Last week's stunning assassination of several key Syrian security officials, the sudden spread of serious fighting into Damascus and Aleppo, and the Russian-Chinese veto of a Chapter VII resolution at the UN Security Council have ushered in a new phase in the Syrian crisis. Five months ago, I wrote a policy report for the Center for a New American Security warning against U.S. military intervention or arming the opposition, and proposing a series of non-military steps which might help bring about a political transition. In April, I argued in a Congressional hearing for giving the Annan Plan a chance to work.
In an essay published today on CNN.com, I suggest that diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis have failed -- but that this is no cause for celebration. Annan's efforts, supported by the U.S., attempted to find some path to a "soft landing" which could avoid Syria's descent into sectarian civil war, insurgency and potential state collapse. For his pains, Annan was often treated as an enemy by Syrian opposition supporters anxious for external military intervention, outraged by the daily bloodshed or distrustful of any regime promises. But the likely course of the struggle to come demonstrates painfully why this was an effort worth making.
Today, we face the grim reality that the prospects for a negotiated transition have largely ended and Syria now likely faces a long, grinding insurgency with few foundations for a viable post-Assad scenario. Sadly, such an outcome of long-term violence would be acceptable to many whose primary interest is weakening Iran rather than protecting civilians or building a more democratic Syria. At this point, it is vital to prepare for an end which won't come soon, but when it happens will likely be sudden and surprising.
The election of the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed el-Morsi as President of Egypt, following the electoral victory of Tunisia's Ennahda Party, has sharpened the world's focus on the role of Islamist movements in a rapidly changing Middle East. The turn from an "Arab Spring" to an "Islamist Summer (and/or Winter)", as pessimists warn gloomily that the overthrowing of dictators is only empowering a new generation of religious fanatics, has become the stuff of cliche. But the concern over rising Islamist political power in both the West and in countries such as Egypt is very real. Who are these movements? What do they want? And how will they shape -- and be shaped by -- the region's new politics?
I am thrilled to announce today's publication of a new ebook, Islamists in a Changing Middle East. This collection of dozens of essays originally published on ForeignPolicy.com offers deep insights into the evolution of these Islamist movements. They offer accessible, deeply informed analysis by top experts, which can help to correct many of the misconceptions about such movements while also drawing attention to very real dangers. These essays were written in real time, in response to particular circumstances and challenges, and have been only lightly edited and updated for this volume in order to retain the urgency and passion with which they were written. The essays offer snapshots of a political moment, informed by deep experience and long study of these movements and the countries within which they operate. They have enduring value.
The Middle East Channel Editors Reader #6
Votes are being counted in yesterday's historic election to select a temporary 200 member General National Congress in Libya. The voting process itself was a resounding success, which defied the many skeptics who predicted violence, boycotts, or worse. Reports from across Libya highlighted an enormous, infectious enthusiasm for the vote which belied the sensationalist press reporting and commentary about a collapsing, violent Libya on the brink of chaos. Voter registration and turnout were remarkably high, and there have been few reports of either violence or attempted fraud. With luck, Libya's electoral commission will avoid the self-inflicted wounds of, say, Egypt and quickly announce credible results which will be accepted as such by all of the major contestants.
Few observers have any illusions that the elections themselves will solve any of Libya's many problems, from economic woes to the absence of effective state institutions to the continuing role of armed militias. The absence of any prior history of such elections makes it almost impossible to predict the likely winners. And the experience of countless transitional elections elsewhere warns against exaggerated hopes for a smooth political ride to come. There will be fierce struggles for power and positions as a government is formed, existential decisions to be made by the election's losers about whether and how to contest their defeat, and looming battles about core questions of the country's identity and direction. But the high participation in and smooth progress of the elections will help to ground those coming political battles within a legitimate, democratic and hopefully resilient institutional framework.
In short, July 7 was only one day in Libya. But it was a good day.
The Arab world has never seen anything quite like Sunday's excruciatingly delayed announcement that the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed el-Morsi had won Egypt's presidential election. The enormous outburst of enthusiasm in Tahrir after Morsi's victory was announced -- and the rapid resurgence of Egypt's stock exchange -- suggests how narrowly Egypt escaped the complete collapse of its political process. This isn't the time for silly debates about "who lost Egypt," since against all odds Egypt isn't lost. On the contrary, it has just very, very narrowly avoided complete disaster -- and for all the problems which Morsi's victory poses to Egypt and to the international community, it at least gives Egypt another chance at a successful political transition which only a few days ago seemed completely lost.
We Are All Khaled Said Facebook Page, June 25, 2012
The best guide to the chaos of Egyptian politics is Hobbes. No, not Thomas Hobbes -- Calvin and Hobbes. Analysts have been arguing since the revolution over whether to call what followed a transition to democracy, a soft coup, an uprising, or something else entirely. But over the last week it's become clear that Egyptians are in fact caught up in one great game of Calvinball.
For those who don't remember Bill Watterson's game theory masterpiece, Calvinball is a game defined by the absence of rules -- or, rather, that the rules are made up as they go along. Calvinball sometimes resembles recognizable games such as football, but is quickly revealed to be something else entirely. The rules change in mid-play, as do the goals ("When I learned you were a spy, I switched goals. This is your goal and mine's hidden."), the identities of the players ("I'm actually a badminton player disguised as a double-agent football player!") and the nature of the competition ("I want you to cross my goal. The points will go to your team, which is really my team!"). The only permanent rule is that the game is never played the same way twice. Is there any better analogy for Egypt's current state of play?
Egyptian politics is prone to exaggeration and panic, fueled by deeply felt frustration, endless political maneuvering, partial information spread through dense and contentious news media, and profound political uncertainty. Things are often not as desperate as they appear. Indeed, I was joking on Twitter yesterday that the expert consensus that today would be a big crisis day in Cairo probably meant nothing would happen, since everybody (including me) is always wrong. But today's moves by the Constitutional Court on behalf of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) seem difficult to overcome and likely to push Egypt onto a dangerous new path. With Egypt looking ahead to no parliament, no constitution, and a deeply divisive new president, it's fair to say the experiment in military-led transition has come to its disappointing end.
The uprisings that swept the Arab world following the fall of Tunisia’s President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011 represented a stunning moment in the region’s political history. For political scientists specializing in the region, the events of the last year and a half represented not just an exhilarating moment of potential change, but also an important opportunity to develop new research questions, engage in new comparisons, and exploit new data and information. The Arab uprisings challenged long-held theories dominant in the field, particularly about the resilience of authoritarian regimes, while opening up entirely new areas of legitimate social scientific inquiry.
The Project on Middle East Political Science (POMEPS) was created in 2010 in part to build the capacity of Middle East experts to engage and inform policy-makers, the public sphere, and other political scientists about the region. On May 29-30, 2012, POMEPS convened a group of leading political scientists who specialize in the Middle East for its third annual conference at George Washington University to discuss the opportunities and challenges that the Arab uprisings pose to the subfield. Participants were asked: “What new and innovative research questions do you think have become particularly urgent, feasible, or relevant? How would those research questions fit into wider debates in the field of political science?” I am thrilled to announce the publication of a new special POMEPS Briefing collecting nearly two dozen of the memos written for the conference (free PDF download here).
The authors are all academic political scientists and Middle East specialists who speak Arabic and have lived in and studied Arab countries for extended periods. They include scholars at all career levels, from senior faculty at top universities to advanced graduate students still writing their dissertations. The memos reflect on a wide range of debates and paradigms within political science, and taken together lay out an impressive set of marching orders for the subfield. Graduate students looking for dissertation topics and junior faculty looking for articles that might make a big splash take note.
The Social Science Research Council's Transformations of the Public Sphere Initiative has been publishing an outstanding series of reflections by leading academics on the transformative effects of the evolving public sphere. Some of the key contributions to the series thus far by political scientists include "Too Much Information," by Lisa Anderson; "Political Science and the Public Sphere in the 21st Century" and "The Public Responsibilities of Political Science," by Rogers Smith; "International Affairs and the Public Sphere," by Stephen Walt; and "Intellectuals and their Public," by Jurgen Habermas. I was honored to be invited to contribute to such a stellar series. My new essay in the series, "Political Science and the New Arab Public Sphere," appears here with the permission of the SSRC.
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Marc Lynch is associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University.