Commentary Magazine


Topic: Hosni Mubarak

Egypt Gets Rewarded for Repression

As I noted earlier in the week, Hosni Mubarak has extended the country’s emergency laws for yet another two years, confident that he’ll pay no price for continuing his reign of thuggery. Boy, did he get that right. Josh Rogin reports:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a mildly worded statement Tuesday criticizing the Egyptian government’s decision to extend its “state of emergency” another two years and urged Egypt to adhere to “legal principles that protect the rights of all citizens.”

Meanwhile, her department was preparing to enter into negotiations with Egypt over Cairo’s proposal for a new $4 billion aid endowment that critics say would unfairly reward an authoritarian regime that has jailed or marginalized its opponents, rigged elections, and censored or manipulated the press for the nearly three decades that President Hosni Mubarak has been in power.

The administration is getting push-back from an array of disparate critics “includ[ing] former Bush administration officials, human-rights groups, and regional experts, [who] say Egypt is attempting to secure aid outside of congressional oversight and without being compelled to make progress on democracy and human rights. They question why Egypt, which by all accounts has actually been backsliding on reform in recent years, should be singled out for such a unique and lucrative prize.” Even worse, the administration slashed democracy funding while increasing economic support, thus providing a handsome slush fund for Mubarak. Even Human Rights Watch has figured out the problem:

Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, argued that shifting the bulk of U.S. economic assistance to an endowment will inevitably be seen in Egypt as empowering Mubarak. “I don’t think there’s a way to do it that avoids that perception in the mind of Egyptians,” he said, “Everything the U.S. does in its relationship with Egypt should be to promote political and economic reform … and to convince the Egyptian people we are in line with their aspirations.”

This is the crux of the bizarrely misguided Muslim-outreach policy of the Obama team. It really has precious little to do with reaching out to Muslims; it is rather a policy of ingratiation with oppressive regimes (e.g., Iran, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia) to the detriment of their people. We are not promoting warm feelings toward the U.S. by enabling Mubarak or by signaling that we’ll do business with Bashar al-Assad. And we haven’t gotten anything for our ingratiation. One can’t but help wondering why the Obama team has such affinity for the despots of the Middle East. Is this residual anti-Bush-ism? (He was in favor of democracy promotion, so they can’t be.) Is it disdain for the people of the Middle East, whom the Obama administration believes incapable of supporting democratic reform? Whatever the motivation, it lacks moral legitimacy and has failed to deliver any tangible benefits to the U.S. But it has made it clear that a foreign policy that lacks grounding in American values is, in the long run, unsustainable and ineffective.

As I noted earlier in the week, Hosni Mubarak has extended the country’s emergency laws for yet another two years, confident that he’ll pay no price for continuing his reign of thuggery. Boy, did he get that right. Josh Rogin reports:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a mildly worded statement Tuesday criticizing the Egyptian government’s decision to extend its “state of emergency” another two years and urged Egypt to adhere to “legal principles that protect the rights of all citizens.”

Meanwhile, her department was preparing to enter into negotiations with Egypt over Cairo’s proposal for a new $4 billion aid endowment that critics say would unfairly reward an authoritarian regime that has jailed or marginalized its opponents, rigged elections, and censored or manipulated the press for the nearly three decades that President Hosni Mubarak has been in power.

The administration is getting push-back from an array of disparate critics “includ[ing] former Bush administration officials, human-rights groups, and regional experts, [who] say Egypt is attempting to secure aid outside of congressional oversight and without being compelled to make progress on democracy and human rights. They question why Egypt, which by all accounts has actually been backsliding on reform in recent years, should be singled out for such a unique and lucrative prize.” Even worse, the administration slashed democracy funding while increasing economic support, thus providing a handsome slush fund for Mubarak. Even Human Rights Watch has figured out the problem:

Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, argued that shifting the bulk of U.S. economic assistance to an endowment will inevitably be seen in Egypt as empowering Mubarak. “I don’t think there’s a way to do it that avoids that perception in the mind of Egyptians,” he said, “Everything the U.S. does in its relationship with Egypt should be to promote political and economic reform … and to convince the Egyptian people we are in line with their aspirations.”

This is the crux of the bizarrely misguided Muslim-outreach policy of the Obama team. It really has precious little to do with reaching out to Muslims; it is rather a policy of ingratiation with oppressive regimes (e.g., Iran, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia) to the detriment of their people. We are not promoting warm feelings toward the U.S. by enabling Mubarak or by signaling that we’ll do business with Bashar al-Assad. And we haven’t gotten anything for our ingratiation. One can’t but help wondering why the Obama team has such affinity for the despots of the Middle East. Is this residual anti-Bush-ism? (He was in favor of democracy promotion, so they can’t be.) Is it disdain for the people of the Middle East, whom the Obama administration believes incapable of supporting democratic reform? Whatever the motivation, it lacks moral legitimacy and has failed to deliver any tangible benefits to the U.S. But it has made it clear that a foreign policy that lacks grounding in American values is, in the long run, unsustainable and ineffective.

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Egypt Figures Out Obama Doesn’t Care About Democracy

The Washington Post editors remind us that Hosni Mubarak has extended the country’s “emergency” laws (the “emergency” has been going on since 1981) for another two years. They explain:

In so doing, he flouted an emerging mass movement that has called for the law’s lifting, so that elections for parliament and president scheduled for the next 18 months can be genuinely democratic. He also violated the repeated pledges that he and his ruling party have made to end the emergency regime, dating back to 2005.

Last but not least, Mr. Mubarak took advantage of the policy of the Obama administration, which has chosen to soft-pedal the cause of democracy and human rights in Egypt and across the Middle East. Even as it has publicly demanded that Israel freeze Jewish settlements and that Mr. Karzai reform his government, the administration has gently stroked Egypt’s strongman, on the theory that the U.S.-Egyptian relationship needed mending after the Bush administration.

So the thugocracy of Mubarak will continue and the next election will be a sham, as have been the previous ones. Meanwhile, the administration declares the move “regrettable.” It doesn’t even feign being “deeply concerned” or “profoundly troubled.”

And what have we accomplished with this reticence? Egypt teamed up with Iran to hassle Israel about the Nonproliferation Treaty. Egypt’s repression of religious minorities and political critics has increased. So once again we have thrown human rights and democracy promotion under the bus, with nothing to show for it. The Middle East inches closer to a deadly nuclear-arms race and the Arab regimes become more and more repressive. This is what comes from Obama’s “smart” diplomacy.

The Washington Post editors remind us that Hosni Mubarak has extended the country’s “emergency” laws (the “emergency” has been going on since 1981) for another two years. They explain:

In so doing, he flouted an emerging mass movement that has called for the law’s lifting, so that elections for parliament and president scheduled for the next 18 months can be genuinely democratic. He also violated the repeated pledges that he and his ruling party have made to end the emergency regime, dating back to 2005.

Last but not least, Mr. Mubarak took advantage of the policy of the Obama administration, which has chosen to soft-pedal the cause of democracy and human rights in Egypt and across the Middle East. Even as it has publicly demanded that Israel freeze Jewish settlements and that Mr. Karzai reform his government, the administration has gently stroked Egypt’s strongman, on the theory that the U.S.-Egyptian relationship needed mending after the Bush administration.

So the thugocracy of Mubarak will continue and the next election will be a sham, as have been the previous ones. Meanwhile, the administration declares the move “regrettable.” It doesn’t even feign being “deeply concerned” or “profoundly troubled.”

And what have we accomplished with this reticence? Egypt teamed up with Iran to hassle Israel about the Nonproliferation Treaty. Egypt’s repression of religious minorities and political critics has increased. So once again we have thrown human rights and democracy promotion under the bus, with nothing to show for it. The Middle East inches closer to a deadly nuclear-arms race and the Arab regimes become more and more repressive. This is what comes from Obama’s “smart” diplomacy.

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Peace Process “Starts”?

This report tells you just how unserious — and unrelated to “peace” — is the process that supposedly started today: “United States special envoy George Mitchell met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, as Israelis and Palestinians readied themselves for the start of long-awaited indirect peace negotiations.” Yes, after 15 months George Mitchell has gotten the Palestinians and the Israelis to do exactly what they have been doing — talking to him and not each other. Yes, they came up with a fancy name — “proximity talks” — but that’s not exactly truth in advertising. There is no talking between the parties, in contrast to what happened during the Bush and Clinton administrations, which at least got the two sides in the same room. It’s not even clear what authority the PA has to negotiate:

Despite media reports that Mitchell’s meetings with Netanyahu would kick off the talks, the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization has still to convene to give the go-ahead to Palestinian participation in the negotiations. The Arab League gave its backing to the talks on Saturday.

It is unclear when the Committee will meet. Abbas, the PLO head, was in Cairo and Amman on Wednesday for talks with President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah II, and was not expected to return to Ramallah before Friday.

But just as the title of the talks signals that nothing much is going on, so does the pablum put out to the media after the first session: “A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office said that the two met for three hours and described the atmosphere as good. Mitchell and Netanyahu are scheduled to meet again on Thursday. In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the meeting was good and productive but did not give details.” Presumably this meant that no one left in a huff, but “productive” — well, that’s open to debate, not only for today’s session but for the entire exercise.

Both sides have said they don’t expect the talks to “succeed” and both want to maneuver not to be blamed. You thought the Iranian nuclear talks were the pinnacle of gamesmanship? Prepare to see both sides talk and talk and talk some more. So how does this end? In a third Intifada? With the administration announcing that they have “no choice” but to propose an American plan and a deadline for its implementation? The best we can hope for — and it would be a stretch at this point — is that the talks would quietly fizzle and the Palestinians will return to the business of creating the preconditions for real peace — that is, the formulation of institutions and the development of a new mindset that eschews victimology and violence. But the Obama crew has made that all the more difficult.

This report tells you just how unserious — and unrelated to “peace” — is the process that supposedly started today: “United States special envoy George Mitchell met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, as Israelis and Palestinians readied themselves for the start of long-awaited indirect peace negotiations.” Yes, after 15 months George Mitchell has gotten the Palestinians and the Israelis to do exactly what they have been doing — talking to him and not each other. Yes, they came up with a fancy name — “proximity talks” — but that’s not exactly truth in advertising. There is no talking between the parties, in contrast to what happened during the Bush and Clinton administrations, which at least got the two sides in the same room. It’s not even clear what authority the PA has to negotiate:

Despite media reports that Mitchell’s meetings with Netanyahu would kick off the talks, the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization has still to convene to give the go-ahead to Palestinian participation in the negotiations. The Arab League gave its backing to the talks on Saturday.

It is unclear when the Committee will meet. Abbas, the PLO head, was in Cairo and Amman on Wednesday for talks with President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah II, and was not expected to return to Ramallah before Friday.

But just as the title of the talks signals that nothing much is going on, so does the pablum put out to the media after the first session: “A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office said that the two met for three hours and described the atmosphere as good. Mitchell and Netanyahu are scheduled to meet again on Thursday. In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the meeting was good and productive but did not give details.” Presumably this meant that no one left in a huff, but “productive” — well, that’s open to debate, not only for today’s session but for the entire exercise.

Both sides have said they don’t expect the talks to “succeed” and both want to maneuver not to be blamed. You thought the Iranian nuclear talks were the pinnacle of gamesmanship? Prepare to see both sides talk and talk and talk some more. So how does this end? In a third Intifada? With the administration announcing that they have “no choice” but to propose an American plan and a deadline for its implementation? The best we can hope for — and it would be a stretch at this point — is that the talks would quietly fizzle and the Palestinians will return to the business of creating the preconditions for real peace — that is, the formulation of institutions and the development of a new mindset that eschews victimology and violence. But the Obama crew has made that all the more difficult.

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Human Rights Under the Bus — Again

It’s no secret that Obama is not enamored of democracy promotion or human rights advocacy. He has done as little as possible to aid the Green Movement in Iran, and in fact has cut funding to groups promoting democracy and documenting human rights abuses. His Sudan envoy is reviled by human rights advocates. He has engaged despotic governments in Burma and Syria, been largely mute on the atrocities against women in the “Muslim World,” and shoved human rights aside in hopes China would agree to sanctions against Iran. He has shown no interest in promoting religious freedom. Now he’s giving the back of the hand to Egyptian and Jordanian democracy advocates:

President Barack Obama has dramatically cut funds to promote democracy in Egypt, a shift that could affect everything from anti-corruption programs to the monitoring of elections.

Washington’s cuts over the past year — amounting to around 50 percent — have drawn accusations that the Obama administration is easing off reform pressure on the autocratic government of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to ensure its support on Mideast policy, including the peace process with Israel.

“Obama wants change that won’t make the Egyptian government angry,” said Ahmed Samih, head of a Cairo-based organization that in 2005 used U.S. funds to monitor parliament elections. And in the Egyptian context, that means there will be no change. …

The administration has made similar cuts in democracy aid to Jordan, another U.S. ally.

It is not merely that “Obama has moved away from his predecessor George W. Bush’s aggressive push to democratize the regimes of the Middle East”; it is that Obama sees democracy and human rights as afterthoughts or, worse, impediments to his smooth dealings with the world’s despots. The erosion of America’s moral standing won’t easily be reversed, nor will despotic regimes be restrained in abusing their own people (at least not until there is a less-indifferent Oval Office occupant). Obama has not used his vaunted eloquence or his supposed international popularity to advocate for the repressed around the world. To the contrary, he has enabled and encouraged oppressors, who for now need not fear that they will suffer any adverse consequences from the American president.

It’s no secret that Obama is not enamored of democracy promotion or human rights advocacy. He has done as little as possible to aid the Green Movement in Iran, and in fact has cut funding to groups promoting democracy and documenting human rights abuses. His Sudan envoy is reviled by human rights advocates. He has engaged despotic governments in Burma and Syria, been largely mute on the atrocities against women in the “Muslim World,” and shoved human rights aside in hopes China would agree to sanctions against Iran. He has shown no interest in promoting religious freedom. Now he’s giving the back of the hand to Egyptian and Jordanian democracy advocates:

President Barack Obama has dramatically cut funds to promote democracy in Egypt, a shift that could affect everything from anti-corruption programs to the monitoring of elections.

Washington’s cuts over the past year — amounting to around 50 percent — have drawn accusations that the Obama administration is easing off reform pressure on the autocratic government of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to ensure its support on Mideast policy, including the peace process with Israel.

“Obama wants change that won’t make the Egyptian government angry,” said Ahmed Samih, head of a Cairo-based organization that in 2005 used U.S. funds to monitor parliament elections. And in the Egyptian context, that means there will be no change. …

The administration has made similar cuts in democracy aid to Jordan, another U.S. ally.

It is not merely that “Obama has moved away from his predecessor George W. Bush’s aggressive push to democratize the regimes of the Middle East”; it is that Obama sees democracy and human rights as afterthoughts or, worse, impediments to his smooth dealings with the world’s despots. The erosion of America’s moral standing won’t easily be reversed, nor will despotic regimes be restrained in abusing their own people (at least not until there is a less-indifferent Oval Office occupant). Obama has not used his vaunted eloquence or his supposed international popularity to advocate for the repressed around the world. To the contrary, he has enabled and encouraged oppressors, who for now need not fear that they will suffer any adverse consequences from the American president.

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No Condemnation Forthcoming

Buried at page 10 of the Washington Post — for the front page is reserved for Israel’s supposed human-rights infractions — is a revealing story on the “Muslim World”:

At least 90 people were detained, according to rally organizers from the 6th of April movement, a mostly youth-led organization that was formed two years ago and is pushing for more political freedom. Egyptian police on Tuesday beat and detained pro-democracy demonstrators in central Cairo who were calling for constitutional reforms and the repeal of a decades-old emergency law that restricts an array of personal rights. . .

The demonstration came amid political uncertainty, with parliamentary elections slated for this year and a presidential election for next year. President Hosni Mubarak, 81, who had his gallbladder and a growth on his small intestine removed in surgery performed abroad last month, has ruled Egypt for nearly three decades. He has not said whether he will compete in next year’s election, fueling speculation that he might try to ensure that his son Gamal succeeds him.

Safe to say that if he “competes” — a misnomer suggesting that there are viable opponents — Mubarak will win. Did we miss the condemnation by the State Department? Did Hillary Clinton call up Mubarak for a 43-minute chewing-out? I think not.

This also points to another fallacy in the Obama Muslim World outreach: What happens to the human-rights and pro-democracy protesters when Obama is sucking up to the Syrians, bowing to the Saudis, and soft-peddling any objections to the Egyptians? They become after thoughts. So the notion that we are endearing ourselves to the Muslim World is simply wrong. We are trying to endear ourselves to regimes that oppress their own people. How this is supposed to alleviate animosity toward the U.S. and win the hearts and minds of Muslim youth is beyond my comprehension.

Buried at page 10 of the Washington Post — for the front page is reserved for Israel’s supposed human-rights infractions — is a revealing story on the “Muslim World”:

At least 90 people were detained, according to rally organizers from the 6th of April movement, a mostly youth-led organization that was formed two years ago and is pushing for more political freedom. Egyptian police on Tuesday beat and detained pro-democracy demonstrators in central Cairo who were calling for constitutional reforms and the repeal of a decades-old emergency law that restricts an array of personal rights. . .

The demonstration came amid political uncertainty, with parliamentary elections slated for this year and a presidential election for next year. President Hosni Mubarak, 81, who had his gallbladder and a growth on his small intestine removed in surgery performed abroad last month, has ruled Egypt for nearly three decades. He has not said whether he will compete in next year’s election, fueling speculation that he might try to ensure that his son Gamal succeeds him.

Safe to say that if he “competes” — a misnomer suggesting that there are viable opponents — Mubarak will win. Did we miss the condemnation by the State Department? Did Hillary Clinton call up Mubarak for a 43-minute chewing-out? I think not.

This also points to another fallacy in the Obama Muslim World outreach: What happens to the human-rights and pro-democracy protesters when Obama is sucking up to the Syrians, bowing to the Saudis, and soft-peddling any objections to the Egyptians? They become after thoughts. So the notion that we are endearing ourselves to the Muslim World is simply wrong. We are trying to endear ourselves to regimes that oppress their own people. How this is supposed to alleviate animosity toward the U.S. and win the hearts and minds of Muslim youth is beyond my comprehension.

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Carter’s Dixie Chicks Moment

Yesterday, following meetings with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and another Hamas delegation, Jimmy Carter blasted American attitudes regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “My country, the political arena of my country, is almost 100 percent supportive of the Israeli position,” Carter said. “You never hear any debates on both sides much, and most of the information is predicated on that sort of original premise.”

The spectacle of a former U.S. president denouncing his fellow countrymen abroad was a Dixie Chicks moment for the ages. But his choice of venue for decrying the lack of debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was no less ironic: the American University in Cairo–where students are so unwilling to consider the “other side” that they threatened strikes and sit-ins when rumors surfaced that Israeli professors had been invited to campus. Most recently at AUC, a play that featured an Israeli character was protested by its own student-actors, who walked on the stage draped in kaffiyehs and donned “Palestine will remain Arab” t-shirts following the performance. (The actors objected to Israelis being portrayed “as humans only,” one cast member said.)

Sadly, if Carter’s address has any influence, AUC is unlikely to become more hospitable to meaningful dialogue on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict anytime soon. After all, the more Carter spoke, the more he justified AUC students’ hatred for the Jewish state. At one point, after speaking of his visit to Sderot, where the daily barrage of rockets from Gaza has traumatized the community, Carter said, “At the same time, if you live in Gaza, you know that for every Israeli killed in any kind of combat, between 30 to 40 Palestinians are killed because of the extreme military capability of Israel.” At another point, he creatively redefined “terrorism” to equate Palestinian rocket-firings with Israel’s military response, saying that any “killings of civilians is an act of terrorism.”

Even for Carter, this exercise in public counter-diplomacy is shocking. After all, Carter’s greatest legacy–for which he still deserves his Nobel Peace Prize–remains his efforts to forge peace between Egypt and Israel. The more vociferously he denounces Israel to young Egyptians still raised to hate it, the more he jeopardizes that one accomplishment.

Yesterday, following meetings with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and another Hamas delegation, Jimmy Carter blasted American attitudes regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “My country, the political arena of my country, is almost 100 percent supportive of the Israeli position,” Carter said. “You never hear any debates on both sides much, and most of the information is predicated on that sort of original premise.”

The spectacle of a former U.S. president denouncing his fellow countrymen abroad was a Dixie Chicks moment for the ages. But his choice of venue for decrying the lack of debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was no less ironic: the American University in Cairo–where students are so unwilling to consider the “other side” that they threatened strikes and sit-ins when rumors surfaced that Israeli professors had been invited to campus. Most recently at AUC, a play that featured an Israeli character was protested by its own student-actors, who walked on the stage draped in kaffiyehs and donned “Palestine will remain Arab” t-shirts following the performance. (The actors objected to Israelis being portrayed “as humans only,” one cast member said.)

Sadly, if Carter’s address has any influence, AUC is unlikely to become more hospitable to meaningful dialogue on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict anytime soon. After all, the more Carter spoke, the more he justified AUC students’ hatred for the Jewish state. At one point, after speaking of his visit to Sderot, where the daily barrage of rockets from Gaza has traumatized the community, Carter said, “At the same time, if you live in Gaza, you know that for every Israeli killed in any kind of combat, between 30 to 40 Palestinians are killed because of the extreme military capability of Israel.” At another point, he creatively redefined “terrorism” to equate Palestinian rocket-firings with Israel’s military response, saying that any “killings of civilians is an act of terrorism.”

Even for Carter, this exercise in public counter-diplomacy is shocking. After all, Carter’s greatest legacy–for which he still deserves his Nobel Peace Prize–remains his efforts to forge peace between Egypt and Israel. The more vociferously he denounces Israel to young Egyptians still raised to hate it, the more he jeopardizes that one accomplishment.

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Right Message, Wrong Audience

Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, told Israel, in a televised speech
to mark the Prophet’s birthday, that “history shows no occupation
lasts forever”.

Now who’s going to tell the Chinese ?

Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, told Israel, in a televised speech
to mark the Prophet’s birthday, that “history shows no occupation
lasts forever”.

Now who’s going to tell the Chinese ?

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Egypt “Solves” the Gaza Problem

When Israel sealed Gaza last week—cutting fuel supplies and food imports, among other resources—this blog was somewhat divided as to whether the fallout would be beneficial for Israel.  I argued that Israel had acted counterproductively, undermining its own strategy against Hamas while taking a substantial toll on Palestinian civilians.  My contentions colleagues Noah Pollak and David Hazony countered that Israel’s actions had made Gaza Egypt’s problem—a responsibility that Egypt had unwittingly accepted once it responded permissively to Hamas’ breach of the Gaza-Egypt border.

Unfortunately, my colleagues neglected a substantial difference between Israel and Egypt’s positions vis-à-vis Hamas-controlled Gaza.  While Israel justifiably refuses to deal with Hamas, Egypt continues to do so and can provide Hamas what it needs most—political legitimacy, particularly among Palestinians.  Egypt thus has substantial leverage for inducing Hamas to make sure that Gaza does not become Cairo’s problem—something that Hamas can provide so long as it maintains exclusive control of Gaza.

This morning, Egypt ensured that Gaza would not become its problem, welcoming Hamas leader Khalid Meshal in Cairo for meetings with Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit and Head of Intelligence Omar Suleiman.  As Egypt won Hamas’ agreement to seal the Gaza-Egypt border, it entertained a variety of demands aimed at repealing the understandings under which Israel left Gaza in 2005.  Hamas has thus called for removing European Union monitors; opening the Rafah crossing to non-Palestinian Authority ID cardholders; and repealing Israel’s veto over the Rafah’s status.  Most critically, it has called for negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas regarding Rafah’s administration, refusing to accept “anything less than a major role.”

For the time being, Abbas is refusing to deal with Hamas and standing by his previous agreements with Israel regarding Rafah.  But one can hardly bank on Abbas neglecting Hamas for too long, and Egypt’s dealings with Meshal suggest that the guarantees that Israel achieved upon leaving Gaza are under diplomatic attack.  In short, so long as Israel fails to construct a military strategy narrowly tailored towards defeating Hamas—or at least damaging Hamas’ ability to reliably produce security for Egypt—Gaza will remain its problem exclusively.

A word to the wise: he may be the dullest of dictators, but never underestimate Hosni Mubarak’s ability to determine and protect his interests effectively.

When Israel sealed Gaza last week—cutting fuel supplies and food imports, among other resources—this blog was somewhat divided as to whether the fallout would be beneficial for Israel.  I argued that Israel had acted counterproductively, undermining its own strategy against Hamas while taking a substantial toll on Palestinian civilians.  My contentions colleagues Noah Pollak and David Hazony countered that Israel’s actions had made Gaza Egypt’s problem—a responsibility that Egypt had unwittingly accepted once it responded permissively to Hamas’ breach of the Gaza-Egypt border.

Unfortunately, my colleagues neglected a substantial difference between Israel and Egypt’s positions vis-à-vis Hamas-controlled Gaza.  While Israel justifiably refuses to deal with Hamas, Egypt continues to do so and can provide Hamas what it needs most—political legitimacy, particularly among Palestinians.  Egypt thus has substantial leverage for inducing Hamas to make sure that Gaza does not become Cairo’s problem—something that Hamas can provide so long as it maintains exclusive control of Gaza.

This morning, Egypt ensured that Gaza would not become its problem, welcoming Hamas leader Khalid Meshal in Cairo for meetings with Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit and Head of Intelligence Omar Suleiman.  As Egypt won Hamas’ agreement to seal the Gaza-Egypt border, it entertained a variety of demands aimed at repealing the understandings under which Israel left Gaza in 2005.  Hamas has thus called for removing European Union monitors; opening the Rafah crossing to non-Palestinian Authority ID cardholders; and repealing Israel’s veto over the Rafah’s status.  Most critically, it has called for negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas regarding Rafah’s administration, refusing to accept “anything less than a major role.”

For the time being, Abbas is refusing to deal with Hamas and standing by his previous agreements with Israel regarding Rafah.  But one can hardly bank on Abbas neglecting Hamas for too long, and Egypt’s dealings with Meshal suggest that the guarantees that Israel achieved upon leaving Gaza are under diplomatic attack.  In short, so long as Israel fails to construct a military strategy narrowly tailored towards defeating Hamas—or at least damaging Hamas’ ability to reliably produce security for Egypt—Gaza will remain its problem exclusively.

A word to the wise: he may be the dullest of dictators, but never underestimate Hosni Mubarak’s ability to determine and protect his interests effectively.

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Sarkozy Shows Us Up

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is showing up the United States, and not just because he has a far better looking girlfriend than any Commander-in-Chief of recent memory. In stark contrast to the uncharacteristically silent Bush administration, Jacques Chirac’s successor has demonstrated impressive toughness in addressing the deepening Lebanese presidential crisis, in which the Hezbollah-led opposition has blocked the parliamentary majority from electing a new president since pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud’s term officially ended in November.

While visiting Egypt earlier this week, Sarkozy announced that France would suspend contacts with Syria as punishment for Syria’s political interference in Lebanon. Sarkozy compounded this blow by prompting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to declare his support for Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora; Mubarak said that Egypt “supports the election of a president for Lebanon as soon as possible”—an implicit dig against the Assad regime. On Wednesday, Syria responded with a far-less-convincing suspension of contact with France, oddly conceding, “Syria can’t dispense with France’s role in Europe.”

The Bush administration has long seen itself as having few good options vis-à-vis Syria. Though Washington views Syria as a key player in resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, it has been hesitant to normalize relations with Damascus while the U.N. probe into Rafik Hariri’s assassination—in which the Assad regime has been implicated—is ongoing. In short, the administration has correctly refused to exchange the pipedream of Arab-Israeli peace for Lebanese stability, to which the completion of the Hariri investigation is essential. But Sarkozy’s breaking of ties with Syria provides the Bush administration with a key opening through which it can promote another essential regional interest: prying Syria from Iran.

As Iranian state television reported on Wednesday, in the aftermath of soured Syrian-French relations, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem declared, “The pressures exerted by certain countries will never undermine the strong relations between Tehran and Damascus.” Au contraire! Only three days earlier, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reportedly told U.S. Senator Arlen Specter that he was ready for peace talks with Israel, a move that would dampen Iranian-Syrian cooperation for years to come. With Sarkozy’s brilliant strike against Damascus, the Bush administration is now able to offer Assad a stark choice: normalization with western states that are broadly united on Lebanon and Arab-Israeli peace, or an isolated alliance with Iran. The former offers the political, strategic, and economic benefits of relations with the west and possible peace with Israel in accordance with Assad’s stated desires; the latter offers Syria’s continued confinement as a rogue state—a prospect made more costly by Sarkozy’s announcement. Most importantly, Lebanese stability—which has severe consequences for Arab democratization, Iranian ascendancy, Arab-Israeli peace—would no longer be on the table thanks to the leverage provided by Sarkozy’s move.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is showing up the United States, and not just because he has a far better looking girlfriend than any Commander-in-Chief of recent memory. In stark contrast to the uncharacteristically silent Bush administration, Jacques Chirac’s successor has demonstrated impressive toughness in addressing the deepening Lebanese presidential crisis, in which the Hezbollah-led opposition has blocked the parliamentary majority from electing a new president since pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud’s term officially ended in November.

While visiting Egypt earlier this week, Sarkozy announced that France would suspend contacts with Syria as punishment for Syria’s political interference in Lebanon. Sarkozy compounded this blow by prompting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to declare his support for Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora; Mubarak said that Egypt “supports the election of a president for Lebanon as soon as possible”—an implicit dig against the Assad regime. On Wednesday, Syria responded with a far-less-convincing suspension of contact with France, oddly conceding, “Syria can’t dispense with France’s role in Europe.”

The Bush administration has long seen itself as having few good options vis-à-vis Syria. Though Washington views Syria as a key player in resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, it has been hesitant to normalize relations with Damascus while the U.N. probe into Rafik Hariri’s assassination—in which the Assad regime has been implicated—is ongoing. In short, the administration has correctly refused to exchange the pipedream of Arab-Israeli peace for Lebanese stability, to which the completion of the Hariri investigation is essential. But Sarkozy’s breaking of ties with Syria provides the Bush administration with a key opening through which it can promote another essential regional interest: prying Syria from Iran.

As Iranian state television reported on Wednesday, in the aftermath of soured Syrian-French relations, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem declared, “The pressures exerted by certain countries will never undermine the strong relations between Tehran and Damascus.” Au contraire! Only three days earlier, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reportedly told U.S. Senator Arlen Specter that he was ready for peace talks with Israel, a move that would dampen Iranian-Syrian cooperation for years to come. With Sarkozy’s brilliant strike against Damascus, the Bush administration is now able to offer Assad a stark choice: normalization with western states that are broadly united on Lebanon and Arab-Israeli peace, or an isolated alliance with Iran. The former offers the political, strategic, and economic benefits of relations with the west and possible peace with Israel in accordance with Assad’s stated desires; the latter offers Syria’s continued confinement as a rogue state—a prospect made more costly by Sarkozy’s announcement. Most importantly, Lebanese stability—which has severe consequences for Arab democratization, Iranian ascendancy, Arab-Israeli peace—would no longer be on the table thanks to the leverage provided by Sarkozy’s move.

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Where’s the Middle East?

Few magazine covers are more iconic than Time’s annual “Person of the Year” issue, which commemorates the individual who has had the greatest impact on world events, for better or worse. This year’s choice, Russian President Vladimir Putin, is a decent one. Putin has reasserted Russia’s role in international affairs—Russia has played a frustrating role vis-à-vis Iran, and is vying for an increased role in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking—while his domestic maneuvering has all but insured that he will be named prime minister upon leaving the presidency next year. For better or worse, Putin has been critically influential in world affairs, and will likely remain so for years to come.

But beyond selecting a “Person of the Year,” Time usually names a few runners-up, as well as roughly 15-30 “people who mattered.” In years past, Middle Eastern leaders have almost always fallen into these subsidiary categories. Last year—following Iran’s stubborn pursuit of nuclear weapons and critical support for terrorism in Iraq, Lebanon, and Gaza—Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was a runner-up. Ahmadinejad was also named a “person who mattered” in 2005, shortly after being elected. Meanwhile, Ariel Sharon shared the distinction of “person who mattered” with Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi in 2004, and with Hamas in 2002; Ehud Barak and Yasir Arafat “mattered” in 2000; and Jordan’s Queen Noor “mattered” in 1999. If we factor in Time’s reported decision to forgo Osama Bin Laden as “Person of the Year” in 2001 in favor of Rudy Giuliani, and accept that 2003’s selection of the American soldier as “Person of the Year” was an explicitly Middle East-relevant story, 2007 is the first year in nearly a decade in which the Middle East has been entirely shutout.

While we should avoid placing too much weight on these distinctions, the absence of Middle Eastern leaders from the list of “people who mattered” suggests that the Middle East is sorely lacking in compelling figures. Consider this remarkably uninspiring roster: Ehud Olmert (severely unpopular in Israel); Mahmoud Abbas (weak and unpopular); Fouad Siniora (fears assassination and lives in his parliamentary office); King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (biggest accomplishment: brokering the failed—and costly—Hamas-Fatah truce); Hosni Mubarak (renewed crackdowns against liberal dissidents); King Abdullah II of Jordan (M.I.A.); and Bashar al-Assad (passively sticking with Iran). Indeed, none of these leaders inspires much excitement, for better or worse.

Of course, the absence of newsworthy Middle Eastern leaders is not necessarily a bad thing. One can hardly be too nostalgic for Yasir Arafat’s shared “Man of the Year” designation in 1993, or King Faisal’s “Man of the Year” designation in 1974 during the OPEC price hikes. Still, the absence of a single compelling Middle Eastern leader suggests that the region is directionless. In this way, Time’s failure to recognize the Middle East speaks volumes.

Few magazine covers are more iconic than Time’s annual “Person of the Year” issue, which commemorates the individual who has had the greatest impact on world events, for better or worse. This year’s choice, Russian President Vladimir Putin, is a decent one. Putin has reasserted Russia’s role in international affairs—Russia has played a frustrating role vis-à-vis Iran, and is vying for an increased role in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking—while his domestic maneuvering has all but insured that he will be named prime minister upon leaving the presidency next year. For better or worse, Putin has been critically influential in world affairs, and will likely remain so for years to come.

But beyond selecting a “Person of the Year,” Time usually names a few runners-up, as well as roughly 15-30 “people who mattered.” In years past, Middle Eastern leaders have almost always fallen into these subsidiary categories. Last year—following Iran’s stubborn pursuit of nuclear weapons and critical support for terrorism in Iraq, Lebanon, and Gaza—Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was a runner-up. Ahmadinejad was also named a “person who mattered” in 2005, shortly after being elected. Meanwhile, Ariel Sharon shared the distinction of “person who mattered” with Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi in 2004, and with Hamas in 2002; Ehud Barak and Yasir Arafat “mattered” in 2000; and Jordan’s Queen Noor “mattered” in 1999. If we factor in Time’s reported decision to forgo Osama Bin Laden as “Person of the Year” in 2001 in favor of Rudy Giuliani, and accept that 2003’s selection of the American soldier as “Person of the Year” was an explicitly Middle East-relevant story, 2007 is the first year in nearly a decade in which the Middle East has been entirely shutout.

While we should avoid placing too much weight on these distinctions, the absence of Middle Eastern leaders from the list of “people who mattered” suggests that the Middle East is sorely lacking in compelling figures. Consider this remarkably uninspiring roster: Ehud Olmert (severely unpopular in Israel); Mahmoud Abbas (weak and unpopular); Fouad Siniora (fears assassination and lives in his parliamentary office); King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (biggest accomplishment: brokering the failed—and costly—Hamas-Fatah truce); Hosni Mubarak (renewed crackdowns against liberal dissidents); King Abdullah II of Jordan (M.I.A.); and Bashar al-Assad (passively sticking with Iran). Indeed, none of these leaders inspires much excitement, for better or worse.

Of course, the absence of newsworthy Middle Eastern leaders is not necessarily a bad thing. One can hardly be too nostalgic for Yasir Arafat’s shared “Man of the Year” designation in 1993, or King Faisal’s “Man of the Year” designation in 1974 during the OPEC price hikes. Still, the absence of a single compelling Middle Eastern leader suggests that the region is directionless. In this way, Time’s failure to recognize the Middle East speaks volumes.

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Gaza Heats Up

It’s been a bad couple of days for Islamic Jihad and Hamas. In response to increased rocket fire from IJ and mortar fire from Hamas, the IDF has conducted air and ground operations in Gaza that demonstrate an impressive combination of precision firepower and deadly accurate intelligence.

Ten Islamic Jihad terrorists were killed in two airstrikes Monday night and early this morning, including Majed Harazin, a high-value target, the head of IJ’s kassam rocket squads. You can watch infrared UAV video of his car getting blown up here (and note that the secondary explosions are larger than the explosion caused by the air strike—no doubt about what was in the trunk). Good riddance.

Meanwhile, four members of an IJ rocket crew were killed by IDF ground forces, and another high-value target, IJ’s Jenin commander, was killed in the West Bank. As a contributor to the Israellycool blog points out, the IDF has accomplished all of this without causing a single Palestinian civilian casualty. What other military in the world takes such pains to operate like this?

Islamic Jihad has of course threatened a terrible response:

“We have a long arm. You will soon [experience] strikes similar to those we carried out in Tel Aviv, Netanya, and Eilat,” Abu Hamza said in a message to residents of the towns broadcast on Hamas television, warning that his organization would step up Kassam attacks on Sderot, Ashkelon, Yad Mordechai, and Netivot.

Earlier, in an e-mail sent to reporters, Islamic Jihad said it would retaliate for its losses with suicide attacks inside Israel, threatening “a wave of martyrdom operations.”

Read More

It’s been a bad couple of days for Islamic Jihad and Hamas. In response to increased rocket fire from IJ and mortar fire from Hamas, the IDF has conducted air and ground operations in Gaza that demonstrate an impressive combination of precision firepower and deadly accurate intelligence.

Ten Islamic Jihad terrorists were killed in two airstrikes Monday night and early this morning, including Majed Harazin, a high-value target, the head of IJ’s kassam rocket squads. You can watch infrared UAV video of his car getting blown up here (and note that the secondary explosions are larger than the explosion caused by the air strike—no doubt about what was in the trunk). Good riddance.

Meanwhile, four members of an IJ rocket crew were killed by IDF ground forces, and another high-value target, IJ’s Jenin commander, was killed in the West Bank. As a contributor to the Israellycool blog points out, the IDF has accomplished all of this without causing a single Palestinian civilian casualty. What other military in the world takes such pains to operate like this?

Islamic Jihad has of course threatened a terrible response:

“We have a long arm. You will soon [experience] strikes similar to those we carried out in Tel Aviv, Netanya, and Eilat,” Abu Hamza said in a message to residents of the towns broadcast on Hamas television, warning that his organization would step up Kassam attacks on Sderot, Ashkelon, Yad Mordechai, and Netivot.

Earlier, in an e-mail sent to reporters, Islamic Jihad said it would retaliate for its losses with suicide attacks inside Israel, threatening “a wave of martyrdom operations.”

On the diplomatic front, Israel is doing something shrewd in response to the ongoing Gaza terror offensive—it is bringing hard evidence of Egyptian complicity in weapons smuggling to the U.S. Congress:

The video footage—which allegedly shows Egyptian security forces assisting Hamas terrorists cross illegally into Gaza—is being transferred to Congress through diplomatic channels and is intended for senior congressmen and senators who can have an effect on the House foreign aid appropriations process. Israel believes this can be an effective way of pressuring Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak into clamping down on Hamas smuggling activities.

The House and Senate agreed late Sunday on a 2008 foreign aid bill that would hold back $100 million in military aid for Egypt, out of a $1.3 billion allocation, unless US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice certifies that concerns about smuggling weapons into Gaza and human rights abuses have been addressed. It is the first time that Egyptian military aid, supplied since the Camp David Accords, would potentially be restricted.

Israel is trying desperately to delay having to undertake a large-scale ground invasion of Gaza, given the current diplomatic circumstances. President Bush is expected to arrive in the region on January 8 to prod Israeli and Palestinian leaders further down the Annapolis rabbit hole, and an Operation Defensive Shield-type incursion into Gaza would be most unwelcome and disruptive to such efforts.

I suspect that Israeli strategists are pursuing a rather clever policy of eliminating Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror leaders in order simultaneously to suppress rocket and mortar fire, and to pressure the terrorists to engage in face-saving, but ineffective, retaliations. The Israelis do not want to deal such a devastating blow that Hamas seeks a cease-fire, which Israel would be pressured to grant, and which would only be used as a hudna, or quiet period, for re-arming and re-organizing. Hamas and IJ will want to mount serious attacks in the weeks preceding Bush’s visit so as to discredit the peace process and steal media and diplomatic attention from the Bush-Olmert-Abbas love-in. We’ll know soon enough if the terrorists’ strategy will work, or whether the IDF will be able to keep Gaza, working externally, at bay.

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Pseudo-reform in Egypt

Earlier this week, Egypt’s ruling National Democratic Party held its annual conference, which closed with President Hosni Mubarak’s declaring that Egypt is “on the road to reform and development.” Naturally, not everyone agreed with his assessment. Given political conditions in Egypt, however, only a small group of protesters braved the ever-looming threat of violent crackdowns to protest the conference, where they were typically outnumbered four-to-one by armored riot police.

Restraints on freedoms of speech and association have been well-documented in Egypt, deplored by everyone from Condoleezza Rice to the Muslim Brotherhood. Yet there is one area in which speech in Egypt is remarkably free: vilification of Israel. In limiting the scope of free speech to this small area, Egypt has built a potent strategy for deterring Western efforts to promote greater liberty.

Consider the recent history of the Kifaya movement, which spearheaded the mass protests in 2005 that paved the way towards theoretically competitive—though ultimately rigged—elections that September. But after the elections, as a consequence of disappointing results and the absence of a unifying platform, Kifaya quickly fizzled.

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Earlier this week, Egypt’s ruling National Democratic Party held its annual conference, which closed with President Hosni Mubarak’s declaring that Egypt is “on the road to reform and development.” Naturally, not everyone agreed with his assessment. Given political conditions in Egypt, however, only a small group of protesters braved the ever-looming threat of violent crackdowns to protest the conference, where they were typically outnumbered four-to-one by armored riot police.

Restraints on freedoms of speech and association have been well-documented in Egypt, deplored by everyone from Condoleezza Rice to the Muslim Brotherhood. Yet there is one area in which speech in Egypt is remarkably free: vilification of Israel. In limiting the scope of free speech to this small area, Egypt has built a potent strategy for deterring Western efforts to promote greater liberty.

Consider the recent history of the Kifaya movement, which spearheaded the mass protests in 2005 that paved the way towards theoretically competitive—though ultimately rigged—elections that September. But after the elections, as a consequence of disappointing results and the absence of a unifying platform, Kifaya quickly fizzled.

That is, until last autumn, when Kifaya returned to international headlines emboldened by its new campaign: to collect one million signatures in support of annulling Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. To many commentators, Kifaya’s actions—coupled with the Muslim Brotherhood’s electoral successes—indicated that the United States faced a tradeoff between promoting democracy and maintaining stability in the region, and that U.S. interests might be served best by sticking with a reliable authoritarian regime. Indeed, this is exactly what the Bush administration ultimately did, virtually eliminating democracy-talk from its Egypt agenda earlier this year.

This rapid shift away from the democracy agenda, however, sent a troubling signal to the Egyptian regime: that it would take remarkably little to distract Washington from promoting liberalization. Mubarak had thus stumbled across a new strategy: conditioning Egyptian dissidents to organize for anti-Western causes rather than their own civil liberties. This strategy undermines domestic opposition while deterring American democratizing pressures.

The vocal student outcry against academic exchanges with Israel at American University in Cairo, which I reported on Wednesday, is a prime example of this strategy’s successful implementation. I happen to know one of the protest’s foremost organizers—for his security, I’ll call him Muhammad—who had previously been active in liberal anti-government protests. But, after a harrowing experience in March 2007, he swore off these protests. While distributing pamphlets opposing constitutional amendments that would restrict parties’ electoral participation, Muhammad was arrested, thrown in the back of an armored police vehicle, and driven out to the desert, where he was held with seven colleagues for twenty-four hours. During that period, he was given little water and fed one small container of macaroni; when he had to use the bathroom, he urinated in the empty container. He was later released in the desert and, after finding his way back to Cairo, learned that he had lost his teaching job.

Yet in the uproar against academic exchanges with Israelis, Muhammad has found a new outlet for organizing. In an e-mail sent to me earlier this week, he argued against these exchanges until Israel recognizes Palestinian rights. As I responded, it is saddening to compare the ease with which he protests for Palestinian rights to the difficulties he faces in advocating for his own.

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Kasparov and Putin

In this country we’re not used to thinking of our politicians as heroes. And they seldom are—with some notable exceptions, such as Reagan, who cracked jokes after getting shot, or FDR, who grinned and bore his paralysis, or Lincoln, who directed the war effort with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Our politicians don’t have to be heroes; the Founders created a system in which average men and women could govern themselves.

But in other countries, especially in emerging democracies or in countries still oppressed by a dictator’s whims, being a politician can be a very heroic act. One thinks of Ayman Nour in Egypt, imprisoned for daring to run against Hosni Mubarak. Or Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma, imprisoned in her homeland, separated from her husband as he was dying, because she dared challenge the junta that rules Burma.

The latest to join the ranks of heroic politicians is Garry Kasparov, who has announced that he will take on the thankless task of challenging Vladimir Putin’s handpicked successor in Russia’s presidential elections. Kasparov—the subject of a long New Yorker profile by David Remnick last week—is widely considered to be the greatest chess player of all time. He is a rich man who could easily live a life of leisure in New York, London, or Tel Aviv. He has instead chosen to seek political office in Russia even though he knows the odds of victory are nonexistent. The odds of getting killed by the Kremlin’s thugs are considerably higher.

Yet he is running nevertheless simply because he believes in democracy and wants to preserve some sparks of freedom in a country increasingly falling under dictatorial control.That doesn’t mean that he is a political sage or that he is right about every decision he makes. I’ve had discussions with Kasparov (whom I know slightly) in the past where I disagreed with his arguments. And it is certainly possible to question the wisdom of his current alliance with Edward Limonov of the National Bolshevik Party, the closest thing Russia has to a fascist party. Kasparov wants to unite all the opposition groups under one banner, but there are some opposition elements which are too odious to be tolerated by civilized people.

But that’s a matter of tactics on Kasparov’s part. No one could possibly imagine that he is sympathetic to fascism himself or has any but the highest motives for his actions. It is easy to be cynical about the motives of most politicians. But it is hard, if not impossible, to think of any self-interest that Kasparov has in doing what he is doing. He is truly a hero. I only hope he does not become a martyr.

In this country we’re not used to thinking of our politicians as heroes. And they seldom are—with some notable exceptions, such as Reagan, who cracked jokes after getting shot, or FDR, who grinned and bore his paralysis, or Lincoln, who directed the war effort with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Our politicians don’t have to be heroes; the Founders created a system in which average men and women could govern themselves.

But in other countries, especially in emerging democracies or in countries still oppressed by a dictator’s whims, being a politician can be a very heroic act. One thinks of Ayman Nour in Egypt, imprisoned for daring to run against Hosni Mubarak. Or Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma, imprisoned in her homeland, separated from her husband as he was dying, because she dared challenge the junta that rules Burma.

The latest to join the ranks of heroic politicians is Garry Kasparov, who has announced that he will take on the thankless task of challenging Vladimir Putin’s handpicked successor in Russia’s presidential elections. Kasparov—the subject of a long New Yorker profile by David Remnick last week—is widely considered to be the greatest chess player of all time. He is a rich man who could easily live a life of leisure in New York, London, or Tel Aviv. He has instead chosen to seek political office in Russia even though he knows the odds of victory are nonexistent. The odds of getting killed by the Kremlin’s thugs are considerably higher.

Yet he is running nevertheless simply because he believes in democracy and wants to preserve some sparks of freedom in a country increasingly falling under dictatorial control.That doesn’t mean that he is a political sage or that he is right about every decision he makes. I’ve had discussions with Kasparov (whom I know slightly) in the past where I disagreed with his arguments. And it is certainly possible to question the wisdom of his current alliance with Edward Limonov of the National Bolshevik Party, the closest thing Russia has to a fascist party. Kasparov wants to unite all the opposition groups under one banner, but there are some opposition elements which are too odious to be tolerated by civilized people.

But that’s a matter of tactics on Kasparov’s part. No one could possibly imagine that he is sympathetic to fascism himself or has any but the highest motives for his actions. It is easy to be cynical about the motives of most politicians. But it is hard, if not impossible, to think of any self-interest that Kasparov has in doing what he is doing. He is truly a hero. I only hope he does not become a martyr.

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