July 12, 2012
July 12, 2012
During the first week of 2012, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), Egypt’s effective ruling body, declared January 25 a national holiday marking the first anniversary of the beginning of the Glorious Revolution of the people (and the army). The revolution has succeeded, they proudly announced, and those who refuse to accept this are either foreign-employed agitators or disgruntled radicals. On January 22, Hosni Mubarak’s lead attorney wrapped up his defense in court by claiming that the deposed president was still Egypt’s legitimate ruler and by accusing the military not only of usurping power, but also of being implicated in the killing of more than 850 demonstrators during the first days of the revolt. That same day, the country’s first democratically elected Parliament was convening a few meters away from Tahrir Square, the heart and symbol of the revolt, with an overwhelming Islamist majority (70 percent of the vote, counting all Islamist factions) drunk with victory and dividing the spoils. On the January 25 holiday, hundreds of thousands (some say millions) of Egyptians marched all over the country in what was anything but a celebratory mood, chanting “Down with Military Rule!” and attacking Muslim Brothers in Tahrir. Yet when revolutionary activists called for a general strike on February 11 to reignite the struggle, only a few heeded their call. Finally, as the country prepared for presidential elections in May 2012, observers were astounded by the fact that two of those who announced their candidacy were none other than Mubarak’s vice president (the fearsome security chief Omar Suleiman) and his last prime minister (Ahmed Shafiq). And the runner-ups for the final round of elections, held in mid-June, were Shafiq, representing the old regime, and the Muslim Brothers’ candidate (and ultimate winner), Mohamed Morsi, representing an oppositional movement that has maintained an ambivalent attitude toward the revolution. If anything is certain at this point, it is that post-revolt politics are still quite fluid. Though a year and a half have gone by, the final verdict on the Egyptian Revolution—including whether it actually was one—is still to come.
ORGANIZATION, CLEARLY, is one of the main problems. As heroic as it was, the failure of the January 25 revolt to crystallize into a concrete revolutionary movement capable of harnessing popular energy, strategizing street battles, and negotiating on behalf of the mobilized people has minimized its political impact. Neither the temporary alliance of (secular and Islamist) vanguard activists who spearheaded the revolt nor the Muslim Brothers—the large opposition movement waiting in the wings to reap the gains—were up to the task of directing the uprising they helped unleash. And it was only natural for the average Egyptians who fueled the revolt to turn their backs on their seemingly clueless self-appointed leaders. Though the spirit of popular defiance has not yet dissipated, it is clear that the uprising fell short of its declared goal of overthrowing the regime.
Post-revolt politics have come to resemble a giant chessboard, where those in power (the military and security elite) make all the moves, while hardcore activists try desperately to block their advances. Considering that in revolutions one cannot stand still, it is only natural that the absence of a coherent and viable strategy for victory would cause the wave of popular support to subside, reducing the revolutionary situation to a waiting game, where those yearning for change can do little more than pray for their rivals to lose. Yet it is generals who win wars no matter how many brave soldiers perish; and revolutions are won by strategy, not stamina.
The ruling institutions fought hard to prevent the emergence of revolutionary movements before the revolt. But is the old regime still intact and determined to crush the revolution? Is the military acting as a proxy for its old political masters, and is the security apparatus simply doing its bidding? A close examination of the Egyptian regime, first erected by the July 1952 coup, reveals that it has not been as monolithic or well integrated as the casual observer might assume. From the very beginning, the ruling bloc has been a tripartite alliance between the military, security, and political institutions—an uneasy alliance plagued by a six-decades-long struggle over regime domination. After a series of wars, conspiracies, coup plots, and socioeconomic transformations, the balance within this “power triangle” tilted heavily toward the security apparatus, with the political leadership living contentedly in its shadow and the military subordinated, if not totally marginalized. On the eve of the 2011 revolt, Egypt had already metamorphosed from a military to a police state. The economic niche that the military controlled began to diminish with the aggressive privatization policy of the capitalists who dominated the ruling party; its social privileges were dwarfed by those of the security and political elite; the quality of its work force deteriorated significantly as a result of the social and educational collapse of the Mubarak years; its exclusive reliance on the United States might have made it impressive on paper, but in reality the dependence crippled the regime’s capacity to project regional power. Once the people took to the streets, it was only natural for the armed forces, as the least privileged among the three ruling partners, to rally to their side.
ACCORDING TO this analysis, what we are witnessing at the moment is neither a relapse to politics as usual nor the emergence of a new regime, but rather the reconstitution of the power balance within the ruling bloc. After having been sidelined by the security and political apparatuses for years, the military saw the revolt as an opportunity to outflank its partners and get back on top. It succeeded in ending the hegemony of the political elite. The ruling party has been dissolved; its top leaders have been imprisoned on various (mostly financial and criminal, rather than political) charges; when its remnants regrouped in several smaller parties to try to make a comeback, they flopped embarrassingly in the parliamentary elections, winning perhaps 3 percent of the vote; and, finally, the president was sentenced to life in prison for failing to protect the lives of the demonstrators during the revolt…
July 12, 2012
THE REPUBLIC OF INDIA is the most reckless political experiment in human history. Never before was a single nation constructed out of so many diverse and disparate parts. Partitioned at birth on the basis of religion, India now has almost as many Muslims as the Muslim homeland of Pakistan. It has more Christians than Australia, more Buddhists than Tibet, more Sikhs, Jains, and Parsis than any country in the world. The Hindus, nominally the religious “majority,” are divided into tens of thousands of endogamous castes and sects. Meanwhile, the extraordinary linguistic diversity of India is represented on the country’s currency notes, with the denomination—50 rupees, 10 rupees, and so on—written in seventeen languages, each with a distinct script.
This is an unnatural nation, as well as an unlikely democracy. Never before was a population so poor and so illiterate asked to vote freely to choose who would govern it. Unlike in the West, where the franchise was granted in stages, the Indian constitution immediately gave the vote to every adult regardless of caste, class, education, or gender. This was an act of faith, greeted with widespread disbelief: writing of the first general elections, held in 1952, a prominent Indian editor observed that they were the “biggest gamble in history.” It was a gamble that seems to have paid off—there have been fourteen general elections since, each the greatest democratic exercise in human history (with some four hundred million voting in the last iteration in 2009), as well as regular elections in states more populous than France or Germany.
Owing to its counter-intuitive, even miraculous nature, the historical and ideological origins of the Indian Revolution have not been systematically studied by scholars. A study by political scientists of more than one hundred countries found that India alone, of the world’s functioning democracies, did not fit the conventional democratic parameters of cultural homogeneity and economic prosperity—it was, in this respect, an outlier. Where social science cannot account for this puzzle, historians (chiefly but not exclusively British) seek to explain it in terms of a bequest, willed or accidental, from the previous rulers of the country. India is now democratic, it is said, because the British were modern, open-minded colonialists, unlike the French and the Dutch and the Portuguese and (especially) the Belgians.
The problem with this argument is factual as well as counter-factual. To take the latter objection first: if the British promoted democratic values and institutions, why has democracy failed to take root in other of its colonies in Africa and Asia (not least in Pakistan, which has a similar legal and institutional history to India’s)? The truth is that Indians were prepared for democracy by the patient hard work of several generations of homegrown reformers and activists. The Indian National Congress—founded in 1885, some years before the British Labour Party—worked hard, even heroically, to bring Indians of all castes, religions, and ethnicities into its ambit. The Congress, as the historian Mukul Kesavan has remarked, was a “Noah’s Ark of nationalism,” which sought to bring every species of Indian on board. Its successes were significant but not total—while it remained the most influential party until independence in 1947, its hegemony was challenged by parties representing the Muslim interest, the orthodox Hindu interest, and the lower-caste interest, as well as by parties run on more strictly ideological lines, such as the Indian Liberal Party and the Communist Party of India (which was founded four years after the Bolshevik Revolution).
These political parties pressed hard for concessions from the British. Indians were allowed, slowly and grudgingly, to participate in municipal government, to be elected to legislative councils that were still dominated by non-elected Europeans, and finally, in 1937, to achieve a measure of self-government by running ministries in the different provinces of the Raj (albeit under the overall control of a British governor). Over a period of sixty years, these parties—run, staffed, and led by Indians—cultivated habits of argument and deliberation on matters of public policy that were essential training for political independence as well as for full-fledged democracy.
THE PRE-HISTORY OF Indian democracy featured individuals as well as institutions, the most consequential of whom lived and worked in Western India. Between 1875 and 1910, the city of Poona (now Puné) was in the vanguard of social reform. Gifted and influential activists such as Jotiba Phule, Tarabai Shinde, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, and Bal Gangadhar Tilak campaigned vigorously for, among other things, the abolition of caste prejudice, equal rights for women, the promotion of Hindu-Muslim harmony, the spread of education among the poor, and complete independence from British tutelage.
In 1915, Mohandas K. Gandhi returned to India from South Africa. By the end of the decade he had emerged as the major leader of the national movement. Outside India, Gandhi is revered for pioneering non-violent techniques of social protest, known assatyagraha—methods that have shaped the civil rights struggle in the United States, the anti-communist resistance in Eastern Europe, and, most recently, movements for democracy in the Middle East, where Gandhi’s name is regularly invoked and handbooks distilling his ideas on satyagraha are widely distributed. But Gandhi was as much a fighter against discrimination within as against oppression from without. He made the abolition of untouchability—which was to Indian society what racial segregation was to the United States, namely, a system of at times barbaric discrimination—a condition for the achievement of political freedom.
Born in an upper-caste home, Gandhi attacked untouchability from above. But his work was complemented and deepened by the attack on the caste system from below, led by the visionary lawyer and economist B.R. Ambedkar. The thirteenth child of an impecunious soldier, and an untouchable himself, Ambedkar overcame his disadvantages to take doctoral degrees at Columbia and the London School of Economics, as well as qualifying as a lawyer in London, before returning to India to work with and for his people…
July 12, 2012
In my vision of peace, there are two free peoples living side by side in this small land, with good neighborly relations and mutual respect, each with its flag, anthem and government. . . . If we get a guarantee of demilitarization, and if the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state, we are ready to agree to a real peace agreement, a demilitarized Palestinian state side by side with the Jewish state.
—Benjamin Netanyahu, June 14, 2009
SEEMINGLY, IT was a historic moment. The prime minister of Israel and leader of the Likud Party publicly embraced the two-state solution. A short while into his second term in office, ten days after the newly inaugurated president of the United States promised in Cairo to “personally pursue this outcome,” Netanyahu declared an about-face, shifting from the traditional course he and his political camp had once pursued.
Thus, more than ninety years after the Balfour Declaration of November 1917, it appeared the successors of the founders of Zionism were moving toward a historic compromise to resolve the conflict embedded in that intentionally vague statement. It is the conflict between “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” and “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”
Now it appeared that this dispute, which for decades had split Israeli society into rival political camps, could be resolved. Forty-two years after the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, formerly held by Jordan and Egypt, a right-wing prime minister declared his willingness to return these territories to the people living in them, as well as his consent for the establishment of a new, independent state of Palestine.
But almost immediately, other voices emerged questioning whether this solution—dividing the land into two independent, coexisting states—was still feasible; whether the “window of opportunity” that might have been available in the past had already closed for good; whether the Israeli settlement enterprise in the West Bank had reached a point of no return, creating a new situation that did not allow for any partition; and whether the division of political powers within Israeli society had changed, making the dramatic move impossible. As Robert Serry, UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, put it:
If the parties do not grasp the current opportunity, they should realize the implication is not merely slowing progress toward a two-state solution. Instead, we could be moving down the path toward a one-state reality, which would also move us further away from regional peace.
This article focuses on the Israeli side of this equation in part because the Palestinian leadership, as far back as 1988, made a strategic decision favoring the two-state solution, presented in the Algiers declaration of the Palestinian National Council. The Arab League, for its part, voted in favor of a peace initiative that would recognize the state of Israel and set the terms for a comprehensive Middle East settlement. Meanwhile, various bodies of the international community reasserted partition of the land as their formal policy. But Israel, which signed the Oslo accords nearly two decades ago, has been moving in a different direction. And Netanyahu’s stirring words of June 2009 now ring hollow.
Israel never overtly spurned a two-state solution involving land partition and a Palestinian state. But it never acknowledged that West Bank developments had rendered such a solution impossible. Facing a default reality in which a one-state solution seemed the only option, Israel chose a third way—the continuation of the status quo. This unspoken strategic decision has dictated its polices and tactics for the past decade, simultaneously safeguarding political negotiations as a framework for the future and tightening Israel’s control over the West Bank. In essence, a “peace process” that allegedly is meant to bring the occupation to an end and achieve a two-state solution has become a mechanism to perpetuate the conflict and preserve the status quo.
This reality and its implications are best understood through a brief survey of the history that brought the Israelis and Palestinians to this impasse. The story is one of courage, sincere efforts, internal conflicts on both sides, persistent maneuvering and elements of folly.
IN AUGUST 1993, the foreign ministers of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas, signed a declaration of principles. In September of that year, Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO chairman Yasir Arafat exchanged the “letters of recognition,” which led to an impressive signing ceremony on the White House lawn. Words about historical compromise, reconciliation and peace filled the air. The world perceived a true, deep change sweeping the Middle East, with both sides resolved to divide the land into two states.
Nevertheless, the negotiating partners’ starting points remained far apart. The Palestinians considered engaging in a process based on the acceptance of the 1967 borders to be a major compromise in itself. They believed their willingness to settle for territory representing 22 percent of mandatory Palestine was already an immense compromise foreclosing much further concession. Israel, in contrast, considered these borders the starting point for talks and never intended to withdraw fully from the occupied territory.
Prime Minister Rabin accentuated this position in seeking Knesset support for the interim agreement, or Oslo II:
We would like this to be an entity which is less than a state, and which will independently run the lives of Palestinians under its authority. The borders of the State of Israel, during the permanent solution, will be beyond the lines which existed before the Six Day War. We will not return to the 4 June 1967 lines.
Rabin further referred to different areas of the West Bank that Israel would insist on keeping, including regions that no Palestinian negotiator could give up.
Because of these differences, the Oslo accords were originally labeled an interim agreement “for a transitional period not exceeding five years,” meant to lay the foundations for “a permanent settlement based on Security Council Resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973).” Yet, even though the final objective intentionally remained vague, the agreement itself listed detailed timetables for the implementation of interim phases, including, most remarkably, an Israeli withdrawal from the cities of Gaza and Jericho in three months. Already in this sensitive initial phase, cracks appeared. “No dates are sacred,” said Rabin in December 1993, as the deadline for withdrawal was being postponed.
Nevertheless, despite the evident differences between both sides and the difficulties that were clear from the beginning, two-state-solution supporters believed the dynamics of the process would generate their own power, which would force the parties to take brave steps and reach an ultimate resolution. Whatever actual force these developments could have set in motion, the effort suffered a fatal blow on November 4, 1995, when an opponent of the agreement killed the prime minister…