The departure of the last US combat troops from Iraq has been the occasion for much comment in North America. Nevertheless, much of it seems to miss the point. For one thing, it is almost always based on the typically American assumption that things might have gone better with better planning or sounder local knowledge or a different military strategy. But, as I have argued many times before, a modern occupation is bound to run into serious difficulties, however well executed and thought through, and, therefore, should only be embarked upon in the most...
Thirty years ago on 12 September 1980 Turkey experienced a military coup, its third in twenty years. Designed to put an end to many months of ugly street fighting and killings, it also paved the way for a root and branch attempt to create an entirely new political system by means of its 1982 constitution, banishing all the old politicians and all the old political parties in the interests of introducing a new type of guided democracy under a fresh breed of a-political technocrats.... Read more about Thirty Years after Turkey's Last Military Coup
It is rare that public events have the dramatic simplicity of the sudden departure of Tunisia’s late president. As such it belongs to that special category of especially memorable events such as the equally dramatic departure of the Rumanian dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989 when his people also found the courage to turn against him. Although, unlike Ben Ali, he was unable to save his own skin by getting out of the country in time, along with members of his close family and a sizeable amount of his ill-gotten gains.... Read more about The Arab World Re-enters History?
Last Friday’s battle for Cairo’s Midan Tahrir will go down as one of the most important events in Egypt’s modern political history. Not only was it a day when the demonstrators fought the city’s riot police to a standstill after Friday prayers, but it also took place in what Nasser and the other leaders of the 1952 military coup had renamed Liberation Square as a symbol of their revolution against the old order. Since then it has been the stage for an open-air theatre involving many dramas consisting of a trial of strength between the regime and its people.... Read more about Freedom Means Dignity in the Battle for Midan Tahrir
Revolutions are always made by people in the name of the people, with the latter imagined as a single entity with a single set of interests. So too in Midan Tahrir, where the anthems sang of the need for Egyptian unity and an end to the "I, I, I" of a leader like Mubarak. This was echoed in the army’s talk of the national interest and the speeches of many politicians young and old.
But if you want to work towards a plural democracy, you also have to develop genuine political parties with different programs that represent the interests of...
The city of Boston where I live is going though one of its periodic confrontations with the endemic corruption of its political and administrative systems. Three successive speakers of the Massachusetts lower house have been indicted for taking bribes in exchange for favors. And now comes the trial of Boston’s most notorious criminal, James Bulger, who, apart from his many murders, also managed to corrupt the local agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for almost twenty years.
Given the blatant illegality of most of Bulger’s crimes, it...
The first anniversary of the Arab revolutions presents a mixed picture, the popular movements largely contained in the Arab East but with considerable success to their credit in Egypt and its two western neighbors, Libya and Tunisia. Even if, as always seems to happen in human history, events have not turned out as well as many people might have hoped. All revolutions have to be institutionalized at some stage.... Read more about Year One of the Arab Revolution: Some Pointers to the Future
At this time of fierce divisions within most Arab societies there seems little space for those who try to seek to bring the sides together, especially in those countries wracked by all-out civil war. So it has given me particular pleasure to see the comforting face of Lakhdar Brahimi in the news again, a man who, even at the age of eighty, is still pursuing the path of peace and reconciliation as the joint Arab League and United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, against all the odds and in spite of a seemingly never-ending series of problems, road-blocks, and difficulties.... Read more about Blessed Are the Peacemakers in the Arab World's Deeply Divided Societies
One of the little discussed aspects of the Arab Uprisings of 2011 is the explosion of new political terms as dictatorships based on rule by fear were replaced by popular forces struggling to find an alternative based on a new constitutional order. Key words to begin with were clearly those very imprecise terms, “revolution” and “democracy.”... Read more about The Vocabulary of Revolution
Egypt’s Muslim Brothers describe themselves as a “society” and Tunisia’s Ennahda as a “movement.” Yet, due to the particular circumstances triggered by the Arab Uprisings of January 2011, both have also become political parties. And this, in turn, has raised many problems both for them and their members, as well as for the general public.
As is well known, the creator of the Muslim Brothers, Egypt’s Hassan al-Banna, aimed for his movement to act as the conscience of the nation, a stance which worked best in the years when the Brothers were part...
The surprising and in many ways shocking emergence of ISIS as one of the best trained, best financed, and most highly motivated and militarily effective fighting forces in the Arab east has led to much talk of an erasure of the old colonial-period Sykes-Picot boundary that artificially divided Syria and Iraq. But though there is an element of truth in this, the issue is much more complex and best viewed by looking at the origins of the modern state of Iraq from a more detailed historical perspective.
America’s long academic summer vacations are usually quiet times for writing and reflection with little disturbing news from the national or international arena. So it was this year too at Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies with our graduate students scattered around the world and only a limited audience for a discussion I organized in early August to try to understand more about Israel’s far-away Gaza War.... Read more about News from Iraq Becomes More, Deliberately, Personal and More Difficult to Interpret