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Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

Category: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

EGYPT: Transition should put mechanisms and measures before personalities

Editor's note: Analysts at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace are included among contributors to Babylon & Beyond. Carnegie is renowned for its political, economic and social analysis of the Middle East. The views represented are the author's own.

Carnegie logo Many Egyptians are attempting to link the country’s decades-long crises of authoritarianism and corruption solely to the actions of former President Hosni Mubarak and those close to him. Simply expelling these individuals from political and social life will not build a democratic and transparent Egypt that combats corruption, however.

The institutions of authoritarianism — from security agencies to state media to judicial committees accustomed to doing the rulers’ bidding — are the very mechanisms that enabled Mubarak to remain in power for almost 30 years. Egyptians are incapable of achieving much progress if they cut short the work of democratic reform in constitutional and legal contexts and placate themselves with the legal pursuit of prominent corrupt figures.

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EGYPT: Unrest poses short-term economic challenges, long-term opportunities

[Editor's note: Analysts at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace are included among contributors to Babylon & Beyond. Carnegie is renowned for its political, economic and social analysis of the Middle East. The views represented are the author's own.]

Carnegie logo Egypt’s nationwide protests have come at a significant cost in the short term.

Economic growth is projected to decline, job losses and poverty to increase, inflation to heighten, and the budget deficit to expand. If mass protests continue, the economic damage may be considerable.

But if a smooth transition takes place quickly and the right reforms are implemented, Egypt’s economy will come back stronger.

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ALGERIA: Oil revenues will not prevent social upheaval, says analyst

[Editor's note: Analysts of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace are included among contributors to Babylon & Beyond. Carnegie is renowned for its political, economic and social analysis of the Middle East. The views represented are the author's own.]

While Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s recent announcement that he will end the country’s 19-year-old state of emergency law was welcome news, leaders must quickly address the major structural problems plaguing its economy and increase government oversight or risk continued unrest.

Carnegie logoWhile socioeconomic conditions are similar in Algeria, Egypt, and Tunisia –- including high levels of unemployment, particularly among youth, widespread corruption and bureaucracy, and lack of transparency -– Algeria is different because of its rich petroleum and gas resources.

Algeria’s oil reserves exceed 10 billion barrels, with daily production estimated at 1.2 million barrels. But at a time when a barrel of oil fetches $100 on the global market, the average citizen sees slowing economic growth, spreading poverty and unemployment, declining purchasing power and unaffordable housing.

To help prevent further unrest, the government should address the multiple structural defects hurting Algeria’s economy.

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EGYPT: Proposals for change: a national security council and proportional representation


[Editor's note: Analysts of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace are included among contributors to Babylon & Beyond. Carnegie is renowned for its political, economic and social analysis of the Middle East. The views represented are the author's own.]

Carnegie logo The Egyptian protesters and opposition have proposed a set of demands and reforms to resolve the current crisis and create a new political order: the departure of President Hosni Mubarak, his family and close associates; the cancellation of the state of emergency; the formation of a coalition government; amendment of the constitution; dissolution of the parliament and Shura council; and the organization of fresh parliamentary and presidential elections.

These are necessary steps in building a new, democratic Egypt.

But two additional ideas might be useful in engineering Egypt's future: the creation of a national security council and a proportional representation system in parliament.

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EGYPT: At a crucial moment, road map toward democracy


[Editor's note: Analysts of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace are included among contributors to Babylon & Beyond. Carnegie is renowned for its political, economic and social analysis of the Middle East. The views represented are the author's own.]

Egypt is at a crucial moment of democratic change being driven by a dynamic popular movement. The time available to press for a transition toward democracy and a genuine response to citizens’ demands is being counted in hours and minutes, not days.

Carnegie logo Egyptian citizens are bravely overcoming attempts by some to incite fear with chaos. The popular will to change has not wavered. Rather, the people have persisted with a clear, collective and frank expression of their desire to oust the current regime and create a democratic, free and just nation.

The matter has been decided and the clock’s hands will not turn back to the time of authoritarianism.

Egypt stands today assuredly on the threshold of transition toward democratic governance. Egyptians are now demanding the realization of swift national consensus regarding the method of this transition and its administration.

Given the choice of the military to cooperate both with the people and the existing government, the regime has an opportunity right now to administer a safe transition toward democracy. Such a transition could prevent Egypt from a dragged-out confrontation between the prevailing popular will to change and the desire of some power-players in the current regime to resist it.

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TUNISIA: Revolution shows hollowness of Arab system in face of people power


The citizens’ revolution in Tunisia that forced dictator Zine el Abidine ben Ali to flee the country provides many lessons for the Arab world. Regimes should keep the lessons in mind to avoid repeating Tunisia’s experience in their own countries, while citizens can draw inspiration in hopes of effecting democratic change.

First, Tunisian citizens have reminded Arabs of the main lesson of democratic transformations: Never underestimate the potential of peoples stifled under the yoke of authoritarianism. No matter how long the rule lasts or how tight its grip, citizens will instigate change through sudden revolutions and uprisings with the power to overcome corruption and bullets.

Cargenie Second, Arabs have learned that authoritarian regimes lack public legitimacy, even if they create economic growth. Under Ben Ali, Tunisia had the highest growth rate among Arab countries outside the Gulf region; average annual individual income rose to $4,000, education became more widespread, and illiteracy rates were cut significantly.

Once this growth stagnated, however, many Tunisians became dissatisfied and had no place to turn to air their grievances. Their concerns about bread-and-butter issues quickly evolved into a broader demand for political liberties and democracy.

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LEBANON: Another descent into a long crisis

Following last week’s decision by Hezbollah to bring down the government of Saad Hariri, Lebanon has likely entered a period of extended crisis with a caretaker government. It will be marked by fitful attempts to form a new government; negotiations, scheduled to begin this week, have already been postponed.

This is the latest escalation in the long crisis over the U.N. special tribunal investigating the assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.

For the time being, the security situation remains calm, although tense. The crisis remains at the political level, and Hezbollah’s overwhelming military force makes it unlikely that its opponents will try to challenge it on the street.

Cargenie On Monday, the tribunal announced that the prosecutor had submitted his sealed indictment to the pre-trial judge. The judge, Daniel Franson, is expected to take between six and 10 weeks to weigh the evidence. Franson can confirm or reject the indictment in whole or in part, or ask for more evidence.

Parliament remains divided between the March 8 coalition, backed by Hezbollah, and the March 14 coalition of Saad Hariri. Although the March 14 coalition has made clear that it will nominate Hariri for another term and the bulk of the opposition has said it will nominate an alternative -- probably former Prime Minister Omar Karami -- the outcome is uncertain. Druze leader Walid Junblatt and parliament speaker Nabih Berri have been urging both sides to return to negotiations. But tensions are riding high and no consensus is emerging.

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EGYPT: Ordinary Muslims, too, share blame for violence against Christians


Amr Hamzawy is an analyst with the Carnegie Middle East Center.

Egypt is in need of collective redemption in the wake of the Alexandria bombing.  Egyptians must separate themselves from talk of conspiracies plotted by foreign terrorists. Let them instead take a hard look within and acknowledge that terrorism has a sectarian face.

Carnegie logoTerrorism exercises violence in societies that provide fertile ground for sectarian conflicts, as in Iraq, or likewise as it is being cultivated in Egypt today.

Egyptians must discard the deceptive displays they mechanically regurgitate each time blood is shed in crimes of sectarian violence. Championing national unity and flaunting it with kisses of priests by sheiks is baseless. Muslims who speak of their Christian brothers often do so incredulously.

Copts’ refusal to accept the condolences of government representatives to senior members of the All Saints Church is not an act to be feared. Rather, it is an explicit expression of a frustration gripping many Christians who are ruled by a government resigned to their discrimination.  Public institutions fail to soberly consider the root causes of such vehemence, and are lax in their responsibility to provide them with protection.

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EGYPT: After elections, the government and opposition must talk


Egyptians are feeling frustrated as both the regime and the opposition seem unable to address challenges emerging from November’s parliamentary elections.

Carnegie logoEven though most citizens boycotted the elections, the opposition was divided on whether to even participate, and serious election violations occurred. Now the National Democratic Party, or NDP, is excluding the opposition in the wake of its victory.

“A few violations occurred,” President Mubarak conceded, while expressing his regret for the limited representation of the opposition.

Yet he quickly confirmed the integrity of the elections and the legitimacy of the People’s Assembly. So did scores of NDP leaders and writers, who called the elections a “well-earned triumph for NDP candidates” -- even though weak opposition parties and movements hardly offered much competition.

This interpretation ignores four major facts about the elections.

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SUDAN: Referendum might mark birth of a new nation, though fear of violence looms

Southern Sudanese are widely expected to vote for independence — splitting the largest country in Africa and the Arab world in two — in a referendum on Sunday. Secession would mark the beginning of a complicated process of creating a new African state.

Carnegie logoThe referendum was designed to be the culmination of a peace process ending decades of conflict between the north and the south in Sudan, but there are lingering fears that tensions could erupt into violence.

Tensions between the north and south have a long history, going back to pre-colonial days. The two areas have significantly different cultural, ethnic and religious makeups — the north is mainly Arab and Muslim while the south is mainly African and Christian or animist — which have complicated relations for many years.

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MIDDLE EAST: Can the region's Christians survive the 21st Century?


As the 21st Century enters its second decade, two millennia of Christian presence in the Middle East might be eclipsed by the end of the century.

Carnegie logoThe new decade began in the Middle East with a car bomb that went off minutes after midnight outside an Egyptian church and left more than 20 people dead. This bombing came just a few weeks after radical Islamic gunmen killed dozens of people in a church in Iraq. The rise of Al Qaeda and the spread of radical Islamic movements have made the difficult situation of the Middle East’s Christian minorities far worse.

Comprising 20% of the region’s population at the beginning of the 20th Century, the remaining 10 to 12 million people make up only 5% of the population today. Though Christians played prominent roles in the cultural, nationalist, leftist and anti-colonial movements of earlier decades, they are excluded from the Islamist politics of recent years.

Since 2001, they have also borne some of the brunt of the confrontation between radical Islam and the (Christian) West.

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EGYPT: Policymakers ignore increasingly disaffected youth

Egyptian youths represent two-thirds of the country’s population and share a sense of detachment from, and lack of trust in, Egypt’s political life. They dream of a decent and stable job, affordable housing and good health services. Unfortunately for many of them, these dreams will never become reality.

Carnegie logo Unemployment is the primary issue for Egypt’s young people. Nine out of 10 jobless in Egypt are under age 30, with women disproportionately unemployed. A large mismatch between job opportunities and education provided by schools and universities is mostly responsible.

Even though the young are more educated than other job seekers, most jobs in Egypt are of poor quality, offered as part of the informal sector, and attract less-educated workers. Migration is increasingly seen as the solution to unemployment among the highly educated; those from unprivileged families usually end up with a poor education and bad jobs.

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