Monday, March 3, 2014

A Transatlantic Partnership after the Arab Uprisings

An excerpt from my latest argument with Benjamin Preisler (@LKwesiJ) in Tufts University's Fletcher Forum of World Affairs:

The uprisings that swept the Arab world in 2011 were a historic political awakening of peoples long held captive by decrepit systems of control and oppression. However, the United States and its European allies have so far failed to reckon with this geopolitical earthquake. This lack of appreciation is exemplified by a recent White House policy review that pared Middle East priorities down to three issues, only one of which was related to the uprisings. Rather than adapting and coordinating long-term policies to account for the political mobilization of the masses and its causes, Brussels and Washington have largely reverted to pursuing short-term stability and security. This failure not only threatens the West’s ability to influence the region, leaving other actors to fill the void, but it risks losing the region to greater instability and insecurity in the future.
However, there is still time for leaders to capitalize on the opportunities presented by the uprisings and formulate win-win, long-term policies. This will require the same paradigm shift found in U.S. foreign policy after World War II. After the war devastated Europe, the stability, democratic nature, and equity of today’s Europe were far from a certain outcome. Yet acting out of enlightened self-interest, the United States remained engaged economically and politically with the continent. This engagement fostered a mutually beneficial partnership and flowered into an alliance that has predominantly shaped the international framework since. Following their uprisings, North African countries face the same watershed moment as their northern neighbors did over half a century ago. The Transatlantic partnership, looking at its own history and success as a model, ought to engage with Arab reformers as real partners instead of following the failed policies of the past, namely embracing as clients whichever strongman emerges from the entropy.

To read the entire piece, click here.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Police Are Dogs



An excerpt from my latest piece in Foreign Policy:

One day in November, Fawzia Ben Ahmed sits down in her living room in the hardscrabble Tunis neighborhood of Bab Jdid to watch a video of her son being detained by police. Ben Ahmed, a lady of small frame, is dressed simply and conservatively with two pieces of brown cloth covering her hair and torso, thick glasses covering her expressive eyes. Her 17-year-old daughter Hedia sits next to her on the sofa. Today is her mother's birthday.

"Look, he's smiling even as they bring him out," says Fawzia with pride. The television screen shows police pushing Ahmed Ben Ahmed, better known as rapper Klay BBJ, out of his dressing room at the cultural center in the beach town resort of Hammamet.

The trouble at the Hammamet concert late last August, started when Klay and fellow rapper Weld el 15 (real name Alaa al-Yacoubi) performed Weld's song "Boulicia Kleb" ("The Police Are Dogs"). During an intermission soon after, the police killed the music, cut the spotlights, and stormed the two musicians' dressing rooms. The police brought the rappers out, put them in a van, and proceeded to beat them on the way to the police station, according to Klay.

"The first person I saw, I also saw a slap coming from him at the same time. It was like he was saying: 'Hi,'" says the 22-year-old Klay. The singer has an oval face, an underbite, and puffy lips. (In the photo above, Klay (right) poses with Weld el 15 upon arriving at court on Dec. 5.) His smoky and slightly nasal voice has a laid-back quality that almost hints of southern California (despite the fact that his favorite rappers are East-Coast legends Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls). He's sitting on a couch in the hallway just outside the living room, sporting an Orlando Magic jersey, sweatpants, and granddad slippers. Even when he's not rapping, he speaks lyrically.
"When they started beating us, Alaa and I were just looking at them and saying: 'Why?' And they replied: 'Yeah, you're insulting the police, and since 2011, no one has arrested you. Well, now you're going to pay for everything,'" says Klay as his bleached-blonde girlfriend pets his back softly. "More than 30 police officers came in. The ones who didn't beat me just threw in a punch." 

To read the entire piece, click here.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Tunisia’s Politicians Play On

The Tunisian political game continues, thankfully without a brazen coup (for now), yet sadly without much regard for the needs of common citizens. Here is an excerpt from my latest analysis in the Cairo Review:

...despite deep ideological rifts, continuing economic woes, and regional pressures, Tunisia’s political game continues.
To understand Tunisia’s current political state, it is helpful to distinguish the public’s latent disenchantment, frustration and anger from the specific triggers that, in the last several months, sparked a series of demonstrations, moved large institutional players clearly into the opposition camp, and motivated opposition politicians to push for an end to Ennahda’s rule and the dissolution of Tunisia’s only elected body, the National Constituent Assembly.

To read the full article, click here.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

My Interview with the Bedouin commander who captured Saif Al-Islam Gadhafi

Here is an excerpt from my latest piece in The Independent:


On an old Saharan road in the small hours of a cold November night, darkness cloaked a Bedouin commander and his 14 men waiting in ambush.

At 2:30 in the morning, their patience and their intelligence sources were proved justified, and two cars travelling along Libya’s borders with Niger and Algeria became mired in a depression in the sand.

One man exited the first car, immediately fell flat, and buried his face in the sand. Commander Alajmi Ali Ahmed al-Atiri raised the man to his feet to inquire who he was.

“He said: ‘My name is Abdessalam al-Tergi. I’m a camel herder and I’m going to my herd,’” recounts Atiri. “And when he asked: ‘Who are you?’ I responded: ‘We are the revolutionaries of Zintan and [the] Hutman [tribe], oh Saif,’ and that’s when he knew that we recognised him.”

To continue reading, click here.

Libya's Unarmed Revolutionaries

Here is an excerpt from my recent article in Foreign Policy:

During the more than four decades of his rule, Qaddafi succeeded in fusing his family with the state and the government. The basic building block of civil society -- associative life -- could not exist outside the regime's control. The revolution ruptured this model. Citizens, long silent, collectively asserted their right to a share in Libya. In the fight against Qaddafi, armed groups secured victory with the help of peaceful citizens' associations, a nascent civil society that provided medical assistance, food and water, and psychological treatment for those traumatized by war. Now in its second year, civil society groups are taking their first tentative steps toward an institutional role in the state. While government is at the mercy of warring militias and the private sector primarily revolves around natural resources, it is the third sector, civil society, that is laying the groundwork for an educated citizenry engaged in the rebuilding of Libya. A strong civil society is key to guaranteeing and protecting the gains of the revolution, and, in many ways, represents Libya's best hope for a genuine democracy. 

To continue reading, click here.

Tunisia and 'the Egyptian Model'

Here is an excerpt from my recent analysis in the Cairo Review:

In both Tunisia and Egypt, the state’s most important and entrenched institution remains the security establishment. In the case of Egypt, this means the army. It wields enormous political power, has close relations with the U.S., oversees the complicated relations with Israel, and maintains interests in virtually all sectors of the economy. Presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak were all military men, and it seems that General Abdul-Fattah El-Sisi seeks to follow in their footsteps.
In Tunisia it is the Interior Ministry that retains potentially decisive power. This is the case particularly with the police, which was led at one point by Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, before his ascendance to the presidency. Tunisia, under his rule, was rightly characterized as a police state. What we know of the Interior Ministry is more limited than what we know of the Egyptian army, and Human Rights Watch has described it as “a black box,” However, tiny slivers of light have begun to emerge, and the role of the ministry and the police in the current standoff between pro- and anti-government protesters may be key to understanding why Tunisia has not followed Egypt’s lead.

To continue reading, click here.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Tunisia and the 'Arab Spring' Reversal

The following is an excerpt from my recent analysis of Tunisia's current turmoil following another political assassination. Read the full article here at Jadaliyya.

Two years ago, hope was not only palpable in the streets of Tunis; it was infectious. Young Arabs had risen up and triumphed against a Western-supported dictator whose police state ran on fear. Similar uprisings across the region seemed to have confirmed that Tunisia had led the way towards a new, more democratic order. And Tunisia was about to lead the way again by holding a clean election, almost unprecedented in the Middle East and North Africa.

Now, hope is in rare supply across the region. Egypt’s elections yielded new leaders that blindly and illiberally ran the country along strict partisan lines until a military coup publicly reasserted old-regime institutions. Libya’s timid leaders and bold militias have hampered democracy, security and institution building. Syria’s revolution turned into a bloody war and a hellish game for external actors, while Lebanon desperately tries to quarantine itself from the neighboring chaos. Western observers use increasingly desperate euphemisms for Iraq’s escalating civil war. No one dares talk about Bahrain, or perhaps no one cares. Other Gulf countries quietly quarrel amongst themselves through political and economic maneuvering in neighboring proxy countries.

While numerous pundits bemoan “Arab Spring” fatigue, many still believed that tiny Tunisia alone might overcome its challenges to create a new inclusive, civic, stable, free, and prosperous political order. But what started in Tunisia may soon end in Tunisia as the gains of the “Arab Spring” are systematically rolled back with the help of old regime forces, ascendant ideological zealots, domestic lassitude, and powerful outside players that are uncomfortable with independent, populist politics in the region.

Read the rest here.