficult will be securing the countryside and preventing the rebels from regaining control of the urban areas as soon as the French troops leave. As I note in my new book Invisible Armies, the average insurgency since 1945 has lasted nearly 10 years. The conflict in Mali, whatever the outcome of the battles currently being waged, has a long way yet to run.

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Is Egypt the New Algeria?

Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court’s ruling dissolving the Islamist-dominated parliament elected just six months ago turns Egypt’s already rough-and-tumble political situation on its head. While all eyes have been on the presidential elections later this week, the parliament was in many ways more important: Charged with writing the new constitution, the parliament was about 80 percent Islamist. As the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi an-Nour Party were forced by their new positions to dispense with the opportunistic populism of opposition and get down to the hard business of governance, they found their support waning; the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate was unable to pass the 30 percent threshold in the first round of presidential elections.

It is this wakeup call upon which the Egyptian military hopes to capitalize. They believe that if they can have a “do-over” they can reverse the populist wave which the Islamists rode during their first electoral test and prevent a situation in which the Islamists, whose popularity has been on the same trajectory as Facebook stock, were able to lock in influence no longer matched by popular support.

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Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court’s ruling dissolving the Islamist-dominated parliament elected just six months ago turns Egypt’s already rough-and-tumble political situation on its head. While all eyes have been on the presidential elections later this week, the parliament was in many ways more important: Charged with writing the new constitution, the parliament was about 80 percent Islamist. As the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi an-Nour Party were forced by their new positions to dispense with the opportunistic populism of opposition and get down to the hard business of governance, they found their support waning; the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate was unable to pass the 30 percent threshold in the first round of presidential elections.

It is this wakeup call upon which the Egyptian military hopes to capitalize. They believe that if they can have a “do-over” they can reverse the populist wave which the Islamists rode during their first electoral test and prevent a situation in which the Islamists, whose popularity has been on the same trajectory as Facebook stock, were able to lock in influence no longer matched by popular support.

Still, the Egyptian military is playing a very dangerous game. It has shown few new ideas during the campaign. Egyptians will not allow their mantra of restoring law-and-order replace genuine desire for reform. Indeed, Egyptians are right to be cynical about their military. While Americans celebrate generals for wartime success, Egyptians have never won a war, unless one counts their intervention in the Yemeni civil war, where Egypt’s greatest legacy now is the spread of giardia from Egyptian soldiers relieving themselves in wells nearly a half century ago. Rather, most Egyptians know their generals as businessmen. It is simply the Egyptian military elites’ desire to preserve the status quo and their bank accounts which guide their positions.

The danger, however, is popular outrage. Islamist clerics have already made clear they would take to the streets to fight any election which did not go their way. It has been more than two decades since the Algerian government, stunned by an Islamist victory in their 1991 elections and the victors’ promise to revise the constitution, decided to cancel the elections, unleashing a brutal civil war that killed perhaps 200,000. The major reason why Algerians did not get caught up in the Arab Spring protests was that the scars of violence during the 1990s remain too fresh. That an Arab socialist rather than an Islamist regime now holds sway may convince the Egyptian military that the risks and costs were worth it.

In Algeria, however, the population is largely spread along its 600-mile coastline. In Egypt, most of the 80 million are crammed into the narrow Nile River Valley. Egypt’s court and its generals are taking a large risk, indeed. If history repeats, the cost could be much higher.

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Lebanon: To Encourage the Others

John Bolton has a superb opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times today reminding us that Lebanon is a nearer prospective loss to liberalism than Egypt. Today’s concern for Egypt is about the opportunity for the Muslim Brotherhood to gain power. The nature of the potential stakes remains uncertain; Mubarak and Omar Suleiman have made explicit declarations of intent, but there is no clarity or political coherence from the opposition forces.

In Lebanon, by contrast, Hezbollah has already made its move. It has run the course the Muslim Brotherhood could in Egypt, first securing a role in the coalition government — without renouncing terrorism or political thuggery — and then leveraging that role to install the government of its choice. The choices for foreign governments are clear in Lebanon: either reject Hezbollah’s control of the country or accept it.

Ambassador Bolton is categorical: “We must refuse to recognize any Hezbollah-dominated government as legitimate, at least until Hezbollah fully disarms and becomes a real political party.” The timetable for concrete action will be driven in part by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, whose next public event, on February 7, is a hearing related to the confidential indictments issued in January for the 2005 assassinations. That timetable is a good thing; an independent process with scheduled events is guaranteed to present public decision points for foreign leaders. If a new Hezbollah-backed government terminates Lebanese cooperation with the tribunal, the reaction of the U.S. and other nations, one way or another, will be impossible to spin.

There is grave danger, as Bolton suggests, in failing to counter Hezbollah’s effective coup in Lebanon. Conversely, the payoff from countering it would be particularly high. Hezbollah’s method of government infiltration is a model for the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist movements across the Arab world. It can be allowed to stand or it can be opposed and reversed; either response will encourager les autres — encourage the others.

The number of others who need “encouraging,” one way or the other, is growing with the unrest in Egypt. In their different ways, Jordan, Algeria, and Yemen have all, in the past 48 hours, joined Tunisia in opening doors formerly closed to the Muslim Brotherhood. There is a great deal at stake, but the timing could hardly be better for making an example of Hezbollah. Its takeover of Lebanon, opposed by the Arab world, adds urgency to the theme retailed by the Muslim Brotherhood that the old governments are corrupt and ineffective. If we want the Arab nations to have breathing room in which to take genuine steps toward pluralism and democracy, one of the best things we could do is decisively block Hezbollah’s assault on those elements in Lebanon.

John Bolton has a superb opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times today reminding us that Lebanon is a nearer prospective loss to liberalism than Egypt. Today’s concern for Egypt is about the opportunity for the Muslim Brotherhood to gain power. The nature of the potential stakes remains uncertain; Mubarak and Omar Suleiman have made explicit declarations of intent, but there is no clarity or political coherence from the opposition forces.

In Lebanon, by contrast, Hezbollah has already made its move. It has run the course the Muslim Brotherhood could in Egypt, first securing a role in the coalition government — without renouncing terrorism or political thuggery — and then leveraging that role to install the government of its choice. The choices for foreign governments are clear in Lebanon: either reject Hezbollah’s control of the country or accept it.

Ambassador Bolton is categorical: “We must refuse to recognize any Hezbollah-dominated government as legitimate, at least until Hezbollah fully disarms and becomes a real political party.” The timetable for concrete action will be driven in part by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, whose next public event, on February 7, is a hearing related to the confidential indictments issued in January for the 2005 assassinations. That timetable is a good thing; an independent process with scheduled events is guaranteed to present public decision points for foreign leaders. If a new Hezbollah-backed government terminates Lebanese cooperation with the tribunal, the reaction of the U.S. and other nations, one way or another, will be impossible to spin.

There is grave danger, as Bolton suggests, in failing to counter Hezbollah’s effective coup in Lebanon. Conversely, the payoff from countering it would be particularly high. Hezbollah’s method of government infiltration is a model for the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist movements across the Arab world. It can be allowed to stand or it can be opposed and reversed; either response will encourager les autres — encourage the others.

The number of others who need “encouraging,” one way or the other, is growing with the unrest in Egypt. In their different ways, Jordan, Algeria, and Yemen have all, in the past 48 hours, joined Tunisia in opening doors formerly closed to the Muslim Brotherhood. There is a great deal at stake, but the timing could hardly be better for making an example of Hezbollah. Its takeover of Lebanon, opposed by the Arab world, adds urgency to the theme retailed by the Muslim Brotherhood that the old governments are corrupt and ineffective. If we want the Arab nations to have breathing room in which to take genuine steps toward pluralism and democracy, one of the best things we could do is decisively block Hezbollah’s assault on those elements in Lebanon.

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A ‘Historic Opportunity’ in Tunisia

The Washington Post has a typically excellent editorial on the situation in Tunisia. The Post, with deputy editorial-page editor Jackson Diehl in the lead, has long been a courageous voice in the wilderness championing the embattled cause of Arab democracy. Now the Post editors write that the Jasmine Revolution presents a “historic opportunity”:

Though the revolution has no clear leaders and organized opposition parties are weak, the country is in other respects ready for a democratic transition. Its population is relatively well educated and its middle class substantial, and its women are emancipated by regional standards; Islamic fundamentalist forces are not as strong as they are in Algeria or Egypt. The constitution calls for fresh presidential elections in 60 days, and the country’s interim president indicated that calendar would be respected. The United States can join with France and the European Union in supporting and even helping to organize truly fair elections and in pushing back against those in Tunisia, and elsewhere in the Arab world, who will seek a quick restoration of autocracy.

Good advice.

The Obama administration came into office disdainful of President Bush’s pursuit of democracy in the Middle East. Now some senior officials may be having a change of heart, as witnessed by Secretary of State Clinton’s recent speech taking Arab states to task for not doing more to reform themselves. We shouldn’t get our hopes up — an awful lot can still go wrong in Tunisia. Certainly in the past we have seen hopes of democracy in the region dashed (Lebanon) or delayed (Iraq). But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying, and Tunisia offers a great opportunity for the United States to show that it will stand with the Arab people, not just with their corrupt, unelected rulers.

The Washington Post has a typically excellent editorial on the situation in Tunisia. The Post, with deputy editorial-page editor Jackson Diehl in the lead, has long been a courageous voice in the wilderness championing the embattled cause of Arab democracy. Now the Post editors write that the Jasmine Revolution presents a “historic opportunity”:

Though the revolution has no clear leaders and organized opposition parties are weak, the country is in other respects ready for a democratic transition. Its population is relatively well educated and its middle class substantial, and its women are emancipated by regional standards; Islamic fundamentalist forces are not as strong as they are in Algeria or Egypt. The constitution calls for fresh presidential elections in 60 days, and the country’s interim president indicated that calendar would be respected. The United States can join with France and the European Union in supporting and even helping to organize truly fair elections and in pushing back against those in Tunisia, and elsewhere in the Arab world, who will seek a quick restoration of autocracy.

Good advice.

The Obama administration came into office disdainful of President Bush’s pursuit of democracy in the Middle East. Now some senior officials may be having a change of heart, as witnessed by Secretary of State Clinton’s recent speech taking Arab states to task for not doing more to reform themselves. We shouldn’t get our hopes up — an awful lot can still go wrong in Tunisia. Certainly in the past we have seen hopes of democracy in the region dashed (Lebanon) or delayed (Iraq). But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying, and Tunisia offers a great opportunity for the United States to show that it will stand with the Arab people, not just with their corrupt, unelected rulers.

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Stay Engaged with Tunisia

As Max Boot implies, riot-torn Tunisia is not predestined for any particular future. The U.S. response will matter to the outcome. The sclerotic Ben Ali regime has been under rhetorical fire from dissidents for years due to its corrupt, repressive character, but there is no evidence of an organized opposition bent on armed revolution. No ideological red flags are waving over Tunisia; there may be groups encouraging the outbreak of unrest, but there has been no accelerating drumbeat from a well-defined radical organization like the plotters of the Iranian revolution in 1979. The riots in Tunisia mirror the fears in Algeria, Libya, Egypt, and Jordan over a common set of economic woes: rising food and gas prices and high unemployment.

But while Tunisia may not be experiencing a centrally directed ideological revolt, the political conditions are not quiescent there. If pluralism and consensual government are to take hold, the U.S. will have to interest itself in the process. The usual suspects — the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda — have stakes in Tunisia already. The principal opposition group, al-Nadha (“Renaissance”), is an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood. Its leader, Rachid Ghannouchi (not to be confused with the prime minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, who took power on Friday), is an exile in Britain, a biographical detail that echoes the history of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. But Ghannouchi’s profile as a Sunni Islamist leader is more similar to that of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Yusuf al-Qaradawi; Ghannouchi endorses terrorist groups like Hamas but spends most of his time writing, lecturing, and attending conferences.

Rachid Ghannouchi has been largely silent during the past week’s unrest, giving no indication that he has specific political intentions. But he would be a natural focus of interest for regional governments — Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Italy, France — that are on the alert to influence developments in Tunisia. Attempts at influence by Tehran are a given as well: Ghannouchi was an early supporter of the 1979 revolution and has maintained his ties to Iranian clerics. Tunisia severed relations with Iran in the 1980s over the Islamic Republic’s penchant for fomenting unrest, but diplomatic and economic ties have been restored over the past decade. These ties include an Iranian cultural center in Tunis (referenced here and here), an entity that in other regional nations has been a means of introducing paramilitary operatives and Islamist recruiters. Read More

As Max Boot implies, riot-torn Tunisia is not predestined for any particular future. The U.S. response will matter to the outcome. The sclerotic Ben Ali regime has been under rhetorical fire from dissidents for years due to its corrupt, repressive character, but there is no evidence of an organized opposition bent on armed revolution. No ideological red flags are waving over Tunisia; there may be groups encouraging the outbreak of unrest, but there has been no accelerating drumbeat from a well-defined radical organization like the plotters of the Iranian revolution in 1979. The riots in Tunisia mirror the fears in Algeria, Libya, Egypt, and Jordan over a common set of economic woes: rising food and gas prices and high unemployment.

But while Tunisia may not be experiencing a centrally directed ideological revolt, the political conditions are not quiescent there. If pluralism and consensual government are to take hold, the U.S. will have to interest itself in the process. The usual suspects — the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda — have stakes in Tunisia already. The principal opposition group, al-Nadha (“Renaissance”), is an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood. Its leader, Rachid Ghannouchi (not to be confused with the prime minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, who took power on Friday), is an exile in Britain, a biographical detail that echoes the history of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. But Ghannouchi’s profile as a Sunni Islamist leader is more similar to that of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Yusuf al-Qaradawi; Ghannouchi endorses terrorist groups like Hamas but spends most of his time writing, lecturing, and attending conferences.

Rachid Ghannouchi has been largely silent during the past week’s unrest, giving no indication that he has specific political intentions. But he would be a natural focus of interest for regional governments — Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Italy, France — that are on the alert to influence developments in Tunisia. Attempts at influence by Tehran are a given as well: Ghannouchi was an early supporter of the 1979 revolution and has maintained his ties to Iranian clerics. Tunisia severed relations with Iran in the 1980s over the Islamic Republic’s penchant for fomenting unrest, but diplomatic and economic ties have been restored over the past decade. These ties include an Iranian cultural center in Tunis (referenced here and here), an entity that in other regional nations has been a means of introducing paramilitary operatives and Islamist recruiters.

Meanwhile, al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) has seized on the Tunisian unrest as a pretext for issuing audio appeals and a recruiting video. There is no evidence AQIM is organized for operations on a large scale, nor is the seizure of political power an al-Qaeda method. But any period of internal disorder in Tunisia will be an invitation to AQIM to ramp up its efforts there.

Tunisia sits on a crucial geographic chokepoint — the Strait of Sicily — in the central Mediterranean Sea. The U.S. and Europe can get away with shrinking navies while the Mediterranean coast is held by well-disposed governments. But Tunisia is one of a handful of nations in the world that could single-handedly turn a maritime choke point into an oversize international security problem. A radicalized Tunisia would have even greater security implications than a radicalized Libya or Algeria; the geography of a strait is a stern taskmaster. And Iran’s history of interest in the choke points on which the West relies for commerce and naval power (see here and here) suggests that the leadership in Tehran is fully aware of those implications and will do what it can to exploit them.

The good news is that a newly liberal, consensual government in Tunisia would be the best outcome for U.S. interests as well as for Tunisians. But we will have to actively encourage that outcome if we want to see it. The forces working against it are sure to multiply.

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Stay Tuned to Tunisia

For all its reputation as the world’s most unstable region, the Middle East has actually been extremely stable in one respect — almost all of its states are ruled by dictators who tend to rule for decades. That’s why it’s very big news that a revolution has swept Tunisia, with reports that President Ben Ali has fled the country. Based on the (scant) reporting so far, it is not clear whether any political movement is behind these events. Most of the accounts describe fairly spontaneous protests and riots after a vegetable vendor set himself on fire to protest the confiscation of his cart — his sole means of support — by the authorities.

Tunisians have long been fed up with the corrupt, illegitimate rule of Ben Ali and his hated wife, an Eva Peron figure. They and their family members have grown absurdly rich even as the rest of the country has stagnated. Many other peoples across the Arab world — in Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and other states — are fed up too. But they have scant chance to express their displeasure except covertly, because if there is one area in which Arab rulers excel, it is in building efficient police states. Now the police state in Tunisia has crumbled.

That is either good news or bad news. It all depends on what comes next. If Tunisia makes the transition to democratic rule, that would be an epochal development that could influence neighboring states in a positive way. If another dictator comes to the fore, that would not be so good. Even worse would be if that dictator emerges from the Islamist fringe. Stay tuned. It’s still early days, but certainly the end of Ben Ali’s long-lived and heavy-handed rule is not to be mourned, even if he was a reliable American ally.

For all its reputation as the world’s most unstable region, the Middle East has actually been extremely stable in one respect — almost all of its states are ruled by dictators who tend to rule for decades. That’s why it’s very big news that a revolution has swept Tunisia, with reports that President Ben Ali has fled the country. Based on the (scant) reporting so far, it is not clear whether any political movement is behind these events. Most of the accounts describe fairly spontaneous protests and riots after a vegetable vendor set himself on fire to protest the confiscation of his cart — his sole means of support — by the authorities.

Tunisians have long been fed up with the corrupt, illegitimate rule of Ben Ali and his hated wife, an Eva Peron figure. They and their family members have grown absurdly rich even as the rest of the country has stagnated. Many other peoples across the Arab world — in Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and other states — are fed up too. But they have scant chance to express their displeasure except covertly, because if there is one area in which Arab rulers excel, it is in building efficient police states. Now the police state in Tunisia has crumbled.

That is either good news or bad news. It all depends on what comes next. If Tunisia makes the transition to democratic rule, that would be an epochal development that could influence neighboring states in a positive way. If another dictator comes to the fore, that would not be so good. Even worse would be if that dictator emerges from the Islamist fringe. Stay tuned. It’s still early days, but certainly the end of Ben Ali’s long-lived and heavy-handed rule is not to be mourned, even if he was a reliable American ally.

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Morning Commentary

China, Russia, and the EU have reportedly snubbed Iran’s invitation to visit its nuclear facilities. The trip was intended to undermine the upcoming P5+1 talks with Tehran. However, Egypt, Cuba, Venezuela, and Syria are still planning to take the Iranian government up on the offer.

The nominations for RNC chair start today, and Wisconsin Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus still appears to be the front-runner, with approximately 44 committee members expected to support him. In comparison, incumbent RNC chair Michael Steele can currently count on support from around 24 members, according to Politico: “On a tactical level, the race has come down to two questions: How quickly can Steele’s challengers leave him in the dust? And can anyone get a decisive edge if the chairman falters early?”

For the fifth consecutive year, Freedom House has reported a worldwide decline in freedom. The number of “free” countries dropped from 89 to 87 last year, and the overall number of electoral democracies has dropped from 123 to 115 since 2005. From the Washington Post editorial board: “When the United States does not advocate strongly for freedom, other democracies tend to retreat and autocracies feel emboldened. If the disturbing trend documented by Freedom House is to be reversed, Mr. Obama will need to make freedom a higher foreign policy priority.”

The riots in Tunisia and Algeria could make the youth populations of both countries susceptible to the forces of Islamic extremism: “This tide of furious young people, willing to die if need be, is undoubtedly a social modernization movement; due to the regimes’ self-interest, however, the Islamist dogma could overwhelm their thirst for justice and seize the upper hand over the riots.”

The House GOP is preparing for the debate on new health-care legislation next week, while congressional Democrats have decided to dub the Republican’s bill the “Patient’s Rights Repeal Act.”

China, Russia, and the EU have reportedly snubbed Iran’s invitation to visit its nuclear facilities. The trip was intended to undermine the upcoming P5+1 talks with Tehran. However, Egypt, Cuba, Venezuela, and Syria are still planning to take the Iranian government up on the offer.

The nominations for RNC chair start today, and Wisconsin Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus still appears to be the front-runner, with approximately 44 committee members expected to support him. In comparison, incumbent RNC chair Michael Steele can currently count on support from around 24 members, according to Politico: “On a tactical level, the race has come down to two questions: How quickly can Steele’s challengers leave him in the dust? And can anyone get a decisive edge if the chairman falters early?”

For the fifth consecutive year, Freedom House has reported a worldwide decline in freedom. The number of “free” countries dropped from 89 to 87 last year, and the overall number of electoral democracies has dropped from 123 to 115 since 2005. From the Washington Post editorial board: “When the United States does not advocate strongly for freedom, other democracies tend to retreat and autocracies feel emboldened. If the disturbing trend documented by Freedom House is to be reversed, Mr. Obama will need to make freedom a higher foreign policy priority.”

The riots in Tunisia and Algeria could make the youth populations of both countries susceptible to the forces of Islamic extremism: “This tide of furious young people, willing to die if need be, is undoubtedly a social modernization movement; due to the regimes’ self-interest, however, the Islamist dogma could overwhelm their thirst for justice and seize the upper hand over the riots.”

The House GOP is preparing for the debate on new health-care legislation next week, while congressional Democrats have decided to dub the Republican’s bill the “Patient’s Rights Repeal Act.”

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So What Was Human Rights Watch Up to in 2010?

It’s been continuing to single out the most humanitarian state in the Middle East for unwarranted criticism, of course. NGO Monitor just released a new analysis of the activities of Human Rights Watch over the past year and found that the organization continued to aim its ire at Israel while ignoring some of the world’s worst human rights abusers.

Here’s a brief summary of the findings:

• In 2010, HRW published 51 documents on “Israel and the Occupied Territories,” more than on any other country in the Middle East. Compare that to the organization’s research on some of the most notorious human rights abusers — it published only 44 documents on Iran, 34 on Egypt, and 33 on Saudi Arabia.

• The group overlooks some of the worst human rights abuses in closed countries, like Syria and Libya and Algeria. NGO Monitor writes that “One of three major reports on Israel in 2010 consisted of 166 pages, while ten years of research on human rights violations in Syria produced a 35-page report.”

• HRW’s credibility also suffered a blow last December when it threw in its lot with the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. The group’s report, titled “Separate and Unequal,” called on the U.S. to withhold funding equivalent to the amount spent on the settlements and to scrutinize the tax-exempt status of Americans organizations that give support to the settlements. I blogged more about this report here.

• The director of HRW’s Middle East division met with Hamas leaders, supported the anti-Israel Caterpillar boycott, and praised Lebanon on human rights.

• HRW’s founder, Robert Bernstein, has continued to publicly condemn the organization’s growing anti-Israel bias.

• HRW also reduced its transparency in 2010, removing its annual reports and the names of its staffers from the website. These changes allegedly came after media reports questioned the credibility and ideological bias of the organization’s employees and publications.

The entire report from the NGO Monitor can be read here. HRW’s bias against the Jewish state isn’t a new development, but this analysis really crystallizes the sheer amount of time and resources the group wastes on demonizing Israel while millions suffer under totalitarian regimes around the world. Hopefully, as organizations like the NGO Monitor continue to expose the ideological motivation behind HRW, the media and the public will finally begin to take its reports less seriously.

It’s been continuing to single out the most humanitarian state in the Middle East for unwarranted criticism, of course. NGO Monitor just released a new analysis of the activities of Human Rights Watch over the past year and found that the organization continued to aim its ire at Israel while ignoring some of the world’s worst human rights abusers.

Here’s a brief summary of the findings:

• In 2010, HRW published 51 documents on “Israel and the Occupied Territories,” more than on any other country in the Middle East. Compare that to the organization’s research on some of the most notorious human rights abusers — it published only 44 documents on Iran, 34 on Egypt, and 33 on Saudi Arabia.

• The group overlooks some of the worst human rights abuses in closed countries, like Syria and Libya and Algeria. NGO Monitor writes that “One of three major reports on Israel in 2010 consisted of 166 pages, while ten years of research on human rights violations in Syria produced a 35-page report.”

• HRW’s credibility also suffered a blow last December when it threw in its lot with the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. The group’s report, titled “Separate and Unequal,” called on the U.S. to withhold funding equivalent to the amount spent on the settlements and to scrutinize the tax-exempt status of Americans organizations that give support to the settlements. I blogged more about this report here.

• The director of HRW’s Middle East division met with Hamas leaders, supported the anti-Israel Caterpillar boycott, and praised Lebanon on human rights.

• HRW’s founder, Robert Bernstein, has continued to publicly condemn the organization’s growing anti-Israel bias.

• HRW also reduced its transparency in 2010, removing its annual reports and the names of its staffers from the website. These changes allegedly came after media reports questioned the credibility and ideological bias of the organization’s employees and publications.

The entire report from the NGO Monitor can be read here. HRW’s bias against the Jewish state isn’t a new development, but this analysis really crystallizes the sheer amount of time and resources the group wastes on demonizing Israel while millions suffer under totalitarian regimes around the world. Hopefully, as organizations like the NGO Monitor continue to expose the ideological motivation behind HRW, the media and the public will finally begin to take its reports less seriously.

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An Internet Divided

Americans paid little attention in September 2009 when the Obama administration relinquished the traditional U.S. role in supervising policy for the global Internet. The eyes glaze over, after all, at the profusion of acronyms and the allusions to obscure functions in uninteresting federal agencies. When the U.S. Department of Commerce terminated its exclusive policy relationship with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the tech world was aflutter, but the event seemed to have no impact on the average American’s interactions with the Web.

That is going to change. ICANN is now supervised by an international body, the Government Advisory Council, in which the U.S. has no veto or even any institutionalized leadership role. We have voting representation in the body today, and some unique legacy influence, but there is no guarantee we will always have that. In the planned restructuring of ICANN’s governing board, the U.S. faces being relegated to a defined region of the globe in which we will be one of dozens of European and North American nations vying for the region’s five voting slots. Meanwhile, another newly defined “Arab States” region will bestow five voting slots on a bloc whose membership is, in effect, the Arab League.

The Arab League has already achieved policy triumphs in ICANN deliberations, as summarized in December at the Lawfare Project website. The record is unpromising: if Western governments can’t hang tough on some of the very basic concepts they have waffled on, there is reason to doubt their performance in other matters. We can have no doubts, however, about the likelihood of the Arab states arguing for censorship and illiberality in Internet policy.

Their region contains a number of the nations perennially identified by watchdog groups as the most hostile to Internet freedom, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Algeria, and Tunisia. (Reporters without Borders and the Global Integrity Report issue regular assessments.) One concern is the ongoing project of the Islamic nations to criminalize criticism of Islam, a key element of the bloc’s agenda in the Durban conference series sponsored by the UN. But blogger Daniel Greenfield also points out that domain names like JihadWatch.org and TheReligionofPeace.com could well be prohibited under Arab-state rules, along with their website content. Indeed, Israel’s national “top level domain” — .il — could be eliminated entirely by a voting bloc on the ICANN board. Read More

Americans paid little attention in September 2009 when the Obama administration relinquished the traditional U.S. role in supervising policy for the global Internet. The eyes glaze over, after all, at the profusion of acronyms and the allusions to obscure functions in uninteresting federal agencies. When the U.S. Department of Commerce terminated its exclusive policy relationship with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the tech world was aflutter, but the event seemed to have no impact on the average American’s interactions with the Web.

That is going to change. ICANN is now supervised by an international body, the Government Advisory Council, in which the U.S. has no veto or even any institutionalized leadership role. We have voting representation in the body today, and some unique legacy influence, but there is no guarantee we will always have that. In the planned restructuring of ICANN’s governing board, the U.S. faces being relegated to a defined region of the globe in which we will be one of dozens of European and North American nations vying for the region’s five voting slots. Meanwhile, another newly defined “Arab States” region will bestow five voting slots on a bloc whose membership is, in effect, the Arab League.

The Arab League has already achieved policy triumphs in ICANN deliberations, as summarized in December at the Lawfare Project website. The record is unpromising: if Western governments can’t hang tough on some of the very basic concepts they have waffled on, there is reason to doubt their performance in other matters. We can have no doubts, however, about the likelihood of the Arab states arguing for censorship and illiberality in Internet policy.

Their region contains a number of the nations perennially identified by watchdog groups as the most hostile to Internet freedom, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Algeria, and Tunisia. (Reporters without Borders and the Global Integrity Report issue regular assessments.) One concern is the ongoing project of the Islamic nations to criminalize criticism of Islam, a key element of the bloc’s agenda in the Durban conference series sponsored by the UN. But blogger Daniel Greenfield also points out that domain names like JihadWatch.org and TheReligionofPeace.com could well be prohibited under Arab-state rules, along with their website content. Indeed, Israel’s national “top level domain” — .il — could be eliminated entirely by a voting bloc on the ICANN board.

I do not believe American citizens and others who prize freedom of expression will watch passively as such clamps are applied to the Internet. But in a practical sense, it may be much easier to start an alternative Internet — or a set of them — than to reclaim the U.S. leadership relinquished last year by President Obama. The technology certainly exists to do so. If domain names and Web content are indeed censored by an ICANN voting bloc, the concept of a truly alternative Internet will be increasingly obvious.

The associated national-policy issues are certainly interesting to speculate about. But of greater significance would be the suspension of the global-information idea. That idea always required unified leadership — and to some extent an arbitrary policy posture — if it was to retain any liberal characteristics. Administered instead by a council of coequal voters with conflicting concepts of information and intellectual freedom, the global-information idea cannot remain liberal.

Western flight from a censored Internet might well portend a hardening of global divisions based on incompatible views of reality. The echoes of the Cold War — and, indeed, of the 1930s — are unmistakable. I have no doubt that the citizens of the West can keep an intellectually free Internet available, nor do I doubt that the world’s peoples would prefer access to it over a censored Internet. Ultimately, any Arab-states takeover of ICANN is more likely to discourage current globalization trends than to confer on the Arab League a position of unchallenged informational power. But that unplanned consequence is a silver lining in what promises to be a dark cloud on the Internet’s horizon. There are policy battles ahead that will affect all of us.

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The Public Be Damned

Jonathan noted yesterday that foreign critics are outraged by Israel’s passage of a law this week mandating referenda on certain types of territorial concessions. But their outrage doesn’t hold a candle to that of Israel’s own left.

In today’s editorial, for instance, Haaretz complained bitterly that “the public is being given veto power over crucial decisions on foreign policy and security issues.” By “handcuffing the political leadership’s moves in the peace process,” it charged, Israel is spitting in the world’s face.

Labor Party chairman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak similarly complained that “this is not a good law,” because the world will think “Israel is rejecting peace and is handcuffing itself to avoid progress in the diplomatic process.”

These arguments are mind-boggling. First, why should anyone in the democratic world object to giving the public a say in “crucial decisions on foreign policy and security”? Haaretz’s editors would evidently prefer a dictatorship of Plato’s philosopher-king, with themselves on the throne. But democracies are supposed to give the public a say in crucial decisions.

That’s why Britain, for instance, held a referendum on joining the European Economic Community, while France held one on leaving Algeria. In the U.S., this goal is achieved by requiring treaties to be ratified by a two-thirds Senate majority, which is unachievable without significant bipartisan consensus.

But the even more shocking assumption behind these plaints is that, given a choice, the public would reject any deal likely to be signed — yet the government should sign it anyway, and the public be damned.

Like Jonathan, I think Israelis would in fact support any reasonable agreement. But no reasonable agreement would ever be brought to a referendum, because the law requires a referendum only if an agreement doesn’t pass the Knesset by a two-thirds majority. And any reasonable agreement would easily surpass this threshold.

The history of Israeli diplomatic agreements amply proves this point. The treaties with both Egypt and Jordan did pass the Knesset by a two-thirds majority, and both, despite producing a colder peace than Israelis hoped, have stood the test of time. In contrast, not a single agreement with the Palestinians ever came close to achieving a two-thirds majority — and every single one has proved a bloody failure.

Nor is this mere coincidence. The Jordanian and Egyptian treaties won sweeping majorities because both countries’ leaders had proved their commitment to peace: Anwar Sadat by his dramatic visit to the Knesset, in defiance of the pan-Arab boycott on Israel, and Jordan’s King Hussein by decades of quiet security cooperation. And both treaties succeeded because these leaders truly wanted peace.

The Palestinian agreements won only narrow majorities because many Israelis weren’t convinced that the Palestinians wanted peace. And these agreements failed because this skepticism proved well-founded.

Thus the referendum law won’t prevent any deal actually worth signing. Nor will it prevent another bad deal on the West Bank, since it applies only to territory annexed by Israel. But it will at least prevent a bad deal over East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. And therefore, its passage is genuine cause for rejoicing.

Jonathan noted yesterday that foreign critics are outraged by Israel’s passage of a law this week mandating referenda on certain types of territorial concessions. But their outrage doesn’t hold a candle to that of Israel’s own left.

In today’s editorial, for instance, Haaretz complained bitterly that “the public is being given veto power over crucial decisions on foreign policy and security issues.” By “handcuffing the political leadership’s moves in the peace process,” it charged, Israel is spitting in the world’s face.

Labor Party chairman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak similarly complained that “this is not a good law,” because the world will think “Israel is rejecting peace and is handcuffing itself to avoid progress in the diplomatic process.”

These arguments are mind-boggling. First, why should anyone in the democratic world object to giving the public a say in “crucial decisions on foreign policy and security”? Haaretz’s editors would evidently prefer a dictatorship of Plato’s philosopher-king, with themselves on the throne. But democracies are supposed to give the public a say in crucial decisions.

That’s why Britain, for instance, held a referendum on joining the European Economic Community, while France held one on leaving Algeria. In the U.S., this goal is achieved by requiring treaties to be ratified by a two-thirds Senate majority, which is unachievable without significant bipartisan consensus.

But the even more shocking assumption behind these plaints is that, given a choice, the public would reject any deal likely to be signed — yet the government should sign it anyway, and the public be damned.

Like Jonathan, I think Israelis would in fact support any reasonable agreement. But no reasonable agreement would ever be brought to a referendum, because the law requires a referendum only if an agreement doesn’t pass the Knesset by a two-thirds majority. And any reasonable agreement would easily surpass this threshold.

The history of Israeli diplomatic agreements amply proves this point. The treaties with both Egypt and Jordan did pass the Knesset by a two-thirds majority, and both, despite producing a colder peace than Israelis hoped, have stood the test of time. In contrast, not a single agreement with the Palestinians ever came close to achieving a two-thirds majority — and every single one has proved a bloody failure.

Nor is this mere coincidence. The Jordanian and Egyptian treaties won sweeping majorities because both countries’ leaders had proved their commitment to peace: Anwar Sadat by his dramatic visit to the Knesset, in defiance of the pan-Arab boycott on Israel, and Jordan’s King Hussein by decades of quiet security cooperation. And both treaties succeeded because these leaders truly wanted peace.

The Palestinian agreements won only narrow majorities because many Israelis weren’t convinced that the Palestinians wanted peace. And these agreements failed because this skepticism proved well-founded.

Thus the referendum law won’t prevent any deal actually worth signing. Nor will it prevent another bad deal on the West Bank, since it applies only to territory annexed by Israel. But it will at least prevent a bad deal over East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. And therefore, its passage is genuine cause for rejoicing.

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Staging a Human Rights Atrocity

It has become a familiar pattern: violent provocateurs create a confrontation with lightly armed anti-riot squads. The state officials defend themselves. The instigators claim there has been an atrocity. The flotilla incident? Why, yes. But also a recent confrontation between Morocco and the violent Polisario Front, which refuses to accept a Moroccan autonomy plan for the Western Sahara and keeps refugees warehoused in dismal camps in Algeria.

As the Israeli government did in the flotilla incident, the government of Morocco has put out a video of a recent incident in Laayoune. This video, which is exceptionally graphic but should be reviewed in full to appreciate the extent of the Polisario Front’s propaganda campaign, shows peaceful demonstrators in a tent city (who came to protest overcrowding, totally unrelated to the dispute in the Western Sahara) dispersed without incident by Moroccan police, loaded onto government-provided buses, and exiting the area. Then onto the scene come the Polisario Front, with knives, rock-throwers, incendiary devices, and much brutality. What unfolds — vicious attacks on the police, the ambush of an ambulance, buildings burning in the city center, a near beheading of a policeman, etc. — is evidence that the Polisario Front is the aggressor in this incident.

And yet the Polisario Front, with a willing media, played the incident up as a human rights violation — by the government of Morocco. This report duly regurgitates the Polisario Front’s claim that the Moroccan government was guilty “of carrying out ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Laayoune and warned the international community that if it did not intervene to find a peaceful solution, ‘the Sahrawi people will resort to all measures, including war.'” This AP report tells us: “Moroccan forces raided a protest camp in the disputed territory of Western Sahara on Monday and unrest spread to a nearby city, with buildings ablaze and rioters roaming the streets. Five Moroccan security officials and one demonstrator were killed, reports said.” One would think that the government’s forces instigated the violence with the peaceful protesters there, and it would be hard to glean — as the video shows — that the protest camp had been dismantled before the Polisario Front forces attacked the police.

So what is going on here? Well, it seems that the incident came just as there was to begin the “re-opening of informal U.N.-sponsored talks Monday in Manhasset, New York, between Morocco and the Polisario Front, which long waged a guerrilla war on Morocco in a bid to gain independence for the desert region and its native Saharawi people.” Hmm. Sort of like the killing of Jews that inevitably breaks out when “peace” talks begin between Israel and the PA.

Whether the group is the PA or the Polisario Front, the modus operandi is the same — stage violence, claim victimhood, label the incident as a human rights atrocity, and thereby delay or disrupt peace negotiations that might resolve the conflict and leave the terrorists without a cause. You would think the media would be on to it. Unless, of course, they really don’t care about getting the story straight.

It has become a familiar pattern: violent provocateurs create a confrontation with lightly armed anti-riot squads. The state officials defend themselves. The instigators claim there has been an atrocity. The flotilla incident? Why, yes. But also a recent confrontation between Morocco and the violent Polisario Front, which refuses to accept a Moroccan autonomy plan for the Western Sahara and keeps refugees warehoused in dismal camps in Algeria.

As the Israeli government did in the flotilla incident, the government of Morocco has put out a video of a recent incident in Laayoune. This video, which is exceptionally graphic but should be reviewed in full to appreciate the extent of the Polisario Front’s propaganda campaign, shows peaceful demonstrators in a tent city (who came to protest overcrowding, totally unrelated to the dispute in the Western Sahara) dispersed without incident by Moroccan police, loaded onto government-provided buses, and exiting the area. Then onto the scene come the Polisario Front, with knives, rock-throwers, incendiary devices, and much brutality. What unfolds — vicious attacks on the police, the ambush of an ambulance, buildings burning in the city center, a near beheading of a policeman, etc. — is evidence that the Polisario Front is the aggressor in this incident.

And yet the Polisario Front, with a willing media, played the incident up as a human rights violation — by the government of Morocco. This report duly regurgitates the Polisario Front’s claim that the Moroccan government was guilty “of carrying out ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Laayoune and warned the international community that if it did not intervene to find a peaceful solution, ‘the Sahrawi people will resort to all measures, including war.'” This AP report tells us: “Moroccan forces raided a protest camp in the disputed territory of Western Sahara on Monday and unrest spread to a nearby city, with buildings ablaze and rioters roaming the streets. Five Moroccan security officials and one demonstrator were killed, reports said.” One would think that the government’s forces instigated the violence with the peaceful protesters there, and it would be hard to glean — as the video shows — that the protest camp had been dismantled before the Polisario Front forces attacked the police.

So what is going on here? Well, it seems that the incident came just as there was to begin the “re-opening of informal U.N.-sponsored talks Monday in Manhasset, New York, between Morocco and the Polisario Front, which long waged a guerrilla war on Morocco in a bid to gain independence for the desert region and its native Saharawi people.” Hmm. Sort of like the killing of Jews that inevitably breaks out when “peace” talks begin between Israel and the PA.

Whether the group is the PA or the Polisario Front, the modus operandi is the same — stage violence, claim victimhood, label the incident as a human rights atrocity, and thereby delay or disrupt peace negotiations that might resolve the conflict and leave the terrorists without a cause. You would think the media would be on to it. Unless, of course, they really don’t care about getting the story straight.

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Fake Photos and Foreign Media

You have to appreciate the irony. The Palestinians — who have made photo propaganda and falsification a central part of their anti-Israel efforts — are now caught up in such a gambit by another liberation-style group. The context is the ongoing conflict between Morocco and the Polisario Front, which opposes a Moroccan plan for autonomy for the West Sahara and prefers to fan the flames of conflict and perpetuate the misery of those warehoused in camps in Algeria. The latest incident is detailed in this account:

At a news conference, Interior Minister Taieb Cherkaoui played a video which he said showed “a man armed with a knife slitting the throat of two members of the security forces, the first in the camp and the second in Laayoune”, the Western Sahara’s main town.

These were “barbarous acts”, said Cherkaoui. The video was shot by Moroccan police.

The raid on the camp near Laayoune housing thousands of Sahrawis, who moved there to protest against their living conditions, was carried out on November 8, a few hours before a new round of talks between the Polisario, the main Western Sahara rebel group, and the Moroccan government started near New York.

Morocco has said that 12 people died in clashes between protesters and the police, including 10 members of the security forces.

But the pro-independence Polisario said dozens of people died and more than 4,500 were wounded in the violence.

Cherkaoui said some Sahrawi protesters, whom he described as criminal gangs, “deliberately killed members of the security forces, used knives, molotov cocktails and gas canisters” to start fires.

The police raid “was deliberately peaceful, no shots were fired and no deaths were reported from among the camp population and from Laayoune”, said Cherkaoui.

Well, the Polisario Front felt compelled to embellish and distort the incident. The group bandied about photos of wounded children — a sure-fire attention getter with the Western media, as the Palestinians have proven time and again. However the children weren’t from the Western Sahara but instead from Gaza (perhaps a few of the human shields used by Hamas?).  This report explains:

Spanish news agency EFE said Friday it had sent a photo supposedly of injured infants in Western Sahara which turned out to be a four-year-old image of children hurt in Gaza. The photo, purchased from a web site which made the original error, was published in major daily newspapers including the leading daily El Pais, and the centre-right daily El Mundo.

It showed infants with their heads wrapped in bandages being treated in hospital. In El Pais, the photo carried the caption: “Two injured Saharan children are treated at a hospital in Laayoune,” the capital of the Western Sahara.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat is now incensed by such disinformation.

The lesson here is one for respectable media outlets: be wary of accepting at face value reports or photographic “evidence” from groups whose journalistic bona fides are in question and whose motives are suspect. And that’s a lesson that is equally applicable in the Western Sahara and in Gaza.

You have to appreciate the irony. The Palestinians — who have made photo propaganda and falsification a central part of their anti-Israel efforts — are now caught up in such a gambit by another liberation-style group. The context is the ongoing conflict between Morocco and the Polisario Front, which opposes a Moroccan plan for autonomy for the West Sahara and prefers to fan the flames of conflict and perpetuate the misery of those warehoused in camps in Algeria. The latest incident is detailed in this account:

At a news conference, Interior Minister Taieb Cherkaoui played a video which he said showed “a man armed with a knife slitting the throat of two members of the security forces, the first in the camp and the second in Laayoune”, the Western Sahara’s main town.

These were “barbarous acts”, said Cherkaoui. The video was shot by Moroccan police.

The raid on the camp near Laayoune housing thousands of Sahrawis, who moved there to protest against their living conditions, was carried out on November 8, a few hours before a new round of talks between the Polisario, the main Western Sahara rebel group, and the Moroccan government started near New York.

Morocco has said that 12 people died in clashes between protesters and the police, including 10 members of the security forces.

But the pro-independence Polisario said dozens of people died and more than 4,500 were wounded in the violence.

Cherkaoui said some Sahrawi protesters, whom he described as criminal gangs, “deliberately killed members of the security forces, used knives, molotov cocktails and gas canisters” to start fires.

The police raid “was deliberately peaceful, no shots were fired and no deaths were reported from among the camp population and from Laayoune”, said Cherkaoui.

Well, the Polisario Front felt compelled to embellish and distort the incident. The group bandied about photos of wounded children — a sure-fire attention getter with the Western media, as the Palestinians have proven time and again. However the children weren’t from the Western Sahara but instead from Gaza (perhaps a few of the human shields used by Hamas?).  This report explains:

Spanish news agency EFE said Friday it had sent a photo supposedly of injured infants in Western Sahara which turned out to be a four-year-old image of children hurt in Gaza. The photo, purchased from a web site which made the original error, was published in major daily newspapers including the leading daily El Pais, and the centre-right daily El Mundo.

It showed infants with their heads wrapped in bandages being treated in hospital. In El Pais, the photo carried the caption: “Two injured Saharan children are treated at a hospital in Laayoune,” the capital of the Western Sahara.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat is now incensed by such disinformation.

The lesson here is one for respectable media outlets: be wary of accepting at face value reports or photographic “evidence” from groups whose journalistic bona fides are in question and whose motives are suspect. And that’s a lesson that is equally applicable in the Western Sahara and in Gaza.

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Shot Trying to Escape?

It is one of the memorable lines in Casablanca (which has many of them): “We haven’t quite decided yet whether he committed suicide or died trying to escape.” But the remark has a grim reality to it in the actual North Africa of 2010.

When last we heard of the tragedy in the Western Sahara, the former police chief of the Polisario Front, Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud, who had managed to leave the refugee camps, spoke out against the Polisario Front and embraced an autonomy plan put forth by Morocco, which would put an end to the humanitarian crisis and the virtual imprisonment of Sahrawis in squalid refugee camps. Sidi Mouloud, who was kidnapped as a child from Morocco by the Soviet-style “liberation” group, had feared for his life once he broke with the Polisario Front. Sure enough, he was snatched up by the Polisario Front henchmen, an act that elicited calls of outrage from humanitarian groups. Now we hear:

Sahrawi activist Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud was shot while trying to flee physical and mental torture at his place of detention for over five weeks by the Polisario militia and the Algerian authorities, a statement by the Action Committee for the Release of Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud said on Saturday.

The Committee says that the activist’s family received information stating that Mustapha Salma got shot by one of the guards and he is now sustaining injury in his leg.

The Polisario Front has denied the shooting. But Sidi Mouloud’s father and other family members insist that their contacts in the camps are telling them that he was indeed shot. There is an obvious solution: produce and release Sidi Mouloud. One group has already condemned the shooting:

“This detention and subsequent shooting are the actions of a dictatorial guerrilla group trying to control the thoughts, beliefs, desires, and wishes of the people it holds hostage in camps,” stated Kathryn Cameron Porter, Founder and President of the Leadership Council for Human Rights.

We await demands for his release from other groups, such as Human Rights Watch (which, as of the time of this writing, has not responded to my request for comment), the UN, and the U.S. government (which supported the autonomy plan, but — as with so much else — has not followed through with meaningful action to end the human rights crisis or to confront Algeria or the Polisario Front, which are blocking a resolution of the dispute over the Western Sahara). At some point, you wonder when European elites and the Polisario Front’s left-leaning sympathizers will recognize who the human rights abusers are in this equation.

It is one of the memorable lines in Casablanca (which has many of them): “We haven’t quite decided yet whether he committed suicide or died trying to escape.” But the remark has a grim reality to it in the actual North Africa of 2010.

When last we heard of the tragedy in the Western Sahara, the former police chief of the Polisario Front, Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud, who had managed to leave the refugee camps, spoke out against the Polisario Front and embraced an autonomy plan put forth by Morocco, which would put an end to the humanitarian crisis and the virtual imprisonment of Sahrawis in squalid refugee camps. Sidi Mouloud, who was kidnapped as a child from Morocco by the Soviet-style “liberation” group, had feared for his life once he broke with the Polisario Front. Sure enough, he was snatched up by the Polisario Front henchmen, an act that elicited calls of outrage from humanitarian groups. Now we hear:

Sahrawi activist Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud was shot while trying to flee physical and mental torture at his place of detention for over five weeks by the Polisario militia and the Algerian authorities, a statement by the Action Committee for the Release of Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud said on Saturday.

The Committee says that the activist’s family received information stating that Mustapha Salma got shot by one of the guards and he is now sustaining injury in his leg.

The Polisario Front has denied the shooting. But Sidi Mouloud’s father and other family members insist that their contacts in the camps are telling them that he was indeed shot. There is an obvious solution: produce and release Sidi Mouloud. One group has already condemned the shooting:

“This detention and subsequent shooting are the actions of a dictatorial guerrilla group trying to control the thoughts, beliefs, desires, and wishes of the people it holds hostage in camps,” stated Kathryn Cameron Porter, Founder and President of the Leadership Council for Human Rights.

We await demands for his release from other groups, such as Human Rights Watch (which, as of the time of this writing, has not responded to my request for comment), the UN, and the U.S. government (which supported the autonomy plan, but — as with so much else — has not followed through with meaningful action to end the human rights crisis or to confront Algeria or the Polisario Front, which are blocking a resolution of the dispute over the Western Sahara). At some point, you wonder when European elites and the Polisario Front’s left-leaning sympathizers will recognize who the human rights abusers are in this equation.

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Arming the Terrorists: Try, Try Again

Nigerian authorities opened cargo containers this week to find a large shipment of unauthorized arms at their port. Tightened surveillance in East Africa may be forcing Iran to ship arms to Hamas from transfer points further and further from Gaza: Israeli authorities suspect that the arms shipment, which was dropped off by an Iranian ship in July disguised as construction materials, was intended for Hamas.

On first glance, the implied route seems prohibitive. Getting the shipment to Gaza from a Nigerian port would still involve one or more transit paths that are under vigilant surveillance by regional authorities. Land transport to Egypt is the least likely method; besides poor road quality and the problems of highway bandits and border crossings, there was apparently no arrangement made for follow-on handling of the arms shipment inside Nigeria.

The way the cargo was dropped off suggests that it was supposed to be transshipped through Lagos to another port, perhaps somewhere on the North African coast. A local report indicates the agent in Nigeria was an Iranian businessman who has gone into hiding. The advantage of the swap in Nigeria would have been that a non-Iranian ship carried the arms cargo into the Mediterranean, where Israeli and U.S. intelligence, between them, are fully embedded with most port authorities.

The shipment was essentially orphaned at the drop-off point, however. A Nigerian official reports that there was a ham-handed attempt at bribing the port authorities to turn a blind eye to the cargo, which arrived without proper documentation. When that didn’t work, the drop-off ship simply left the port. The cargo sat unprocessed in its containers for months.

It’s possible that the arms were destined for the Shia Muslim Boko Haram insurgency in northern Nigeria. If they were, this would be the first detected instance of Iran trying to arm that insurgency directly. But Boko Haram’s arms route reportedly snakes across the northern border with Algeria, an arrangement dictated by the fact that the central government and the Christians of Nigeria’s south hold the ports. Moreover, Iran has been cultivating economic ties with Nigeria in the hope of importing uranium. Jeopardizing that relationship by arming an insurgency would appear counterproductive even to the unique geopolitical perspective in Tehran.

Perhaps the best news, if this was an arms shipment intended for Hamas, is that the Iranians seem to have miscalculated the law-enforcement environment in Nigeria’s ports. Presumably they will learn from this failure and prepare better for the next attempt. There are a lot of West African ports to choose from. We can be certain Iran will try again.

Nigerian authorities opened cargo containers this week to find a large shipment of unauthorized arms at their port. Tightened surveillance in East Africa may be forcing Iran to ship arms to Hamas from transfer points further and further from Gaza: Israeli authorities suspect that the arms shipment, which was dropped off by an Iranian ship in July disguised as construction materials, was intended for Hamas.

On first glance, the implied route seems prohibitive. Getting the shipment to Gaza from a Nigerian port would still involve one or more transit paths that are under vigilant surveillance by regional authorities. Land transport to Egypt is the least likely method; besides poor road quality and the problems of highway bandits and border crossings, there was apparently no arrangement made for follow-on handling of the arms shipment inside Nigeria.

The way the cargo was dropped off suggests that it was supposed to be transshipped through Lagos to another port, perhaps somewhere on the North African coast. A local report indicates the agent in Nigeria was an Iranian businessman who has gone into hiding. The advantage of the swap in Nigeria would have been that a non-Iranian ship carried the arms cargo into the Mediterranean, where Israeli and U.S. intelligence, between them, are fully embedded with most port authorities.

The shipment was essentially orphaned at the drop-off point, however. A Nigerian official reports that there was a ham-handed attempt at bribing the port authorities to turn a blind eye to the cargo, which arrived without proper documentation. When that didn’t work, the drop-off ship simply left the port. The cargo sat unprocessed in its containers for months.

It’s possible that the arms were destined for the Shia Muslim Boko Haram insurgency in northern Nigeria. If they were, this would be the first detected instance of Iran trying to arm that insurgency directly. But Boko Haram’s arms route reportedly snakes across the northern border with Algeria, an arrangement dictated by the fact that the central government and the Christians of Nigeria’s south hold the ports. Moreover, Iran has been cultivating economic ties with Nigeria in the hope of importing uranium. Jeopardizing that relationship by arming an insurgency would appear counterproductive even to the unique geopolitical perspective in Tehran.

Perhaps the best news, if this was an arms shipment intended for Hamas, is that the Iranians seem to have miscalculated the law-enforcement environment in Nigeria’s ports. Presumably they will learn from this failure and prepare better for the next attempt. There are a lot of West African ports to choose from. We can be certain Iran will try again.

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Low-Level Urban Terrorism: The Next Big Thing for Al-Qaeda?

Terrorism analysts Steven Simon and Jonathan Stevenson had an intriguing op-ed in the Washington Post on Sunday suggesting that al-Qaeda is moving away from trying to stage 9/11-style spectacular attacks and toward low-level urban terrorism. That, they argue, is the import of the warning from Washington and our allies that terror attacks may be imminent in Western Europe. There is little doubt that such operations have the capability to terrorize and paralyze. Witness the Mumbai attack in 2008, which they cite — or, for that matter, the Beltway sniper attacks in 2002, which they don’t mention.

Still. it’s quite a stretch to invoke comparisons with “Belfast or Beirut in the 1970s and 1980s.” Beirut was the scene of all-out warfare that included the use of artillery and other heavy weapons, pitting against each other primarily Muslim vs. Christian militias, who between them claimed to speak for most of the Lebanese population. Belfast was the scene of persistent terrorism carried out by the Provisional IRA, which claimed to represent the Catholic population of Northern Ireland (44 percent of the total). Whether or not the Lebanese militias or the IRA really spoke for most of their co-religionists, there is little doubt that they had a high level of support within their communities. Can the same be said about al-Qaeda and associated jihadist movements?

They probably enjoyed the greatest support in Muslim countries. Most of those countries are, however, dictatorships with effective security forces. They are unpromising terrain for urban warfare, as jihadists have learned in Syria, Egypt, and Algeria, among others. Western Europe and North America are more lightly policed and have Muslim communities where al-Qaeda can expect to draw some support — more in Europe than in the United States, but still a lot less than the support enjoyed by the IRA, Hezbollah, or other groups that have waged effective urban warfare. Al-Qaeda certainly has the capability to pull off isolated acts of terror along the lines of the London Underground bombing or the Mumbai attacks. But I very much doubt they have the capacity to stage such attacks in the West day after day as al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Jaish-al-Mahdi did in Iraq after 2003.

We should certainly take prudent precautions against such assaults, but we should also keep some perspective. It is still “spectacular” attacks that we need fear the most — and especially the prospect of terrorists getting their hands on nuclear weapons, which, as President Obama accurately observed, would be a “game-changer.”

Terrorism analysts Steven Simon and Jonathan Stevenson had an intriguing op-ed in the Washington Post on Sunday suggesting that al-Qaeda is moving away from trying to stage 9/11-style spectacular attacks and toward low-level urban terrorism. That, they argue, is the import of the warning from Washington and our allies that terror attacks may be imminent in Western Europe. There is little doubt that such operations have the capability to terrorize and paralyze. Witness the Mumbai attack in 2008, which they cite — or, for that matter, the Beltway sniper attacks in 2002, which they don’t mention.

Still. it’s quite a stretch to invoke comparisons with “Belfast or Beirut in the 1970s and 1980s.” Beirut was the scene of all-out warfare that included the use of artillery and other heavy weapons, pitting against each other primarily Muslim vs. Christian militias, who between them claimed to speak for most of the Lebanese population. Belfast was the scene of persistent terrorism carried out by the Provisional IRA, which claimed to represent the Catholic population of Northern Ireland (44 percent of the total). Whether or not the Lebanese militias or the IRA really spoke for most of their co-religionists, there is little doubt that they had a high level of support within their communities. Can the same be said about al-Qaeda and associated jihadist movements?

They probably enjoyed the greatest support in Muslim countries. Most of those countries are, however, dictatorships with effective security forces. They are unpromising terrain for urban warfare, as jihadists have learned in Syria, Egypt, and Algeria, among others. Western Europe and North America are more lightly policed and have Muslim communities where al-Qaeda can expect to draw some support — more in Europe than in the United States, but still a lot less than the support enjoyed by the IRA, Hezbollah, or other groups that have waged effective urban warfare. Al-Qaeda certainly has the capability to pull off isolated acts of terror along the lines of the London Underground bombing or the Mumbai attacks. But I very much doubt they have the capacity to stage such attacks in the West day after day as al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Jaish-al-Mahdi did in Iraq after 2003.

We should certainly take prudent precautions against such assaults, but we should also keep some perspective. It is still “spectacular” attacks that we need fear the most — and especially the prospect of terrorists getting their hands on nuclear weapons, which, as President Obama accurately observed, would be a “game-changer.”

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Where Is the International Community When You Need It?

When we had last left the story of the ongoing tragedy in Western Sahara, the chief of police of the Polisario Front (the “liberation group” that has blocked a plan for autonomy put forth by Morocco and continues to warehouse Sahrawis in dismal conditions) had denounced his own rebel movement and championed the Moroccan autonomy plan, despite fears he would be arrested. He fled to Mauritania and was planning on rejoining his family in the Tindouf camps and continuing his advocacy. But the Polisario Front would have none of it:

Polisario top security official Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud was arrested on Tuesday evening by the militia of the Western Sahara’s Polisario Front upon his arrival in the border post leading to the Tindouf camps, coming from the Mauritanian territory, international media reported.

Polisario militiamen, who were on board of two vehicles, arrested Ould Sidi Mouloud, in the region of Mhiriz, before taking him to unknown destination, according to Al Arabiya sources.

So much for freedom of travel. So much for freedom of speech. Earlier in the day, Sidi Mouloud, we are told, “urged the United Nations and all international human rights organizations to support him to preserve his right of free speech and his physical integrity.” Not quickly enough, it turns out.

And where is the “international community”? Humanitarian groups have called on the UN to take action. For example:

The Leadership Council for Human Rights this morning called on the International Committee of the Red Cross to seek the release of Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud, the 42 year old police inspector of the Polisario.

Sidi Mouloud was arrested yesterday by Algerian and Polisario authorities after speaking out in favor of the Moroccan Autonomy Plan for the Western Sahara.

“Not only is Sidi Mouloud’s arrest illegal — all he did was speak his mind; I don’t remember freedom of speech having been removed from the list of fundamental rights — it raises concerns for his overall safety,” stated Kathryn Cameron Porter, Founder and President of the Leadership Council for Human Rights. “The last senior figure to come out in support of the Autonomy Plan, Mahfoud Ali Beiba, had a sudden and unexpected heart attack immediately after his announcement.”

We should not get our hopes up that the UN will spring him. But this does raise once again a fundamental question. Morocco has presented an autonomy plan to the UN, which the Obama administration supports, but the UN has done nothing while Algeria and its pets in the Polisario Front maintain their grip on the throats of the Sahrawis and commit violations of human rights. Why doesn’t the UN agree to the plan and then use its persuasive powers (we keep hearing they have some) to implement it? Oh, is the UN Human Rights Council too busy bashing Israel?

The Obami have great faith in the efficacy of multi-lateral institutions. Perhaps it’s time to put that faith to the test and challenge the UN to end the suffering and the abuse of fundamental rights in Western Sahara.

When we had last left the story of the ongoing tragedy in Western Sahara, the chief of police of the Polisario Front (the “liberation group” that has blocked a plan for autonomy put forth by Morocco and continues to warehouse Sahrawis in dismal conditions) had denounced his own rebel movement and championed the Moroccan autonomy plan, despite fears he would be arrested. He fled to Mauritania and was planning on rejoining his family in the Tindouf camps and continuing his advocacy. But the Polisario Front would have none of it:

Polisario top security official Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud was arrested on Tuesday evening by the militia of the Western Sahara’s Polisario Front upon his arrival in the border post leading to the Tindouf camps, coming from the Mauritanian territory, international media reported.

Polisario militiamen, who were on board of two vehicles, arrested Ould Sidi Mouloud, in the region of Mhiriz, before taking him to unknown destination, according to Al Arabiya sources.

So much for freedom of travel. So much for freedom of speech. Earlier in the day, Sidi Mouloud, we are told, “urged the United Nations and all international human rights organizations to support him to preserve his right of free speech and his physical integrity.” Not quickly enough, it turns out.

And where is the “international community”? Humanitarian groups have called on the UN to take action. For example:

The Leadership Council for Human Rights this morning called on the International Committee of the Red Cross to seek the release of Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud, the 42 year old police inspector of the Polisario.

Sidi Mouloud was arrested yesterday by Algerian and Polisario authorities after speaking out in favor of the Moroccan Autonomy Plan for the Western Sahara.

“Not only is Sidi Mouloud’s arrest illegal — all he did was speak his mind; I don’t remember freedom of speech having been removed from the list of fundamental rights — it raises concerns for his overall safety,” stated Kathryn Cameron Porter, Founder and President of the Leadership Council for Human Rights. “The last senior figure to come out in support of the Autonomy Plan, Mahfoud Ali Beiba, had a sudden and unexpected heart attack immediately after his announcement.”

We should not get our hopes up that the UN will spring him. But this does raise once again a fundamental question. Morocco has presented an autonomy plan to the UN, which the Obama administration supports, but the UN has done nothing while Algeria and its pets in the Polisario Front maintain their grip on the throats of the Sahrawis and commit violations of human rights. Why doesn’t the UN agree to the plan and then use its persuasive powers (we keep hearing they have some) to implement it? Oh, is the UN Human Rights Council too busy bashing Israel?

The Obami have great faith in the efficacy of multi-lateral institutions. Perhaps it’s time to put that faith to the test and challenge the UN to end the suffering and the abuse of fundamental rights in Western Sahara.

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