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November 27, 2014

Rami G. Khouri

Only Active Citizens Can Save Their Precarious States

The precarious status of half a dozen countries, which run the risk of collapsing or fragmenting into smaller units, is a defining issue of the Arab world today. Read More


Is Jerusalem the Last Battle?

Living in a political vacuum, Palestinians in Jerusalem have only themselves to rely on to defend their lands and rights, and in cases of extreme threats and violence used against them, they resort to violence such as we are witnessing these days. Read More


Impressive Citizenship in Professor Horn’s Class in Boston

Public officials in the United States who seek sensible advise on how to govern should attend a few sessions of Professor Denise Horn’s introductory class on International Affairs and Globalization at Northeastern University in Boston. Read More


President Rivlin’s Important, Intriguing Gesture

One of the few times in recent memory that a senior Israeli official makes a personal gesture that touches the core of Palestinian pain. Read More


Egypt Follows U.S. and Israeli Failed Strategies

When heavy-handed anti-terror actions demean, kill, injure or ruin the lives of civilians, some of these civilians end up joining the militant groups, simply to exact revenge against those who attacked them. Read More


Lessons from the Historic Tunisian Elections

The Tunisian elections were the most significant domestic and national political development in the history of the modern Arab world since its creation a century ago. Read More


The Rule of Law Triumphs — Sort of — in the USA

Punishing a few hired gunmen while ignoring the responsibility of the political leadership of the United States and Great Britain that waged this criminal war in Iraq in the name of their entire nations is a gross abdication of responsibility. Read More


ISIS is the Latest of Many Different Islamisms

ISIS, like the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah, Hamas, Gamaa Islamiya, non-violent Salafists, militant Salafist-Takfiris, Al-Qaeda and others before it, is a symptom of, and a reaction to, deeper ailments in Middle Eastern society. Read More


Refugees Themselves Can Crack This Tough Nut

An ICG report, “Bringing Back the Palestinian Refugee Question,” is a timely and convincing reminder of why the Palestinian refugees must be central actors in the quest for a negotiated resolution of their conflict with Israel. Read More


New Hare-Brained American Ideas in the Middle East

Why does the United States repeatedly discard the relevance of human nature and history when it unleashes its guns and goes into action around the world? Read More


Three Questions to Ask before Unleashing the Military

If any foreign power asked about the legitimacy, the efficacy, and the consequences of its military involvement in other countries before actually launching such militarism, it might be possible to minimize the negative consequences that we have experienced in the Middle East in recent decades. Read More


How to Assess Fragmenting Arab States

Seven issues gauge the real power and longevity of non-state actors, alongside the dilution of state authority. These seven are Identity, Sovereignty, Territoriality, Service-delivery, Legitimacy, Nationality, and Statehood. Read More


Desperate Netanyahu Sticks to Old Lies

The repeated mistake Netanyahu makes—or perhaps it is a deliberate lie—is to see any movement or rhetoric in the Middle East that references Islamic values as a dangerous threat. Read More


Palestine’s Moral Force Needs Diplomatic Power

Abbas is making decisions on his own without consulting widely among all Palestinians, and he is using the ICC as a threat, when it should be a central component in any Palestinian strategy that seeks to hold Israel accountable to the international rule of law. Read More


Creating or Evading the Gates of Hell?

Three principal developments in and around the Arab world: The combined American-Arab Gulf states air strikes in Syria, the control of the Yemeni capital by Houthi rebels, and the meeting in New York between the Saudi Arabian and Iranian foreign ministers. Read More


Shameful Hamas-Fateh Behavior Must Stop

That Hamas and Fateh do not consummate a unified Palestinian government does not only reflect irresponsibility and incompetence on their part, but in view of the difficult context for Palestinians as a whole it is nothing less than a crime. Read More


The Reluctant Posse

It is not surprising that when the threat becomes really serious, Arab leaders wait for the United States to save their skins. Read More


Polarization and Solidarity Coexist in Arab Societies

Why is it that otherwise rational men and women cannot sit down together and hammer out agreements on fair power-sharing, representation, decision-making, and accountability? Read More


Hard to Be Confident in the Coalition-to-Come

Several troubling aspects of the American-led military plan to defeat the “Islamic State” Read More


We Do Not Need a Rerun of the War on Terror

The GWOT, with its armed invasions, regime changes, drone fleets and other means, has only sustained and even expanded the Al-Qaeda/“Islamic State” phenomenon, because the twin drivers of Arab-Asian autocracy and foreign aggression remain virtually untouched. Read More


Strengths and Weaknesses in the Palestinian Initiative

Abbas is behaving more like a parent who promises his or her children a birthday surprise than a responsible leader who has been handed responsibility for the fate of some eight million Palestinians entering their fourth generation of exile, occupation and refugeehood. Read More


Panic or a Coming of Age in the Gulf?

The UAE air attack in Libya clarifies a major shift underway in the worldviews and self-perceived roles of leading Arab states, who now throw their weight around the Middle East in a direct manner they never did previously. Read More


The Riddle of Citizen Views on Arab Statehood

Citizens will rebel against their central state if they do not feel that their needs are being met equitably, or that they are being mistreated by the government and its military forces. Read More


Israeli Propaganda Starts to Wear Thin

More and more governments and observers around the world have realized that Hamas and Hezbollah have nothing to do with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, rejecting Israeli propaganda. Read More


Iraq Is the New Proving Ground for Arab Statehood

Islamic State-type rule has no more chance of giving Arabs a decent life than did the centralized police state or the corrupt sectarian state that Arabs have endured for decades. Iraq is the place now where this issue will be put to the test. Read More


Zionism vs. Arabism, Not Hamas in Gaza

It is easier for American-Israeli propagandists to highlight Hamas’ militancy rather than to grapple with the fact that all Palestinians — and most of the world, actually — support the demands that Hamas has articulated and that have been negotiated by the all-inclusive Palestinian delegation in Cairo. Read More


Revived PLO Is Now a Top Priority

The most important political action the Palestinians should take now is to rapidly reconstitute the institutions of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), so that Palestinians speak with one voice and benefit from the total backing of the eight million or so Palestinians around the world. Read More


A Ceasefire Would Beckon Real Leaders to Act

If any real leaders and statesmen and women exist out there who can respond to this challenge, now is the time to stand up and act. Read More


From Biblical Wars to Justice for All

This round of attacks by Israelis and Palestinians may prove to be most significant for pushing all concerned to seek a permanent resolution of this conflict, rather than letting it fester in 19th Century colonial mode. Read More


Washington Absurdity, Arab Helplessness

Washington’s quest for a ceasefire in Gaza while wholeheartedly supporting and arming Israel’s onslaught against Palestinian civilians reflects the frightening extent of bankrupt Arab diplomacy and the true nature of the US government siding with Israel. Read More


A Century of Zionist-Palestinian Wars

Exiled and subjugated communities like the Palestinians behave in ways that seem strange to middle class consumers in faraway lands. This can only be understood by appreciating the nature of “resistance” and the allure of “liberation.” Read More


Lessons from the Renewed Attacks in Palestine and Israel

This is the tragedy of what happens when determined warriors and mediocre political leaders on all sides meet in the arena of clashing nationalisms. Read More


Local Sentiments, As Always, Will Shape the Middle East

This eclectic, unpredictable, wildly gyrating human will to survive that treats borders, invading armies and local rulers as just one more threat to resist or one more party with which to make a deal. Read More


Failures Everywhere in Western Asia

Moving decisively to bolster legitimate local forces breeds success; moving gingerly to identify people who will friend you on Facebook is really stupid. Read More


U.S. Actions in Iraq Refute Obama’s Fine Rhetoric

American policies in the Middle East reflect confusion and some dishonesty at three levels, leaving Obama’s sensible rhetoric and analysis largely invalidated by the impact of American actions on the ground. Read More


The Arabs’ 100-Years War

Groups like ISIS have no future in the Middle East, but they will be a major problem for some years to come, until legitimate statehood and efficacious governance take root—which will happen only with the validation of states by their own people. Read More


Facts and Talks Are Better than Threats and Wars

The accusations against Iran, like those against Iraq over a decade ago, are based largely on highly dubious evidence that is exaggerated by a parallel streak of Israeli or neo-conservative American ideological extremism. Read More


The Frightening Thing about ISIS and Iraq

ISIS is frightening, to be sure, but not because it portends our future; it is frightening because it reminds us of the criminal incompetence of ruling Arab regimes during nearly the past half century. Read More


A Painful Guide to Arab Decay...and Rebirth

The situation in Iraq is the most agonizing because it captures the tragic and combined failures of successive regimes that transformed what should have been a showcase of modern Arab development. Read More


The Unserious Yet Durable Arab Electoral Spectacle

Nowhere in the normal world do elections result in victories of such magnitude as the high 80s and 90s percentile that routinely occur in Arab “elections.” Read More


The Palestinian Unity Government Will Shape Its Own Fate

Though Israel’s reaction remains hostile, the international community will judge the new Palestinian national unity government by its policies. Read More


How Obama Can Stop Worrying

The best way for Barack Obama to reduce “the most direct threat to America at home and abroad” is to stop engaging in foreign policy actions that have contributed to creating and nurturing the danger in the first place. Read More


Changed Ties with Iran Will Reconfigure the Middle East

If Iranian-Western and Iranian-Saudi relations shift from confrontation to peaceful coexistence and then active cooperation, they will impact heavily and positively on conditions throughout the Arab region. Read More


The Public Will Decides Egypt’s Fate

The force of the public will—the consent of the governed—will ultimately define the nature of Egyptian public politics and governance, and who leads the government. Read More


A Checklist for Arab Change

One recent short text best captures succinctly the heart of the drivers of the uprisings in the Arab World for over three years. Read More


Arabs, Engage!

It is difficult to predict the outcome of the region’s transformation, but at least one thing is clear: we are witnessing the birth of Arab citizens who express themselves in the public sphere. Read More


The ICC Beckons Palestine-Israel

Seventeen respected international human rights organizations have urged the Palestinian government to join the International Criminal Court (ICC) and use it to end a lack of accountability for alleged crimes committed by both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Read More


To the Judges of Egypt: Why do you do this?

The conduct of the courts and judges in Egypt during the past three years stands out for me as a critical element to watch as the country continues its tortuous route to a pluralistic constitutional democracy. Read More


Vulnerable Palestinians Also Have Opportunities

This moment is an opportunity for the Palestinians on three important fronts: national unity, coordinated political resistance, and mobilizing international support. Read More


Catastrophe Ahead After Peace Talks Collapse

The many consequences of this series of events will take some time to clarify, but they are likely to be destructive. Read More


Israeli Extremism or Zionism’s True Colors?

We will see more people around the world react to the latest extreme Israeli moves in the months ahead. Some people will conclude that Israel is veering off into strange and dangerous ways—others that Zionism’s core is racist. Read More


Why Diplomacy Succeeds and Fails

Patient, serious diplomacy appears to be bearing fruit in many places simultaneously this week, except in the Israel-Palestine talks that have gone on for two decades since the 1993 Oslo peace accords. Read More


Cure Rot by Exposing It to Fresh Air

I applaud the decision to withdraw the honorary degree invitation, because Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s wild and mostly false criticisms of the Islamic faith should not be honored with a degree from a quality university like Brandeis. Read More


Another Hollow Arab 'Reform' Promise"

Despite a few Arab dictators having been toppled or challenged by their own disgruntled citizens, the remaining ones appear not to have learned any lessons, and persist in their cruel ways in one hapless country after another. Read More


Hints for a Workable Negotiating ‘Framework’

I am disappointed that the Palestinians, Israelis and Americans have been unable to get beyond the old, failed approach to diplomacy. Read More


Zionism’s Fanatics Face New Landscapes

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey apparently went for the Buffoon of the Year Award when, after he had accurately referred to the Palestinian West Bank as the “occupied territories"—and later apologized. Read More


Please Spare Us the Gamal Abdel Nasser Imagery

This week’s announcement by ex-Field Marshal Abdel Fattah Sisi that he will run for the presidency of Egypt was fully expected since the massive, sustained cult-like hero worship campaign for him first materialized last June. Read More


The Double Agony of Syria As Arab Mirror

Syria encapsulates all of the ailments and distortions that have shattered the modern Arab world. Read More


The Shame of Ailing Old Arabs Who Cling to Power

Is there no limit to the assault on the basic rights and fundamental humanity of Arab citizens? The latest insult to common human decency and the struggle of hundreds of millions of Arabs for democratic and accountable governance emanates these days from Algeria, where Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced earlier this week that he is running for his fourth consecutive term as president. Read More


The Unparalleled Magic of City and Stage

I attended the excerpted readings of the first English translation of the late Syrian writer Saadallah Wannous’ play 'Rituals of Signs and Transformations.' Not an earth-shaking event, but I was struck by the tremendous power that cultural performances can have in creating appreciation and respect among Americans and Arabs who otherwise spend much time mocking, abusing and killing each other. Read More


What Are the Motives and Meanings of a Jewish State?

The Jewish state concept is not defined, it does not take account of the Palestinian Arab and other non-Jewish Israelis, it does not address the implications of such recognition for the UN-acknowledged rights of the Palestinian refugees, and it does not have any basis in prevailing international law or diplomatic norms related to how states recognize each other. Read More


Palestinians Can Rectify Negotiating Weaknesses

Striking in this whole process is the almost total absence of initiatives by the Palestinian leadership, and the necessary mobilization of the three critical support communities that can help advance the Palestinian diplomatic position. Read More


The Core Issues for Israelis and Palestinians

With perhaps just weeks to go before the United States unveils its framework accord that it hopes will prod Palestinians and Israelis towards a comprehensive negotiated resolution of their conflict, it seems that every dimension of this conflict is generating new ideas, trial balloons, or fresh pressures on both sides, as the moment of truth for both sides approaches. Read More


Why the Salafist-Takfiris Should Worry Us

These groups did not just suddenly appear in the past three years of the war in Syria; rather, they have been incubating slowly for a much longer period of time because of the slow deterioration in conditions in various Arab countries during the past quarter century or so. Read More


Salute Tunisia and Emulate It

Tunisia was the first Arab country ever to draft its own constitution, which came into force in 1861, and fittingly it is now the first Arab country to draw up a really meaningful and legitimate constitution after a popular revolution that removed a long-serving autocratic government. Read More


Historic Framework or Reheated Old Coffee Dregs?

The widespread anticipation among what seems like just 27 people in the United States who follow the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations is that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will soon table a set of American positions or proposals for the key elements of a “framework agreement” that would define the next phase of the permanent status talks and extend them beyond the April deadline. Read More


Wisdom Amid Chicanery

The American people must decide if they will ever hold accountable in a court of law those senior American officials who offered lies, deceit and wasteful war to their traumatized people in 2001-2003. Read More


Hollywood and Real Life

If you think the controversy of actress Scarlett Johansson’s relationships with Oxfam and the Israeli company Sodastream is a minor side story about Hollywood celebrities, think again. Read More


President Sisi Rides Precarious Passions into Office

It is fitting that Egyptian armed forces commander Field Marshal Abdel Fattah Sisi has decided to assume the presidency of his country, because two of the three main problems that Egypt faces are a consequence of his own decisions during the past year. Read More


The Graffiti Speaks Eloquently

The most fascinating thing I saw in Cairo was the range of graffiti scrawled across walls, advertising billboards, street signs, flower pots, park benches and any other surface that allowed Egyptians to express their political sentiments. Read More


The Larger National Tragedy of Ariel Sharon

The wildly divergent appraisals of the late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon are as passionate and contradictory as he was in life. Read More


Al-Qaeda Has No Future in the Arab World

Many people in the Middle East and abroad are rightly concerned about the rise and impact of hardline Salafist-takfiri fundamentalist Islamist groups that have recently proliferated and controlled territory in Iraq and Syria. Read More


Lebanon’s $3 Billion Question

What should we make of the sudden announcement earlier this week that Saudi Arabia was providing the Lebanese armed forces with $3 billion to upgrade its capabilities? Read More


Four Trends to Watch in the Year Ahead

The longevity and lasting impact of current changes and turbulence across the Middle East are hard to define today. This is because some developments are dramatic and very consequential in the short run—like Islamists winning free elections or Salafist-takfiris controlling areas in Syria—but may not have lasting impact in a year or two. Read More


Is John Kerry Serious?

We seem to have entered that inevitable moment when the United States would stop trying to be a low-key and totally ineffective mediator between Israelis and Palestinians, and instead play a more decisive role by offering its own proposals on a permanent peace agreement. Read More


The Risings Three Years On

When the fruit and vegetables peddler Mohammad Bouazizi set himself on fire in the rural Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid on December 17, 2010, his spontaneous act comprised a combination of protest, self-assertion and defiance that resonated instantly and widely across the entire Arab world. Read More


To Push Back Mideast Gloom

There are so many troubling signs of dysfunctional political life in the Arab world that it is refreshing to note three simultaneous developments this week that give us more hope for a stable, normal future. Read More


Old Men’s Guns vs. Civil Rights

We will know in the coming months whether the current “second chance” roadmap to constitutional reform in Egypt achieves that transition to democratic legitimacy that was mismanaged in the two years after the overthrow of the Hosni Mubarak regime. Read More


What Arabs Think

The Writing of a new Middle East narrative. Read More


Is U.S. Policy in Syria Changing?

I was struck a few days ago when I read U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s statement in Riyadh, after talks with the Saudi Arabian leadership, that the United States had neither “the legal authority nor desire” to intervene in Syria. Read More


The Generals Rule Egypt Again

Egypt and its democratic aspirations have been grievously wounded by the swift and severe manner in which the armed forces evicted and jailed Morsi, arrested most of the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, killed hundreds of pro-Morsi demonstrators, and then started exerting pressure on the mass media to conform to the generals’ policies. Read More


Clear Options for the Middle East

It is easy in the Middle East these days to embrace one of the two opposite poles of political sentiments that define the region today—either romantic optimism or a despairing pessimism. As usual, a more accurate and nuanced picture of reality is to be found somewhere between those two extremes. Read More


Egypt's Choice: Constitutionalism or Imbecility

An Egyptian court’s decision Monday to ban all activities in the country by the Muslim Brotherhood is the kind of foolish act that autocratic governments take when they do not know how to engage in a process of democratic pluralism and seek refuge in their mistaken sense of infallibility. Read More


Big Issues Revolve Around Tehran

The Moscow-Washington tango that resulted in the Syrian chemical weapons agreement was a first class diplomatic show that will be analyzed by political scientists and pretzel makers for a generation. Every actor in the spectacle claims victory and national strategic benefits, as always occurs in successful diplomacy. Read More


Remembering Bill Stelpflug

Just before the Syria war, I received a letter from the mother of the late Lance Corporal Bill J. Stelpflug, who joined the Marines in 1982 and was sent to Beirut in May 1983. A massive bomb destroyed the marine barracks on October 23, and Bill died in that attack. Read More


Seven Lessons to Learn in Syria

The diplomatic and psychological thriller of the current announced plan by U.S. President Barack Obama to attack Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons against its own people has now been dramatically shaped by the Russian proposal for Syria. We might draw some lessons so far. Read More


Deities and Defense Ministers

Syria is the most dramatic moment of the Middle East today, but it is not the most consequential political development in the region today. That honor would have to go to the current attempt by the interim Egyptian government to ban the Muslim Brotherhood organization and its political party. Read More


A Hard Process towards Common Values Democracy

I suspect that what Egypt is experiencing now is not the end of Islamist politics, but the start of its first real test in the public political sphere that is still in the process of being born in Egypt and other Arab countries. Read More


Two Issues at Stake in Syria

It is quite stunning to experience for the sixth time in a decade a global debate about whether Western powers should use their military superiority to attack Arab countries in order to get those Arab countries to conform to “international norms.” Read More


The Agony of the Smashing of Syria

The vigorous debate about whether an American-led military strike against Syria would be appropriate and effective is heart-breaking, for it is agonizing to watch as another important Arab country follows the self-destructive trajectory of others before it, such as Iraq and Libya. Read More


When Political Clods Collide

Thursday of this week was a bad day in modern Arab history. The four leading Arab cities of recent eras—Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Cairo—simultaneously were all engulfed in bombings and urban warfare, mostly carried out with brutal savagery and cruelty against civilians in urban settings. Read More


Knowledge Triumphs over the Knuckleheads

The scholarship and serious popular literature on the Arab region in much of the Western world has improved vastly in the past few years, for the simple reason that authors have been forced to write about the realities of what ordinary Arab men and women have put on the global agenda. Read More


Al-Qaeda's Criminals and the Rest of Us

What should we conclude about the dramatic American reaction to alleged Al-Qaeda threats in the past week? And is there a better way to analyze and respond to the threats that Al-Qaeda does represent? Read More


The Washington Jerkocracy Strikes Again

I would love to know who the jerk is who wrote the White House’s press statement on the occasion of the inauguration earlier this week of the new Iranian President, Hassan Rowhani. I say this is the work of a jerk, or a band of war-addicted zealots in Washington, DC, because it seems designed to totally bury the opportunity that Rowhani represents to improve the wellbeing of Iranians and resolve Western-Iranian and Arab-Iranian tensions on a variety of important issues. Read More


What Do We Learn from 45 Years of Negotiations?

Watching Monday night’s resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations in Washington, D.C., I thought back to the last 45 years during which I have closely following Arab-Israeli peace negotiations, and have personally known many of the main negotiators and aides on all sides. So here is what I suggest we keep in mind as this process resumes. Read More


Jordan and the Wider Arab Dilemma

Jordan reflects the dilemma that many Arab governments and countries have experienced for years—the economy continues to grow at a reasonable pace of around three percent, as do improvements to infrastructure and basic services, but daily economic pressures on citizens also persist, or worsen in some cases, leading to chronic frustrations that take on a political character. Read More


Spare Us the Intellectual Disneylands

Egypt continues to mesmerize, and, it seems, for many people around the world, to mystify, as well, at least to judge by the many wild and definitive assertions we hear every day about the consequences of developments in Egypt. Read More


It Is 1789 in Egypt

I support enthusiastically the will of the Egyptian people, because in my book any citizenry that once worshipped cats and more recently removed two autocratic military and theocratic-thugocratic regimes is a citizenry defined by wisdom and sensibility. But we still do not know really what is the will of the Egyptian people, who are deeply divided, and lack the institutions of governance that would allow for an orderly affirmation of majority and minority views. Read More


Popular Legitimacy Asserts Itself in Egypt

The dramatic developments in Egypt since June 30 will continue to unfold at a brisk pace and many outcomes are possible, but we can draw four main lessons from the events to date, related to the Muslim Brotherhood, the opposition, the armed forces, and the citizenry as a whole and its determination to complete the democratic transition that started in January 2011. Read More


Historic Street Politics in Egypt, Turkey and Brazil

The fascinating simultaneous demonstrations and challenges to democratically elected regimes in Egypt, Turkey and Brazil this month suggest that we need to look for an explanation for something structural in newly democratized societies, rather than seeking cultural explanations. Read More


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