Salafists in Tunisia trying to make that Country a Conservative Religious State like Iran

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 29th, 2012

Week in Review

More and more the Arab Spring appears to be ushering in a new conservative religious rule.  Even at ground zero of the Arab Spring.  Tunisia.  One of the most liberal states in the Middle East.  Until the Arab Spring, that is (see Thousands of Tunisians protest conservative Islam by Agence France-Presse posted 1/28/2012 on The Vancouver Sun).

Thousands of Tunisians angered by the increasing prominence of ultra-conservative Islamists in a country only recently freed from dictatorial rule took to the streets in protest Saturday…

Some in Tunisia are angry by the growing influence of radical Islamists, known as Salafists, who have dominated headlines in recent weeks.

Police on Tuesday ended a weeks-long sit-in by Salafists at the university in Manouba, about 25 kilometres (15 miles) from Tunis. The Salafists were angry the university had banned the full-face Muslim veil, or niqab, over security concerns if students were concealed from head to toe.

Journalists have also suffered attacks at Salafist protests…

Tunisia was the first country in the Arab world to initiate mass protests against its autocratic leadership, triggering a wave of protests across the region last year in what became known as the Arab Spring uprisings that led to the ouster of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi.

The Salafists made a good showing during the recent Egypt elections.  And Libya’s rebels had connections to al Qaeda.  So you know where that country will be heading, too.  These Middle East countries, yearning for freedom from Western-leaning dictators who their Islamist minorities hated are now falling under control of these Islamists.  Who will correct that Western-lean to an Eastern-lean.  Towards Iran.

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The Arab Spring brings on an Israeli Winter

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 29th, 2011

Week in Review

It may be an Arab Spring, but it looks more like an Israeli Winter (see Moderate Islamist Party Claims Victory in Tunisia by David Kirkpatrick posted 10/24/2011 on The New York Times).

A moderate Islamic party appeared to emerge as the big winner in Tunisia on Monday as preliminary results leaked out in the voting for an assembly to draft a constitution and shape a new government in this small North African country, where a revolution in January inspired uprisings across the Arab world…

In neighboring Algeria, an electoral victory by Islamists 20 years ago set off a military coup and a decade of bloodshed, and in the Palestinian territories, the sweep to victory of Hamas in 2006 elections led to a showdown with the West, a split in the government and armed conflict in Gaza…

Military coups and bloodshed.  Not exactly what we have in mind when we think of Arab Spring.

Islamists cheered the results as a harbinger of their ascent after revolts across the region. Islamists in Egypt are poised for big wins in parliamentary elections next month and their counterparts in Libya are playing dominant roles in its post-Qaddafi transition…

In Tunisia and elsewhere some are wary of the Islamists’ surge, arguing that party leaders sound moderate now but harbor a conservative religious agenda. Tunisia, arguably closer to Europe than the other states swept up in the political upheaval of the past year, is widely viewed as having the best chance of establishing a genuinely pluralistic model of government…

In countries like Egypt, where Islamists are more ideologically divided, Ennahda’s victory was sure to embolden those who favor a more liberal approach, including some within the Egypt’s mainstream Muslim Brotherhood as well as breakaway groups like the New Center Party or a new party founded by former leaders of the Brotherhood Youth — groups already drawn toward the thought of Ennahda’s founder. But in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood also faces competition from new parties formed by ultraconservatives, known as Salafis, who seek an explicitly Islamic state that might enforce religious laws.

Just in case you don’t know, the Islamists aren’t the good guys.  At least, they’re not friendly to the U.S.  Or to Israel.  These are the people who are more apt to chant something like, oh, I don’t know, death to America.  Death to the Zionist state.  You know, the same old sweet talk.  But now they’re in Egypt.  Tunisia.  Algeria.  Gaza.  The West Bank.  And now Libya.

Doesn’t sound so much like an Arab Spring.  But more of an Israeli winter.  And an American defeat.

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Obama Going all George W. Bush in the Middle East?

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 19th, 2011

Fighting Wars on the other Side of the World

In 1775, the shooting in the American Revolutionary War began.  The world’s superpower, the British Empire, had planned on taking some arms away from local rebels.  Some shots were exchanged at Lexington and Concord.  And the small British force retreated to Boston.  The rebels harassed the British column the entire way.  The war did not begin well for the British.  And it would end like it began.  Not well.  The British formally recognized the United States of America 8 years later with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783.

The British outclassed the Americans in every way but one.  Lines of communications.  The British lines were some 3,000 miles back to Great Britain.  About a 6 hour flight today.  Then, a couple of months by ship.  By contrast the Americans held the advantage of short, interior lines.  We could ‘hit and run’ and melt back into the surrounding country.  Like we did in 1775 during that British retreat.  As we did throughout the war.  Though General Washington wanted to defeat the British in a decisive battle, he would not get the chance to meet the British in such a battle until 6 long years later at Yorktown.  Unable to win a decisive battle, he did the only thing he could.  Not lose a decisive battle.  The American Revolutionary War was a war of attrition.  The British sued for peace when the cost of continuing the war was greater than the British people were willing to pay.  As wars are wont to be with such long lines of communications.

Military planners have learned this lesson.  You are probably familiar with a more recent war that was similar.  Where a world superpower was involved in a war of attrition half way across the world.  In South Vietnam.  The Americans came into the conflict to support South Vietnam from Communist North Vietnam.  There is no South Vietnam today.  Like the British some 200 years earlier, we won the military engagements but just couldn’t win the war.  When the cost in blood and treasure became too great, we met in Paris, too, to end the war.  We signed the Paris Peace Accords in 1973.  And we learned the British lesson of 1783.

Winning the War is Easier than Winning the Peace

When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, George H. W. Bush assembled an international coalition and threw the Iraqis out of Kuwait.  Operation Desert Storm was an overwhelming victory.  However, Bush was heavily criticized for ‘not finishing the job’ in the Gulf War.  His critics said we should have gone on to Baghdad to remove Hussein from power.  We didn’t.  For a couple of good reasons.  First of all, the coalition included Arab nations.  They only joined to repel Hussein from Kuwait.  Not to remove him from power.  The other reason was that if we toppled Hussein we would own Iraq.  And we would probably end up there for years trying to ‘win the peace’.

Following the Gulf War there were uprisings throughout Iraq.  The world watched hopeful that he would be overthrown by his own people and democracy would break out.  It didn’t.  He suppressed the rebellions brutally.  So brutally that no-fly zones were established in the north over the Kurds and in the south over the Shiite population.  But we didn’t invade.  And he remained a thorn in our side.  And his people suffered.

After 9/11, the US invaded Afghanistan.  Then Iraq.  The official reason was his weapons of mass destruction that he never documented destroyed.  He had used chemical weapons against the Iranians.  And the Kurds.  Being a ‘supporter’ of terrorism there was worry he might provide these weapons to a terrorist.  So there was that reason.  The other reason was a little more convoluted.  Osama bin Laden was a Wahhabi Sunni.  He had ties in Saudi Arabia.  And there was a large Wahhabi population in Saudi Arabia providing funding to al Qaeda.  The Saudis were reluctant to shut down this funding for fear of a rebellion by the Wahhabis against the House of Saud.  But there was one thing that worried them more than the Wahhabis.  Shiite Iran.  By invading Iraq we forced their hand.  They had a vested interest in seeing us succeed in Iraq.  And in our war against al Qaeda.  We made progress against al Qaeda and their Taliban hosts in Afghanistan.  And the Saudi started to shut down their funding.  The Iraq War was a success.  But the one drawback was that we now owned Iraq.  And winning the peace was nowhere as easy as winning the war.  As George W. Bush learned.

Obama Commits Military Force in Libya

The US has some very important friends in the Middle East and North Africa.  Among these are Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.  To name a few.  These are nations with Sunni populations and/or Sunni governments unfriendly to Iran.  Egypt made peace with Israel and kept the Suez Canal open for international trade for decades.  Saudi Arabia peacefully coexists with its neighbors and is the largest oil exporter in the world.  Except for the oil embargo of 1973, they have maintained the flow of that oil at market prices to Western economies.  The US Navy’s 5th Fleet is headquartered in Bahrain.

These nations aren’t perfect.  Saudi women can’t drive a car, for example.  But they’re stalwart US allies.  One of these nations was pretty progressive as well as being a staunch US friend.  Egypt.  Egyptian women were about the freest in the Middle East, second only to Tunisia.  Egypt and Tunisia, though, were suffering economically.  Had high unemployment.  And a Muslim opposition unhappy with their ‘Western’ ways.  The largest organized opposition group is the Muslim Brotherhood.  And they can be best described as being more simpatico with Iran.  When Egypt had their uprising, the Obama administration called it a democracy uprising and called for Hosni Mubarak to give up power.  Without considering who would step into that power void.  Which did not go over well with Mubarak.  Or the Saudis.

Now Libya is burning.  Qaddafi is attacking his own people.  The US dithered for weeks.  While the Libyans cried for help.  Even other Arab nations cried for our help.  But we did nothing.  Even though Qaddafi is not a US friend.  And was a sponsor of terrorism.  As the carnage mounted, though, someone took action.  The French of all people (see U.S. Missiles Strike Libyan Air-Defense Targets by David Kirkpatrick, Steven Erlanger and Elisabeth Bumiller posted 3/19/2011 The New York Times).

American and European forces began a broad campaign of strikes against the government of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi on Saturday, unleashing warplanes and missiles in a military intervention on a scale not seen in the Arab world since the Iraq war…

The campaign began with French warplane missions even before the end of an emergency summit meeting in Paris, where leaders, reacting to news that Colonel Qaddafi’s forces were attacking the rebel capital city of Benghazi on Saturday morning despite international demands for a cease-fire, said they had no choice but to act to defend Libyan civilians and opposition forces.

France has a Muslim problem.  They had some riots a few years back in some Paris Muslim suburbs.  Where young Muslims were unemployed.  Unhappy.  And not all that willing to assimilate into French culture.  Though they want to live in France.  So there’s been tensions between the French and their Muslim population.  So it says a lot that France was on point in this attack on a Muslim country.  Yes, at this time the international community, including some Arab states, approve of this action.  But you play with fire whenever you attack a Muslim country.  Especially if they have oil.  And Libya has oil.  In fact, it’s some of the finest oil in the Middle East.  A low-sulfur sweet crude.

When the international community was coming together against him, Qaddafi was defiant.  Warned us to stay out of their internal affairs.

“Libya is not yours. Libya is for all Libyans,” he wrote in one letter, read to the news media by a spokesman. “This is injustice, it is clear aggression, and it is uncalculated risk for its consequences on the Mediterranean and Europe.

“You will regret it if you take a step toward intervening in our internal affairs.”

Colonel Qaddafi addressed President Obama as “our son,” in a letter jarring for its familiarity. “I have said to you before that even if Libya and the United States enter into war, God forbid, you will always remain my son and I have all the love for you as a son, and I do not want your image to change with me,” he wrote. “We are confronting Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, nothing more. What would you do if you found them controlling American cities with the power of weapons? Tell me how would you behave so that I could follow your example?”

Could this be why the Obama administration was so reluctant to act?  Because of a father-son relationship between Obama and Qaddafi?  You gotta admit this is a strange thing for Qaddafi to say.  Makes you wonder just what was the extent of Obama’s apology tour in the Middle East.  One thing for sure, it will give fuel to those who think Obama is a Muslim.  I mean, it just doesn’t help when the bad guy calls you a son.

Regret?  We should take that threat seriously.  After some military encounters with Libyan losses in the Gulf of Sidra Qaddafi retaliated with the bombing of a German disco frequented by US troops.  When we discovered his connection to that bombing we bombed Tripoli.  In retaliation for that bombing he had a bomb smuggled aboard a 747.  Pan Am Flight 103.  Brought down on Lockerbie, Scotland.  So he has a history of getting even.  Which we need to be on guard for.

Obama now Owns Libya

So it’s war.  Missiles are flying.  People are dying (see Libya: British forces launch missile attacks on Gaddafi by Colin Freeman, in Benghazi and Sean Rayment posted 3/20/2011 on the UK’s Telegraph).

Explosions were reported at an airport east of Tripoli as a British Trafalgar Class submarine and US Navy ships and submarines stationed off Libya fired 110 Tomahawk missiles at 20 targets in what one source described as a “night of carnage”.

The missiles targeted Libyan command and control centres, radar installations and surface-to-air missile sites. Libyan officials said the attacks were “barbaric” and causing civilian casualties…

British sources and Pentagon officials said Nato would undertake a “battle damage assessment” of Libya’s military during daylight hours and would decide whether to continue with further attacks.

Sources at the Elysée Palace said Britain, France and the United States had assumed the “leadership” of the coalition in early talks between the Prime Minister, Mr Sarkozy and Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State. The “extremely purposeful conclusion” of the early talks was endorsed by the full meeting, where speakers included Ban Ki-Moon, the United Nations secretary general.

Well, President Obama has his third war.  Pretty impressive for a guy that said he would get us out of Iraq (he didn’t).  That he would fully prosecute the Afghanistan War to victory (he hasn’t).  And he wouldn’t nation-build like his predecessor.  George W. Bush.  He now may.  There’s no way Qaddafi can withstand the military force now aligned against him.  So he will lose.  But what then?  Who will fill that power vacuum?  In an already unstable and changing Middle East?  He can say what he wants about Iraq and Afghanistan, but it’s different with Libya.  This happened on his watch.  And he now owns it.  It will be up to him to win the peace.  Or lose it.

Those naval operations against Libya will be based out of Bahrain.  I sure hope he doesn’t encourage any more ‘democracy’ uprisings while we’re using that base for combat operations.  It would be a shame to lose that base during the middle of these operations.  And by a shame I mean a complete and utter disaster.  Because that would greatly extend our lines of communications.  And history has shown what that can do in war.

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Democracy or Theocracy Movements in the Middle East and Africa?

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 20th, 2011

A Domino Theory in the Middle East and Africa

You may not know where Bahrain is.  But you’ve probably heard of it.  Long before the protests there.  It’s home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.  We support our operations for Afghanistan and Iraq from Bahrain.  So it’s pretty important to U.S. security.

It’s an island nation off the coast of Saudi Arabia.  Not too far from Kuwait (the nation Saddam Hussein invaded back in 1990).  Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are still friendly to the U.S.  And these Sunni states provide a strategic counter to Shiite Iranian power in the Persian Gulf area.

Protests following the democratic uprising in Tunisia and Egypt got pretty bloody in Bahrain.  But is Bahrain going through a democratic uprising?  Or is it a civil war between Sunni and Shiite (see Saudi Arabia says it’s ready to help Bahrain’s rulers by Janine Zacharia and Michael Birnbaum posted 2/20/2011 on The Washington Post)?

Saudi Arabia on Sunday said it stands ready “with all its capabilities” to shore up Bahrain’s ruling royal family if a standoff with the Shiite-led opposition is not resolved soon, underscoring the kingdom’s deep concern about its neighbor’s ongoing political crisis.

Sunni-led Saudi Arabia props up Bahrain’s al-Khalifa family with cash and has long sought to prevent the tiny Persian Gulf state – with its majority Shiite population – from falling into Iran’s orbit. With dwindling oil resources, Bahrain relies heavily on Saudi Arabia for money and security.

This is what makes any ‘democratic’ uprising in the Middle East complicated.  You see, the Sunnis and Shiites don’t exactly get along.  The 8-year war between Iraq and Iran was a war between Sunni (Iraq) and Shiite (Iran).  They hate each other.  And the only way they appear to live in peaceful coexistence is when one is oppressing the other.

But the more stabilizing force tends to be the Sunnis.  The Sunni nations are typically the more modern nations.  The ones with women’s rights.  The Shiites are more old school.  They want to turn the hands of the clock back when there were no comforts in life but prayer.  And women were little more than chattel.  They’re a bit more radical.  Then again, the Sunnis have their own radicalism.  Let us not forget that Osama bin Laden is a Wahhabi Sunni.  As is Al Qaeda.  But the big destabilizing force in the Middle East is Iran.  And they’re Shiite.  They’re big, powerful and trying to acquire nuclear weapons.  So her neighbors are understandably worried.

Kuwait’s emir, Sheik Sabah Ahmed al-Sabah, also called the Bahraini king on Sunday and stressed that “the security of Bahrain is the security of the region,” reflecting the growing anxiety among gulf monarchies that Bahrain’s troubles could have a spillover effect. In Kuwait, protesters have already taken to the streets demanding more rights.

Talk about a domino theory.  We still don’t know what will rise from the ashes in Tunisia and Egypt.  They could very well go Muslim Brotherhood.  This would be a huge boost to Iranian interests in the area.  Adding Bahrain and Kuwait could very well seal the deal and give Iran the hegemony it so desperately wants in the region.

We need to be careful in urging democracy to break out in the Middle East and Africa.  Because sometimes stability is better than instability.  For there is a good chance that democracy will lose these revolutions in time.  Opening the door to the more radical elements (such as the Muslim Brotherhood).  Who may impose an oppressive theocracy instead.  Like they said they’ve always wanted to in Egypt.  And if they get what they want, say hello to $4/gallon gasoline.  Or more.  Because they will turn back the hands of time.  And cut off our oil.  Shutting down our economies.  And then, if they get their nuclear weapon, they’ll take it up a notch.

It is important to understand something.  They don’t want our land.  They don’t want our industry.  They just want to get rid of us.  The only thing that prevented the Soviets from destroying us was that they needed our food.  And our technology.  Iran wants technology to make their bomb.  But once they use it they’ll be content to go back to living in abject poverty.

Iran Likes Democracy as long as it is in Egypt

These protests are getting contagious.  Libya, Morocco and China.  And, yes, even Iran.  Now if there was ever a democratic movement for the U.S. to stick its nose into it would be in Iran.  This isn’t complicated. The Iranian people have been suffering under the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad regime.  Ahmadinejad is the greatest threat to peace in the region.  He’s working on a nuclear bomb.  And he wants to incinerate Israel.  It doesn’t get simpler than this.  He’s the big bad now.  Osama bin Laden is holed up in a cave.  Kim Jong-il desperately needs western food and energy.  China may be flexing her muscle but she owns so much of our debt that she needs us to prosper if she is to prosper.  Iran, though, has no use for us.  And would be quite happy to see us in the past tense.

And how are the Iranians handling their protesters?  Sounds like they’re not quite as nice as the Egyptians were (see Iran Squelches Protest Attempt in Capital by Liz Robbins posted 2/20/2011 on The New York Times).

Despite a steady rain, large crowds of protesters gathered throughout Tehran, the capital, from the main thoroughfare to city squares, according to opposition Web sites and witnesses. Those sites and witnesses reported that ambulances were being driven into crowds and officers were making arrests. Security forces, some on motorcycles, deployed tear gas to disperse crowds near Valiasr Square. A hazy cloud of tear gas hung over Vanak Square.

Plainclothes officers randomly stopped and frisked people on the streets and removed people from vehicles, witnesses said. There were reports of police officers firing on the crowds, although that could not be immediately verified because foreign journalists were largely not allowed to report in Iran.

And this from the government that praised the people of Egypt of going after what they deserved.  Democracy.  It’s funny how they can praise democracy that can destabilize a nation friendly with the West but attack it within its own borders.  It almost makes one think that Iran has other motives in the region.

It was unclear how many people joined the demonstrations in Tehran on Sunday. Witnesses estimated that more than 20,000 people attended demonstrations on Feb. 14, making them the largest opposition protests since the aftermath of the 2009 disputed election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, president Obama said he would speak with Ahmadinejad.  To address our differences.  And find common ground.  He thought he could reason with him. Then came the Apology Tour.  And the Cairo speech.  He called for more democracy in the Muslim world.  Then came the Iranian election.  There appeared to be massive fraud.  And then the uprising.  Iranians trying to get some of that democracy that Obama spoke of.  And what did Obama do?  Acted timidly.  He didn’t attack Ahmadinejad.  He treated him with far more respect than he gave Hosni Mubarak.  And Mubarak was our ally.  And now the people of Iran are rising up again.  And the Iranian regime is fighting back against the forces of democracy.

The government, however, appeared to limit the electronic voice of the protesters on Sunday. Witnesses in Iran reported that the Internet was working very slowly, cell phone service was shut down in areas where people were demonstrating and satellite television, including Persian BBC, was jammed.

Out on the streets, the police in Tehran appeared to be recruiting teenagers to quell the protests on Sunday. Witnesses observed packs of young boys armed with batons, and wearing helmets and army fatigues.

A witness told the International Campaign for Human Rights that security forces on Mirdamad Street in Tehran had used live ammunition against protesters, and one person is believed to have been killed there, but that could not be verified.

There’s a difference between Ahmadinejad and Mubarak.  Ahmadinejad oppresses his people, supports terrorism, wants to incinerate Israel and seeks to disrupt peace throughout the Middle East.  Mubarak only oppressed his people.  Other than that Egypt was a stabilizing force in the region.  And yet look who’s still in power.

Time for a New Strategy

Instability in every nation other than Iran in the Middle East and Africa is cause for concern.  The one country where it can’t get any worse is Iran.  If their regime collapses anything that replaces it will be closer to democracy.  And if we support all of those democratic uprisings everywhere else, we should support the hell out of it in Iran.  Why, then, has our response there been so lukewarm?

I guess it goes back to the Cairo speech.  And the apology tour.  It would appear that our national security strategy is to get people who have a deep-seated hatred for us to like us. To believe that rolling over and showing our soft underbelly can get our enemies to forget tradition, custom and religion.  But after two years look what it has gotten us.  An emboldened enemy.  And fallen and threatened allies.

I think it’s time for a new strategy.

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Can Feminism Survive in the Islamic Middle East?

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 19th, 2011

The Iranian Revolution and Feminism

The Shah of Iran modernized Iran.  And advanced women’s rights.  Did away with child marriage.  And outlawed having multiple wives.  Women may not have been fully equal but they were more equal than they had ever been before.  Or since.  And they had access to education.  In fact, they were so well educated that when they came out of college some could find no jobs.  At least none that called for such a higher education.  So there was a lot of unemployment during the 1970s.  A lot of highly educated people without jobs.  Both men and women.  And they protested.  Both men and women.  They overthrew the Shah.  Both men and women.  And how did that go?  Well, better for the men than it did for the women.

The Iranian Revolution in 1979 kind of came out of nowhere.  Stunned most of the world.  But many quickly welcomed this ‘democratic’ revolution.  Some people even welcomed that kindly, moderate, old man returning from exile.  Ayatollah Khomeini.  Even The New York Times said at last we will see a humane government in a third world country.  Of course, that didn’t happen.  The ‘democratic’ revolution soon became a theocratic revolution.  Khomeini ushered in Sharia law.  And a rather oppressive interpretation at that.  Everything the women gained under the Shah was gone.  Women were property again.  Second class citizens.  Not the kind of hope and change they were protesting about.  In fact, a lot of their daughters say today, “Thanks, Mom.”  And, “What were you thinking about!?!”  Under their breath, of course.

The Iranian Revolution started out as a democratic movement upset about rampant unemployment and abject poverty.  And they were angry at the Shah’s oppressive regime that exercised dictatorial power.  That shut down all opposition voices.  A lot like in Egypt.  But underneath this there was another element lurking in the background.  An Islamic element.  Angry at the Shah’s Westernization of Iran.  And eager to restore the old, Islamic ways.  And while the first revolutionaries talked about democratic reform, these other revolutionaries planned their theocracy.  Then they installed it.  And the rest is history.  A sad one for those women who had achieved so much under the Shah’s rule.

As in Iran, Men and Women Stood side by side during the Egyptian Revolution.  Will they after the Revolution?

So another revolution comes and goes in the Arab world.  It took only 18 days.  Things were pretty good in Egypt for women before the revolution.  But what will life be like after the revolution (see Egypt women stand for equality in the square by Kathy Lally posted 2/18/2011 on The Washington Post)?

Women are far better off in Egypt than some parts of the Arab world. There are no religious police enforcing dress codes as in Iran, or prohibitions against driving as in Saudi Arabia. But Egyptian women are greatly underrepresented in public life and inferior to men before the law. They hold cabinet posts, but no judgeships. They are members of parliament, but have few seats. They occupy many professions, but not all.

Divorces are difficult to obtain and favor men, as do property rights. Women are encouraged to marry and have children early: The legal age of marriage was only recently raised from 16 to 18.

And, every day as they walk down the street, they are reminded of their low status – until Tahrir Square. Egyptian women are sexually harassed to an astonishing degree, groped, ogled, followed by catcalls, behavior that no law forbids. In a 2008 survey, the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights in Cairo found that 83 percent of Egyptian women and 98 percent of foreign women had been harassed at some point.

And this in a ‘far better off’ country in the Arab world.  Makes one wonder what happened in the not so better off countries.  The question is, will this be the high water mark for feminism in Egypt?  Will they now retreat on the advancements made in women’s rights?

“We were equal partners in this revolution,” she said, “and we are respected as such. Now we have to use the moment effectively, to make sure women participate in daily political life, to make sure they are involved in the development of political parties and labor movements.”

That’s kind of what the women said in Iran.  Of course, once that theocracy took hold, all hopes for women being involved in political parties and movements were over.  Will this be Egypt’s fate?  Or the Middle East’s?  A common enemy can unite a people.  Even the sexes.  But what about tradition and culture?  And religion?  How heavily will they weigh on the new governments borne of revolution?

Tunisia and Egypt – Oppressors of the People but Defenders of Feminism

What do Tunisia and Egypt have in common?  They both just disposed hated dictators.  And they were both bastions of women’s rights (see Are the Mideast revolutions bad for women’s rights? by Isobel Coleman posted 2/20/2011 on The Washington Post).

Tunisia, in particular, has been a bastion of women’s rights in a region known for the opposite. Shortly after independence in 1956, President Habib Bourguiba, the country’s secular authoritarian leader, pushed through a Personal Status Code which was remarkably liberal for its time. It granted women equal divorce rights to men, abolished polygamy, set minimum marriage ages, allowed access to birth control and even some access to abortion. Bourguiba modeled himself on Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkey’s founder who force-marched his country into the modern age through a painful process of secularization – “for the people, despite the people,” as he once quipped.

The result is that Tunisian women today enjoy relatively high literacy and have achieved broad gains in law, medicine, business, academia and media.

But things got bad.  And the Tunisians protested about the same things the Iranians and the Egyptians did.  And the big question is this.  Now that there is a power vacuum, who will fill it?  A modern, democratic power?  Or an old school, theocratic power?  Like, say, the Muslim Brotherhood?

In Egypt, democracy will also create important openings for Islamist groups, especially the Muslim Brotherhood. In a 2007 Gallup survey, 64 percent of Egyptians polled said that sharia should be the only source of law in the country; an additional 24 percent said it should be a source of legislation. (There was little variation by gender.)

Still, Egyptians’ desire for sharia is balanced by a strong demand for modernization and a distaste for theocracy. Women’s rights will be a litmus test for the new government – a sign of where the country is headed. The Muslim Brotherhood unleashed a sea of controversy in 2007 when it released its party platform excluding women (and non-Muslims) from the presidency, and calling for a group of Islamic scholars to review and veto legislation that does not conform to religious rules. These conservative positions confirmed critics’ worst fears of the Brotherhood, and led to some soul-searching within the organization itself, especially among younger members who disagreed with the hard-line positions of their elders.

Those younger members should read a page from the Iranian Revolution history.  The young in Iran today are not all happy with their parent’s revolution.  Especially the women.  And the girls.

The rise of Salafism, a particularly conservative form of the faith propagated by Saudi Arabia, should worry Egyptian women’s groups. In recent years, tensions between secularists and Salafis have been rising, with Salafis calling for full veiling of women and gender segregation in universities. The Salafis’ following is evident in the rising number of Egyptian women wearing the niqab, the face-covering veil, long black abayas and even gloves on their hands to avoid physical contact with men.

Wearing the veil has become popular in Tunisia and Egypt for a variety of reasons, including as an expression of religious identity, conforming to social pressures and as a statement against the secular authoritarianism of the government. (The irony is that Egypt is the birthplace of Arab feminism, which in the first half of the 20th century put much energy into unveiling women.)

With Hosni Mubarak gone, activists will now have to contend with hard-core politics in a way that has been missing from Egypt’s Potemkin parliament. Controversial legislation, like the equal right to divorce that was passed in 2000, will come under pressure from Islamist lawmakers who fiercely opposed the bill. (Tunisia is the only other Arab country that grants women the right.) Women’s groups can no longer fall back upon a sympathetic Mubarak regime, which often sided with their cause.

Ah, yes, the hated Hosni Mubarak.  Champion of feminism.  Who they ran out of the country.  Much like the Shah of Iran.  One can only hope that the women of Egypt don’t end up like the women of Iran.

Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan – Still not Bastions of Women’s Rights

Of course, being a woman in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan was no picnic.  Under their law, the sentence for many offences was death.  Even for not wearing the proper traditional garb.  But that was then.  We toppled the Taliban from power in Afghanistan.  And the Saudi’s are a stalwart ally.  So how are things there now (see Why American troops in Afghanistan shouldn’t have to wear headscarves by Martha McSally posted 2/18/2011 in The Washington Post)?

In 2001, I was an Air Force lieutenant colonel and A-10 fighter pilot stationed in Saudi Arabia, in charge of rescue operations for no-fly enforcement in Iraq and then in Afghanistan. Every time I went off base, I had to follow orders and put on a black Muslim abaya and head scarf. Military officials said this would show “cultural sensitivity” toward conservative Saudi leaders and guarantee “force protection” – this in a nation where women couldn’t drive, vote or dress as they pleased…

In Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001, the world saw the hallmark of Taliban oppression – women who failed to cover up risked death. Now, nine years after the fall of the Taliban government, Afghan women are still required to cover themselves and have hardly moved toward the equal rights and liberties we envisioned. In conjunction, U.S. military women are simply submitting to Muslim practices that symbolize the plight of Afghan women when they put on the scarf themselves.

American servicewomen will continue to be viewed as second-class warriors if leaders push them to take up the customs of countries where women are second-class citizens.

It’s pretty bad when they make your liberators adopt the custom of the previously oppressed women.  There’s a mixed message here.  Rise up and enjoy your freedom.  But be obedient.  They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.  And as tradition, culture and religion go, they don’t come much older.  Talk about democratic movements all you want.  But there is a heavy undertow of Islamic Fundamentalism in the Middle East.  And it’s going to take an extraordinary effort to resist it.  

Will the women make it to shore and enjoy democracy?  Or will they be dragged back and disappear beneath the surface of theocracy?  Like in that democratic revolution in Iran?  Let’s pray that feminism wins the day.  For if theocracy does, it won’t be only the women in the Middle East that suffer.  We all will.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

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The Turmoil in Tunisia Ripples over into Egypt. And other Arab States.

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 28th, 2011

Bad Economic Times Foment Dissent

The annual Arab Economic Summit opened in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el Sheikh on the 19th.  And there were some fears that the trouble in Tunisia may be exported to other Arab countries (see EGYPT: Trouble in Tunisia dominates Arab Economic Summit by Amro Hassan and Jeffrey Fleishman in Cairo, posted 1/19/2011 the Los Angeles Times).

There are countries “disintegrating, people rising up and rights being lost while the Arab citizen wonders if there is an Arab system that would deal with these events effectively and efficiently,” said Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheik Mohammad Sabah al Salem al Sabah. 

He added: “The Arab citizen might wonder if such a system would identify the human suffering, in their living conditions, health, education and future and provide a better and dignified life.”

Such comments — along with what is expected to be a $2-billion pledge to improve the region’s economies — were an indication that Arab capitals worried the furor in Tunisia had the potential to sweep the region following years of simmering anger over unemployment, human-rights abuses and widespread frustrations over tough living conditions.

Well, they had good reason to be worried.  Because Tunisia did export her troubles.  Egypt’s economy is in the toilet.  And they’re now rioting in Egypt.  The question now is what will the army do?

Will they?  Or won’t they?  What will the Army Do?

The 2008 movie Valkyrie about an assassination plot against Adolf Hitler shows the difficulty in overthrowing a dictator.  In a police state, you need the military to be on your side.  Because the police/security forces will be on the side of the dictator.  They have a privileged life because of the dictator.  The army, on the other hand, may be more independent of the dictator.  But a lot of their ranking officers will probably be indebted to the dictator.  Like those officers in the security forces.  So they have a tough decision to make.

People tend to hate security forces.  But they may respect the military.  For many families had family who’ve served honorably.  Who defended their country from their hated enemy.  But to shoot on your own people, that’s another story.  You do that and you’ll be cursed as much as the security forces.  Which can become a problem.  Especially if the dictator (and his security forces) are overthrown by an angry mob.  But if you don’t, and the dictator and the security forces are victorious putting down this angry mob, that could be an even bigger problem.  They’re addressing this dilemma now in Egypt (see Egyptian President Mubarak has never hesitated to use force against challenges to his rule by Janine Zacharia posted 1/28/2011 on The Washington Post).

A privileged and respected elite in Egypt, the armed forces has always been the backbone of power for Mubarak, who at 82 is battling an unknown illness but still cultivates jet-black hair intended to project youthful vigor. There was no indication that leading officers would abandon a leader to whom they owe their comfortable salaries and housing.

Like the Roman Empire (or perhaps left over from the Roman Empire), there is a bloated civil service.  People living the good life courtesy of the dictator.  So there are a lot of people with a vested interest in continuing the status quo.

Estimates of the size of Egypt’s domestic security services, which include the police, riot police and numerous intelligence services, vary widely from 300,000 to 2 million. The military is estimated to number 340,000.

Beyond that vast security apparatus, Mubarak has relied for support on a bloated civil service of roughly 5 million workers who depend on him for government jobs. But his traditional base of laborers, hard-hit by economic reform, have abandoned him and taken to the streets.

But there’s a problem with a big military and civil service.  They’re expensive.  And have to be paid.  But the people paying the bill are those laborers.  Many of which are unemployed now due to bad economic times.  Hence the rioting.  Which makes the military’s choice even more difficult.

High debt.  High deficits.  And High Unemployment. 

Greece, France, Great Britain, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, the United States, Tunisia and Egypt.  What do all of these countries have in common?  High debt.  High deficits.  And high unemployment.  But they’re not all rioting.  Yet.

We probably should learn some of these lessons about excessive government spending.  Like how it can end badly for one.

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