Arab Spring Hits Washington….

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….well not exactly. The Arab Spring is a hot topic around Washington D.C., and below are summaries of recent Middle East related events that I found interesting.

First, this is a video of a joint anti-Bashar and anti-Gaddafi protest outside the White House on June 18th. Demonstrators sometimes number in the hundreds, but I only caught the tail end of activity on this day. They gather in front of the White House every Saturday, and are planning a major rally on July 23rd.

2011 Democracy Awards Roundtable
The National Endowment for Democracy
June 22, 2011

Speakers:
Jamel Bettaieb is a Tunisian activist, teacher, and trade unionist from Sidi Bouzid, the hometown of Mohammed Bouazizi. He is a professor of German at the Sidi Bouzid Institute and is an active member of the “Secondary Education Union,” part of the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT).

Radwan Ziadeh is the founder of the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies in Syria. Ziadeh is also an award-winning researcher, and serves in an advisory capacity to a number of scholarly organizations. He has written ten books and published studies, and is a frequent political commentator in the media, including for Aljazeera, Alarabiya, the BBC and Alhura.

Aly Ramadan Abuzaakouk is a leading pro-democracy Libyan activist based in Washington, DC. He currently serves as president of the Citizenship Forum for Human Development and Democracy (CFHDD). Prior to relocating to the United States, Abuzaakouk was a Lecturer in Communications at the University of Benghazi in Libya.

Husain Abdulla, originally from Bahrain, is the director of Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB). Husain and ADHRB work to educate the U.S. Congress and the Administration about the current Human Rights situation in Bahrain and the ongoing uprising in the country.

Atiaf Zaid Alwazir is an independent researcher, blogger (http://womanfromyemen.blogspot.com/), and activist. She worked for leading donor and implementing organizations on programs addressing youth engagement, human rights, women’s empowerment, accountability, rule of law, and good governance. Watch Atiaf on Democracy Now

Sahar F. Aziz is the President of the Egyptian American Rule of Law Association, which supports Egyptian-led legal reforms aimed at transitioning Egypt into a democracy. Aziz previously served as a Senior Policy Advisor for the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Zahraa Said is the sister of Khaled Said, a young Egyptian businessman who was beaten to death by police because he had video evidence of police corruption.  After his murder, a now-famous facebook page created called, “We Are All Khaled Said,” which was a major catalyst in Egypt’s recent revolution.

___________________________________________________________________________________
Overview:
The roundtable took place before the presentation ceremony for the 2011 Democracy Awards, which were presented to Jamel Bettaieb and Zahraa Siad. The event was hosted by the National Endowment for Democracy . Each of the seven participants was given about ten minutes to speak, followed by a short question and answer session once everyone was finished. The participants’ opening remarks are combined with their Q&A responses in the summaries below.

Event Highlights:
Sahar F. Aziz-
Aziz began the roundtable by talking about the judiciary and the rule of law in Egypt. She noted that although the judiciary has a history of being independent, and Egypt has many laws on the book that guarantee basic rights, the Mubarak regime undermined these institutions. The regime packed the judiciary with national security people, and the emergency law effectively negated any human rights guarantees. She stressed that as Egypt rebuilds, people need to focus on establishing sound political processes rather than becoming mired in the particulars of every issue. According to Aziz, this is the best way to achieve long-term success.

Zahraa Said-
She spoke (through a translator) about the support her family received after her brother Khaled’s death. Many legal obstacles confronted the family when trying to take action against his killers, but ordinary Egyptians saw themselves in Khaled, and thus associated with the “We Are Khalid Said” movement. It was not just Zahraa and her family that felt Khalid’s death, but everyone. In the Q&A Zahraa said Egypt should have a constitution in place before elections occur. By her estimate 75% of Egyptians support that view.

Jamel Bettaieb –
He spoke (through a translator) about the decision to call for Ben Ali’s ouster rather than reform. At first there were calls for reform, but when the government labeled the protestors as traitors and ordered the army to open fire, people realized that they had to choose between change and death. This last statement was met with much applause. When asked about the future prospects for democracy, Bettaieb optimistically cited the fact that Germany did not have a history of democracy before 1945.

Husain Abdulla-
Abdulla stressed the difficulties that Bahrain is currently going through. He said that Bahrain has actually regressed in terms of the freedoms that people have: they have fewer rights now than they did before the uprising. He noted that a large part of the repression is due to interference from the GCC, ‘Bahrain is not just facing the monarchy but a group of countries.’ One positive aspect he mentioned is that Bahrain’s high priced image has now been irreparably tarnished by the crackdown.

Atiaf Zaid Alwazir-
Atiaf focused largely on the youth aspect of the Yemeni revolution. She said that the revolution was started by the youth with support of older opposition figures, but became politicized when the official opposition party (JMP) joined in. Although civil society in general continues to be supported by various NGOs, the youth voice is getting lost. She stressed that fact that protestors have remained peaceful, despite the recent violence that has broken out. She said that many tribesmen have even put aside revenge and weapons, which is nearly unheard of in Yemen. One problem she sees is that the west has portrayed Yemen in terms of political crises that do not accurately reflect the situation on the ground. It is important to remember that five months is a very short time in which to foster complex ideals such as freedom and democracy.

Radwan Ziadeh-
On the hundredth day of the Syrian revolution, Ziadeh was adamant that the opposition movement has reached the point of no return. Despite there being essentially no civil society in Syria, protestors were encouraged by other uprisings across the region to take action. So far they have remained as peaceful as possible. He clearly disagreed with Obama’s ‘lead from behind’ policy, saying that the administration has taken no leadership on the issue what so ever. He laid out two possible paths that would advance the revolution, and hasten the transition to a new government. The first would be if the army started to split and defect. The other option is that the international community takes action by imposing sanctions and passing resolutions.

Aly Ramadan Abuzaakouk-
Abuzaakouk was Qaddafi’s classmate at one point, but even that could not save him from being thrown in prison after he joined the opposition. At the roundtable was optimistic and enthusiastic about Libya’s future. In comparison to the often brutal Italian occupation, and the despotism of Qaddafi, there is plenty of room for improvement. The lack of a domestic opposition in Libya means that the Transitional National Council (TNC) in Benghazi is starting from scratch, which Abuzaakouk sees as an advantage. However, he is worried about the TNC’s financial situation: they are almost broke, and could significantly benefit if the west unfreezes regime assets for humanitarian purposes.

Iran and Syria: Next Steps
House Foreign Affairs Committee
June 23, 2011

Speakers:
Committee Members: chaired by Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, ranking member Rep. Berman

John Bolton: Senior Fellow American Enterprise Institute; Former U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations and former Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.

Mr. Ollie HeinoninSenior Fellow, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs (Harvard University). Former Deputy Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Mr. Robert Satloff: Executive Director, Washington Institute for Near East Policy 

                                                                                                                                  

Overview:
The hearing primarily addressed the Syrian and Iranian nuclear programs, as well as the American policy implications. Witnesses and members discussed ways to protect America and American interests from the threat of a nuclear Iran or a combative Syria. In addition, the discussion occasionally touched on the current situation in Syria.

Event Highlights:
Opening remarks-
Chairwoman: America needs to pursue an integrated rather than bifurcated policy towards Iran and Syria. The singular goal should be to keep those states from obtaining nuclear weapons, sponsoring terrorism, and otherwise threatening America and American interests. Ros-Lehtinen argued for expanding and strengthening sanctions on Iran and making sure that current tools are used to their “maximum effectiveness.”

Ranking Member: Iran and Syria present a broad range of threats to US security, the greatest of which is their weapon of mass destruction programs. Iran must abide by the Security Council mandate that it stop enriching uranium. This goal should be enforced using peaceful means including sanctions and a more unified international effort to pressure Iran. In particular, sanctions should be imposed on Chinese energy companies doing business with Iran. In terms of Syria, Berman called on the UN to hold Syria accountable for its non-compliance with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In regards to the current situation in, Mr. Berman says that our values and interests unite. The Assad regime has lost “most, if not all,” of its legitimacy, and his departure would help us achieve our goal of breaking the Iran-Syria axis.

Representative Chabot called on the Obama administration to say that the President of Syria “Bashar [al-Assad] must go.”

Testimony-
Bolton (full remarks): Ambassador Bolton said that Iran’s nuclear program is one of the greatest threats facing America. He said that sanctions have not really kept Iran from pursing its goals, and that the US should consider the use of force. With a declining American influence in the region, it is a mistake to think that Iran can be deterred or contained. Bolton sees two options: the first that Iran gets nuclear weapons, the second is that we use preemptive force to stop this from happening.

Heinonin: Heinonin testified that the Iranian nuclear program is much further along than people thought; although he says that it will likely take longer for Iran to acquire weapon grade uranium than Bolton’s estimate of 1.5 months. In regards to Syria, Heinonin supports Syria’s referral to the UN Security Council over its suspected nuclear program. The council should give IAEA the power to further investigate both Syria and Iran.

Satloff (full remarks): Iran and Syria should be addressed together because they represent the two poles of an axis that threatens American interests and security. Satloff says that Iran has tended to get lost during talk about the Arab Spring, but continues to build a nuclear weapons program. He believes that the threat of Iran is greater now than at the beginning of the Arab Spring because the government views the changes in the region as being in their favor. America should counter this threat with strategic setbacks focused in three areas: First, Syria is one area where American values and interests are complementary. We should hasten the demise of the Assad regime. Second, in Iraq we should build security relationships in a way that keeps Iran from “fishing in troubled waters.” Third, in Iran itself we should make it very clear that America is committed to using all means necessary to keep them from building weapons of mass destruction, and we should also strengthen our support for Iranian democrats.

Analysis:
There was little debate, with nearly everyone agreeing that the Iranian and Syrian nuclear programs pose a grave and potentially imminent threat to American interests. Any disagreement revolved around the degree of action required by the US. Panelists agreed that at the very least further sanctions are necessary and the possibility of military action should not be taken off the table. In regards to the current situation in Syria the general sentiment was that American values and interests align when it comes to calling on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to relinquish power.

This entry was posted in Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen. Bookmark the permalink.

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