The increasing desperation in the Middle East

The news reports are preoccupied with the many families fleeing the Middle East — mostly Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan — desperately trying to get into Europe, as if Europe were a safe haven.  As is becoming evident, after so many days and so much expense in order to make the journey, they are being greeted by reluctance if not open hostility.  Europe is in no way ready to receive them. But it is evident that these peoples — Muslims, Christians, people of all kinds and of all walks of life — are desperately voting with their feet.

In a sense this pattern of migration is not new.  The western world has benefited for many years by the flight of the middle classes, the professional and educated elements of these societies.  Those folks have been fleeing the troubled parts of Asia and Africa for years.  What is new here is that these refugees are from all levels of society:  the poor, the weak, the sick, the broken.  Everyone that has the means to flee seems to be fleeing.

So what drives them out of their homes, their whole social worlds?  Here is a note I received from a friend from one of those countries.

Tragedy and pain have found their way into my every organ today. What has turned my world upside down is that I have no solution to the problems I see. I have become mute. There’s too much suffering — way beyond my comprehension. Why God punishes its people when they are innocent? It’s on these trying days that we’d like to doubt God’s existence, His glory, His powers. But as I probe into the territory of the divine, it’s then that I see Him most vividly. Suffering and pain — contrary to the conventional belief — can make us a whole lot closer to the Almighty. I’m a fighter. Even though I despise the world and all its designs sometimes, I am grateful for all that has been bestowed upon me; and I feel lucky to be alive, fully functional — with all my cognitive faculties intact. In the midst of darkness, there’s always light. And that’s why I must remain sanguine and continue to stay in the fight and forge ahead.

At some point in the course of events we can come to the point when desperation leads us, as he says, to appeal to and seek help in the notion that there is a God who is above it all, who is well aware of the messy world that we live in, and is the only hope for any sense to be made in the human condition.  If there is no judgment, if there is nothing to look for beyond this life, if there is no mercy, then there is no hope.  It’s not good enough to rail at God.  At some point we have to throw ourselves on the mercy of One who is bigger than the world as we know it and has, as generations before us have desired, a bigger plan.

In the mean time, “In the midst of darkness” we seek the light, and remain sanguine, and continue the fight, and forge ahead.

[See the following site for a helpful analysis of what has caused the movement to flee Syria: Click here]



The Arab Counter-Spring distracts from the authentic desires of the Middle East

We are seeing the other side of the Arab Spring movement of
last year.  This is the “counter Spring”.  I note, however, that these actors in the Middle
East are all, I think, men.  Compare the
picture attached to the New York Times article on demonstrations in Yeman with the statement by a young woman in Yemen a year ago.  
This woman was appealing for American help in protecting the movement for democracy there.  
In that
case, the crowd behind her included a number of women, and she spoke in impeccable
I am prepared to believe that
this young woman, whose name will surely never be known, represents the genuine
longings of young people in the Middle East. 
What I fear is that such individuals will give up and leave – escape to the
States or Europe. That would mean that as usual the nations of the Middle East
will be run by the most conservative and defensive elements of the
society.  And mostly men [as in the NYTimes picture].  Something needs to happen to
force the leadership of these countries to listen to the heartfelt appeals of
these young people.  
The Middle East has not changed:  the hope for democracy has not died.  But this society is now, as it was a year ago, sharply divided.  What we see now is the attempts of a few, again, to co-opt September 11 as a vehicle of refusal.  It is reactive and defensive.  Lets hope Egypt and Yemen will join the Libyans in punishing such lawless behavior. 

Trouble in Tunisia, again

Most of us have forgotten Tunisia.  It was there that the first spark of the Arab Spring set the movement alight.  But now developments there are worrisome.  The new regime seems to be revealing its true Islamist perspective.  The Tehran Times [!] has an article on what’s going on there that reveals how serious the situation has become.

Here are some details worth taking note of:

Warning shots, tear gas fired at Tunisia demos  Middle East Desk
On Line: 10 August 2012 17:08 In Print: Saturday 11 August 2012 

[There was] a second anti-government protest in the central Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid, birthplace of last year’s revolution.  … 800 demonstrators furious at police intervention against a protest earlier in the day threw stones at security forces ….

On Thursday morning hundreds of demonstrators demanding the resignation of the Islamist-led government had tried to force their way into the provincial government headquarters, before the police fired tear gas and warning shots into the air.

Several opposition groups took part in the protest, including the Republican Party, the Tunisian Workers Party and Al-Watan, as well as political independents. …

A similar incident took place at the end of June, ….

… [There is] … criticism of the government by opposition and civil society groups, which accuse it of increasingly authoritarian and Islamist tendencies.

Several NGOs have accused Ennahda, which leads the ruling tripartite coalition, of seeking to curtail freedom of expression, most recently with a draft law to criminalize offences against “sacred values” that could carry a two-year jail term.

Another controversy has flared up over a proposed article in the new constitution that refers to the “complementarity” of men to women rather than their equality.

Bahrain’s abuse of its own citizens — with American complicity

We and most of the world rightly have condemned the Syrian government’s abuse of its own people, but what about the similar situation in Bahrain?  There is a difference:  In Bahrain there is a Naval base that is crucial to the United Sates in the Gulf.  So the US tolerates the abuse of the people in Bahrain and condemns the abuse of people in Syria.  

Shame on us. 

How can the United States not  be considered complicit in these abuses of the Bahrani public?  

Bahrain has convicted its own doctors for treating the injured in public demonstrations
Bahrain convicts medics for role in uprising – Middle East – Al Jazeera English

And Bahrain has, with the rest of the world looking elsewhere, continued to abuse their own people with impunity
Bahrain: Shouting in the dark – Programmes – Al Jazeera English

The back side of the station in Saudi Arabia: Murder by the State

Tom Friedman has often referred to the Middle East as a fuel station for the Western world.  As long as they pump fuel we’re not concerned about what’s going on out in back of their station:  anything can go on there as long as we get what we want from the pump.  The problem is that what goes on “out back” is inimical to Western values, indeed, values of decency anywhere.  
This I feel confident in saying because it is evident that these regimes are embarrassed for the rest of the world to see what they are doing to their own people.  Syria is in the news these days for abusing its own citizens, its army shooting them down as if they were armed warriors when the people being killed are unarmed.  And Saudi Arabia has piously condemned the Syrians, all the while enforcing rules among it own citizenry that are blatantly unfair and unjust.  
The Nation ( has published a report on the Saudi plan to execute a 23-year-old journalist who faces charges of apostasy for posting controversial views of the Prophet Muhammad on Twitter in early February.  The political reasons seem transparent and therefore the hypocrisy nauseating.  I copy the article here to emphasize the outrage that this case deserves.  I appreciate having the situation drawn to my attention; the person who sent it to me believes that Mr Kashgari will indeed be executed.  Kashgari, as his name implies, is not of Arab descent so he is an easier target, treated as an insidious influence among the purebred citizens.  Here is the article from the Nation.  [Click on the title able for a link to the source.]  
The Nation:  “The Price of Dissent in Saudi Arabia” February 15, 2012
Saudi Arabia appears determined to sacrifice one of its young on the  altar of domestic politics. At the center of a brewing storm is Hamza  Kashgari, a 23-year-old journalist who faces charges of apostasy and a  potential death sentence for posting controversial views of the Prophet  Muhammad on Twitter in early February. In three short messages, in which  he expressed a mix of devotion, frustration and uncertainty about his  faith, Kashgari has stirred rancor across Arabia. His greatest affront, it seems, was giving voice to doubt. Many in Saudi Arabia share his views, but it is a poisonous environment for those who harbor uncertainty. In a place that demands public conformity to a narrow interpretation of Islamic orthodoxy and servility to religion’s  gatekeepers, Kashgari said too much.
Tens of thousands of self-righteous Saudis responded venomously, including the country’s king, who allegedly personally ordered  Kashgari’s detention. Amid calls for his death, a desperate and  frightened Kashgari tried and failed to flee. An escape to New Zealand, where he hoped to press for political asylum, was interrupted after authorities in Malaysia deported him back to Saudi Arabia. Should Kashgari face formal criminal charges of apostasy, prosecutors will argue that he blasphemed Islam’s most important figure. It is an accusation fraught with peril. Angry clerics serve as gatekeepers of the law and, more important, as dispensers of cruelty masked as justice.
While the most vituperative responses to the Kashgari affair are no  doubt rooted in zealous conviction, the reality is that this episode,  and particularly the government’s support for the case against him, has  little to do with protecting the sanctity of Islam. Rather, the Saudi regime is playing a calculated political game, one that aims to oppress some critics, to outmaneuver others and to bolster its thin claims to religious legitimacy.
While his postings on Muhammad suggest contemplative self-reflection,  Kashgari subsequently confided that he was aware not only of the  potential risk but that by courting controversy he was deliberately testing the limits of his freedom. Before his deportation, he described  his actions  [1] as practicing “the most basic human rights—freedom of expression and  thought…there are a lot of people like me in Saudi Arabia who are  fighting for their rights.”
Kashgari was hardly a revolutionary, but his views most certainly were.  The kingdom’s government is intolerant of free speech, especially  anything that challenges political authority. Dissenting religious and  political views, including those expressed by Kashgari, are widely  shared inside the kingdom. Among the droves of death threats and the cries of angry critics, Kashgari also commands a sympathetic following.  Thousands have rallied in his support. And the regime in Riyadh is well aware, particularly in an era of revolutionary upheaval, that a  significant number of its subjects bristle against its authority. Such  sentiment is hard to quantify, and criticism is only safely asserted  anonymously. But the critics are there, most notably in the new social  media. And they have potential power, which the regime grudgingly  understands.
But while Twitter and Facebook have opened avenues for dissent, there  are still significant dangers, something the Kashgari affair makes  painfully clear. The regime is notorious for filling its prisons with  political activists. In November the kingdom sentenced seventeen  activists [2] to long prison terms for daring to demand greater human and  political rights. And there are other pressures at work that inhibit any  public mobilization in support of Kashgari or against the regime. Many  who have called for his death demand   [3] exactly the same for the thousands who support him. Given the power accorded by the regime to extremists, it is enough to shock most into reticence.  Ultimately Kashgari proved vulnerable not because he is alone but because the regime has rendered the price of dissent unbearable. By arresting and threatening him under the cloak of Islamic law, the regime  has also sent a clear message to others like him.
Kashgari’s persecution also marks an effort by Saudi Arabia’s leaders to  shore up support from within the halls of religious authority. The royal  family has long leaned on the country’s senior clerics to stamp its  temporal power with the imprimatur of religious legitimacy. But many in  the kingdom see through the claim. Pious and agnostic alike consider the  royal family corrupt and irreverent. It is commonly held that Riyadh’s  assertion of Islamic authority is spurious, a fiction that the  government peddles as an excuse to protect its personal fortunes and  power. Whether genuine or not, the result has been the empowerment of a  class of religious scholars who are committed to protecting their own  authority.
The Saudi-scholar alliance has proven a devil’s bargain at times. Over  the past three decades these frustrations have generated significant  challenges to the regime, with outspoken clerics periodically targeting  the government for its infidelities. Mindful of this, the kingdom’s  leaders regularly seek opportunities to placate potential critics in the  mosques. In doing so, they have assured the rise of a clerical class  that is simultaneously a pillar of support and a potential threat. An  unfortunate consequence of this arrangement has been the de facto  encouragement of extreme figures at the expense of more reasoned voices.
As the drama surrounding Kashgari unfolded Nasser al-Omar, a  particularly odious scholar with a history of calumny, emerged as the  leading figure in his public persecution. Al-Omar’s radical credentials  are considerable. In the 1990s he was an advocate of an especially  shrill anti-Shiite sectarianism    [4], a sentiment that is deeply entrenched in Saudi society today. More  important, he is part of a generation of scholars that has openly  questioned the fitness of the Al Saud to rule. In a video commentary   [5] that quickly went  viral, al-Omar broke down in tears as he called for Kashgari’s  execution. Al-Omar tapped into widespread sentiment, but his visibility  and the government’s accommodation of figures like him speaks directly  to both the cravenness of the government’s agenda as well as royal  anxiety about the potential for the clergy to rally against the crown.
Hamza Kashgari, then, is a sacrifice the royal family is not just  willing to make, but that its continued power depends on. In the torrent  of invective and recrimination that has swept through Saudi Arabia in  recent weeks, the country’s rulers no doubt find comfort in pitting its  citizens against one another. Better to encourage culture wars than  allow critics to direct their ire toward the seat of power.
*Source URL:*


A view of “Arab spring” in rural Egypt

My students and I have been following affairs in the Middle East with great interest, as it reveals a wholly different image of the Muslim peoples of that region than the Americans have had of them.  That ordinary people will go out on the street day after day to challenge the regimes in power, sometimes in the fact of armed military equipped with live ammunition.  This is what took place in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Syria.  And in virtually all of these places the government troops or police killed people for demonstrating on the streets.  How many American young people would do that?  And these demonstrations, in virtually every case, have been animated by calls for democracy and good governance, for governments that would be accountable to the public.  This is what is still going on in Syria:  Now they say the number of those killed has reached 5000.  That is the number killed by the government troops and police when they shot into crowds of unarmed people whose essential demand is the right to choose their own leaders. 
Of all these places the demonstrations in Egypt were no doubt the most significant because Egypt is the most populace of the Arab states and the most strategically located, and the most heavily armed.  It was in last January last year that, owing to the demonstrations President Mubarak resigned from office.  He is now being tried for a long list of crimes while in office.  In recent days, however, the army has become ever more intransigent toward demonstrators.  It looks like there will be another struggle in Egypt, this time between the army and the demonstrators.  Conceivably, this one will be more brutal, more bloody.  We must pray it will not be so.
I have been in correspondence with a recent graduate of American University in Cairo named Keith Whitmire.  What Mr. Whitmire tells me about the situation in Egypt in the last year, especially in the rural areas, is so fascinating that with his permission I reproduce some it here.  I thank him for his help.

[A]side from a few notable exceptions, rural areas were largely left out of coverage [of the Arab Spring activities] during and after the revolution. Hence, very few people seem aware of the ways rural people in Egypt mobilized during the revolution.  [Also,] during and after the revolution, vast amounts of revolution-themed popular culture were created. Moreover, popular culture is something that has always been produced in combination with the countryside.  Singers, poets, actors, and actresses are more often than not from the rural and urban poor.  Yet post-revolution, the interaction between popular culture and popular protest in rural areas in Egypt has gone almost unstudied.  …
It’s worth noting that popular culture also has to be defined here, and more importantly defined in a context.  A preliminary working definition for what I am looking at would be music, videos, and chants that are produced by non-elites for the consumption of non-elites.  Such items tend to be distributed by less official channels (i.e., by individuals on youtube, facebook, and twitter instead of via record labels).  In the case of revolution-themed popular culture, the themes tended to be anti-regime, nationalistic, and they tend to emphasize social and economic justice. Needless to say, they also emphasize the downfall of the regime.  The context also has to be located within time, and that time would likely be January 25, 2011 and a few months after.  Mobilization increased in some quarters after Mubarak’s resignation and today’s poor revolutionary singer could be tomorrow’s wealthy friend of the regime, so it is important to view people as they were then, and not as whatever they might be five years from now.

. . . I deeply believe that we cannot begin to understand the world we live in unless we understand not only history, but history as it is seen by other cultures and peoples.  I think the greatest understandings I came to in Egypt were when I could momentarily glimpse history and ordinary life as the Egyptians saw it.  . . . .
The military is much more powerful than most people realized in the beginning.  The military owns a number of factories and a truly shocking amount of land in the countryside, which they farm for their own profits. It’s worth noting that my understanding of their ownership is fuzzy.  I don’t know where the profits go.  I doubt anybody but the generals themselves know that.  All this is aside of the property, factories, and businesses that high-ranking military officials own privately, which is again, considerable.  Sometimes I think that all the January 25th uprising did was uncover the real power in the country.  Up until now, of course, there have been limitations on the military.

Unlike the police or the central security services, military conscripts in Egypt are drafted by lottery.  Rumor has it you can buy your way out, but that’s far beyond the means of most Egyptians.  Central security and police, by contrast, buy their way in with money and connections.  So whereas the central security and the police have a lot invested in the current system, the rank and file conscripts in the military do not. Therefore it’s been harder for soldiers to do the same brutal things to citizens because the conscripts are drafted and being ordered, whereas the police and central security are doing things because they’re protecting their interests and authority.  You don’t wake up one morning torturing people, you lose your humanity by degrees.  Which is of course precisely what’s happening with the military right now.  When this started, the military didn’t have a lot of people willing to torture, kill, and maim to suppress dissent in the Mubarak fashion.  They had soldiers trained to fight wars.  So they are building a suppressive force by slowly ordering progressive levels of violence and brutality towards protesters.  They couldn’t have done this all at once.  Though there are certainly other factors at play, this is part of why violence has been escalating since the military took power.

At any rate, there are more reasons why the military is such a problem right now, . . .  The truth is, some of the things that have happened have shocked even me.  The military plays up the “aww shucks” we’re just guardians of the people thing a lot, but it really doesn’t hold water.  The grand picture is not one of an inept, well-meaning force trying to right the country (the initial public opinion in Egypt), but rather a focused, ruthless, and very intelligent group trying to consolidate and hold onto power.

Celebrating Mohammed Bouazizi’s gift to the Arab imagination: His own burning body

Salman Shaikh of CNN reviews the significance of what has taken place in the Arab world in the last twelve months.  So much has changed, so much is still unresolved, so much is potential.  This is a time to encourage the authentic appeals for the right of the peoples of the Middle East to choose their own leaders and to hold them accountable for what they do with their country.  They are worthy of our support and encouragement.  RLC

Mohamed Bouazizi: A fruit seller’s legacy to the Arab people By Salman Shaikh, Special to CNN updated 9:23 AM EST, Sat December 17, 2011                          

(CNN) — Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation one year ago was an act which symbolized the frustration and desperation of millions in the Arab world, setting into motion a series of revolutions across the Middle East and North Africa.His was a cry for dignity, justice, and opportunity, which continues to be heard around a region undergoing tumultuous change. In today’s Middle East, people matter. Many are now engaged in what could be a life-long struggle to fight long-standing grievances and take greater control of their lives. This process must involve the creation of new democratic political systems, which ensure greater accountability of leaders, and level the playing field of opportunity for all, not just a select few. 

It has been a remarkable year. Three dictators have been toppled and one has transferred power to a deputy. Nonetheless, analysts and policy-makers continue to speak about the slow pace of change in the region and warn of the onset of an “Arab Winter.” Such distinctions — spring and winter — are misleading. Many seasons will come and go in the transformative years that lie ahead for the Arab world. Revolutions take time to settle. The transformation of societies takes even longer. The colored revolutions of Eastern Europe, two decades on, are still developing. It took centuries for democratic systems to be refined in Europe. We cannot expect democracy in the Middle East to be solidified in only one year. 

Still, across the region, there is cause for concern. Egypt’s transition to civilian rule carries major worries, even as Egyptians continue to go to the polls. The concern remains that the ruling military council will relinquish power only under heavy pressure; and Egypt’s economy and confidence are in nosedive as the populace awaits civil rule. Syrians meanwhile face a regime intent on killing and torturing its citizens to end their uprising. All this as a largely impotent international community argues over how to stop the increasing violence.In Yemen, many are not convinced by a regionally brokered transition deal, which allows Saleh and his family immunity from prosecution as well as continued political influence. Bahrain continues to reel from the absence of a genuine national dialogue between its rulers and the underrepresented and relatively impoverished majority Shia community. Libya’s revolutionaries now face the immediate challenge of building a state from scratch, based on the rule of law and democratic principles. To do so, they are learning, they will first have to put down their guns.  . . . 

[For more, click on the title.]

Women in the revolutions of the Arab world

Asghar Ali has an interesting comment on DNA [Daily News Analysis] about the place women played in the recent Arab spring movements, and how they could be again relegated to the margins in some places.  [Click on the title above for a link to the source.]

Behind every successful revolution is a womanAsghar Ali Engineer | Friday, November 11, 2011
 The Arab world saw great political turmoil in the beginning of 2011. The Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was overthrown before January 2011 ended. Then a similar turmoil began in Egypt and hundreds of thousands of people poured in Tahrir square to protest against Hosni Mubarak, another long serving dictator who was forced to go and then Libya, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain. Now all this has been much written about and need not be repeated, but what concerns us here is the role of women in these revolutionary changes.
 In all these countries, women played a very significant role, right from Tunisia to Yemen. Both in Egypt and Yemen, women’s initiatives proved to be crucial. In fact, the Tahrir mobilisation was due mainly to a young girl’s appeal on Facebook. The role of women was so significant that it was being expected that the Nobel Prize for Peace this year would be given to three women from Arab countries i.e. Tunis, Egypt and Yemen, but instead it went to women from Africa and Yemen, the latter a Muslim woman who also played a crucial role in the protection of human rights and in the political mobilisation for the overthrow of President Saleh, though there still remains a stalemate in Yemen.
 The myth that Muslim women merely sit at home and are worth nothing more than domestic workers and house makers has been shattered decisively. Muslim women have proved once again that they can mobilise people efficiently and purposefully. It is also interesting to note that many women in Tunisia and Egypt were quite active in trade unions and have used their experience to proper use and brought about change in the political sphere.
 But post-revolution a shadow of doubt hangs over them. What will this democratic revolution give them? Will it take over the rights they had gained under dictators? It is possible that Islamic laws are re-imposed in these countries. In Tunisia, the Ennahda Party has won elections. Though it describes itself as a moderate Islamic party, Ennahda leader Ghanushi has fortunately declared that there will be no change in gender laws, which clearly means polygamy will not be re-imposed.
 However, Libyan women are not so fortunate. The Libyan leader who is projected as the new Prime Minister after ousting Gaddafi has already announced that Islamic laws will be the only laws imposed and polygamy will be reintroduced. Gaddafi, undoubtedly a dictator who had to go, had also done lot of good in introducing and consolidating gender justice in Libya. He had given equal rights to women as provided for in the Qur’an. He abolished polyga-my and gave women an important role in public life. He even maintained that to confine women at home is an imperialist conspiracy to paralyse half the population of the Islamic world.   . . . .  [for more, click on the title for the whole article.]

Will the new systems established after the Arab Spring avoid the oppressive systems they have overturned?

The dilemmas of what should happen next in the Arab world have been stated one way by an Iranian opponent of the Iranian government, Ibrahim Yazdi, and another way in an article by the Arab social critic Mahan Abedin [“Arab Spring confounds Iran’s opposition,” Asian Times, Nov 10, 2011].  According to Yazdi a danger exists that the successful movements against repressive regimes in the Arab world could now be replaced by equally repressive systems.  He seems to blame the unfamiliarity of Muslims with all that is entailed in democracy.   Yazdi says: 

“Despite struggling for fundamental rights, freedom and self-determination, we Muslims from any nationality lack sufficient experience with democracy. We struggle and overthrow dictators but we don’t remove tyranny as a mode of governance and a way of life.”  

Yazdi of course has seen it happen, for he had been part of the Iranian uprising against the Shah in 1978-1979, and he experienced the takeover by Ruhullah Khomeini and those with him who, once in power, set about to remove [essentially to exterminate] those who could not share their Islamist vision for the country.  Yazdi survived but has been alienated for years, the position from which he now warns the Tunisians:  Their movement could end up being different from what they had originally been calling for.  He has good reason, then, to fear that these successful movements in Tunisia [and also Egypt] could be replaced by a  system as repressive as the old; a similar warning was once made by Foucault about revolutionary movements generally.  

Abedin is unimpressed by Yazdi’s warning, seeing in it a Iranian condescending attitude.  But Abedin seems even to push Yazdi’s point further, for he thinks that Islam and the democracy that the Arab Spring movements have demanded may be intrinsically incompatible.  Of the newly elected Tunisian Islamist party, al-Nahda (Renaissance), he says that  

“… these movements have yet to successfully grapple with their ideological dilemma. The essence of their ideology commits them to the creation of a pan-Islamic state, if not a fully-fledged caliphate. It also commits them to introducing the Islamic sharia as the basis of legislation and the general ordering of state and society.  While these goals are not necessarily inimical to democracy, they are not harmonious with it either. The Muslim Brotherhood and its many offshoots can legitimately claim to be democratic in spirit once they have resolved this ideological contradiction.

This is an old question.  Most Muslims I know see no reason why Islam cannot be built into a constituted democracy; that was the project Pakistan set out to accomplish in 1947.  We continue to watch and hope that the new regimes being established in Tunisia and Egypt will indeed establish the kind of democracy that they will cherish and be eager to protect from all forms of social oppression, a necessary feature of democracy if it is to be successfully practiced.

[Click on the title for a link to the original article by Abedin.]

The Arab League to Syria’s Assad: Talk to the opposition.

That the Arab League has come together on a proposal to Assad is good news.  Whether it will amount to anything is something else.  The opprobrium of the world has not yet forced Assad to step down – which is what his enemies demand if they are to give of their demonstrations.  In the mean time Assad’s troops keep on killing unarmed citizens of their country.
That the rest of the world wants to intervene is a sign of how little anyone cares anymore about the conventions of the Peace of Westphalia.  The world is too small now; it’s too easy to peak over the fence and see what our neighbors are doing to their citizens.  We cringe at what we see in North Korea  But Assad tells us that without his regime the Middle East will be an “Afghanistan”.  Meaning what?   Here is what Al Jazeera tells us. [click on the title for the whole article].
Arab League hands Syria plan to end unrest  Oct 31, 2011
The Arab League has handed Syrian officials a plan for ending seven months of increasingly violent unrest against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule.
The Arab League committee put its plan, involving talks in Cairo between the Syrian authorities and their opponents, to Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem and Bouthaina Shaaban, a political adviser to Assad, on Sunday in Qatar.
The League had previously set a two-week deadline for the start of such talks, which expired on Sunday. The committee said it hoped for a Syrian response to its plan by Monday.
“More important than a dialogue is action… This committee has given a very strong response to the recent killings,” Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Al Thani, whose country presides over the committee, told reporters in Doha.
Syrian objections to holding a meeting regarding what they consider domestic affairs outside Syria was one of the points of disagreement between the two sides.
Assad told Russian television on Sunday that he would co-operate with the opposition even as he had earlier warned in another interview of an “earthquake” if the West intervenes in his country.
In an interview with Britain’s Sunday Telegraph newspaper, Assad said international involvement risked transforming Syria into “another Afghanistan”.
He also stressed Syria was key to keeping the peace in the region.
. . .