Friday, May 18, 2012

The Middle East Media Sampler 5/18/2012: President Bush On The Arab Spring

From DG:
1) Former President Bush on the Arab spring

Former President, George W. Bush wrote The Arab Spring and American Ideals in the Wall Street Journal.
America does not get to choose if a freedom revolution should begin or end in the Middle East or elsewhere. It only gets to choose what side it is on.

The day when a dictator falls or yields to a democratic movement is glorious. The years of transition that follow can be difficult. People forget that this was true in Central Europe, where democratic institutions and attitudes did not spring up overnight. From time to time, there has been corruption, backsliding and nostalgia for the communist past. Essential economic reforms have sometimes proved painful and unpopular.
It takes courage to ignite a freedom revolution. But it also takes courage to secure a freedom revolution through structural reform. And both types of bravery deserve our support.
The article doesn't get into many specifics, but presumably Bush thinks along the lines of Reuel Marc Gerecht who recently wrote the Islamist path to Democracy, who wrote:
Fundamentalists, however, are near the mainstream. Washington should be under no illusions: They will be neither our friends nor allies. But their debates with each other and with the region's still-kicking nationalists, socialists, communists and liberals will get evolution rolling. 
Down that tortuous path lies the possibility of less angry relations between Islam and the West. Dictatorship nostalgia, on the other hand, will take us right back to the cul-de-sac where Osama bin Laden was born.
I think that that's too optimistic.

But Bush's essay does bring to mind two items.

President Bush had a "freedom agenda." This led him to encourage the participation of Hamas in Palestinian elections in 2006. That has not worked out well.

However, appropriate or inappropriate Bush's support of elections was, he did see the promotion of democratic institutions as a priority. Jake Tapper reported, shortly after the "Arab Spring" began:
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.”
Might maintaining the funding level of the Bush administration have given the Obama administration more leverage in dealing with post-Mubarak Egypt?

The other item to consider is whether the Iraq war was a necessary (if insufficient) condition for the Arab spring. In 2003, Hafez al-Assad had died and been succeeded by Bashar. Hosni Mubarak was grooming Gamal to take over for him. Moammar Qadaffi was thinking of having his sons succeed him. It seemed inevitable that Uday and Qusay would take over for Saddam Hussein one day. The Iraq war made the inevitability of a dictator handing the reins to his sons, just a little less certain.

2) Hamas doesn't like the cabinet

Fatah has a new cabinet, headed by Salam Fayyad.

Hamas is upset.
The new Palestinian cabinet sworn in this week is illegitimate and cannot hold or oversee elections, Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri charged on Thursday.
...
The government’s main mission, the Doha agreement stipulated, would be to prepare for presidential and parliamentary elections and rebuild the Gaza Strip. As of this week, Hamas does not figure into the new Palestinian cabinet, which underlines the failure of this past year's so-called reconciliation movement that sought to unify the schismatic Palestinian leadership in Gaza and the West Bank.
Presumably this cabinet is mostly window dressing. I assume that most of the power is still held by Fatah Central committee. In any case there is no obvious public support for the new configuration as national elections for the Palestinians are more than 3 years overdue.
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