Friday, February 10, 2012

The Middle East Sampler 2/10/2012: George Bush Appreciated--Netanyahu, Not So Much

From DG:
1) The twitter one-two 

David Keyes has written Saudi writer Hamza Kashgari faces charge of blasphemy after tweets about Muhammad:
Saudi journalist Hamza Kashgari was detained in Malaysia on Wednesday night and is likely to be extradited soon to Saudi Arabia, where he will be tried for blaspheming religion. Kashgari, 23, had fled the kingdom Monday after he received thousands of death threats. His crime? He posted on Twitter a series of mock conversations between himself and the Islamic prophet Muhammad.
“On your birthday I find you in front of me wherever I go,” he wrote in one tweet. “I love many things about you and hate others, and there are many things about you I don’t understand.”
Another reads: “No Saudi women will go to hell, because it’s impossible to go there twice.”
There's a video of a Saudi Sheikh crying as he calls for Kashgari's execution. (h/t Sultan Al Qassemi)

In the Palestinian Authority blasphemy is apparently limited neither to Twitter nor to Mohammed - Facebook and Mahmoud can also get someone in trouble:
In related news, PalTimes reports that Rami Samara, a journalist, was arrested by Palestinian Authority security forces on Tuesday evening after posting comments that were critical of the PLO on his Facebook page.

2) Not liked, but appreciated

Margaret Weiss of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy wrote, George W. Bush, disliked but appreciated:
During a recent trip to Egypt, I heard the deputy head of a Cairo-based nongovernmental organization that champions racial, religious, gender and political tolerance mention that he and his friends made John McCain T-shirts before the 2008 U.S. presidential election. He explained that he evaluated U.S. presidents based on their efforts to spread democracy, and believed that President George W. Bush had put more pressure on the Egyptian government than Democratic presidents, because the Democrats were more concerned with maintaining good relations with Cairo. My source added that most Egyptians indisputably disliked Bush, but there was no love lost for Obama either. Furthermore, he believed a survey of Egyptian democracy activists would find that most preferred Bush to Obama. 
Indeed, Egyptian human rights democracy advocate Hisham Kassem has been quoted saying that the Bush administration was the first to seriously address democratization in Egypt. According to Kassem, "The year 2005 was the best year my generation has seen. I am openly saying that without the [U.S.] pressure, there was no way that this progress would have happened." And it is not just Egyptian liberals who hold this view. Muslim Brotherhood members have spoken about the benefits of the Bush administration's democracy promotion, as well.
She wrote further that this is the perception throughout the Arab world and suggests a reason:
It follows that the Obama administration's response to the Arab uprisings is to blame for much of this disappointment. The administration has made little distinction in its policies between countries vital to U.S. national security interests, which present great challenges for policy formation, and those of marginal importance. 
For instance, on Jan. 25, 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the Hosni Mubarak regime stable. Yet only a week later Obama was calling for Mubarak to begin a transition immediately. On Syria, Clinton continued to refer to Bashar Assad as a reformer and the administration called on him to make meaningful reforms long after it became clear that this hope was naive. The administration's policy managed to anger those on both sides of the divide. Saudi Arabia was furious with the U.S. for abandoning Mubarak, while liberal activists condemned the administration for moving too slowly.
Last year, Jake Tapper pointed out:
Perhaps more glaringly, while the Bush administration tried to directly fund civil society in Egypt – pro-democracy groups and the like – the Obama administration changed that policy and cut funding significantly, ending an effort to provide direct funding to democracy groups not “approved” by the Egyptian government, and reduced funding in the budget for programs to promote civil society groups.  
As Kessler writes: Bush’s final budget “proposed spending $45 million on democracy and good-governance programs in Egypt, including more than $20 million on promoting civil society…But that nascent effort was largely shelved when the Obama administration took office. For fiscal year 2009, the administration immediately halved the money for democracy promotion in Egypt; the civil society funds were slashed 70 percent, to $7 million. Meanwhile, money that was to be given directly to civil society groups was eliminated and the administration agreed to once again fund only those institutions that had Mubarak's seal of approval.”
3) The Muddled East 

While the editorial position of the Washington Post has generally been fair to Prime Minister Netanyahu, here is how the editors greeted his ascension to office in 2009:
There are nevertheless several grounds for concern about Mr. Netanyahu's government. The new prime minister leans heavily toward military solutions, at least rhetorically: He has promised to "smash" Hamas in Gaza and suggested that Israel will have little patience for a U.S. attempt to conduct a dialogue with Iran. Though he has promised to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority, Mr. Netanyahu has never endorsed the creation of a Palestinian state -- and he has said that he will support the "natural growth" of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. 
The Obama administration can restrain Israel from launching an independent attack on Iran's nuclear facilities and, barring serious new provocations by Hamas, should pressure the new government to maintain the peace with Gaza. The remaining problem is how to respond to Mr. Netanyahu's failure to accept Palestinian statehood, which in the past decade has become the anchor of U.S. policy in the region. Since the Palestinians are currently weak and divided, the temptation for the administration will be to tacitly tolerate Mr. Netanyahu's position and focus on Israeli negotiations with Syria, which could benefit U.S. interests even if they don't succeed. 
The problem with that course is that it could deliver a fatal blow to the two-state solution, which most Israelis recognize as the only way to preserve a democratic Jewish state. As outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert understood, the time for that solution may be running out. It is vital that the United States and European governments insist on Israeli acceptance of it -- just as they have done with Palestinian governments -- and that they publicly oppose actions that could undermine it, such as settlement expansion. If that creates tension between the United States and Israel in the short run, the result may be productive. Israelis -- starting with Mr. Netanyahu -- need to get the message that acceptance of a two-state solution has become a prerequisite for normal relations with the United States.
What in Netanyahu's records suggested that he "leaned towards military solutions?" Sure, when Arafat orchestrated the "tunnel riots" in 1996 Israel responded accordingly. Netanyahu also did not withdraw Israeli troops from southern Lebanon.

Perhaps, before his election Netanyahu never explicitly said that he accepted Palestinian statehood, but still he withdrew Israel from most of Hebron and he boasted of boosting the Palestinian economy. Objectively, Netanyahu kept the peace peace process going.

Still Netanyahu was blamed unfairly for a lack of progress in negotiations because he insisted that the Palestinians comply with their commitments.

What's striking about this editorial is the weight it gives to the worst assumptions about Netanyahu, even if they have no basis in fact. And while the Post has subsequently treatedNetanyahu more fairly (especially Jackson Diehl) those assumption from three years ago are frustrating.

Contrast the editorial about Netanyahu with today's Hamas and Fatah: A Mideast muddle:
This prospect is the product of the poor judgment of Mr. Abbas, who chose a year ago to turn his back on diplomacy with Israel and the United States and instead pursue statehood recognition at the United Nations along with Palestinian unity. The U.N. campaign has been a flop, having failed to produce even a Security Council vote. Mr. Abbas now stands to make Palestinian reconciliation — in theory, a desirable prospect — a net loser by refusing to insist that Hamas first renounce violence.
Note here, Abbas is merely faulted for "poor judgment," not for acting against the peace process. Abbas, of course, has never accepted the idea of Israel being a Jewish state. He has rejected a peace offer from Ehud Olmert.

The next two paragraphs are worse.
If there is a silver lining here, it is the signs that Hamas itself is reconsidering its place in the Middle East, if not its doctrine, as a result of the uprisings in Egypt and Syria. The latter has effectively broken Hamas’s alliance with the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and forced Mr. Meshal and other members of its leadership to abandon their headquarters in Damascus. Without the Assad regime, Iran, which has financed and armed Hamas, may soon lack the means to do so. Egypt’s elections, meanwhile, have empowered the Muslim Brotherhood, the organization that gave birth to Hamas — and which long ago gave up violence. 
Some Palestinian analysts speculate that Hamas is headed toward embracing the patronage — and the nonviolent Islamist political model — of the Brotherhood or Turkey’s Justice and Development Party. Others point to a possible split between Mr. Meshal and Gaza-based leaders over that issue as well as over the unity accord. In December, Gaza leader Ismail Haniyeh delivered a speech rejecting a shift to nonviolence, saying, “Armed resistance and armed struggle are the strategic way to liberate the Palestinian land from the [Mediterranean] sea to the [Jordan] river.”
What is the assumption here? That the Palestinians are so committed to peace that an alliance with Hamas must mean that Hamas is moderating? Abbas has done nothing to promote peaceful coexistence with Israel, why isn't the proposed unity deal cited as additional proof of his intransigence? And why is the patronage of Turkey thought to be a moderating influence on Hamas? Turkey, under Erdogan, has been encouraging anti-Israel terrorism. Has the Muslim Brotherhood really renounced violence?

It may be comforting to believe all these things. Still it is disturbing the way Netanyahu was presumed to be an obstacle to peace and now Abbas's and Hamas's extreme actions are rationalized away. There will not be peace in the Middle East until Palestinian extremism is identified and defeated.
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