Spring 2014

Syria is a fabled land. Its capital, Damascus, is among the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities, once the seat of the great Umayyad empire that stretched to Andalusia. Many consider Syria the heart of the Arab nation; it certainly has been in the forefront of struggle in the modern Middle East—in the fight for Arab independence, against Israel, for control of Lebanon, and even toward the dream of a Greater Syria.

Today, as Nader Hashemi argues in the lead essay of this edition of the Cairo Review, it is impossible to ignore a conflict in Syria that has now taken more than 150,000 lives since it began three years ago. In “Why Syria Matters,” Hashemi, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver and co-editor of the 2013 book The Syria Dilemma, makes a powerful case for humanitarian, political, and military intervention against the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad.

In this issue’s Cairo Review Interview, the Syrian poet Adonis offers another view: what is needed is not merely a change of regime, but a true revolution that secularizes the Arab world. Heartbroken by the bloody course the Arab Spring has taken, he nonetheless remains hopeful it will “create something new.”

Exploring what that might be is indeed one of the aims of our Special Report: Struggle in the Middle East. In “Arabs, Engage!,” Rami G. Khouri notes that while the future is difficult to predict, what is clear is the birth of a new Arab citizen. In “Egyptian Dreams,” Tarek Osman assesses the prospects for democracy in Egypt after the stunning removal of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi last year. In “The Tunisian Experience,” Ennahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi relates the relative success of his country’s political transition thus far, and explains why he believes democracy and Islam are compatible.

Three years after the start of uprisings across the region, Marwan Muasher, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, outlines a vital argument in “The Call of Pluralism”: the goal is not merely removing dictators from office, but also advancing political, cultural, and religious diversity. Our sincere thanks go to Yale University Press for permission to publish the essay, which is an extract from Muasher’s new book, The Second Arab Awakening: And the Battle for Pluralism.

Read more essays by Carnegie experts in Tahrir Forum: A Blog on Middle East Transformation, on our website at www.thecairoreview.com.

Scott MacLeod
Managing Editor

An Egyptian in Space

Omar Samra is reaching for the moon. He was the first Egyptian to ascend to the summit of Mount Everest. He was also the first of his countrymen to climb the highest peaks on the other six continents. Soon, he plans to go even higher. In 2015, Samra is set to become the first Egyptian in space.

Last December, Samra spent a week at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral competing for the chance to experience a space flight. It was a contest sponsored by the AXE personal care product company, and Samra was among twenty-three who made the grade out of a final international field of more than one hundred. The contestants were put through an astronaut training program that included a range of challenges: a military assault course, fighter jet maneuvers, a zero gravity flight, and exams on physics and space knowledge. The selection committee was chaired by Buzz Aldrin, the second man, after Apollo 11 crewmate Neil Armstrong, to walk on the surface of the moon. Samra says that what excites him most is the enigma of space and limitless possibilities of it.

For Samra, 35, space travel was a childhood dream, if not a very likely one to fulfill given that he suffers from asthma. Another obstacle was Egypt’s lack of a space program. After graduating from the American University in Cairo in 2002, with a degree in economics, he worked in mergers and acquisitions for HSBC bank. One day a friend convinced him to go on a bicycle trek across Spain; it proved an adventure that would lead to many more, including a journey in 2009 to the mountains of West Papua in Indonesia where he had an epiphany. “That experience was a culmination of the sense of clarity I always get when I’m in the mountains—when the pressures of society and daily life and what you ‘ought’ to be doing just pale into insignificance,” he explains. “All that’s left is what your passion is and what you want to do with your heart.”

A week after returning home, Samra resigned from his corporate job and started his own adventure travel company, Wild Guanabana, named after a fruit in Costa Rica. The move was typical of Samra’s appetite for impossible challenges: the global economy had just sunk into a recession, and Egypt and the rest of the Middle East was about to be engulfed in the tumult of the Arab Spring. Yet Wild Guanabana has proved a success. With the company’s emphasis on engaging local cultures, and promoting voluntourism, with trips to destinations such as rural villages in Thailand and animal sanctuaries in Cambodia, Samra bucks the notion that Arabs are only interested in luxury travel.

When he embarks on his own trip of a lifetime next year, Samra will board a two-seater Lynx spacecraft and jet sixty-two miles into space at three times the speed of sound. After gliding in outer space for five minutes and experiencing weightlessness, the Lynx will complete a parabolic flight then land on a standard runway either in California’s Mojave Desert or on the Caribbean island of Curacao. Developer XCOR Aerospace hopes the Lynx will pioneer commercial space travel; tickets for space tourists are going for $95,000 a seat. “An adventure is doing something new, something that is slightly out of your comfort zone,” Samra says. Nicely put, by the man who turned a bicycle ride in the countryside into a journey toward the moon.

Oriental Hall, etc.

Chinese investment in Egypt is rising steadily. Last year, the state-owned energy company Sinopec purchased a $3.1 billion stake in Egypt’s oil and gas sector. In March, AUC’s School of Global Affairs and Public Policy hosted a conference on the growing relations, “China and Egypt: Global Relations and Development Path.” According to Hoda Mitkees, professor of political science at Cairo University, the most important tie between the two countries is “collectivism”—a desire to prioritize development of society rather than individual rights. “Both countries put the state’s interest first, and contain individual interest within that,” she said. Magda Saleh, professor of political science at Cairo University, laid out areas in which Egypt would look toward China for cooperation, such as education and trade. Beyond the economy, Egypt wants to follow China’s model in fighting extreme poverty and developing media and research institutions. “China needs to declare its vision, and combine it with Egyptian dreams,” she said. Wu Bingbing, professor of Arabic at Peking University, suggested that if China wants to play a role in the Middle East, it will need to cooperate with the United States, which remains a dominant player in the region. But, he argued, China and Egypt share mutual interests that offer natural opportunities for collaboration, in particular development, security, and foreign policy. “We respect countries that show independent foreign policies, especially because the U.S. doesn’t like independent policies,” he said. “For China, [a relationship] isn’t about economic ties, but about Chinese principles.”

Tahrir Tech

Over the past three years, Tahrir Square has become a symbol of revolt, the scene of countless political protests and, too often, violence and bloodshed. If a bold new vision succeeds, the neighborhood around the square will soon be buzzing with innovators and entrepreneurs, a symbol of Egyptian economic progress.

That’s the dream of a project called the GrEEK Campus, a hub for tech start-ups being established in a partnership between the American University in Cairo (AUC) and a firm called Tahrir Alley Technology Park (TATP). In the deal signed last November, AUC is providing TATP with a ten-year lease on properties covering several city blocks that have been dormant since the university re-located to a newly constructed main campus in the suburb of New Cairo in 2008. TATP aims to make the GrEEK Campus Egypt’s Silicon Valley—the place where innovators, entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists come together to forge a dynamic high-technology sector.

TATP is the latest creation of Ahmed El-Alfi, founder and chairman of Sawari Ventures, an international venture capital firm based across the Nile River from downtown Cairo. He believes that the central Tahrir Square location is perfectly suited to foster creative thinking and facilitate collaboration with enterprises throughout the city. One of the country’s biggest challenges, he says, is to bridge the gap denying young Egyptians the opportunity to put their talents into practice. “If I can help to narrow that gap, it will be a good investment and good for the country,” he told me in a recent Skype interview.

The development of the GrEEK Campus evolved over a year of discussions between TATP and various AUC entities, notably the School of Business. Dean Sherif Kamel sees the tech park as a place for faculty members to conduct applied research and as an opportunity for graduates to strut their stuff. “We really have smart students who want to start their own businesses once they graduate,” Kamel says. “So this is where they can test their ideas.” The GrEEK Campus has a winking double meaning, referring to technology geeks as well as to AUC’s Greek Campus, so named due to the university’s purchase of many of its properties from Egypt’s Greek community in 1964.

Even before the completion of construction and renovations, a dozen or so tech companies have already taken up shop in the GrEEK Campus—among them, SuperMama, an online parenting platform, and Nefham, a website offering K-12 educational advice. The tech park will eventually open its doors to the public, and will provide a downtown venue for lectures, art exhibitions, and musical concerts.

The launch of the GrEEK Campus comes at a turbulent time when investor confidence in Egypt has been badly shaken. Unemployment has soared to some 30 percent among young people (ages 18-29). El-Alfi waves such concerns away. “I invest in start-ups and every investment is a pure risk,” he explains. “Start-up venture capital investors are some of the most long-term investors in the world, because these companies are going to take three to twenty years to mature. If you believe in Egypt in the long-term, then one week up, one year down—the stock market doesn’t matter. This year’s political issues don’t matter.”

Besides, El-Alfi adds, before long the GrEEK Campus will be “the coolest place to work in Africa and the Middle East.”

Desert Flowering

Saudi Arabia is often criticized for stifling artistic expression. Due to pressure from ultra-conservative religious authorities, for example, commercial cinemas have not operated inside the kingdom since the 1980s. A full-blown renaissance is nowhere in sight; still, buds of a cultural blossoming are becoming more and more visible. Saudi Arabia made its first-ever submission of a film for an Oscar at the 86th Academy Awards in Hollywood. Wadjda, which was submitted in the Best Foreign Film category, failed to earn a nomination, but it made history as the first feature movie to be filmed entirely in the country.

Wadjda tells the story of a 10-year-old Saudi girl’s wish for a bicycle. The film, directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour, a 1997 graduate in comparative literature from the American University in Cairo, delivers a subtle though powerful critique, one that questions the cultural restrictions placed on women in the private and public spheres. “I wanted to make a product that was really Saudi, told by the people, for the people,” Al-Mansour explains.

To succeed, Al-Mansour deftly negotiated a system that throws up formidable barriers to artists and especially those of the feminine gender. Just getting the movie produced challenged societal norms. With no market for local films, she faced difficulty in securing financing. Many questioned the film’s commercial prospects, partly given that it boasted no famous Arab actors and put a child in the lead role. Due to laws limiting a woman’s movement around the country without a male chaperone, Al-Mansour, with the aid of a screen monitor and a walkie-talkie, directed the street scenes in Riyadh from inside a parked van. Al-Mansour eventually finished the film, and even managed to have it screened inside the kingdom—at various foreign embassies and cultural centers.

Al-Mansour is not alone in fighting to expand the cultural space. Across Saudi Arabia, more and more galleries and art venues are popping up. The Saudi Art Council launched an annual event called 21,39—named for the longitudinal and latitudinal position of Jeddah. It hosts workshops and lectures, in addition to putting on exhibitions. The Saudi Art Council seems intent on showcasing a country that is not defined solely by its oil and politics. For example, a recent show called “Moallaqat” (translated as “The Hanging Poems”) presents the work of twenty artists inspired by masterpieces of pre-Islamic Arabic poetry. 21,39’s stated aim is “to build bridges with the outside world through the universal language of art.”

In 2011, another Jeddah gallery held an exhibition entitled Out of Line, which presented a series of photography-based images by Saudi artist Jowhara Al-Saud. Her work consisted of photographs she had taken of people, with their faces then etched out of the prints. It was a provocative challenge to the practice of Saudi censors of blackening out images in printed materials deemed offensive.

Saudi Arabia, says Al-Mansour, cannot shut out the rest of the world; the Internet, she argues, is changing the flow of information and, in the process, altering society. For her part, in the making of Wadjda, she was eager to show Saudi faces to a film-going public. “I wasn’t trying to challenge stereotypes, but rather tell the story of my life, away from everything else that surrounds Saudi, and focus on the people,” she says. “It’s important to put a human face to the culture.”

The Government and the Ostrich

“A problem well stated is a problem half solved.” This maxim, attributed to the American inventor Charles Kettering, has a lot of merit. We may sometimes assume that people and their governments automatically act rationally and base their actions on logic, but unfortunately this is not always the case. As Egypt moves through a turning point in its history, Kettering’s words of wisdom are rarely heeded. Rather than working on clearly identifying and recognizing problems, many Egyptians seem to prefer a different approach based on denial, and pointing fingers at others. This reminds us of the proverbial tale of the ostrich burying its head in the sand.

This faulty approach has been around awhile. When the Shanghai academic ranking of world universities excluded Egyptian institutions from the Top 500 list for many years, some Egyptian faculty and university administrators criticized the criteria for being subjective. The criteria depended mainly on published peer-reviewed research without taking into account research published in the Arabic language. Some argue that Egypt has very high quality research in Arabic that was not considered, and therefore complained that the ranking was unfair.

Then, there was the strange case of the State of the Environment report in the mid-1990s. The report was issued by the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency in compliance with the then new Environmental Protection Law. But, after the government discovered that the report included a critical assessment of the country’s environmental condition, officials took a decision to retrieve all copies that had been distributed and prevent any further dissemination of the report. Rather than deal with the environmental problems cited in the report, it was quicker and easier to hide them.

I recall my own experience upon writing a research paper in 1998 entitled Accountability and the Evaluation of the Role of the Administrative Control Authority. This is Egypt’s anti-corruption watchdog agency. I was invited to meet with some ACA officials afterwards. Among their objections was that I had cited the work of Transparency International and its ranking of nations based on perceived degrees of corruption. The officials argued that the rankings were not a valid measure of corruption but were based on surveys conducted in different countries that could not be taken seriously. Rather than facing the problem, the officials preferred to look for an excuse.

After the January 25 revolution in Egypt, we would expect things to have changed. Yet, the same attitude is still adopted by some. Recently, many civil society and human rights organizations published reports and cited evidence on serious violations of human rights in Egypt. However, the first official reply, before any conclusive review could be done, was to accuse journalists of being “traitors” for publishing the reports, and to accuse international organizations of exaggeration, and of violating Egyptian sovereignty.

Another recent example concerns an Egyptian military announcement that military-related research centers had discovered a “complete cure” for both AIDS and hepatitis C. The assertion was questioned, not least on the grounds that nothing had been published or discussed about the discovery in medical journals and scientific conferences. In response, some military officials, and some commentators on pro-government media channels, stated that voicing doubt about the claim was unpatriotic, and unacceptable questioning of the integrity of the military establishment.

The process of problem definition is the heart of policymaking. We have to know what the problem is, its scope and parameters, and collect as much evidence as we can about its symptoms, causes, and impact on various stakeholders, before we can move to the next step of contemplating potential solutions. Difficulty with this crucial first step can be found in many countries, where pressure and advocacy groups try to exert their influence on government decision-making. Even statisticians can manipulate the presentation of data to serve specific interests. However, blatant denial of the existence of problems does not get us anywhere, and will not benefit us in the least. We must look our problems straight in the eye and stop burying our heads further into the sand.

Laila El Baradei is the acting dean of the School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the American University in Cairo.

Rise of the South

Within the decade, the United States will no longer be the largest economy in the world. According to the International Monetary Fund, that honor will go to China. Already we sense the shift—bazaars and malls across the world have the feel of America, but the goods in them are made in China.

Reaction to this evidence has taken many forms. There is a literature of catastrophism—an anticipation of the Decline of America—in which the imploded U.S. economy will lead to a loss of structural power, and to increased use of U.S. military power to preserve the country’s authority.

There is the literature of revival—an anticipation of the Second American Century. This view holds that the U.S. economy is resilient and the power of the dollar sacrosanct. It holds faith in American ingenuity’s ability to destroy old sectors and emerge with new inventions.

Both these extreme views contain elements of truth. Since the 1970s, U.S. capital has moved away from investments in industry to speculations in financial instruments, and to outlays in overseas industrial ventures. What remains in the U.S. are enclaves of high-wage ingenuity, such as scientists who invent new bio-medical or communicative devices that are patented. The rents from these patents form one of the engines of U.S. Gross Domestic Product.

However, these patented inventions can only make money when they are produced and sold, and mass production takes place overseas, where wages are lower and sub-contracting makes union politics less dangerous for investors. While U.S. GDP can flourish, its employment situation is abysmal. This is what is called “jobless growth.” If you read the U.S. economy from this perspective, rent collection alongside structural unemployment, it will neither collapse nor revive in any simplistic fashion.

What will end, and has already begun to end, is not U.S. power but U.S. primacy. The idea of primacy has its roots in the post-World War II era. In 1947, the U.S. State Department’s Policy Planning staff argued, “To seek less than preponderant power would be to opt for defeat. Preponderant power must be the object of U.S. policy.” The USSR was the brake to this strategy. Even though in military and economic terms the USSR could not compete with the West, it rendered primacy a less important strategy than deterrence or containment.

With the decline of the USSR in the late 1980s, the quest for U.S. primacy accelerated. On the day that Saddam Hussein’s forces entered Kuwait (August 2, 1990), President George H. W. Bush gave a speech on his Defense Planning Guidance (a task force chaired by Dick Cheney). The Guidance noted, “Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union.” Saddam Hussein’s entry into Kuwait tested U.S. primacy and inaugurated the Long Gulf War, which continues to this day. Ten years later, by 9/11, U.S. primacy began to flounder.

Four factors principally explain the gradual demise of U.S. primacy:
1. The U.S. economy, weakened through capitalism’s punishing drive toward joblessness.
2. The immense burden in social wealth of the discovery that U.S. military power can easily destroy a country (e.g., Afghanistan and Iraq) but it cannot form it in its image.
3. Social movements in Latin America and elsewhere that challenged the economic and political primacy of the United States.
4. The emergence of southern locomotives, such as the BRICS states (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), that push against U.S. primacy in international institutions (e.g., World Trade Organization, UN Security Council), as well as against a U.S.-driven policy agenda (to protect the dollar as the world’s currency and to protect intellectual property rights).

These developments have asphyxiated U.S. uni-polarity. One of the most interesting admissions in the 2012 U.S. National Intelligence Council’s report is the view that, “by 2030, no country—whether the U.S., China, or any other large country—will be a hegemonic power.” The intelligence officials forecast a “diffusion of power” among states and to individuals, with democracy as the vector for this transfusion. Fascinatingly, the report makes no mention of the BRICS bloc. What the council cannot fathom is a world order premised not so much on chaotic diffusion as a new kind of multi-polarity, in which countries like China and India will collaborate through the BRICS formation to settle inter-state and non-state problems.

The BRICS bloc has the potential of putting an end to the era of U.S. primacy. In the conference halls of the UN, the IMF, and the World Bank, new policy ideas are being bandied about, such as alternatives to the dollar as the main international currency, and of ratings agencies to compete with Moody’s and Standards & Poor’s. But these new developments are slow. A shift can only occur if regional developments such as those in Latin America are emulated elsewhere, and if those in concert can put pressure on the Global North and South’s elites to surrender their neo-liberal policy prescriptions.

But to get there, the South must translate their million social movements into political power. False starts in the Arab world are a setback but not a defeat. Impossibly complex struggles in Eastern Europe and South-East Asia indicate that the people are energetic, but the direction of their political formations and campaigns is unclear. Nevertheless, this is the way of the future, the possible history of the Global South, as regional entities under pressure from social movements fashion themselves for self-governance once U.S. power begins to drift homewards.

Vijay Prashad is the Edward Said Chair of American Studies at the American University of Beirut. This essay is adapted from the afterword of the Verso paperback edition of his most recent book, The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South.

Age of Darkness

A half century ago, the poet Ali Ahmad Said Esber, better known by his pen name Adonis, left Syria for exile, first to Lebanon and then France. He lives on an upper floor of a new apartment tower in the Paris suburb of Courbevoie, steps from La Grande Arche in the modern business district of La Défense. Embroidered cushions from his homeland are on the sofa, abstract paintings on the walls; Arabic and French newspapers are piled around, next to music CDs of Bach and Mahler; Lebanese sweets are served on a platter along with cups of Nescafé. He never stays in one place for long; at the end of April, he was off to New York to open the PEN World Voices Festival with Salman Rushdie and Noam Chomsky.

Adonis, 84, is widely recognized as the greatest living Arab poet. He began writing verse as a teenager in Qassabin, a village in Syria’s Latakia province. In Beirut in the 1950s, he started a modernist revolution that the Guardian has called “a seismic influence on Arabic poetry comparable to T.S. Eliot’s in the Anglophone world.” He has published twenty volumes of poetry and thirteen books of literary criticism, reflecting on everything from love and Arab nationalism to American power; in 2011, he became the first Arab writer to win the prestigious Goethe Prize for literature. Adonis, meanwhile, has long been a leading public intellectual in the Arab world. His most recent writings are collected in Printemps Arabes: Religion et Révolution, published in France earlier this year by Éditions de La Différence. According to his English translator, Khaled Mattawa, Adonis believes that Arabic poetry has the responsibility of igniting a “mental overhaul of Arab culture.” Cairo Review Managing Editor Scott MacLeod and journalist Jonathan Randal interviewed Adonis in Courbevoie on April 11, 2014.

CAIRO REVIEW: Critics say your poems carry a lot of anger, but you have written some sweet poems. “The rose leaves its flowerbed/To meet her/The sun is naked/In autumn, nothing except a thread of cloud around her waist/This is how love arrives/In the village where I was born.”

ADONIS: Yes, romantic.

CAIRO REVIEW: How old were you when you wrote that?

ADONIS: I forget.

CAIRO REVIEW: Has Syria plunged into a dark age?

ADONIS: Well, the Arab world is living, and for a long time has been living, in a kind of age of darkness. Syria is part of that. But we can’t judge the future. I think that there are always some strengths in the people, to find solutions, escapes/exits, new horizons. I believe in that. The human being is a decent creature, who is manipulated by everything.

CAIRO REVIEW: When you were sixteen, was it a better moment?

ADONIS: Beginning when I was fifteen, we had plans. We could feel it, personally, lots of people of my generation. We had a kind of hope and vitality, a hope to change things, do something better.  But from that moment of my adolescence, we also felt that there was nothing we could do in our society if the revolution was going to remain politically institutionalized. Without the separation of religion from the state, there was nothing we could do. I felt that for a long time.

CAIRO REVIEW: Was religious fundamentalism a danger at that time?

ADONIS: No. There wasn’t the ideological aspect of religion in my youth. It was almost invisible. Religion was never a problem. With my friends at school, I never asked, “What’s your religion?” Never. It didn’t exist. We knew people by their name, and certain names meant they were Christian. But it wasn’t a problem. The problem came with Israel. It has to be said. Because Israel requires that the state be religious. If Israelis are an intellectual people, who know everything, with many scientists, if Israel, with this great people, that is to say Jews, requires that the state be religious, why not the Muslims? Initially when I talked to my young friends, I said: “Maybe Israel will surprise us and give us some hope, more openness and secularism, more civilization and more change.” It’s really too bad and unfortunate that it has been the opposite. It’s a big problem, intellectually.

CAIRO REVIEW: Where is Syria heading today?

ADONIS: We can never know. For a long time I’ve written that what we call the Arab world is totally deteriorating. The big ideas about Arab nationalism, the Arab fatherland and so on, it is all finished.

CAIRO REVIEW: Certainly after the 1967 war.

ADONIS: Yes, it was the beginning. I left Syria in 1956, more than half a century ago. And I stayed away twenty years without returning. I wasn’t able to return home for political reasons. But in 1979, I think, with the civil war in Lebanon, with the changing borders between Lebanon and Syria, I thought to myself, “Why not go see my native village now?” So I went at that time but didn’t stay. I remained in Beirut because I had become a naturalized Lebanese. I had plans with the revue Shi’r [Poetry] and the revue Mawaqif [Attitudes]. Lebanon was my second birth, culturally speaking. I stayed in Beirut until 1982, the Israeli invasion, and everything was deserted. I was a professor at Lebanese University. There was no university anymore. Even at my house, my office is filled with shrapnel. I said to myself, “It is better to leave, to try to do something.” We couldn’t stay there like that. Which is why I came to Paris in 1982.

CAIRO REVIEW: For you, what is the importance of Syria?

ADONIS: Syria has a great history. When I speak of Syria, I’m talking about the alphabet, the first interaction with the “other.” The Phoenicians were extraordinary as business people and inventors. And there is even a legend that says everything I believe about Syria. It’s the legend of Europa. You know that Europa was a Phoenician goddess, from Tyre. And you know that Zeus transformed himself into a bull and kidnapped her. The brother of Europa, Cadmus, went to find her and brought with him the alphabet. Nothing military. Just him and the alphabet. He taught Europa the alphabet, and from that comes the name of the continent “Europe.” It’s a Syrian name, a Phoenician name. You see? So an imaginary world, not only Syria in itself, but Syria and also the Western “other.” That’s what Syria represents to me.

With Islam, there was still Andalusia, because Andalusia was also a part of the spirit of this great legend. Andalusia is where all of the culture of the time was experienced together in an extraordinary way; thus Judaism, Christianity and Islam had a single home in Andalusia. But this dream was also shattered with time. The religious spirit in the legal and monotheistic sense prevailed. In Islam, you are Muslim or an apostate; Judaism, likewise in another manner; and Christianity, the church. Christ was a major revolutionary. He was the first person in our history to say “no” to institution. But the church did the opposite and it institutionalized Christ.

CAIRO REVIEW: Tyranny of monotheism. Is that at the core?

ADONIS: Well, what is monotheism? It’s saying, “My prophet, as a monotheistic one, is the final prophet of all.” Each of the monotheistic religions repeats that. Secondly, [they say] “the truth conveyed by this particular prophet is the final truth. There is no other.” Thirdly, that “there will be no more prophets after mine.” Which means that God has no more to say; because he has said his final word to his final prophet. That’s what monotheism is. But it also means that violence against the “other” is an integral part of monotheism. It’s always been that way. Which is why the Mediterranean, the poor Mediterranean, has only known religious wars. The Greeks and the Phoenicians never went to war to defend a god. But monotheists go to war to defend God, in the name of God.

Monotheism arrived in order to do better, to correct, as a way for man to feel better about himself, and so on. But what happened was the opposite; even if you make the comparison with apostates, pagans, the Greeks, and Phoenicians, Egyptians and Sumerians, what they accomplished goes far beyond what the monotheists created. What did monotheism create? Nothing. Almost nothing, vis-à-vis the great Sumerian, Egyptian, Greek and Phoenician civilizations. If you go to see the Mayan civilization in Mexico, you would be even more convinced. It’s an extraordinary world that Christianity destroyed. So now it’s worse; monotheism is, you see, a tragedy. Man, as an individual, doesn’t exist anymore. There is the monotheist idea. You, or me. There is war, which is part of existence. It’s our existence. The war between people, between tribes and individuals.

CAIRO REVIEW: Is being Syrian, a poet, living twice over in exile, something that gives you greater resonance?

ADONIS: I’m not looking for that. I feel that if I don’t do this, I don’t exist. Or that my existence isn’t worth anything. Being like others…I can’t do that. So my existence, essentially speaking, is to say what I say and live how I live. For example, we speak now about democracy in Arab countries. Never will there be democracy in the Arab world. It’s against its essence. If we don’t change the structure of society, by separating radically and totally what is religion and what is cultural, political and social, we will never have democracy.

CAIRO REVIEW: We need to hit rock bottom first to get there?

ADONIS: We always say that in theory. Listen, after fifteen centuries of Islam, we are coming back to the same logic as the first century. Back to brutality. Back to the faith. To Sunni, Shiite, Druze and so forth. It’s the same logic and the same things that we’ve done for fifteen centuries. Now on TV I watch people slit the throats of men, saying bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim, in the name of God. When I wrote my analysis of Arabic literature, The Fixed and the Changing, in 1973, I said that the deep structure of Arab society was a religious structure. Without destroying this structure, we cannot advance. It’s not genetic; there are conditions. We can’t discuss the situation in the Arab Middle East anymore in Western global strategic abstractions.

CAIRO REVIEW: In Syria, the Baath Party was supposedly a project for modernism in the Arab world. Why did it fail?

ADONIS: I was against the Baathist policies. They were, to my knowledge, a kind of Muslim Brotherhood without the name. It was a kind of political monotheism. A sort of structural dictatorship: “avoid others; it’s me, or nothing.” It was a variation on religious monotheism. This was the tendency. I think that one aspect of the Arab crisis is that what we call the Left, including Baathists, because the Left wasn’t radical at heart. And the Left got interested in power, not in changing society. All leftist movements, even Communist ones, were not radical. They never separated the two Baaths, in Iraq and Syria, and never secularized society. No separation between the state and religion. So it’s an intellectual defeat, the Baaths in the two countries. Intellectually and politically, because if we change, or if there is a plan to change society, the policies have to be a part of the culture. Essentially, it’s the culture that makes for change in society. Not those in power. Arabs have changed leaders a thousand times and nothing has changed. Gamal Abdel Nasser was a great man, it has to be said.  But he led for a quarter century, the same period as Mao. What did Mao do in China and Nasser in Egypt? Nasser left no modern institution. None, in any area; not in education, not in the judiciary. Because he was taken by the fact of being in power. Not by the will to change society. Atatürk did that; he dreamt of creating a new Turkish society, in his own way. He was the only one. And [Tunisian President Habib] Bourguiba did something practical in terms of the law and women’s rights. But the rest did nothing.

CAIRO REVIEW: Did you imagine, in your worst nightmare, that the beautiful city of Aleppo would be destroyed?

ADONIS: In a true revolution, we can’t mix up the people and the regime. The people are the people and the regime is other things. This so-called revolution made an amalgam, that you have to destroy Syria to destroy the regime. It’s a savage act, destroying the country. And now the regime is stronger than it ever was. Because everyone is rallying around [President Bashar Al-Assad]. It’s the fault of fundamentalism, the fault of religion. The revolution in a great country like Syria never made the declaration that “we are going to create a new society, separate religion and the state.” Religion is afraid of laïcité. They don’t dare to say the word. What is this revolution in a society founded on religion?  It’s a movement to change power. And it doesn’t deserve having the country destroyed over it.

CAIRO REVIEW: In 2011 at the start of the revolt, you wrote an open letter to President Al-Assad in the Lebanese newspaper As-Safir. Why?

ADONIS: I wanted him to change, to listen to the people. To carry out a true revolution and secularize the country. And not use violence. I am against three things: first, violence. It resolves nothing. I’m against foreign meddling and against politicized religion. Not against individual religious faith; I have great respect for the faithful. I am irreligious myself and against institutionalized religion imposed on a society. That is the embodiment of violence.

CAIRO REVIEW: Has the West exacerbated the problems in the Middle East?

ADONIS: Napoleon used to work with intellectuals. Now the Western powers fight with mercenaries. With people who represent nothing. The old relationship with the West was clearer and purer. Napoleon gave something. He opened something. Let’s look at a Western country today, say France. It strikes at fundamentalists in Mali and does nothing in Syria. Explain that to me. If we speak of human rights, dictatorship and democracy, either it’s a principle or it’s a maneuver. If you really are going to defend these things, there’s not just Syria among the Arab countries. There is also Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Why no word on Bahrain? Ninety percent of the people don’t want the king to leave power, but would just like that the kingdom be democratized. And nobody talks about it. In Saudi Arabia, 40 percent are under the poverty line. And they say nothing. In that sense, the West has become hypocritical. And the ethical dimension is finished, especially for the United States. The U.S. is a great country with a great people, but its policies have never been on the side of human rights. It’s a policy of colonization.

CAIRO REVIEW: How do you define the Arab Spring?

ADONIS: In the beginning, it was great. There were students and women. I wrote a lot about that beginning. I was with them, especially Cairo. And then suddenly it changed. There was no longer a “spring” but a Western strategy, maybe against Russia, Iran or China. I don’t know.

CAIRO REVIEW: Why did the Arab people revolt, in Tunisia for example?

ADONIS: The people were against dictatorship. They love freedom. But there was betrayal in less than a year. Why? You have to ask the West. Maybe because Saudi Arabia doesn’t want its people to have, I don’t know, democracy. I think the West and Saudi Arabia and its allies were afraid it really was a revolution. A secular and democratic revolution. They were afraid of it and changed everything. In the beginning it was beautiful. The people were hoping for freedom. Against the dictatorship. And the protests did something.

CAIRO REVIEW: What was missing in Arab society?

ADONIS: Change isn’t easy. Protest isn’t easy. The Arab people needed to free themselves. They expressed this innate need for freedom. In Tunisia, Yemen, in Syria and nearly all Arab countries.

CAIRO REVIEW: Was the Arab Spring the beginning of something good, a rejuvenation of Arab culture?

ADONIS: No, not anymore. What we call the Arab Spring betrayed the spirit of the revolution. It was catastrophic. And it was another example of proof that we can’t carry out a revolution with religion. We must carry out a revolution against religion.

CAIRO REVIEW: There was a euphoria in the West and maybe in Syria that Al-Assad was going to be removed. Was that naïve? Did you think the regime would fall?

ADONIS: No. I never said that. I said that time was needed to make it fall, and without violence. The Syrian people didn’t really participate in what happened. There weren’t big protests. Only the army. And armed men took over [the revolution]. Which gave justification to the regime. A revolution in [Syria] can’t be carried out with Turks. Or people from Pakistan. The people must carry out their own revolution. The people only partially protested. But they weren’t filled with revolutionary spirit.

CAIRO REVIEW: Did you expect all these foreign mercenaries?

ADONIS: It was known. Anyone who knows the relationship between Syria and Lebanon would know that. It wasn’t a surprise.

CAIRO REVIEW: The question of Islam: you don’t think it’s compatible with democracy?

ADONIS: No, because religion is essentially anti-democratic.

CAIRO REVIEW: Religion or Islam?

ADONIS: Religion in itself is anti-democratic because being a democrat means acknowledging that the “other” is different from you. And not only with tolerance; I’m against tolerance because tolerance hides a racist sentiment. “I tolerate you because I have the absolute truth, but I’ll let you talk,” and so on. Democracy demands equality, not tolerance. A democrat demands equality. A Christian must have the same rights as a Muslim. But it’s not like that, unless we separate religion from the state and it becomes an individual belief. But even in a society of believers, if we don’t see non-religious people expressing their ideas freely, then that means it’s not democratic. So first, religion must be separated from the state. Secondly, individual freedom must be given to everyone to believe what they want, personally. Faith and religion are only for the believers, like in the West.

CAIRO REVIEW: What about countries where people want religion in their politics and vote religious parties into office?

ADONIS: That’s why democracy is only a slogan. Even in Europe, you can buy people. Democracy is a culture, an ethic, an acknowledgment of the “other.” If it’s not a society like that, it’s not worth anything.

CAIRO REVIEW: Tunisia seems to be the one country that did succeed in its revolution.

ADONIS: Because they accepted some democratic efforts such as dialogue and so on. And the intellectuals there told me, “Maybe [the Islamists] are intelligent, but they were obligated to do that, or else they would have been chased out.” So the social fabric is not religious in all the Arab countries. Even in Saudi Arabia. The people I know there are against religion. But they let people believe what they want. And we must insist on that. The political aspect about changing regimes does nothing, changes nothing. If we want to have an Arab society that is open, progressive and democratic, then we must separate religion from the state.

CAIRO REVIEW: Are you optimistic about Tunisia?

ADONIS: Yes, but we have to wait some more.

CAIRO REVIEW: So much talk in the Arab world is about Israel and colonialism. Do Arabs have to move beyond these issues?

ADONIS: Let’s look at reality. Arabs aren’t against Jews. They have been open, throughout history, to Jews as a people. Secondly, they gave proof that Israel could exist within the Arab world. They accepted it, in one way or another. There are even embassies between Israel and other Arab countries. Arabs say that they aren’t against Jews. The problem here is an Israeli political problem. And we should never conflate Israel and the Jewish people. If you make this conflation, it ruins everything. So we are against Israeli policy, not the Jewish people. Israeli leaders should do something for peace. They do nothing. Jewish intellectuals that I know are keeping silent. Which is a dereliction of duty. Jews are symbols of freedom, of human rights. And they can’t keep silent about Palestine. They shouldn’t ignore that there is a people being killed and hunted for more than fifty years. You know the situation better than I do. It’s an exceptional case; there hasn’t been in the history of humanity a people killed for fifty years. It’s incomprehensible. So all the intellectuals in the world, especially Jews, should apply political pressure on the Israeli leadership to do something for peace.

CAIRO REVIEW: The United States has monopolized negotiations between Israel and Palestinians. Is it time to let others handle it?

ADONIS: The profound problem according to me is that Israeli policy will not recognize the rights of an independent Palestinian country. They don’t want to recognize that right. So Israeli leaders must become convinced of this right, that the people have this right. It’s an Israeli problem because the Arabs are open and have given as much as they can. The problem is on Israel’s side. Why does Israel not recognize the rights of this people? It’s serious. Catastrophic. Maybe there will be war; the future is apocalyptic.

CAIRO REVIEW: What does the United States represent for Arabs?

ADONIS: I can only speak for myself. First, the American people is a great people. One time I said to a friend, “If we could imagine that the entire world took to the streets to protest over its future, the city that would guide that protest would be New York.” The American world is the future. Because it has no references, historically speaking; its reference is creation of the future. That’s one thing. But American policy and the American region is something else. I love New York, but politically I’m against the policies of the government.

CAIRO REVIEW: What is the power of the Arabic language?

ADONIS: The Arabs are not equal to their language. They don’t know it. You can listen to an imam, a so-called imam who is supposed to know Arabic, but he doesn’t. I’ve said that Islam has become a religion without a culture, without a language. Nobody reads the Quran anymore. They listen to it like a song. Through the muezzin with a pretty voice. Arabic is a total language; there is music, voice and body. It’s a language of the body too. A language of dreams, imagination and nature. There is natura naturans, “natured nature,” in this language. There are many talented young poets, but poetry has a bit of a problem because Arabs don’t read anymore and don’t know their language. Loving poetry means knowing one’s language profoundly. So there is a problem now in the Arab countries. We don’t have a philosophy. In Arab society there are no philosophers. We don’t know psychoanalysis. In my opinion, Arabs needed a Freudian revolution more than a Marxist revolution. Because Arab culture is becoming more and more a psychological case. We understand nothing in this society. But no regime, king or prime minister can read a page in Arabic. Christians in Lebanon know Arabic better than the Muslims. Much better. We, Arabs, took this drink of modernity but refused the rational principle of modernity. If you went to Dubai, you would find some aspects of modernity that are more advanced than in New York. But we don’t have the rational principle behind European modernity. We are against it, even. We buy. We transformed modernity into consumerism.

CAIRO REVIEW: Would you have been happier living in the nineteenth or early twentieth century?

ADONIS: I have no nostalgia. But I love this period, living heartbroken, and I know this heartbrokenness in all respects can create something new.

CAIRO REVIEW: You have created.

ADONIS: I did what I did.

CAIRO REVIEW: You are considered a revolutionary poet.

ADONIS: What is the purpose of poetry? What is poetry? This is a real problem. And in my opinion, the countries that are the most ignorant about poetry, it’s the Arab countries. And yet Arabs used to have just two things: poetry and religion. And now they have neither religion nor poetry. Almost all Arabs are poets. There are a lot. I see a peasant man or woman in a little isolated village. He is more of a poet than a teacher at the university.

CAIRO REVIEW: The self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia was an act of despair?


CAIRO REVIEW: Is this the future for the young generation?

ADONIS: There is lots of despair in the Arab world. And I think what’s happening in Syria, among those being destructive, it’s an act of despair. This ferocity, this delight in being destructive, comes from despair, not hope.

CAIRO REVIEW: Should we be afraid of this despair?

ADONIS: I can understand. The free individual, master of his fate, hasn’t yet been born in Arab or Muslim culture. It’s very complicated. If we don’t understand the cultural problem in the Arab countries, we can’t understand Arab people or politics. And that’s missing in the United States. The people who write about it only see the surface, not what’s behind it.

CAIRO REVIEW: And in Syria? What is the outlook for Syria?

ADONIS: The regime will not fall, unfortunately. It will remain. If there isn’t an invasion from foreign countries, it will stay. And if there is an invasion, like in Iraq, it will be catastrophic. One should never support violence and war. Or religion. But Westerners don’t listen. They only listen to their interests. Can we imagine France, the country of human rights, of the French Revolution, with the Left in power, could we ever imagine it bowing to Saudi Arabia or Qatar?

CAIRO REVIEW: Your solution for Syria?

ADONIS: Either there will be an invasion from outside or the regime will stay. An invasion will be horrible and we shouldn’t think about it. We are against dictatorship, but we don’t destroy a whole country to change one man. It’s unethical. Un-human. My father was a friend to me. He never said, “Do this, don’t do that.” Never. He would always say, “Making decisions is easy. And you will always have time to decide. What’s most important is to think and to see things up close. And after you will choose and decide. You have time.”

CAIRO REVIEW: What is the story behind Adonis?

ADONIS: I was thirteen or fourteen years old and I sent my writings to newspapers and magazines. I signed my real name, Ali Ahmad Said Esber. But nobody would publish them. I became furious and by chance, I saw a magazine that had the legend of Adonis, and how he was a legend of beauty, loved by Ashtar, who became Aphrodite, or Venus, afterwards. And how he liked to hunt wild boar. And one day he went out to hunt boar. And instead of hunting the boar, the boar hunted him. And killed him, his blood transforming into the red flower that we call the anemone. And every year in Lebanon, there is the Adonis River, which is now called the Abraham River. Every year the water from the river becomes red. It’s from the soil, but in olden days it was said that not only that the anemone was red from the blood of Adonis, but that the river too was red with his blood. And that story touched me deeply, and I decided to write and sign my name as Adonis. I felt that these newspapers and magazines were the boar trying to kill me. I wrote a piece and sent it to a journal that hadn’t published me before and they did, with the name Adonis.

I wrote something else and it was published on the front page, and they asked me to come to the newspaper headquarters. I was a poor peasant and dressed poorly, in a galabeya. And so I went there and as I introduced myself, the guy there didn’t want to believe I was Adonis. This was in ’43, ’44. I had already met the president by then, Shukri Al-Quwatli. In Jableh, the small village near my own, the president listened to me, to the poem that I had read at a big reception. I had dreamed that he would come and would like the poem, and ask what he could do for me. I had imagined that. And it came true to the word. When he listened to the poem, he said, “My child, what can we do for you?” And I said, “Let me go to school. We don’t have a school.” And he said, “Yes, you will go to school.” I was a peasant and went to the most important French lycée in Syria of the era. It was my father who had introduced me to poetry and taught me writing, the alphabet.

CAIRO REVIEW: You were born in 1930, the same year as Hafez Al-Assad, father of the current president.

ADONIS: I never met Al-Assad. Nor his son.

Text translated from the French by Grant Rosenberg. 

Why Syria Matters

On March 15, 2011, the Arab Spring came to Syria. Like the other Arab revolts, it occurred spontaneously and proceeded nonviolently. The core political grievances and aspirations were the same as elsewhere: karama (dignity), hurriya (freedom) and adala ijtima’iyya (social justice). The House of Al-Assad, in power forty-one years at the time and arguably the most repressive regime in the Arab world, faced a legitimacy crisis of unprecedented scale and proportion.

What is interesting about this particular revolt is that at the time many experts predicted that the Arab Spring would stop at Syria’s borders. Ammar Abdulhamid, a Syrian dissident and former fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, argued that “Syria is not ready for an uprising” because the preparatory organizing at the grassroots that led to the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt was absent in the Syrian case.1 Similarly, Joshua Landis of the University of Oklahoma suggested an “important factor is that [Al-Assad] is popular among young people.” He explained: “I’m always astounded how the average guy in the street, the taxi driver, the person you talk to in a restaurant or wherever, they don’t talk about democracy. They complain about corruption, they want justice and equality, but they’ll look at elections in Lebanon and laugh, saying, ‘Who needs that kind of democracy?’”2

Unsurprisingly, Bashar Al-Assad, Syria’s president since 2000, held the same view. As the Arab Spring unfolded, he gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal in which he rejected the idea that Syria was ripe for revolution. Criticizing his fellow Arab rulers, he observed that if “you didn’t see the need for reform before what happened in Egypt and Tunisia, it’s too late to do any reform.” He assured his interviewer, however, that “Syria is stable. Why? Because you have to be very closely linked to the beliefs of the people. This is the core issue. When there is divergence between your policy and the people’s beliefs and interests, you will have this vacuum that creates disturbance.”But six weeks later, a revolution did begin in Syria, and three years on—notwithstanding its attempted eradication by the Al-Assad regime, its abandonment by the international community and its predictable militarization and radicalization—it staggers on, and resistance to the House of Al-Assad continues.

Hoping that the conflict in Syria will simply go away seems to have been the unstated policy of the Obama administration for much of the last three years. This view is widely shared by the American public. Tired of a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, this sentiment is certainly understandable. The United States has effectively lost these wars and the cost to America’s self-image and its economy has been enormous. Yet the conflict nonetheless continues to haunt our collective consciousness and to hold our attention. For three distinct but interrelated reasons—rooted in basic ethics, global security and normative political values—the conflict in Syria profoundly matters for our world today. In the absence of global leadership that prioritizes this crisis, the conflict will continue to destabilize the broader Middle East and its ramifications will be felt far and wide for years to come.

Crimes Against Humanity

The ethical case for why Syria matters is straightforward. The facts and figures speak for themselves. The killing fields of Syria have now surpassed those of Bosnia. According to a March 2014 report by the United Nations Secretary-General, two hundred people on average are dying every day in Syria.The UN has announced that due to a lack of access it has stopped counting Syria’s dead. The last time figures were reported, in July 2013, the UN Secretary-General declared that more than 100,000 people had been killed. In April 2014, the Violations Documentation Center in Syria, a respected human rights group, put the approximate death count at more than 150,000, mostly civilians (about 100,000 who have been killed by regime forces).5 In comparison, it appears that as many people have been killed in Syria in the past three years as in Iraq in the past eleven years (since the 2003 American invasion).6

Syria has even been compared to Rwanda. Speaking last summer before the UN Security Council, Antόnio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, reported that we “have not seen a refugee outflow escalate at such a frightening rate since the Rwandan genocide almost twenty years ago.”7 As of April 2014, almost half of Syria’s 23 million people were either refugees or internally displaced. Syria now has the distinction of producing more refugees than any other current conflict in the world.8 UN estimates suggest that as a result of this forced displacement, three-quarters of Syria’s population are now in need of food aid to survive.9

According to the UN World Food Programme, at least 800,000 civilians remained under siege in Syria as of January 2014.10 In areas around Homs, Aleppo, Deir Ezzor and greater Damascus, no food, medical supplies or humanitarian aid can get in, and people can’t get out. Many have already died under these “starvation sieges” and many hundreds of thousands teeter on the brink of death.11 This is not a famine. Food is in abundant supply just a few miles away from these besieged areas. Military forces—mainly Al-Assad’s army, but in some cases extremist militias—are preventing food and medicine from getting in. In addition to starving, many civilians cannot obtain medical treatment because doctors can’t get through, and the Al-Assad regime has made it next to impossible to practice medicine in Syria today.12 Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has called this deliberate obstruction of aid—the regime’s kneel or starve policy—a war crime.13

Diseases, including those easily preventable by basic hygiene and vaccination, are spreading at an alarming rate. In late 2013 there were reports of a major polio outbreak in Syria. Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid wrote that it is a “frightening indictment of the civilized world’s utter failure at peacemaking in Syria that a disease that the World Health Organization and organizations such as the Bill Gates Foundation have, in a global campaign, been so close to eliminating, has returned with a vengeance.”14

Around this same time, the Oxford Research Group released a report revealing that more than 11,000 children have been killed in Syria, including young boys and girls who were tortured and executed. “What is most disturbing about the findings of this report is not only the sheer numbers of children killed in this conflict, but the way they are being killed,” co-author Hana Salama stated.15 More than one thousand children were either summarily executed or killed by snipers, the report found. Some 112 children, even infants, were tortured before being killed. In December 2013, it was reported that more than 38,000 people appealed to the United Nations for help after facing sexual assault or other gender-based violence in Syria that year, a figure that the UN says may represent “the tip of the iceberg” after nearly three years of conflict.16

The colossal suffering and the human rights nightmare that have enveloped Syria over the past three years comprise a unique set of horrors when compared to other human rights catastrophes. A shortlist would include the premeditated use of sarin gas, the bombing of breadlines, the dropping of barrel bombs on civilian populations, and extensive use of torture and killings within Syria’s prison system, as revealed in January 2014 in 55,000 photographs of 11,000 separate detainees documenting killings and torture on an “industrial-scale.”17

Summarizing the moral challenge that Syria has become, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon released the following statement on the third anniversary of the Syrian conflict:

Hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost or destroyed, with hundreds of people more killed every day; cities and villages have been reduced to rubble; extremists are imposing their radical ideologies; communities are threatened and attacked; millions have been forced to flee violence and deprivation; weapons are flowing in, adding fuel to the fire, and they are being used indiscriminately; acts of terrorism are a daily reality; grave crimes remain unpunished and thousands remain in captivity without due process; and the world’s cultural heritage is under grave threat. Over the past year, this conflict also saw the worst use of weapons of mass destruction in the twenty-first century.

The stark conclusion that he reached was that “Syria is now the biggest humanitarian and peace and security crisis facing the world.”18

This rising tide of death and destruction has also been copiously documented by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic. Collectively, they have issued approximately thirty detailed reports.19 All have charged the Al-Assad regime with a policy of state-sanctioned war crimes and crimes against humanity. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has repeatedly called on the UN Security Council to refer the Syrian government to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

In December 2013, Navi Pillay issued a statement that directly pointed the finger at Al-Assad and his inner circle. According to her, “massive evidence” exists of “very serious crimes, war crimes, crimes against humanity” and that this “evidence indicates responsibility at the highest level of [the Syrian] government, including the head of state.” Responding to her statement, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad retorted: “She has been talking nonsense for a long time and we don’t listen to her.”20

Elements within the Syrian rebel movement, mostly among the Al-Qaeda-affiliated militias, have also committed gross human rights violations. This fact is often picked up by certain left-wing groups and intellectuals in Europe and North America to suggest moral parity between all sides and thus deflect any calls for external intervention. A cursory reading of the human rights documentation, however, reveals the absurdity of this argument. In this context, Pillay recently confirmed that “clearly the actions of the forces of the [Syrian] government far outweigh” those of the rebels. “The violations, killings, cruelty, persons in detention, disappearances far outweigh, so you cannot compare the situation. It’s the [Syrian] government that’s mostly responsible for the violations.” Syria’s UN Ambassador Bashar Al-Jaafari responded to this statement by calling Pillay a “lunatic” and accusing her of “acting irresponsibly.”21

Radicals Resurgent

From the outset of the conflict in Syria a set of prominent foreign policy voices have argued against Western intervention. Reflecting a widely held view, the influential international relations theorist John Mearsheimer has consistently maintained that what happens in Syria “is of little importance for American security” and there is no “compelling moral case for intervening.”22 Edward Luttwak of the Center for Strategic and International Studies has gone a step further by arguing that a “victory by either side would be equally undesirable for the United States” and that “a prolonged stalemate is the only outcome that would not be damaging to American interests.”23 Since these arguments were advanced, a new dimension to the Syrian conflict has emerged. Syria has gradually but steadily morphed into a global security problem; ignoring it, pretending that it doesn’t matter or hoping that it will simply disappear only makes the problem worse.

On a regional level, the Syrian conflict is now destabilizing the Middle East. Lebanon has been deeply convulsing with violence and sectarian tensions that flow directly from Syria. More than a million Syrian refugees have moved across the border into Lebanon. According to one report, 12,000 refugees are arriving every week.24 Iraq’s fragile stability has been further compromised by the conflict on its western border. Jordan’s fourth largest city today is Zaatari, a Syrian refugee camp. Turkey has also been adversely affected, albeit to a lesser extent. More than 600,000 refugees are currently living on the Turkish-Syrian border and Turkey’s role in the Syrian conflict has become a major bone of contention in domestic Turkish politics.

Moreover, the Syrian conflict has heightened sectarian tensions across the Arab-Islamic world. This has added to political instability across the region. These religious tensions are fueled in part by the regional rivalry between Saudi Arabia and its allies, and Iran and its allies. Both are fighting to expand their regional influence and Syria today is the key battleground in this contest.

Al-Qaeda has re-emerged amidst the Syrian conflict. A decade after the September 11 attacks, this terrorist network has been given a new lease on life. According to journalist Peter Bergen, author of several books on the organization and its leadership, radical Islamist groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda are now stronger and more influential in the politics of the Middle East than at any time since September 11. Al-Qaeda, he writes, “now controls territory that stretches more than four hundred miles across the heart of the Middle East.”25 This is a direct result of the ongoing conflict in Syria. This deeply troubling development has obvious implications for global security, especially for Europe and the United States.

According to the European Union, approximately two thousand young Muslim men from various European countries have travelled to Syria. “Major events like the use of chemical gases have inspired many people” to join radical Islamist groups, according to Marc Trévidic, a French judge and specialist in Islamist radicalization.26 What will happen when they return home? This development has potential consequences for European security and internal debates related to multiculturalism, immigration and the integration of immigrant Muslim communities. It also fuels the fires of right-wing political parties in Europe and their nativist, anti-Muslim agendas. In his annual report for 2013, Charles Farr, Britain’s chief anti-terrorism official, confirmed this concern by noting that Syria is now the main challenge facing the United Kingdom’s security services.27

The leaders of the U.S. intelligence and security communities are also sounding the alarm. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Congress that roughly seven thousand foreign fighters from fifty countries are in Syria today, most of them linked with extremist militias, and that Al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria “have aspirations for attacks on the homeland.”28 Jeh Johnson, the secretary for Homeland Security, has reached a similar conclusion: “Syria has become a matter of homeland security.”29 In other words, Syria is becoming the new Afghanistan.

The ripple effects of the Syrian conflict are now being felt as far away as Southeast Asia. According to a recent report by the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict in Jakarta, Syria has “captured the imagination of Indonesian extremists in a way no foreign war has before,” fueling the revival of a weakened jihadi movement at home. Approximately fifty Indonesians have travelled to Syria and more are believed to be en route.30

These trends undermine a key assumption in the U.S. debate about Syria. Many in the foreign policy establishment argue that the conflict in Syria can be “contained” within its borders, or at least within the region, and while the conflict is tragic from a moral perspective, realpolitik calculations suggest that it does not threaten vital U.S. national security interests.

This argument is no longer sustainable. Perhaps President Barack Obama has arrived at this conclusion himself. Speaking at a news conference in February 2014 with the president of France, he stated that Syria is now “one of our highest national security priorities.”31 He has instructed his foreign policy team to undertake a comprehensive review of American policy toward Syria.

Dignity and Self-Determination

There is a further reason why Syria matters. This conflict involves a set of normative political values that have largely been ignored in the global debate on Syria. These universal principles are essential ingredients for the development of a stable and just world order; they are deeply connected to the roots of the conflict that emerged out of the Arab Spring protests. The theme of human dignity is a useful point of departure to appreciate this argument.

The theme of dignity, or its converse, indignity, and its relationship to modern Arab politics is a multi-dimensional phenomenon. It exists at both the individual and the collective levels. This is a difficult point to appreciate in Western intellectual circles because dignity is rarely a point of contention in European or North American politics.

The Arab Spring began with the self-immolation of a twenty-six-year-old Tunisian street vendor, Mohammed Bouazizi. Syrians immediately identified with his martyrdom. His economic plight was theirs; his frustration, humiliation and anger under the crushing weight of dictatorship and poverty resonated and struck a deep personal chord with millions of people across the Arab-Islamic world, Syria included.

But the theme of “Arab indignity” also exists on a collective level, and it is associated with a set of common historical and political experiences, which partly explains why it is such a potent force in the politics of the Arab-Islamic world today.

For the Arab-Islamic world, in which Syria figures centrally, the twentieth century was an extremely bitter one. European colonialism and imperialism thwarted the aspirations for self-determination of millions of Arabs and Muslims. The desire to create one pan-Arab state from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire’s Arabic-speaking provinces was sacrificed at the altar of British and French ambitions. The state system that emerged after the First World War reflected the economic and geostrategic interests of London and Paris more than it did popular preferences on the streets of Cairo or Damascus. The birth of the modern Arab world thus engendered bitter memories and poisoned relations between Muslim societies and Western ones. This was compounded by Western support for the national rights of Jewish settlers in Palestine over those of the indigenous Palestinian population—the legacy of which continues to afflict the region, and indeed the world, to this day.

The aftermath of the Second World War saw the gradual loosening of European control of the Arab world and the emergence of a brief moment of optimism. Many thought that an opportunity had finally arrived for the realization of meaningful self-determination. But this opening did not last very long. The region soon found itself awash in military coups and single-party states. Syria got the Baath Party. Within the span of a couple of decades, a new postcolonial elite came to power and a familiar political landscape took shape. Yes, the new rulers were native to the soil and had Muslim names, but they behaved in ways that were eerily familiar. A new chasm between state and society replicated the old colonial one, only this time the ruling elites were Arabs rather than Europeans. 

The term “neocolonialism” is an apt description for this state of affairs. The Syrian writer Rana Kabbani has used the phrase “internal colonialism” to describe the authoritarian rule of postcolonial elites in the Arab world. She explains that the years-long one-family rule in Syria is “much like the external colonialism of the past, [it] has robbed [the people of Syria] and bombed them and impeded them from joining the free peoples of the world.”32 The Syrian human rights activist and opposition leader Radwan Ziadeh has similarly argued that we “need a second independence in Syria. The first was from the French and the second will be from the Al-Assad dynasty.”33 Commenting on this core feature of Arab political life, the historian Ilan Pappé has referred to the Arab Spring as the “second phase of decolonization.” What recent events have demonstrated, he notes, is the collective “assertion of self-dignity in the Arab world” after decades of humiliation, despotism and despair.34

The Syrian intellectual Burhan Ghalioun picks up on this point in arguing that negotiations with Damascus are futile. He says that the “existence of the [Al-Assad] regime is like an invasion of the state, a colonization of society” where “hundreds of intellectuals are forbidden to travel, 150,000 have gone into exile and 17,000 have either disappeared or been imprisoned for expressing their opinion… It is impossible (for Bashar Al-Assad) to say (like Mubarak and Ben Ali) ‘I will not prolong or renew my mandate’ like other presidents have pretended to do. Because Syria is, for Al-Assad, his private family property.”35

These are issues that should be kept in mind when thinking about the conflict in Syria and how to resolve it. The world is dealing with a fascist regime in Damascus embodied in slogans such as: “God, Bashar, Syria and Nothing Else” and “Al-Assad or we burn down the country.” In the lead-up to the January 2014 Geneva peace conference, this fact was made clear by the Syrian government. “Don’t expect anything from Geneva II,” affirmed Syria’s national reconciliation minister Ali Haidar. “Neither Geneva II nor Geneva III nor Geneva X will solve the Syrian crisis. The solution has begun and will continue through the military triumph of the state… and through the staying power and resilience of the state and all its institutions in the face of its enemies who were betting on its collapse.”36

This statement reveals that the regime in Damascus is not amenable to power-sharing, compromise or political negotiation. For Al-Assad and his network of supporters, it is a zero-sum game, and a fight to the finish. The regime cynically manipulates sectarian identity and anti-imperialism to maintain its criminal enterprise. Military intervention, as regrettable and complicated as it may be, is the only way to stop Al-Assad’s killing machine. By doing so, this intervention may also open the door for the people of Syria to exercise, arguably for the first time in their modern history, their right to self-determination.

There is a further compelling reason why intervention in Syria is required: this is what a majority of Syrians are demanding from the international community. The most inclusive and representative body of Syrians is the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces. While far from being a perfect group, it constitutes the best prospect for leading Syria to a democratic future. It includes Syrians both inside and outside the country and spans the religious-secular divide. More than 110 countries have officially recognized it as “the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.”37

The Syrian Coalition has been pleading for a Libya-style intervention (no troops on the ground, a no-fly/no-kill zone and arming the moderate elements of the Syrian rebels). On April 24, 2013, it issued the following clarion call to the world:

The Syrian Coalition finds it tragic that NATO has the power to stop further loss of life in Syria but chooses not to take that course of action.… The international community must rise to its great moral and ethical responsibilities and put an end to this bloodshed. History will not only condemn the murderous criminals, but also those who had the power to intervene but chose to [remain] idle.38

These views are widely shared among Syrian refugees. When the journalist Max Blumenthal travelled to the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan in 2013, he reported universal support for military strikes after Al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons. He wrote that one man told him “the whole camp’s opinion is in favor of a strike” though nobody “wants the country to be hit. I swear we don’t like it. But with the kind of injustice we have seen, we just wish for the hit to put an end to the massacres. We feel strange because we’re wishing for something that we have never wished for before. But it’s the lesser of two evils.” An elderly woman living in a tent told Blumenthal: “Just do it, Obama! What are you waiting for? Hit him today and bring down the whole country—we have no problem with that. We just want to go back. Besides, the country is so destroyed, even if Obama’s strike destroys houses, we can rebuild them again.”39

Today, Syria is a moral litmus test for the international community, especially those on the political Left, who have for years rhetorically championed the rights of oppressed peoples in the developing world. If they truly believe in the right to self-determination for these people—the Syrian people included—then they are morally obligated to listen to them. Moral consistency demands that the Left follow the lead of the Syrian people when it comes to deeply divisive issues such as military intervention. In the end, it is the needs of the Syrian people—at this critical moment in their history—that are far more important than the political preferences and biases of those on the Left.

Toward a New Approach

How should the international community respond to the crisis in Syria? What is the best way to end the conflict? These questions have generated a wide variety of responses. In May 2013, when the death toll stood at 60,000 and Al-Assad’s atrocities had been condemned by the entire human rights community as borderline genocidal, the anti-war activist Stephen Zunes wrote an opinion essay in the Santa Cruz Sentinel arguing that “it is critical to not allow the understandably strong emotional reaction to the ongoing carnage to lead to policies that could end up making things worse.” In response to the question—what should be done?—he suggested that the “short answer, unfortunately, is not much.”40

Nine months later, when the death toll in Syria had doubled and hundreds of thousands of Syrians were suffering under “starvation sieges,” he refused to budge from his strict anti-intervention position. At the time, I co-authored an essay published in the New York Times that argued for the use of force based on the UN principle of the Responsibility to Protect to save starving civilians in Syria.41 Zunes’ response articulated a position that amounted to – let them starve.

Just as militarists who used the crimes of Saddam as an excuse to push the West into a disastrous Middle East war, militarists now are using the crimes of Al-Assad to do so yet again. As Iraq and countless other examples have demonstrated, however, such intervention leads to more violence, not less. The Syrian people have suffered enough already!42

True to his realist convictions, Stephen Walt of Harvard University has argued that the quickest way of ending the conflict would be for the Syrian people to surrender to the Al-Assad regime. “What may be best for the Syrian people in terms of ending human suffering is to say we are not going to drive him from power… but that ultimately if what you want is fewer people dying… you might have to acknowledge that he will remain in power.… This is at least a possibility we will have to begin to reconcile ourselves to.”43Walt is correct only in the same sense that political conflict and human suffering could have also been reduced in the short-term in Rwanda, Bosnia and South Africa had opposition forces surrendered in a similar fashion; but Syrians would continue to suffer the same daily violence perpetrated by the regime for decades prior to the Arab Spring, and an opposition surrender now may lead to an even bloodier uprising later.

It is wishful thinking to believe that after three years of state-sanctioned war crimes and crimes against humanity that Al-Assad can be a stabilizing force in Syria. The clock cannot be turned back. The continued existence of his regime will generate resistance and more violence as long as he is in power.44

A new approach to Syria is needed. Former President Jimmy Carter’s peace plan for Syria, based on three core principles, offers a thoughtful framework for the international community to follow. Anyone who commits to them should be invited to peace talks where the focus of the conversation should be on the implementation of these principles:

  1. Self-determination: The Syrian people should decide on the country’s future government in a free election process under the unrestricted supervision of the international community and responsible nongovernmental organizations, with the results accepted if the elections are judged free and fair;
  2. Respect: The victors should assure and guarantee respect for all sectarian and minority groups and;
  3. Peacekeepers: To ensure that the first two goals are achieved, the international community must guarantee a robust peacekeeping force.45

One could also add another item to this agenda. The international community should commit itself to a plan for economic reconstruction and transitional justice in Syria. But in order to get to a point where this peace plan can be implemented, the battlefield conditions will have to change.

This must involve a serious program to arm and support the moderate Syrian rebels. While doing so by itself will not topple the Al-Assad regime, it might, as the Economist has argued, turn “the tide of the fighting [and it] might shift the negotiations… If the regime is under pressure on the battlefield, it may be more willing to negotiate a proper ceasefire, or even, if people are tired of war, Mr. Al-Assad’s departure.”46

Challenging the Russian position on Syria is also critical. Given the crisis in Ukraine and the Crimea this might be easier now given the deep chasm that now separates the West from Russia. To date, the Russians have blocked three UN Security Council resolutions. They reluctantly signed onto a February 22, 2014, resolution that demanded humanitarian access to besieged communities in Syria (after watering it down to prevent coercive measures).

Reporting to the UN Security Council on the progress of implementing the terms of this resolution six weeks later, Valerie Amos, the UN’s emergency relief coordinator, stated that only 6 percent of the population living in besieged areas had received assistance. Moreover, she reported that there had been more than three hundred cases of sexual violence in the Damascus area alone and massive refugee flows were continuing.47 This is a familiar pattern of events. When the international community meets to respond to the crisis in Syria, Al-Assad steps up his repression and emerges stronger as a result.

Recall that the only time Al-Assad has ever made a serious concession was in the context of his use of sarin gas. The threat of force produced the September 2013 chemical weapons agreement. There are lessons here for those who want to heed them.

Notwithstanding the wishes of many people in the West for Syria to disappear from our headlines, this conflict is not going away. Nor will it resolve itself. Global leadership and an intervention that is part military, part political and part humanitarian is long overdue. Due to a set of arguments rooted in basic ethics, global security and a set of normative political principles, the conflict in Syria deeply matters for our world. We ignore it at our collective peril.

Nader Hashemi is an associate professor of Middle East and Islamic politics and director of the Center for Middle East Studies in the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. He is the author of Islam, Secularism, and Liberal Democracy: Toward a Democratic Theory for Muslim Societies, and co-editor of The People Reloaded: The Green Movement and the Struggle for Iran’s Future and, most recently, The Syria Dilemma. On Twitter: @naderalihashemi. 

  1. Ammar Abdulhamid, “Syria is not Ready for an Uprising,” The Guardian, February 7, 2011.
  2. Cajsa Wikstrom, “Syria: ‘A Kingdom of Silence,’” Al Jazeera (English), February 9, 2011, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2011/02/201129103121562395.html.
  3. “Interview with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad,” Wall Street Journal, January 31, 2011, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703833204576114712441122894.html.
  4. This report covered the period from February 21, 2014 to March 21, 2014. See “Report of the Secretary General on the Implementation of Security Council Resolution 2139 (2014),” http://s3.documentcloud.org/documents/1095567/220314-sg-report-on-implementation-of-resolution.pdf.
  5. “Syria Death Toll Now Above 100,000 says UN Chief Ban,” BBC News, July 25, 2013, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-23455760; Michael Pizzi, “UN Abandons Count in Syria, Citing Inability to Verify Poll,” Al Jazeera America, January 7, 2014, http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/1/7/un-abandons-deathcountinsyria.html and personal correspondence with Violations Documentation Center, April 19, 2014.
  6. John Tirman, The Deaths of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America’s Wars (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).
  7. “UN Says Refugee Crisis Worst since Rwanda,” BBC News, July 16, 2013, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-23332527.
  8. Stephanie Webehay, “UN has to Cut Syria Food Rations for Lack of Donor Funds,” Reuters, April 7, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/04/07/us-syria-crisis-un-aid-idUSBREA3615L20140407 and “UN: Syrians to be World’s Biggest Refugee Group,” Al Arabiya News, February 25, 2014, http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2014/02/25/U-N-Syria-is-world-s-biggest-exporter-of-refugees-.html.
  9. “Syria Crisis: UN Reaches Record $6.5b Aid Appeal,” BBC News, December 16, 2013, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-25398012.
  10. “Syria: UN Ready to Rush Food, Medicines into Besieged Homs Once Green Light is Given,” UN News Center, January 28, 2014, http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp/realfile/www.unodc.org/html/story.asp?NewsID=47025&Cr=syria&Cr1=#.U0f-M_ldWSp.
  11. Ruth Sherlock, “Syria: Dozens Die of Starvation in Damascus after Being ‘Denied Food’,” The Telegraph, January 13, 2014, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/10569648/Syria-dozens-die-of-starvation-in-Damascus-after-being-denied-food.html and Ann Curry, “Starvation, death plague Syrian camp,” NBC News, February 2, 2014, http://www.nbcnews.com/video/ann-curry-reports/54255961#54255961.
  12. Annie Sparrow, “Syria’s Assault on Doctors,” November 3, 2013, New York Review of Books.
  13. “Impeding aid to besieged refugee camp in Syria may amount to war crime – UN official,” UN News Center, January 17, 2014, Also see Danny Postel and Nader Hashemi, “Use Force to Save Starving Syrians,” New York Times, February 10, 2014.
  14. Ahmed Rashid, “The Outbreak of Polio in Syria is an Indictment of the Civilized World,” Financial Times, November 1, 2003, http://blogs.ft.com/the-a-list/2013/11/01/the-outbreak-of-polio-in-syria-is-an-indictment-of-the-civilised-world/#axzz2yaoAZjjt.
  15. Marisa Taylor, “Report: Over 11,000 Syrian Children Killed in War, Most by Explosives,” Al Jazeera America, November 24, 2013, http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2013/11/24/report-over-11-000syrianchildrenkilledinwarmostbyexplosives.html.
  16. Tom Miles, “U.N. Aided 38,000 Victims of Syrian Gender-Based Violence in 2013,” Reuters, January 8, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/01/08/us-syria-crisis-rape-idUSBREA0711R20140108. Also see Lauren Wolf, “Syria has a Massive Rape Crisis,” The Atlantic, April 3, 2013, http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/04/syria-has-a-massive-rape-crisis/274583/ and International Rescue Committee, Syria: A Regional Crisis, January 2013, http://www.rescue.org/sites/default/files/resource-file/IRCReportMidEast20130114.pdf.
  17. Ian Black, “Syrian Regime Document Trove Shows Evidence of ‘Industrial Scale’ Killing of Detainees,” The Guardian, January 21, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/20/evidence-industrial-scale-killing-syria-war-crimes.
  18. Statement on Syria, UN Secretary-General, March 12, 2014, http://www.un.org/sg/statements/?nid=7520.
  19. Most of these reports are available here: http://www.du.edu/korbel/middleeast/syria.html.
  20. “UN Implicates Bashar Al-Assad in War Crimes,” BBC News, December 2, 2013, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-25189834.
  21. Somini Sengupta, “Government’s Abuses ‘Far Outweigh’ Syrian Rebels’, Rights Chief Says,” New York Times, April 8, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/09/world/governments-abuses-far-outweigh-syrian-rebels-rights-chief-says.html?ref=todayspaper&_r=0.
  22. John Mearsheimer, “America Unhinged,” The National Interest, January-February 2014, http://nationalinterest.org/article/america-unhinged-9639.
  23. Edward Luttwak, “In Syria, America Loses if Either Side Wins,” New York Times, August 24, 2013.
  24. “Million Syria Refugees Registered in Lebanon,” BBC News, April 3, 2014, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-26864485 and “Lebanon cannot bear brunt of Syrian refugee crisis alone, UN relief official warns,” UN News Center, March 18, 2014, http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp/story.asp?NewsID=47379&Cr=lebanon&Cr1=#.U0qDbvldWSo.
  25. Peter Bergen and Jennifer Rowland, “Al Qaeda Controls More Territory than Ever in Middle East,” CNN.com, January 7, 2014, http://www.cnn.com/2014/01/07/opinion/bergen-al-qaeda-terrority-gains/.
  26. “Exodus of French Volunteers for Syria Jihad Growing: Judge,” New York Times, February 12, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2014/02/12/world/europe/12reuters-france-syria.html?partner=rss&emc=rss.
  27. “Syria-Related Attacks ‘Main Terror Threat to UK,” BBC News, April 9, 2014, http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-26957385.
  28. Spencer Ackerman, “Al-Qaida Faction in Syria Contemplating U.S. Attack, Intelligence Officials Warn,” The Guardian, January 29, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/29/al-qaida-syria-nusra-front-intelligence-threat.
  29. “Syria a U.S. Homeland Security Threat: DHS Chief,” New York Times, February 7, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2014/02/07/world/middleeast/07reuters-usa-security-homeland.html?ref=middleeast.
  30. Joe Cochrane, “Indonesian Militants Join Foreign Fighters in Syria,” New York Times, January 31, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/01/world/asia/indonesian-militants-join-fight-in-syria.html?ref=middleeast.
  31. Ann Gearan, “Diplomacy is Failing in Syria, Obama Acknowledges,” Washington Post, February 11, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/diplomacy-is-failing-in-syria-obama-acknowledges/2014/02/11/822065e6-935c-11e3-84e1-27626c5ef5fb_story.html.
  32. Rana Kabbani, “From the Turks to Assad: to Us Syrians it is All Brutal Colonialism,” The Guardian, March 29, 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/mar/30/turks-assad-colonialism-family-mafia.
  33. Liam Stack, “In Sometimes Deadly Clashes, Defiant Syrians Protest,” New York Times, April 17, 2011.
  34. Frank Barat, “Reframing the Israel-Palestine Conflict,” New Internationalist, April 1, 2011, http://newint.org/features/web-exclusive/2011/04/01/palestine-israel-interview-pappe/. Also see Rami Khouri, “The Long Revolt,” Wilson Quarterly (Summer 2011), 43-46.
  35. Robert Fisk, “Truth and Reconciliation?: It won’t Happen in Syria,” The Independent, May 7, 2011, http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/fisk/robert-fisk-truth-and-reconciliation-it-wont-happen-in-syria-2280377.html.
  36. Ian Black, “Syria May Agree to Prisoner Swaps before Geneva Peace Talks,” The Guardian, January 17, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/17/syria-prisoner-swaps-geneva-peace-talks.
  37. “‘Friends of Syria’ Recognize Opposition,” Al Jazeera (English), December 12, 2012, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/12/201212124541767116.html.
  38. “The Position of NATO’s Secretary General Regarding Intervention in Syria,” Statement by the Syrian Coalition, April 24, 2013, http://www.etilaf.org/en/newsroom/press-release/item/433-the-position-of-nato%E2%80%99s-secretary-general-regarding-intervention-in-syria.html.
  39. Max Blumenthal, “‘We Just Wish for the Hit to Put an End to the Massacres’,” The Nation, September 13, 2013, http://www.thenation.com/article/176158/we-just-wish-hit-put-end-massacres#.
  40. Stephen Zunes, “Syria: U.S. Involvement Could Make Things Worse,” Santa Cruz Sentinel, May 3, 2013, http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/opinion/ci_23169164/stephen-zunes-syria-u-s-involvement-could-make.
  41. Danny Postel and Nader Hashemi, “Use Force to Save Starving Syrians,” New York Times, February 10, 2014.
  42. Stephen Zunes, response to Danny Postel and Nader Hashemi on an email list that included dozens of anti-war activists and intellectuals, February 12, 2014.
  43. Interview on Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon, February 28, 2014, http://radioopensource.org/the-syria-test/.
  44. Thomas Pierret, “No Stability in Syria without Political Change,” Carnegie Endowment, http://carnegieendowment.org/syriaincrisis/?fa=54499.
  45. Jimmy Carter and Robert Pastor, “Time to be Bold and Make Peace in Syria,” Washington Post, December 22, 2013, http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/time-to-be-bold-and-make-peace-in-syria/2013/12/22/af84a626-69a6-11e3-a0b9-249bbb34602c_story.html.
  46. “Desperate Times,” The Economist, January 23, 2014, http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21595004-conference-syria-not-enough-west-should-also-arm-rebels-desperate-times.
  47. “West Accuses Syria over 3.5 Million in Need,” Al Jazeera (English), March 28, 2014, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/03/west-accuses-syria-over-35-million-need-20143281921448888.html.

Arabs, Engage!

In 2011, the Arab world was in the early months of popular revolutions, uprisings, and various kinds of enhanced citizen activism that had clearly ushered in a historic era of national transformation across the region. There were no obvious indications then of how these movements would change their governance systems (democratic, or autocratic) or even their national configurations (negotiated federations, Kurdish-style de facto autonomy, Sudanese-style secession, or Syrian-style fragmentation into unofficial statelets).

Three years is a very short period of time in the shaping of national identities, the maturation of political cultures, and the stability of pluralistic and satisfying statehood. It would be foolhardy to definitively predict how the ongoing Arab transformations will end up changing societies and states, because of two main factors.

The first is that conditions in every country are so different from one another, because the underlying realities of regime legitimacy and citizen grievances vary so widely, and regime responses similarly run the gamut—from warfare in Libya and Syria and repression in Bahrain, to tough crackdowns on social media dissent in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates and gradual reforms in Jordan, Oman, and Morocco. There has been a range of behavior exhibited by the successor regimes in countries whose leaders were removed, from Tunisia’s constitutional transition to Egypt’s rollercoaster ride of military, then Islamist, then military, dominance. There has been no single Arab condition or outcome, but a variety of different ones that continue to evolve and will need years to run their courses.

The second reason that it is difficult to know the outcomes of the current transformations is that domestic revolts by citizens who aspire deeply to enjoy the real power and legitimate benefits of genuine citizenship have in some cases become hopelessly entangled in the complex militant dynamics that have long plagued the modern Arab world. The main ones are sectarian tensions; the interference of regional powers such as Iran, Turkey, Israel, and Saudi Arabia; the long-distance interventions by world powers, notably the United States, Russia, China, and France; and the stresses of fierce incompatibilities among the five prevalent forces of state nationalism, ethno-nationalism, Arabism, Islamism, and tribalism.

If this passage of three years precludes definitive conclusions about the new configurations and conditions of Arab countries, it does allow us to identify forces at play across the Arab region in a way that was not so clear in those seminal months of December 2010 through February 2011. The best way to understand current dynamics and try to imagine future ones is to return to the beginning of these uprisings and revolutions, and recognize why discontented citizens rebelled and why they no longer feared the repressive and punitive controls of their own regimes.

That irrepressible force that sent millions of young men and women, and then their parents, into the streets to live free or die was not an isolated or a spontaneous phenomenon that emerged from a vacuum, and could be contained again. Rather, it was the culmination of decades of mistreatment of perhaps several hundred million Arab citizens by the cumulative abuse of—stated most simply—Arab autocrats and police states, Israeli aggressors and colonialists, and foreign invading armies and hegemons. The weight of humiliation, dehumanization, and ultimate despair that defined the lives of so many Arabs was captured on December 17, 2010, by the fruit and vegetable peddler Mohammed Bouazizi, who set himself on fire in the rural Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid when within the span of just hours he was mistreated by his local police force and then totally ignored by the local governor’s office when he sought a redress of grievance.

Bouazizi’s spontaneous act comprised a combination of protest, self-assertion, and defiance that resonated instantly and widely across the entire Arab world. It launched a series of rolling protests and revolutions that have morphed into wars and chaotic conditions in some countries, and slow democratic and constitutional transformations in others. The power of that force—and, most importantly, the reasons that gave birth to it—today continue to define the lives of the same hundreds of millions of Arabs who cheered on Tunisian, Egyptian, and Libyan revolutions three years ago. How those grievances are channeled into constructive political action will ultimately determine the outcome of these Arab revolutions and uprisings.

Dignity, Opportunity, Justice
The conditions that sparked the Arab citizen revolts—unemployment, poverty, abuse of power, corruption, poor social services, severe well-being disparities, rampant injustices—persist in all Arab countries, and probably have worsened in most cases since 2011. The citizen-based mass demand for real changes in the exercise of power will persist and strengthen over time, because it still stems from Arab citizens’ thirst for dignity, opportunity, and social justice. This is why it seems logical to expect that dramatic and unpredictable developments almost certainly await us in the years ahead, just as we have experienced such a wide variety of developments in the past three years. For now, though, we can prudently note a few developments or even trends that seem to recur across much of the Arab world, and that could be taken as a very rudimentary balance sheet of where we are after these three years of historic change.

1. We are dealing with national reconfigurations, rather than only democratic transformations. The initial glee that many Arabs experienced three years ago when spontaneous popular revolutions overthrew dictators included an expectation that citizenries would replace their dictators with more democratic governance systems. The slow and erratic progress to that end in different Arab countries indicates that this remains a goal for most. Yet it is also evident now that we are dealing with much bigger processes and deeper forces than merely linear democratic governance transitions, such as were experienced more smoothly, for example, in Spain after Francisco Franco or Greece following the rule of the junta.

2. The dominant challenge that faces Arab countries is how to shape legitimate citizen-state relationships. The wide historical transformation that plays itself out in different ways across the region is about shaping the relationship of the two foundational elements of national and personal life: Arab statehood and citizenship. Neither statehood nor citizenship were ever defined by the collective will of free Arab men and women, but now we witness some Arab countries grappling with these issues for the first time ever, and often in a messy and inconsistent way. Beyond merely seeking democracy and dignity, Arabs are dealing with far more complex issues related to how individual men and women ensure their rights as citizens within the larger units of their own ethnic, tribal, and sectarian identities and their own sovereign state.

3. The critical core development across the entire region—even in tightly controlled monarchies and traditional security-based republics—is the birth of citizen activism in a public political sphere.
Both elements of this seminal development—Arab citizenship and a public political sphere—are unprecedented, and will have historic implications because they form the context within which future change will play itself out. The novelty of our world today is that hundreds of millions of Arab men and women feel that they are citizens with rights and aspirations that must be acknowledged; and, they are prepared to act in public in order to bring about political changes that respond to their citizenship rights. This public sphere also includes less virtuous actors and deeds, such as violence or old-guard security agencies reasserting control. The new element is that all citizens can now participate in the contestation of public power.

4. The process of citizens working to build new political power systems and even to reconfigure their state and national identity has been messy, erratic, and often violent, for reasons that are more apparent now than they were in early 2011. One reason is the brutal military response of some Arab regimes that are willing to destroy their country in order to remain in power, which has seen some countries sink into devastating wars that accentuate tribal and sectarian forces that in turn make democratic transitions impossible. Another factor is the total lack of experience among all individuals or groups in democratic practices in the Arab region, including the armed forces, Islamists, old-guard autocrats, and secular-nationalist opposition groups. This has made it very difficult to script a smooth constitutional transition to democratic pluralism, even though Tunisia seems to have broken through this barrier and continues to forge ahead. Egypt, Libya, and Yemen each navigate their own chaotic path toward new configurations of power and pluralism, whose outcomes remain unclear—though I suspect that those outcomes will ultimately still be shaped by the consent of those millions of discontented Arab men and women who stood up three years ago to assert their humanity and demand their citizen rights.

Another problem is the continued assertion of the sense of entitlement to rule by military and security authorities in most countries, but most clearly seen in Syria, Bahrain, and Egypt, where officers rather than elected officials still tend to make policy. Many citizens will turn to their security agencies for short-term stability, as we witness in Egypt, which will delay the full transfer of authority to elected civilians. Finally, there is the chronic, extensive web of regional and foreign interventions in the domestic affairs of Arab countries in transition. This includes traditional players such as the United States, France, Britain, Iran, Turkey, and Russia, as well as newfound regional military and financial activism by Hezbollah, Saudi-led Gulf countries, and transnational Salafist-takfiri groups. This has cut short some of the initial democratic transitions, heightened local sectarian cleavages, and transformed citizen uprisings into regional or global proxy wars that are much more violent and difficult to resolve.

5. Consequently, we witness across the Arab world today a most complicated convergence of two contradictory historical dynamics. On one hand, there is stunted statehood and post-colonial (Western) and neo-imperial (Iranian-Saudi) interventions; on the other hand, the aspirations of hundreds of millions of citizens to live freely and securely in societies that do respect their rights and offer basic opportunities to live a decent life. One day, somehow, after a period of time, the state and the citizen in Arab countries will peacefully agree to new social contracts that have been negotiated by all parties in society, in a consultative and credible manner. Until that day, we will continue to endure the current phase in which all the accumulated ills, distortions, crimes, mediocrities, and incompetencies of the past century of Arab history are flushed out into the open, to be replaced by something better in governance, development, citizenship, and statehood. In other words, for the first time ever in Arab history—ancient or modern—we are witnessing the early stages of a process of genuine national self-determination in which ordinary citizens themselves—not single families or foreign powers—define their state, articulate their national values, and shape public policies.

Romance and Reality
The transformation process takes a very long time to mature and bear fruit. Tunisia is the first Arab country that seems to have passed the initial phase of the process, by formulating a new constitution that genuinely reflects the inputs and interests of all its citizens, i.e., it enjoys the kind of legitimacy that no other Arab constitution in modern history has ever enjoyed, because it was the consensus handiwork of the citizenry in a transparent and deliberative public process.

Other Arab countries move ahead in more erratic fashion. Egypt has had four governments and three constitutions in the past three years, without resolving or even seriously addressing any of the core grievances that matter to ordinary citizens, such as jobs, social justice, and lasting political legitimacy that is anchored in a national consensus. Libya inches toward a constitutional process, but is badly constrained by the threats of armed militias and tribal and regional fissures, as is also the case in Yemen. Syria has become a terrible regional and global proxy war of devastating destruction and inhumanity, and has elicited little serious global concern—because that is the way of all proxy wars, where foreign powers are prepared to fight for years as long as the killing and destruction occur in distant lands. Bahrain remains mired in a deep ideological, political, and sectarian contest that is complicated by the direct military intervention of fellow members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, making this island state an informal adjunct of Saudi Arabia for the time being. Yet many Bahraini citizens continue to agitate for equal rights and representative governance. The crescent spanning Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon in the meantime has emerged as a single arena where the fastest growing movement in the region—Salafist-takfiri militancy and terrorism—is taking hold and mobilizing tens of thousands of adherents to wage battles to come in other lands, in the Middle East and abroad. Lebanon, Jordan, Sudan, Algeria, Morocco, and other Arab countries have made minor—if any—changes in how power is exercised.

In the context of different change trajectories, people adopt a romantic optimism that diplomacy and democracy will somehow resolve all the region’s many problems, or else a despairing pessimism that we are doomed to eternal dictatorships, terrorism, and civil strife. The facts on the ground of the past three and more years suggest that a wider array of options defines our future prospects.

Local and proxy international warfare is clearly one option, as we witness so painfully in Syria, and in a less intense manner in Lebanon, Yemen, Palestine, Bahrain and other Arab lands where weak state systems have allowed regional and international powers to enter into direct combat there.

Terrorism is a second option, as we witness in the growth of Salafist-takfiri movements, including the resurgence of groups in Saharan and East Africa. This kind of violence appears to be increasing in the short run—and it provides no solutions, only perpetual chaos.

Legitimate international diplomacy anchored in the recognized rule of law is an enticing way for the Middle East to move ahead, as evidenced in the past year when the United Nations and international diplomacy played a greater role in several countries. The American-Russian agreements on dealing with the chemical weapons of Syria and the hopeful expectations on multinational negotiations with Iran following the election of President Hassan Rowhani have both included structured and hard-nosed diplomatic wrangling at the bilateral and multilateral levels. Diplomacy in Geneva has emerged as a possible antidote to perpetual war in Syria, but results remain unclear to date. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague, which started its court sessions this year, is another sign of diplomatic or legal tools at our disposal.

Lopsided bilateral diplomacy is an approach that refuses to die, as we see between Israel and Palestine, which uses the same failed approach that has seen the Arab-Israeli conflict mired in tension and regular outbreaks of violence for decades now.

Democratic pluralism is the option that has been least adopted but most coveted by the people of the Arab world, as we witness in the current attempts at indigenous consensus-building to write new constitutions and develop legitimate democratic governance systems. Should they come about, such systems can be expected to be stable and capable of driving sustained and equitable socio-economic growth. The Tunisian breakthrough and the ongoing work in Libya, Egypt, and Yemen to create new governance systems that reflect citizens’ values and rights suggest how the Arab world can change for the better from within, and on the basis of its own initiatives.

Writing on the Wall
The last three years of Arab revolutions and uprisings have also been accompanied by wars, terrorism, and other negative developments that are frightening, especially in cases like Syria where they decrease the likelihood of a democratic transition in the near future. But it is to Egypt where we must return again and again while undertaking any assessment of the last three years of Arab history and change—because Egypt has always captured the hopes, assets, constraints, and sheer human wonders of the entire Arab world. Events continue to change so rapidly in Egypt that one hesitates to analyze anything that happened after January 2011—because any analysis could quickly become irrelevant due to the new circumstances that will surely occur.

Egypt and its ever-changing dynamics paint a volatile picture of a region lurching forward and backward in its people’s determined drive to shape their own political cultures, after over half a century of security-dominated governance systems. Egypt will have a huge impact on developments across the Arab world in the years ahead, but how Egypt itself develops will not be clear for a few more years. It is simplistic and childish to note, as many have in the region and abroad, that the “Arab Spring” has turned into a forlorn autumn or even a dark winter. Such hasty and absolutist verdicts do not acknowledge the time-consuming normal trajectory of the kinds of historic, complex transformations that we are experiencing around the region.

Making the transitions from primitive governance or police state systems to pluralistic democracies that safeguard the equal rights of all citizens requires decades at best, and a century and a half in most cases (as in the American and Western European cases). So three years is a very brief period of time in the very initial phases of our Arab transformations, and it is normal to witness the wild swings, including episodic violence alongside intense constitution-writing.

Egypt’s most recent developments have been deeply contested by all parties in the country and the region, especially last summer’s ousting of the elected Mohammed Morsi government, the banning of his Muslim Brotherhood, the designation of a transitional government by the armed forces, the referendum to approve a new constitution that was written by a hand-picked group of people in five months, and the preparation for new presidential and parliamentary elections. Political change moves ahead alongside polarized and violent street confrontations that result in the deaths of civilians and security personnel alike.

Egypt also reminds us again of the need to go back to the start of these revolutions and uprisings, in order to remember again and again what drove people to revolt. The most fascinating thing I saw in Cairo during a visit in early 2014 was the range of graffiti related to the constitutional referendum and the assumption of power by the armed forces after they removed President Morsi. Graffiti was scrawled across walls, advertising billboards, street signs, flower pots, park benches, and any other surface that allowed Egyptians to express their political sentiments. This captured for me those two important historical developments of the past three years: the birth of Arab citizens, who engage one another in a public political sphere.

The content of the graffiti was telling. The formal public space of Cairo (billboards, advertisement panels, newspapers and magazine covers on the sidewalks) was dominated by admonitions to vote ‘yes’ in the referendum and support the interim government installed by Field Marshal Abdul Fattah El-Sisi and his military colleagues. The walls and other informal spaces reflected many more varied views, including the very common statement “yasqut kul min khan, ‘askar, fulul, ikhwan” (“down with all those who betrayed us; the military, the old guard, and the Muslim Brothers”). Other graffiti called El-Sisi a killer, or warned that another revolution was imminent. The military-appointed government tried in places to paint over the graffiti but gave up after every wall it painted white was full of graffiti again twenty-four hours later.

So the new public political sphere that continues to experience its birth across Egypt lurches back and forth between popular sentiments that support and oppose all three principal actors who have dominated the public power structure in the past few years—the old guard of the Mubarak era, the military, and the Muslim Brotherhood. A large majority of Egyptians seem to support El-Sisi’s plan to restore order and move the country forward, but other Egyptians challenge that idea and are not afraid to make their views known. The new element today that did not exist three years ago, and that Egypt displays, is that those who control the power structure—currently the second military republic in three years—do not totally control the public sphere, the walls, or the minds of all Egyptians.

That is a meaningful milestone as we enter the fourth year of the Egyptian and other Arab uprisings that cannot be denominated in seasons of the year, but rather only in the attitudes of individual citizens who yearn to live in freedom and dignity, and are determined to express themselves politically and in public to achieve that noble end. Other Arab countries share this same experience, in different forms. Where it all leads, we cannot know today. But listen to the Arab citizens who now express themselves in the public political sphere. Their sentiments ultimately will determine if we move ahead to credible democracies or linger in long-term autocratic bondage.

The reality of the troubling possibility of a long-term Arab fate at the hands of self-imposed and unaccountable autocrats was brought home to the region’s people again in March and April 2014 in several countries. President Bashar Al-Assad of Syria announced his plan to run again for the office that he and his father before him have held for forty-four years. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria successfully won election for a fourth consecutive term in office, despite his being virtually physically incapacitated. President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir of Sudan has been in power for twenty-five years, has been indicted for war crimes and for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court, has wreaked destruction and sectarian warfare throughout the country, and has seen the south of Sudan reach the point of disenchantment that it seceded peacefully and yet he still treats his citizens like listless buffoons whom he assumes will believe his recently announced plans to initiate political reforms to promote pluralism and democracy.

Such disdain by Arab autocrats for their own people has defined much of the modern Arab world for half a century, but it has now finally been breached in the past three years by popular uprisings that are in their early stages of reconfiguring and re-legitimizing political governance systems. One of the ugly lessons of this short period has been the ferocious will of some Arab autocrats to stay in power at any cost, even the cost of destroying their countries. Watching millions of brave Arab men and women fight for their citizen rights, their dignity and their very humanity since December 2010, my guess is that the forces of light and life will ultimately defeat the purveyors of darkness and death amongst us.

Rami G. Khouri is director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, and editor-at-large of the Beirut Daily Star. He is the 2014 Gruss-Lipper Visiting Scholar in Middle East Policy Studies at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. On Twitter: @RamiKhouri.

The Call of Pluralism

How will history judge the uprisings that started in many parts of the Arab world in 2011? We now know that the label “Arab Spring” was too simplistic. Transformational processes defy black and white expectations. Do these movements resemble what happened in Europe in 1848, when several uprisings took place within a few weeks only to be followed by counterrevolutions and renewed authoritarian rule? Do they resemble the 1989 collapse of the Soviet Union, after which some countries swiftly democratized while others remained in the thrall of dictatorship? Whatever the case, it is clear that these processes will need decades to mature, and their success is by no means guaranteed.

The first Arab Awakening started in the late nineteenth century with an intellectual renaissance that eventually found its way into popular movements, though they failed to bring democracy to the Arab world. The second Arab Awakening now underway started with popular movements that have yet to find their way into intellectual frameworks. These movements are more unanimous about what they are against than about what they are for. But the debate to define this awakening has begun.

The principal fight in the Arab world is the battle for pluralism, not simply a fight against despotic rule. Decades ago, the region succeeded only in exchanging foreign despots for domestic ones. The second Arab Awakening must not emulate the first but go beyond it. It must anchor new policies with lasting respect for political, cultural, and religious pluralism, good governance, the rule of law, and inclusive economic growth. If any factor has contributed most to the years of stagnation in Arab society, it is the near-total absence of diversity and pluralism from political and cultural discourse. Truths are still regarded as absolute. A single person, party, or ideology is presented as the holder of all answers to all problems, while the public’s role is largely to submit to those in power.

But the answer to the question of whether this battle for pluralism is indeed being waged after the revolts is tentative at best. Many forces claim to be committed to pluralistic principles—regimes that have not yet been toppled, political Islamists recently come to power, or third forces trying to carve a place for themselves—but this commitment has often proven to be little more than lip service. So far, the developments of the past two years suggest that when in power, most forces place their own interests ahead of democracy and pluralism.

The commitment to pluralism is a prerequisite for a sustainable political and economic renewal of the Middle East, and it must be demanded of everyone, Islamists and secularists alike. Instead of fearing Islamist participation and trying to marginalize various political groups, all countries need to ensure that no group can monopolize truth, rule indefinitely, deny the rights of others, or impose its cultural or religious views.

If there is real hope that societies will begin to respect, indeed embrace, diversity in the Arab world, the fight for democracy needs two simultaneous guarantees: everyone’s right to peaceful political participation, and no one’s right to monopolize truth or power. There must be an ironclad commitment to resist the temptation to use violence to shape the political environment. This includes security forces under government control, allied but plausibly deniable thugs, and flirtations with “uncontrollable” extremists.

Not enough is being done. Both the Islamist and the secularist sides are crystallizing in an increasingly polarized environment. Both need to work harder to advance democracy and accountability, rather than employing exclusionist words and behaviors that prevent the healthy development of societies. Neither “reform from above” nor “reform from below” is likely to succeed if these principles are not firmly adopted. If the new Arab order still insists on a winner-take-all approach and zero-sum outcomes, and if the principle of peaceful alternation of power does not become firmly entrenched, the second Arab Awakening will be for naught.

The Battle is Not Against Islamists
As Islamists develop their economic and political programs, all other players must do the same. They must stop wasting their energies seeking ways to prevent an Islamist rise based on irrational fears of theocracy. It will do no good to pretend that Islamist parties do not enjoy broad popular support. Political Islam will not go away if Arab governments and the West ignore it. Repressing it through force will backfire. In a burgeoning democracy, Islamists have a right to be part of the process, and in any case they cannot be stopped from entering the political realm. Authoritarian regimes tried to exclude Islamists in the past, but the Arab public is clearly ready to move beyond the old exclusionary tactics.

Moreover, pushing Islamists out of the political process has historically resulted in cycles of violence and retaliation—a process that ultimately radicalizes the Islamists. The focus should instead be on bringing them in while cementing constitutional guarantees for pluralism and the right to organize that can be upheld at all times and for all people. The issue is not trusting Islamists’ intentions but rather building a system that treats everyone the same and protects everyone’s inviolable right to be included.

One should not fear Islamist parties in the Middle East simply because they are based in religion. Europe has many Christian Democratic parties that are socially conservative but advocate liberal social and economic policies—not much different from many Muslim Brotherhood parties. Currently, eighteen of the 120 Israeli Knesset members belong to religious parties that typically possess hardline views on the peace process—again not dissimilar from Islamist parties in the Arab world. In other words, it is not the presence of religious parties that matters but whether they are committed to democracy, the peaceful rotation of power, and the protection of individual rights.

This call for religious parties to be included is not an argument in support of their views. Selective democracy is no democracy at all. All political forces need to understand that if they accept the exclusion of others, they accept that they too may be excluded.

Third Forces
More than two years after the Arab uprisings, clear leaders of the battle for pluralism have yet to emerge. While secular forces claim to be the bearers of this torch, the continued hesitation by many of them to accept the participation of Islamists belies this commitment. All attempts to create a new Arab order—by old regimes trying to reinvent themselves, Islamist forces taking power after decades of semi-repression, or third forces still struggling to develop clear programs and organizational capabilities—have stopped short of a categorical, unqualified, and genuine commitment to individual and minority rights and a rejection of force.

Operating in a region that lacks well-developed democratic practices, all political groups are suddenly forced to learn how to build their own constituencies while understanding that they cannot deny that right to others. To assume they will do so intuitively or immediately is wishful thinking. It is interesting to watch all forces in the Arab world today accusing others of exclusionist practices while employing the same type of exclusionist discourse. This was apparent in Egypt, where many secular forces acquiesced to the military’s undemocratic practices because it served their short-term interests against the Islamists.

The change will have to play itself out, until political forces either suppress their opponents by coercion—and therefore achieve little from the second Arab Awakening—or realize that their own right to operate must include the same right for others, thereby resulting in pluralistic and stable societies.

It would be wrong to assume that these forces will take familiar forms or follow a predefined path. Moreover, the resulting institutions should not necessarily be modeled on Western structures and processes. While some universal values transcend culture, different regions in the world have been able to evolve into pluralistic societies without necessarily adopting all of the details of Western models. Democracy as developed in the Arab world must contain features that are unique to that region, or it is not likely to survive. Many formulas will be tried as Arab countries embark on their transitions. Western countries must not assume that Arab democracies will be identical to theirs, or that they must blossom instantly.

To have any hope of reshaping their societies—regardless of what unique details this ultimately includes—third forces in the Arab world must be founded on three basic values: pluralism, reliance on peaceful means only, and inclusion. These three values are embedded in the uprisings and can be found in the language of many of the protesters. Among the reasons cited for wanting to topple regimes was a desire for a functioning, honest government with limited powers that would grant every citizen the right to political participation. Many protesters chanted silmiyyah (Peaceful!) and carried flowers, sometimes in the face of deadly snipers, as in Syria for the first few months of the uprising. The movements that toppled the regimes were visibly inclusive, placing national identity above all other considerations (at least during the initial euphoria prior to bringing down the leader). These three values contributed significantly to the success of the uprisings.

Pluralism can best be defined as the fundamental commitment to political diversity at all times. It means that no party has a monopoly on the truth and no party can impose its views on the rest of society. Such a commitment must include developing a system of checks and balances that redistributes power away from the executive and toward the legislative and judicial branches of government. Across the Arab world, the executive branch is too dominant, often with unelected and unaccountable institutions beholden to it. The intelligence services, for example, typically play a role in domestic affairs that far exceeds their security mandate. Any reform that does not end in true power sharing among the three branches of government cannot be deemed serious or successful.

To achieve a political space in which all are free to participate and none can monopolize the debate, these countries need protective constitutional mechanisms. They need a multiparty system, with majority rule but also one that protects or guarantees minority and personal rights; an independent judiciary; freedom of expression and of the press; the complete application of the rule of law; equality before the law and equal protection under the law for all citizens, regardless of gender, religion, ethnicity, or position; and serious respect for human rights. The protection of personal rights—such as freedom of worship, freedom of choice of clothing, right to privacy—is key. It would greatly allay the fears of not only the various Christian and Muslim groups but also secular Muslims who do not want their freedom of choice to be compromised by Islamist parties seeking to impose their religious views. But no matter which constitutional mechanisms a country adopts, they will not be respected unless there is also a balance among the political forces—for example, the ability of different political forces to coexist.

The third forces belonging to the old generation are not off to a good start. Many of them have favored their short-term interests over democracy, and many have shown themselves to be little different from the other dominant forces in Arab societies. That many are liberal will not be enough if they are not also democratic.

Thus the potential torchbearers of a pluralistic culture appear to be the new generation. This is the generation that started the uprisings, even if it has not yet shaped the course of the revolutions to address its needs and aspirations. When I met in June 2012 with Ziad Ali, cofounder of the grassroots organization Masrena (Our Egypt), he seemed aware of the challenges. “We have to go through the learning process. It is not fair to judge this process harshly or quickly.” But he also understood the priorities. “Our challenge is to build institutions quickly. The young are different from the old forces. We are coordinating very well. I assure you a critical mass is being built that believes in a better life for Egyptians, even if it is not in their lifetime. There is a paradigm shift in Egyptian society.”

Ahmed Maher, another youth activist and a cofounder of the April 6 movement, mobilized young Egyptians through new technologies and social networking sites such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. He too was clear on the path forward. “We need to build third parties,” he told me. “We are seen so far as a spark, not an alternative. The youth and the liberals are weak, not organized, and fighting each other. Our main plan is to use the next five years organizing. We want to build a grassroots movement first, then a party.”

Such talk seems to dominate the speech of the new generation, but it is hardly present among the older ones. The youth are likely to plant the seeds of pluralism. The Arab world will have to wait for decades, however, before the democratic experiment matures and societies enjoy a pluralistic culture with a manageable number of political parties.

Peaceful Means
Pluralism cannot survive unless all parties concede that only the state can carry arms, in line with the German philosopher Max Weber’s “monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force” theory. Actors such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and the various armed groups in Iraq must be fully disarmed and integrated into the political process in their own countries. Residual militias in Libya, Yemen, and Syria, despite winning popular support for opposing autocrats, must also disarm.

In May 2008, after the government ordered the shutdown of its telecommunications network, Hezbollah occupied West Beirut and effectively turned its weapons against the Lebanese people for several days. The Arab-brokered deal to end the fighting in Lebanon bolstered the group’s political strength by granting Hezbollah veto power in the parliament. Nevertheless, the episode had negative consequences for the movement on the Lebanese street. Hezbollah lost some credibility in the eyes of the public and, by resorting to violence, set the democratic process back in Lebanon.

By the same token, governments must resist the temptation to use armed force to serve a partisan agenda. The police, intelligence services, and army must be inviolably neutral and must see their role as guaranteeing access for all to the political arena. Recourse to external proxies must be rigorously eschewed. When the governments of Libya and Syria used military power to suppress largely peaceful demonstrations, they forfeited their legitimacy as rulers and in effect authorized armed resistance. The new Libyan government, and any new Syrian one, will have a very hard time disarming the militias that have emerged as a result of their civil wars. The reconciliation process will also suffer.

Under a government committed to peaceful processes, no party can substitute guns for the ballot box or use force to repair an electoral defeat.

The Arab world is a mosaic of ethnic and religious communities. These include Sunnis, Shiites, and other Muslim sects; Christians of all denominations; Jews; and others. Ethnically, they include Amazigh (Berbers), Arabs, Armenians, Chechens, Circassians, Kurds, and many smaller groups. While the Arab world prides itself on its diversity, its politics and culture do not match the rhetoric.

Rights of minorities—and often majorities—have been systematically subordinated to the power of the ruling elites. How else can one explain the repression of the Kurds in Iraq and Syria, or the Amazigh in North Africa? How can one justify the treatment of Shiites as second-class citizens, often accused of serving as Iranian agents, in Saudi Arabia or Bahrain, or the Copts under successive Egyptian regimes? How can one explain the legal discrimination against women? Such official discrimination makes its sufferers feel they are less than citizens and prompts them to seek outside protection.

Societies prosper only when their members recognize that not everyone thinks or behaves similarly—nor should they be expected to. Diversity of views and perspectives is a prerequisite to problem solving, scientific and economic innovation, and artistic creativity. An appreciation of different views is also an important factor in the development of domestic peace. Respect for diversity should be not only enshrined in Arab constitutions but codified in law and taught in educational institutions so that legal and cultural norms can harness the full potential of the different constituencies that form any Arab state.

The Arab uprisings demand that all regimes reconsider their policies toward the ethnic and religious constituencies that make up the Arab world. Inclusion is therefore a core component not only of political pluralism but also of social, geographic, and political cohesion in the region. Arab governments cannot hope to build prosperous societies unless they treat the entire population as citizens, irrespective of their ethnic, religious, or gender differences. The discourse of the emerging third forces must advocate a society that regards diversity as a positive force. It should also include an unwavering position that women are full participants in society, with equal political and legal rights.

Even after they take these three values to heart, the emerging third forces will still face fundamental challenges as they navigate a transitional period that will last years, if not decades. Standing in the way of the hope for a successful second Arab Awakening are the two dominant forces—existing governments or elites, and Islamists. Despite their shared history of not embracing pluralism, these two forces will also need to fight for real change and diversity.

Inclusive Reform
In the past, reform in the Arab world was mostly nominal, imposed by the regime (often without consultation) and then hailed as a program that the bureaucracy could implement without question. More often than not, these regime-led reforms were insufficient, ad hoc, poorly communicated, and disingenuous. Without public participation, even the best intentions did not translate into effective programs.

These top-down reform projects have come in various guises. Some aimed at economic liberalization but were misleadingly called democratization efforts. They sometimes brought in dramatic economic changes and impressive growth, as happened in Tunisia and Egypt. But they did not alter the regimes’ authoritarian character. They also lacked clear strategies for making growth more inclusive, so the economic benefits went largely to the business elite.

Other projects responded to social unrest and encompassed limited political reforms. For example, the National Action Charter of Bahrain, developed in 2001 in response to public demands for change, was written and implemented as a royal initiative without consultation with diverse social and political actors. Among the reforms were the creation of two parliamentary houses (one appointed and one elected) and the transformation of the country into a hereditary constitutional monarchy. In spite of their lofty stated goals, these programs delivered less-than-pluralizing reforms—the elected parliamentary house exercises no true legislative power, and the kingdom is not a real constitutional monarchy. The Bahraini public remains disillusioned and continues to demand change.

If reform projects concocted by the very leadership that needs reforming are to be seen as substantive and credible, they must adequately represent and empower all the major forces in society. When the military leaders in Egypt attempted to dictate the rules of the political game after Mubarak’s fall, the rules were immediately rejected by the public.

Holistic Reform
Arab leaders have long argued that economic reform must precede political reform—so-called bread before freedom. Yet even when conducted in good faith, that strategy has failed to achieve either political or economic reform. Since necessary economic measures were carried out without the concomitant development of political oversight, abuses by economic actors went unchecked and unpunished. As a result, many economic reform programs benefited only a small elite. Even the potential economic impact of the reforms was hamstrung. It is difficult to encourage foreign investment if there is no independent press, parliament, or judicial system to address grievances and curtail corruption.

This means that a serious reform process must include political, economic, and cultural elements. It needs to be based on an understanding of how all aspects are linked so as to address these issues simultaneously.

Measurable Reform
Reform processes have often been long on promises and short on implementation. Clear performance indicators are necessary so that governments cannot get away with perfecting reform rhetoric without undertaking any reform.

At the Tunis Arab Summit in 2004, Arab leaders agreed on a reform document that reiterated their commitment, among other things, to “upholding justice and equality among all citizens; respecting human rights and the freedom of expression; ensuring the independence of the judiciary; pursuing the advancement of women in Arab society; acknowledging the role of civil society; and modernizing the education system.” But they did not specify any performance indicators or evaluation mechanism to monitor progress. It is not surprising that these promises went largely unfulfilled.

None of the countries attempting a gradual reform process appear fully wedded to these principles. Reform from above in the Arab world is still moving too slowly—if at all—to keep up with the demands of a restless street. These regimes’ commitment to pluralism has been largely rhetorical. They have not shied away from preaching inclusion to the Islamists while exercising exclusion. If these Arab regimes continue to ignore the urgent need for change, the street will catch up with them and they will have squandered the opportunity to lead their countries to stability and democracy.

Third forces have a critical role to play in helping their respective country’s legitimate but increasingly contested rulers understand the urgency of engaging in this process. Regimes will have to abandon their sole dependency on their traditional constituencies, which are interested only in prolonging their own privileges, and shift alliances toward third forces as they become stronger and develop constituencies of their own. That requires the kind of farsightedness and calculated risk taking that Arab leaders so far have not shown.

Will Islamists Embrace Pluralism?
We can assume that, like all political forces, Islamists want to succeed. Whoever governs Arab countries will need to tackle tremendous political and economic problems. Islamists don’t want to be blamed any more than other politicians for the mess. They know that they alone do not have economic answers and that jobs will not be created simply by repeating “Islam is the solution.” Economic problem solving will come from detailed policies that encourage investment, attract tourism, create jobs, and reduce the public deficit.

Islamist parties need to offer such detailed proposals now. They have only recently turned their attention to these issues, so they will need to close the knowledge gap fast once they are partners—or leaders—in governments. They need to prove they can tackle such challenges effectively or they face being voted out. What they have offered so far are general platitudes that fall short of answering the huge problems facing their countries, all of which have been compounded by the loss of tourism, investment, and economic activity following the uprisings. Signs are also emerging that they may be making up for a lack of governing or economic experience by absorbing wholesale some of the bureaucratic and business elites from the old regimes, together with their practices.

If they want to be successful over the long term, the Islamists must practice what they preach. The emerging political systems in the Arab world must make it categorically clear that “no compulsion in religion” is not only a theological principle but also a political one. And whereas Islamic scholars may differ over whether this principle applies both ways in religion—meaning both to accepting Islam and to leaving it—there can be no such dispute in politics and governance. Arab societies cannot hope for constant renewal without a solid commitment to the peaceful rotation of power and the acceptance of the people’s free will at all times.

Are Islamists embracing pluralism? While the positions of different Islamist parties in power today have evolved toward moderation, their commitment to pluralism is still less than categorical. Further, the rise of the Salafis, though they are still a minority in these countries, is alarming. Their commitment to political pluralism is clearly absent, and on the street they regularly employ violence. It remains to be seen whether the peaceful majority of political Islamist forces will confront these groups, appease them, or even seek to use them in the competition for votes. This is a moment of truth for Islamist parties migrating toward pluralism. If there is a fight over who speaks for Islam, it must be led by Islamists who stand against those who insist on monopolizing the truth.

The inclusion of Islamists in the political systems does not absolve them from their obligations. Religious forces have to reconcile their ideologies with the fact that they are now political parties. When the two conflict, say, on women’s rights, will they treat women as equal citizens or let their interpretation of religion dictate inferior treatment? They have not made this clear. The Muslim Brotherhood and at times even the Salafis have indicated their commitment to a civil state, but often with qualifications and without going into detail, leaving the impression that the promise is incomplete. Islamist forces want to win the public relations campaign to paint themselves as more pluralist than others, but their actions are not always convincing. Third forces in countries where Islamist parties have emerged can help by making it clear that they are for legitimate pluralism across the board and are not merely using popular terminology to exclude Islamists from the political arena.

Will Third Forces Rise to the Challenge?
Are the Arab world’s two dominant forces redeemable? I have argued that both the “deep state” (the governing apparatus that is still in control, even where leaders have been overthrown) and the Islamists share one trait: a lack of a solid commitment to pluralism. It is possible that both might agree to an internal transformation in which they would moderate their views sufficiently to endorse democratic principles—possible, but unlikely. This is particularly true where regimes are still heavily invested in unaccountable, nontransparent systems. That they would endorse democracy and voluntarily agree to the peaceful rotation of power seems like a long shot. In most cases, they have lost the trust of their publics and face an uphill battle to regain it.

Islamists, on the other hand, are stymied to some degree by their intellectual proclivity for absolute, God-given truths and strict codes of personal behavior. Both the ruling elites and the Islamists have structured their organizations as compartmentalized, disciplined movements that were socially and economically self-sufficient, with membership often equating to a kind of fealty.

Perhaps hope still lies in the third forces, which at least have no record of abuse of power. They will have to go through a long, hard, disciplined process before they are able to not only challenge but hopefully assume power and contribute to a pluralistic society. Arab publics regard democracy as the best form of government, and they understand what the concept means. Most people in the Arab world do not want theocratic states; their vote for Islamists has been based on performance rather than on ideology. It follows, then, that Arab publics want their societies to be pluralistic, but they have not been able to evolve the proper political structures to achieve these objectives. Third forces will have to do just that.

History is our guiding light on what is transpiring in today’s Arab Awakenings. I write not out of a romantic connection to the region, but rather out of a firm conviction that the battle of ideas has finally started to unfold in the contemporary Arab world. It is a battle that will be won only by those who are ready to toil and sweat to get their point of view acknowledged. Some emerging political forces, frustrated by not being able to build national organizations and political programs, may advocate undemocratic means, as they have already, to stem the tide of Islamists. They, too, will fade.

The Arab world will go through a period of turmoil in which exclusionist forces will attempt to dominate the landscape with absolute truths and new dictatorships. These forces will also fade, because in the end, exclusionist, authoritarian discourses cannot answer the people’s need for a better quality of life—economically, politically, culturally, and otherwise. As history has demonstrated overwhelmingly, where there is respect for diversity, there is prosperity. Contrary to what Arab societies have been taught for decades by their governments to believe—that tolerance, acceptance of different points of view, and critical thinking are destructive to national unity and economic growth—experience proves that societies cannot keep renewing themselves and thereby thrive except through diversity. Neither the theological Iranian model of velayat-y faqih nor the secular, authoritarian model of the Hosni Mubarak regime in Egypt has succeeded in solving the region’s economic, political, or cultural challenges.

But this realization will not come automatically, or quickly. The Arab world will witness many attempts by religious and secular forces to dominate the emerging landscapes in this region. Mistakes will be made, and there will be more struggles. The realization that salvation will come through diversity, coexistence, and a new mind-set that finally recognizes the beauty—and strength—of differences will not be automatic. It will require dedicated and sustained work on the ground for decades to come. It needs generations of believers to articulate such views, to build a sense of true citizenship, and to develop innovative and indigenous mechanisms for protecting that Arab citizenship, alongside programs that address people’s needs, all the while embracing inclusive discourses and defending different outlooks.

This task is not for the fainthearted or those whom I consider to be the “true” romantics—individuals who are too quick to give up if democracy does not emerge overnight, or if their lifestyles are not guaranteed without them rolling up their sleeves. This job will require leadership, vision, and, most important, decades of hard work. There are no shortcuts to democracy or prosperity.

The second Arab Awakening has just begun, and the end may not be known in this generation’s lifetime. But this is a battle worth waging and winning—the battle for pluralism across the Arab world.

This article is an extract from The Second Arab Awakening: And the Battle for Pluralism, by Marwan Muasher, published in 2014 by Yale University Press. 

Marwan Muasher is vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where he oversees research in Washington and Beirut on the Middle East. He previously served as Jordan’s deputy prime minister (2004–2005), foreign minister (2002–2004), and ambassador to the United States (1997–2002). He was senior vice president of external affairs at the World Bank from 2007 to 2010. He is the author of  The Arab Center: The Promise of Moderation, and most recently, The Second Arab Awakening: And the Battle for Pluralism. On Twitter: @MarwanMuasher.

A Disconnected Middle East

The world is becoming ever more connected as global flows of goods, services, people, finance and data bind countries, cities, companies and individuals more tightly together.1 Today the web of cross-border exchanges has exploded in scope and complexity.

Two major forces are now accelerating the growth and evolution of global flows. The first is increasing global prosperity. By 2025, 1.8 billion people around the world will enter the consumer class, nearly all from emerging markets. Emerging market consumers will spend $30 trillion annually, up from $12 trillion today.2 This is already creating enormous new hubs of consumer demand and global production. The second major force is the growing pervasiveness of Internet connectivity and the spread of digital technologies.3 More than two-thirds of the world’s citizens have mobile phones and, as of 2012, 2.5 billion of them were connected to the Internet. As a result, a torrent of data now travels around the world.

Most countries in the Middle East and North Africa (known as the MENA region) are missing out on the full breadth of growth opportunities that a more deeply interconnected world presents. New research from the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) estimates that global flows contribute between $250 billion and $450 billion to global GDP growth each year—equivalent to 15-25 percent of total growth.4 We find that greater connectedness helps drive faster economic growth—and the most active participants in global flows can reap enormous benefits. Those countries that are most centrally connected within flow networks can gain up to 40 percent more GDP growth from flows than the least connected countries.

The MENA region as a whole has seen its connectedness across all five types of flows actually decline over the past fifteen years. It remains too reliant on cross-border exchanges of commodities in an era when higher-value, knowledge-intensive flows are gaining in importance. While other regions are deepening their trading ties and developing sophisticated cross-border supply chains, the MENA region is only weakly connected in terms of intra-regional trade. Although MENA’s flow intensity—or the level of its financial, goods and services trade relative to its GDP—has increased faster than the global average since 2002, the region remains in the middle of the pack on this measure, and far behind Southeast Asia and China’s lead. The question now is: How can MENA policymakers reverse these trends and build the connections needed to prosper in a more globalized world?

Our Connected World
Although globalization appeared to stall during the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath, world trade in goods and services as well as global capital flows are now growing once more. By 2012, these three types of flows reached $26 trillion, or 36 percent of global GDP—more than 50 percent larger relative to the size of the world economy than they were just twenty years ago. But the MENA region has not shared in this rebound. Its flows of goods, services and finance stood at 109 percent of the region’s GDP in 2007, but are only 71 percent of GDP today. This drop reflects a sharp decline in flows of goods and capital—the former was 20 percent lower relative to GDP and the latter was 8 percent lower.

Nor has MENA shared fully in the broader global trend of more countries participating in flows. While MENA increased its share of all major flows between 2002 and 2012, it did so more slowly than other emerging regions on average in the categories of goods, services and finance. At a global level, the concentration of goods exports among the top three countries declined between 1995 and 2012, but in MENA, the share attributable to the top exporters increased dramatically from 55 to 67 percent.

Our new report, Global Flows in a Digital Age: How Trade, Finance, People, and Data Connect the World Economy, features an index of “connectedness” that measures cross-border flows of goods, services, finance, people, and data and communications.5 In addition to allowing country-by-country comparisons, it includes regional rankings (calculated by averaging country rankings, weighted by population). The MENA average ranks 47th in the world, making it the second-worst-performing region; only Sub-Saharan Africa is less connected. More worrisome is that its level of connectedness declined three places from 1995 to 2012, even as South Asia made a gain of ten places and Latin America and the China region each climbed five places. While other parts of the world have built more robust and diverse global networks, MENA countries have by and large allowed these opportunities to slip through their fingers.

At an individual country level, some MENA countries were among the world’s biggest decliners in the index. From 1995 to 2012, the rankings for Yemen, Tunisia, Syria and Egypt slid by twenty-two, nineteen, sixteen, and twelve positions, respectively, reflecting their economic and political turmoil.

However, some countries in the region have defied this trend and deepened their connections to the rest of the world. Morocco gained twenty-six places between 1995 and 2012, and now ranks 53rd in the world. This is the second-largest gain of all 106 countries in the MGI index, reflecting the government’s aggressive efforts to open the economy to flows of goods and services and forge a new role as an offshore manufacturing and service hub for the large European market. Saudi Arabia gained nineteen places over this same period. This is largely due to surging financial flows as the kingdom capitalized on rising energy prices since 2000 to invest oil revenues overseas; it also reflects large inflows of foreign labor. Saudi Arabia now ranks 16th in our global connectedness index, the highest of any country in MENA. More broadly, the GCC countries as a group have the strongest participation in global flows in goods, finance, and people, and they are laying the infrastructure to participate more fully in knowledge-intensive flows.

There are other positive examples within the region. Israel gained nineteen places since 1995 due to its strength in people flows and services as well as its growing specialization in knowledge-intensive exports. The country accounted for 11 percent of MENA’s exports of R&D-intensive goods and 45 percent of its exports of knowledge-intensive services in 2012. Oman made even more striking gains in the index, climbing twenty-five places. And while the United Arab Emirates is not ranked due to a lack of data reporting, there can be little doubt that Dubai has emerged as a major global waypoint in air travel, shipping and finance. The city’s airport has been increasing total passenger capacity at a rate of 12 percent per annum over the past decade and is now one of the world’s top ten hubs for international air travel. Dubai has also become a major player in global shipping flows. In 1980, it didn’t rank among the world’s top twenty-five container ports; by 2011, it was in the top ten. More recently, Abu Dhabi has invested significantly in Internet connectivity, which could position them well going forward in data flows.

Commodities, Finance and People
The global goods trade (which includes commodities) is by far the largest type of flow, accounting for $17.8 trillion in 2012, more than four times the value of traded services or financial flows.

MENA has historically enjoyed a trade surplus and this has doubled relative to regional GDP over the past decade, from 3 percent to 6 percent. This surplus is mainly due to its substantial commodity surplus (15 percent of GDP), which helps finance deficits in other categories. In 2012, MENA recorded a deficit in services and all other major categories of goods trade.

MENA’s total trade in both commodities and goods grew in line with the global average over the past decade (rising 16 to 17 percent annually). But looking more closely at the components of this flow, MENA is more than twice as reliant on commodities trade as other regions, reflecting its natural resource endowments such as petroleum. Some 55 percent of the region’s goods trade is in commodities, compared with a world average of 28 percent. MENA accounted for 31 percent of all oil and gas exports in 2012, nearly half of the emerging world’s share of global exports.

Although cross-border financial flows remain substantially below their peak before the 2008 crisis when measured as a share of global GDP, the global network of financial flows has nevertheless become more interconnected over the past ten years. Growth of nominal financial flows has been 5 percent a year since 2002 across all countries, and 20 percent for emerging markets. The MENA region has outstripped both of these benchmarks, with financial flows rising 22 percent per year on average. In 2012, its financial flows stood at 13 percent relative to GDP, above the emerging market average of 10.6 percent. Financial outflows grew from 2.5 percent of GDP in 2002 to 11 percent in 2012, reflecting the recycling of oil wealth into global financial markets.

Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), both in and out of MENA countries, is also growing quickly. These flows have grown 22 percent per year since 2002, twice as fast as the world average. The region’s inflows of FDI were 15 percent higher than its outflows—but they were concentrated in just a handful of recipient countries. The UAE, Israel, Iraq, Morocco and Egypt together attracted almost 80 percent of MENA’s total FDI inflows in 2012.

The Middle East also plays a prominent role in global flows of people. The region is home to around 6 percent of the world’s population but its share of world migrants is nearly 12 percent. Moreover, the region’s share of global migration is growing twice as fast as the global average, at 4 percent per annum between 2000 and 2010 (compared with the global average of 2 percent growth). MENA’s share of global travelers and students enrolling in foreign universities is also rising faster than the global average.

Data and Knowledge
Global flows are not simply growing in volume; their very nature is changing. Commodities and labor-intensive goods from low-cost manufacturing nations once dominated global flows, but today all types of flows are becoming more knowledge-intensive. Exchanges of high-tech products, pharmaceuticals, automobiles, sophisticated business services and FDI—all of which require a high level of R&D or utilize highly skilled labor—take on heightened importance to economic growth as they transmit ideas, innovation, new technology and expertise.

In 2012, global knowledge-intensive flows reached $12.6 trillion, nearly half the combined total value of goods, services and financial flows. And they are gaining share: their growth rate is at least 1.3 times faster than growth in labor-intensive flows.  But MENA’s participation is lagging, raising the concern that the region is not positioned to share in this growth potential. Knowledge-intensive goods accounted for 30 percent of its total goods trade in 2012, well below the emerging market average (43 percent) and the global average (50 percent). Looking more closely at exports only heightens this concern. Only 15 percent of MENA’s total goods exports are knowledge-intensive, less than half the average across all emerging markets (37 percent) and less than a third of the global average (50 percent). Given that Saudi Arabia and Israel together accounted for nearly one-quarter of the region’s total exports of knowledge-intensive goods exports in 2012, it is clear that most MENA countries have fallen far behind.

Underlying growth in all types of global flows—and especially the rise in knowledge-intensive flows—is an explosion in the world’s exchange of data and communication. Cross-border Internet traffic increased eighteen-fold between 2005 and 2013. The economic implications of this growth could be profound, as data flows not only facilitate other major types of flows but enable catch-up growth through the sharing of information and the lessening of infrastructure requirements. However, MENA, like other emerging market regions, is not highly connected to data flows and so is likely missing out significantly on this potential. In 2012, MENA represented 6 percent of the world’s population but only 2 percent of global cross-border traffic. On a per capita basis, its residents account for less than 1/24th of the Internet traffic generated by Western Europeans due to a lack of low-cost, high-quality access. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the region ranked in the top 50 on connectedness to data and communication flows in 2012—and it is in 44th place.

But the network of global data and communication flows is developing and dispersing more rapidly than any other type of flow, and it is making inroads in the region. MENA’s cross-border Internet traffic grew at 68 percent per annum from 2005 to 2012, the second-fastest growth rate among emerging regions. However, the region’s digital divide with the rest of the world remains considerable. Increasing participation in data and communication flows will be vital if MENA countries are to maximize their potential in the global knowledge economy.

Open Borders
MENA has successfully diversified its trading partners, with the balance shifting toward the emerging world. In 1980, developed regions accounted for 70 percent of the region’s total goods trade. In 2011, however, their share declined to 47 percent while Asia grew to nearly 40 percent. MENA has become less reliant on trade with the United States, Canada and Western Europe; their combined share of imports and exports of goods from the region both fell by roughly half. During the same period, other parts of the world became much more significant partners for MENA, as rising incomes drove consumption and commodity demand. Northeast and Southeast Asia have become MENA’s two largest export markets, with a combined share of 42 percent of total exports. China, once a relatively insignificant partner, now accounts for 10 to 11 percent of MENA’s goods trade.

But MENA countries are missing out on opportunities to trade more intensively with one another. MENA’s intra-regional share of total trade in goods has been flat at 6 percent over the past decade. Trading blocs such as ASEAN (22 percent), NAFTA (39 percent) and the EU (59 percent) achieve far higher levels of intra-regional trade. Eastern Europe and Central Asia (33 percent), Southeast Asia (24 percent), the China region (17 percent) and Latin America (19 percent) all post three to five times as much trade between regional partners as MENA. Diversifying the region’s production of manufactured goods as well as its tradable services would unlock opportunities for future growth.

Challenges of the Global Marketplace
The MENA region faces a significant challenge in raising its participation in global flows and its overall connectedness. But it starts with an inherent advantage: its very position on the globe.

MENA’s geographic location puts it at the center of physical flow networks between Europe, Asia and Africa. Nearly 6 billion people live within an eight-hour flight from Gulf countries. This provides a significant opportunity to act as an intermediary in global flows—an opportunity that Dubai has already begun to seize with its new role as a hub for air travel. Other MENA countries could emulate the success of the UAE in exploiting its natural geography to participate as waypoints of flows.

MENA can also capitalize on its proximity to major markets. Morocco’s climb of twenty-six places in our connectedness ranking has been largely due to its role as a manufacturing base for Europe—and its regional peers can similarly position themselves to serve large markets in other categories.

To prepare for the next wave of growth, MENA countries can look to the examples offered by Morocco and Israel, which account for large shares of the region’s cross-border Internet traffic and its knowledge-intensive exports. Both countries have actively invested in developing niches within global value chains and building the specialized human capital required.

As barriers come down, the world is increasingly transforming itself from a set of discrete, isolated markets into a true global marketplace—one in which goods, services, capital, people, and data and communication move ever more seamlessly across borders. Integrating into these global networks presents greater opportunity, and the failure to do so now imposes a greater cost on those countries that are left behind. From Morocco to Dubai, the Middle East already boasts some trailblazers that have embraced this new era and are thriving as a result. Will others now follow?

James Manyika is a senior partner at McKinsey & Company and a director of the McKinsey Global Institute, the business and economics research arm of the international consulting firm. Previously he served on the engineering faculty at Oxford University. He serves on President Obama’s Global Development Council and on the Innovation Advisory Board at the U.S. Department of Commerce. He has contributed to the Financial Times, Economist, Newsweek, Les Echos, Washington Post, Forbes, and McKinsey Quarterly.

Susan Lund is a Washington-based partner at the McKinsey Global Institute, the business and economics research arm of McKinsey & Company. She leads the group’s research on global financial markets, labor markets, and the macroeconomic outlook. She has contributed to the Harvard Business Review, Washington Post, and McKinsey Quarterly, among other publications. On Twitter:@SusanLund_DC. 

  1. We define goods and service flows as the sum of imports and exports of goods and services for each country. Financial flows are the inflows and outflows of foreign direct investment, equity and bond flows, and cross-border lending and deposits. People flows include the number of people who move for long-term migration, short-term travelers and students. Data and communication flows include the volume of cross-border Internet traffic and international call minutes. For each flow, we also explore emerging digital flows such as e-commerce, online work platforms, remittances and payments, and other micro-data.
  2. Urban World: Cities and the Rise of the Consuming Class, McKinsey Global Institute, June 2012; Yuval Atsamon, Peter Child, Richard Dobbs, and Laxman Narasimhan, “Winning the $30 Trillion Decathlon: Going for Gold in Emerging Markets,” The McKinsey Quarterly, August 2012.
  3. Internet Matters: The Net’s Sweeping Impact on Growth, Jobs, and Prosperity, McKinsey Global Institute, May 2011.
  4. Global Flows in a Digital Age: How Trade, Finance, People, and Data Connect the World Economy, McKinsey Global Institute, April 2014.
  5. The McKinsey Global Institute Connectedness Index measures the degree of integration into the global network of flows for 131 countries.

Egyptian Dreams

Revolts resemble love affairs. At the beginning, the participants are overwhelmed by joy at their initial success, and at the new possibilities that the affair has afforded them. But the affair is never isolated: it falls under the weight of the past and the confines of the present; it also inevitably unleashes new (or previously concealed) forces. And the same opportunities that excite the participants endanger others, who seek to stem the change they see threatening. And though the memories of early days—the possibilities, the promise—remain poignant, the stories evolve in different ways: happy endings or crushed dreams.

In the last hundred years, two Egyptian dreams have been crushed. The Egyptian liberal age that extended from the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth century gave rise to the country’s modern institutions, such as Western-styled universities, a secular judiciary, professional syndicates, and a varied and dynamic press. The period witnessed the liveliest cultural wave the Arab world has ever seen: the birth of Arab novels, theater, cinema; an impressive translation movement; and burgeoning secularism that subtly challenged the authority of religion (both Islam and Christianity) in Egyptian society. Industrialization, the emergence of local banking giants, the introduction of modern agri-business, and a services sector evolved the Egyptian economy from its agrarian foundations toward a modern, multi-sector one.

A middle class began to emerge; educated professionals populated the expanding new neighborhoods of Cairo and Alexandria. And as the two cities rose to become the commercial, trading, and artistic hubs of the entire region, tens of thousands of Levantines, Jews, Armenians, Greeks, as well as sizable Italian and Maltese communities migrated to Egypt. Within a single generation, these immigrants became integral parts of cosmopolitan Cairene and Alexandrian societies. The social code had changed. The new urbanized middle classes were increasingly comfortable with Western norms and values, from the mixing of genders to man-made laws. And amidst these social, economic, and cultural changes, Egypt was gradually moving towards liberal democracy, with different political forces representing various ideologies and interest groups competing in free elections, in a tolerant milieu that respected political and civil rights, and freedom of expression.

Yet, the liberal experiment proved lacking. The political elite failed to deliver on the most important national objective of the time: Egypt’s independence from Britain. The elite fell into excesses that separated their luxurious lives from those of the vast majority of Egyptians; and they were incapable—and dis-incentivized—to alter the country’s extremely skewed economics. By the late 1940s, around 5 percent of the population controlled more than 65 percent of the country’s asset base (private companies and traded stocks); more than 20 percent of Egyptian peasants were landless while about 3 percent of the population held over 80 percent of all cultivated land; foreigners, meanwhile, continued to exert decisive influence on the economy.

The liberal experiment also failed to answer a basic question, which the waves of modernization, economic development, and exposure to the West had repeatedly brought to the fore: What is Egypt’s identity? Three answers had emerged. The Arabists believed that the Arabic language and its dominant influence on the country’s culture meant—if not dictated—that Egypt belonged to the Arab World, which was then emerging from the chains of Western colonialism. This group believed that Egypt’s association with the East (the Levant, Iraq, and the Arabian Peninsula) was a historic imperative; Christianity and Islam came to the country from the East; all major waves of immigration—to and from the country—were also Eastern-oriented; and Egypt’s cultural and political influence, since the Pharaohs and throughout the country’s varied historical episodes, had been felt in the East (especially in the Levant). In the view of the Arabists, Egypt’s future was inextricably linked with the Arab world.

Others disagreed, profoundly. The most prominent figures in Egyptian culture at the time, including Taha Hussein, the doyen of Arabic literature, among a score of writers, philosophers, and artists, argued that the modernization, secularism, and cosmopolitanism that Egypt had gone through in the preceding decades had evolved Egypt’s identity toward Mediterraneanism; that is, a unique cultural blend that incorporated the country’s Arabic heritage with the modernity it had now undergone. This project was to turn Egypt into a part of Europe.

Rise of the First Republic
The Arabists and the Mediterraneanists thrived in the higher echelons of Egypt’s social, political, and cultural circles. But there was a third view gaining a huge following across society by the 1930s and 1940s: the Islamists, who firmly believed that Egypt had always been, and will continue to be, an Islamic country, with Islamic values, frame of reference, and laws exerting a decisive influence over its society. The Islamist groups—especially the Muslim Brotherhood, founded in 1928—had become a very visible political force in the country, and aimed to transform the Islamic identity into a political reality and turn Egypt into an Islamic state.

The acute economic strains caused by the Second World War, and then the shock of defeat in the 1948 war with the nascent State of Israel, exacerbated the tensions and pressures that the severely skewed socioeconomics—and the political tension—had placed on Egyptian liberalism. Perhaps the most perceptive observer of the situation was King Farouk, who in 1951 confided to a few in his entourage that the Egyptian monarchy would not survive the decade.

The finale was, in fact, much nearer. The liberal age—and with it the dream of a secular, democratic, modern Egypt—came to an end in 1952 when Gamal Abdel Nasser, an ambitious, nationalist officer, overthrew Farouk and ushered in the first Egyptian republic.

Nasser was a true revolutionary. He wanted to transform Egypt. His land reform and his program of nationalizing a swathe of Egypt’s private sector utterly changed the Egyptian economy. In a dozen years starting in the mid-1950s, more than 75 percent of the country’s gross domestic product was transferred from private to state ownership. Nasser’s totally subsidized university education, and the dramatic expansion in public employment—especially in the state’s bureaucratic structure—resulted in the fastest and broadest social mobility Egypt has ever experienced. The elite of monarchical Egypt became marginalized and by the late 1960s, the new middle class of the 1930s and 1940s grew to become one of the largest social segments in the country. For the millions of new doctors, engineers, officers, teachers, the hundreds of thousands employed in the burgeoning public sector, and to the millions of farmers who had become, for the first time in many generations, landowners, Nasser was a hero.

Nasser also had a decisive answer to Egypt’s identity dilemma. He not only sided with the Arabists; by the time of his death in 1970, he had become—in the words of Nizar Kabbani, the Arab world’s most prominent poet of the last half century—the prophet of Arab nationalism. During his reign, and especially in the 1960s, Egypt became the most powerful and influential political force in the Arab world and Africa, and a leading voice in the Third World—on par with Nehru’s India and Tito’s Yugoslavia; and as Che Guevara put it, a “mecca for world revolutionaries.” The rapid social and economic transformation was accompanied by a dramatic rise in Egypt’s regional and international positioning.

The price, however, was creating a highly centralized power structure. Nasser’s republic revolved around the military, which emerged as the most powerful—and revered—state institution, detached from (and above) all other institutions. The republic dispensed with free elections, genuine political representation, checks and balances, and freedom of expression; civil and political rights were severely curtailed; and power was centralized at the very top, in the tiny administrative and security group surrounding the president.

And the state became the provider for the people. Eradicating the country’s private sector, the exponential increase in the public sector, and the sweeping welfare systems (from education, to health care, to transportation, to guaranteed employment) that were created in the 1950s and 1960s, led the largest social groups in the country—the lower middle classes and the poor—to depend on the state for providing almost all their salient socioeconomic needs.

The three decades that followed Nasser’s death brought about major changes in economic policy (from socialism toward different types of capitalism) and an upheaval in Egypt’s foreign policy (from an assertive Arab nationalist, pro-Soviet positioning toward becoming one of the key allies of the United States in the Middle East). Over time, economic pressures mounted; the state’s ability to meet its socioeconomic obligations receded; and Egypt’s influence and regional prestige weakened.

Fall of the Regime?
Like Egypt’s liberal age, the dream of Nasser’s utopia was also crushed. And crucially, the social and political contract that the first Egyptian republic had forged with the people became increasingly frayed. By the first decade of the twenty-first century, that contract was nearing breaking point.

The first reason for this was demographics. By the late 2000s, Egypt’s population surpassed eighty-five million, of which more than half were under thirty-five years of age (including the largest cohort of teens in the country’s history). New generations were coming to the scene at a time when the state was increasingly unable to fulfill its provider role. Inflation, including prices on basic goods, was soaring; the country’s infrastructure was decaying; and as a result of waves of enrichment, corruption, and poor management, the gap between the upper classes and the rest of the population was reaching shocking levels.

A second factor was power transition. President Hosni Mubarak, who had ascended to the presidency in 1981 after a thirty-five-year military career, was aging and he isolated himself more and more in a seaside compound in Sharm El-Sheikh, five hundred kilometers from Cairo. Decision-making was divided between his family, the government, the ruling party, the security apparatus, and a coterie of oligarchs. His administration worked to pass the presidency to his son, Gamal, who had never worked for any of the institutions upon which the first republic was based. Inheriting the presidency from Mubarak senior to junior necessitated the approval of these institutions, and especially the military; whether this approval would be forthcoming remained unclear.

The project to transfer authority from father to son was widely seen as the ultimate bankruptcy of the first republic. By now, the country’s socioeconomic challenges, demographic pressures, and the dilution of its regional positioning were being compounded by an acute legitimacy problem. Gone were the aspirations, dreams, and ambitions of the 1950s and 1960s; gone was the special link between leader and people that Nasser had cultivated. By the late 2000s, the first republic had descended into a corrupt, hereditary power structure, with nothing linking it to the tens of millions of Egyptians—and especially young Egyptians—nothing, but their anger at what it had become.

When tens of thousands of young activists descended on Tahrir Square in central Cairo on January 25, 2011, to protest the miserable conditions in the republic, their call resonated with huge social segments. President Mubarak fell, and it seemed that the first Egyptian republic had come to an end. The participants in the uprising were ecstatic, and the possibilities seemed limitless.

In the wake of Mubarak’s ouster, three narratives appeared. The first was that of the activists who had triggered, or quickly joined, the uprising. The unity behind their demand for the “fall of the regime” soon gave way to a fragmentation into various ideologies, viewpoints, ambitions—and egos. In less than six months, more than a hundred youth coalitions and revolutionary fronts were formed, dozens of civil society organizations clamoring for various causes emerged, and many new newspapers and TV channels came into existence.

None of this was surprising. The leaderless uprising was an amalgamation of disparate groups that had come together haphazardly in a very short time period, and without any central authority, plan, or common vision for the future. That seemed healthy. The lack of leaders made the uprising seem the call of a generation, rather than the work of a specific political group; and the diversity in opinions and perspectives promised the beginning of political plurality. But these hundreds of groups, coalitions, and parties lacked any means of exercising political power. The moment they left the streets—when President Mubarak handed over authority to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces—their collective influence disappeared.

Islam’s Challenge
The second narrative was that of political Islam. Neither the Muslim Brotherhood nor the ultra conservative, literalist Islamists (the Salafists) had participated in the initial stage of the 2011 uprising. The Brotherhood’s leadership was actually very hesitant to join, even after the first few days had passed and the momentum of the uprising was building. The decision to participate in the revolt came after several groups of young Brotherhood members had already taken to the streets alongside the initial protesters. Sensing a historic opportunity to move against Egypt’s first republic—and to leverage on the work of the tens of thousands of young activists who had the courage to stage and trigger the uprising—the leadership of the Brotherhood threw in the group’s considerable resources. Suddenly, hundreds of thousands of Brotherhood members came to the streets. And when Mubarak left the scene, they remained the only organized, structured political group that could fill the void that ensued.

This Brotherhood was different from that of the generation of Hassan Al-Banna, who built up the group in the 1920s and 1930s, and from the ideologues that Nasser had marginalized (and persecuted) in the 1950s and 1960s. Since the mid-1990s, the group’s leadership had shifted from theologically trained scholars whose credibility was built on their religious training and on their steadfastness in Nasser’s years to a new generation whose power and authority were based on their ability to generate revenue streams and financial resources for the group.

The most visible faces in this new leadership were businessmen and entrepreneurs with holdings in various economic sectors, from food to retail to transportation and financial services. And they came with new thinking. The key messages, whether to their core constituencies, in public media, in interactions with other political camps, or in the group’s various electoral campaigning, for example in Egypt’s 2005 parliamentary election, focused on Egypt’s socioeconomic problems. The Brotherhood was, in effect, presenting itself not as a force of political Islam whose thinking is anchored on Islamic jurisprudence, but as a political actor promising to tackle the country’s ills. This new positioning was anchored on the notion—strongly emphasized in the Brotherhood’s new rhetoric—that the group, which had extensive experience creating and managing a wide-reaching service infrastructure, was well positioned to lead Egypt, especially in comparison to the liberal political forces. The Brotherhood’s positioning paid off when it secured more than 40 percent of the seats in Egypt’s parliamentary elections in December 2011 and January 2012 and, six months later, won Egypt’s first free presidential election.

President Mohammed Morsi’s triumphant address—in the afternoon of June 29, 2012, to the hundreds of thousands of jubilant Egyptians who had gathered since the morning in Tahrir Square, and to the tens of millions in Egypt and across the Arab world watching the event live on TV—captured the symbolism of the moment. The group, which only eighteen months earlier was considered illegal and the sworn enemy of the republic that had ruled Egypt for over six decades, had ascended to the apex of power. It seemed that political Islam had, after many decades, succeeded in taking over Egypt, the largest, most populous, and strategically most important country in the Arab world.

But there was one more narrative—that of the first republic. The pillars of that power structure, and especially the military, noted that the overriding demand of the broad social segments that had lent their support to the January 2011 protesters—most notably the labor associations, farmers groups, and many constituents in the lower middle classes and the poor—was not the “fall of the regime.” It was the removal of President Mubarak, and the return of (some sort of) social equality. They sought relief from their rage at the corruption and blur between power and wealth that had characterized the last decade of Mubarak’s reign, their dismay at the attempt to bequeath the country from father to son, and their frustration at the lack of any national project for more than twenty years.

While the activists—and the key powers in Egypt’s political Islam—saw the 2011 uprising as a tsunami that would sweep away the existing political order, the pillars of the first republic recognized it as an opportunity to rid their power structure of the ills that had afflicted it in the last decade of President Mubarak’s rule. A new generation within the republic, and especially in the military, believed that the demand of the widest social segments in the country was not the demolition of the power structure that had controlled Egypt since 1952, but rather its reform. They also believed that they, this younger generation inside the republic and mainly inside the military, could, and should, lead that reform.

This narrative was not an illusion; it resonated with major segments in the Egyptian society, ones that indeed did not reject the first republic but abhorred the sorry state in which Mubarak had left the nation. Some nostalgia was also at play. The groups that had lived through the 1960s reminisced about “Nasser’s good old days” and “the years of dignity and social cohesion,” about the times “when being Egyptian instilled pride.” This nostalgia was, at best, selective remembrance. As the poet Mahmoud Darwish once described his feelings about exile: “My memory erased the dust, the heat, and the crowded streets, and retained only the look and smell of the lemon trees.” And yet, that nostalgia imbued the narrative of the first republic—and the project of resuscitating it—with immense momentum.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to power, meanwhile, faced difficult challenges. Once in office, the group soon found itself the target of growing anger. Many observers argue that this was because the Brotherhood failed to meet the socioeconomic goals it had set for itself. But economic mismanagement cannot fully explain the anger.

Wide social segments in Egypt, especially in the urbanized middle class, had acute suspicions regarding the Brotherhood’s ultimate goal. The group’s new rhetoric was hardly convincing to millions of Egyptians who have grown, over several decades, wary of political Islam in general and the Brotherhood in particular. Millions believed that the Brotherhood was systematically working to Islamicize the state and the society, and that, the new Morsi administration was embedding all major and strategic state institutions with Brotherhood members whose allegiance was not to the Egyptian state but to the group. Several events exacerbated that suspicion. But the rushed and exclusive process through which the December 2012 constitution was drafted and ratified significantly heightened these fears. Suddenly, Egypt—one of the oldest countries in the world and with a powerful, entrenched, and unique national identity—seemed on the verge of adopting a highly Islamic charter that huge social sectors, even among many pious Muslim Egyptians, felt at odds with the tenets of Egypt’s historical experience and social fabric.

Return of the Generals
The ascent of the Islamic identity might not have been so problematic—especially to the upper middle classes—in other Arab countries where Islam, throughout many centuries, has been the sole defining characteristic of these societies. But in Egypt, Islam—as a frame of reference, an identity, and a major social component—has always existed alongside Arabism, Mediterraneanism, Levantinism, Christianism, and pharoahism. Egyptian Islamism also seemed different to what political Islam appeared to be presenting. Over many centuries, Egypt has developed its own unique type of Islamism, one that has adapted to the tranquil life of the country’s agrarian society. And so the perceived Islamization, that the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood had come to represent, seemed for millions of Egyptians to be a fundamental threat to the Egyptian way of life. Millions felt a need to assert—and defend—“Egyptianness.”

But the battle against the Brotherhood was also about preserving prerogatives and major economic interests. The Brotherhood’s coming to power heralded a conspicuous attempt to transform Egypt’s political economy. The new business-oriented leaders of the Brotherhood, and other economic power centers in Egypt and the Gulf close to them, seemed to be rapidly increasing their market shares in various economic sectors, such as banking, construction, real estate, transport, and retail. That threatened financial concentrations of power that had, for decades—and especially in the last ten years of Mubarak’s rule—commanded dominant and highly lucrative positions in the Egyptian economy. Another factor fueling the anger was the Brotherhood’s organizational structure. The group’s hierarchy had, over the past six decades, allowed it to withstand successive (and at times brutal) attacks from the first republic. But as the group came to power, this hierarchy seemed to many Egyptians, and especially to the sprawling and influential administrative arms of the Egyptian bureaucracy, to be a parallel state. The notion—and fear—that the Brotherhood was taking over Egypt was significantly amplified.

The outcome of the confrontation between the Brotherhood and the pillars of the first republic was never in doubt. The state controlled all levers of power in the country, from cooptation to coercion. But the anger that was mounting against the Brotherhood allowed the state to genuinely represent its struggle with the Brotherhood as meeting the aspirations of broad segments of the population. On June 30, 2013, millions of Egyptians returned to Tahrir Square and filled streets throughout the country demanding, initially, early presidential elections, and later, Morsi’s removal from office. Three days later, armed forces commander General Abdel Fattah El-Sisi announced that Egypt’s military had suspended the constitution, ousted Morsi, and installed an interim president until new elections could be held. After only a year in power, the Brotherhood was out, and once again vilified as an illegal organization. The state institutions of the first republic, which had commanded the country for the past six decades, led by the military, were back on top.

Could the first republic achieve its goal of ridding itself of the ills that had led to such decay in the last decade of Mubarak’s rule? Popular support for the state’s institutions, and mainly the military, coupled with the massive esteem with which El-Sisi is held, gives the first republic strong momentum to resuscitate the fervor of a rising nation, and leverage nostalgia for the Nasserite dream. El-Sisi announced in March that he would be a candidate to become Egypt’s next president, and he is expected to win. The authorities have an opportunity to put forward a new national project that taps into the aspirations and imagination of wide social segments. Such a dynamic has been sorely absent from Egyptian politics for almost four decades.

Nearly all the key financial interests in the country—which control a significant percentage of the Egyptian economy—as well as the country’s most popular media outlets, support the return of the first republic. This means that the dominant narrative in the country is, and will continue to be in the medium term, favorable to the current authorities. And despite the reticence that has characterized how various international stakeholders reacted to the removal of the Brotherhood and the return of the first republic, these international players will continue to support the country. Given the chaos in the eastern Mediterranean and the potential turbulence in Libya, the most influential regional and international powers want a stable Egypt—especially if the threat of jihadism continues to spread in the region. And Gulf powers—mainly Saudi Arabia and immensely rich Abu Dhabi—for various strategic (and domestic) reasons will continue to lend extensive economic support to Egypt at least in the short to medium term.

These factors could allow the first republic to cement its return to power. And while the current attitude of the authorities is highly assertive, over time it is likely to advance beyond seeing only vassals and enemies, and slowly move the country towards a pluralistic political milieu, one that retains the republic’s prerogatives, but that major social segments find acceptable.

There is, however, another scenario that could lead to very different outcomes. As a result of economic reforms undertaken in the past two decades, the private sector has for the first time in half a century become the largest employer and provider of investment capital. So a large minority of Egyptians are now urbanized middle-class professionals, with economic stakes to protect and aspirations to materialize. They not only expect, but will demand, a say in how their future will be shaped. And irrespective of the carrots and sticks that the first republic can use, these demands—because of the scale of this rising middle class—would neither be co-opted nor crushed.

The socioeconomic challenges facing Egypt could lead to two different outcomes. Egypt faces grave problems regarding its food bill, energy architecture, water resources, in addition to systemic and perilous youth unemployment. Major investments in infrastructure and a huge potential in logistics and tourism could create millions of jobs. But state capital is lacking, sovereign debt rising, Gulf support will prove temporary, and the state has very limited resources to meet the needs of a society dominated by semi- and unskilled workers. Egypt will have to affect major reforms to attract international—and domestic—private capital. This will inevitably lead to the liberalization of certain sectors, an evolution in the country’s regulatory framework, and to the appearance of networks of economic interests whose operations would be vital to the economy. Gradually, this would significantly improve the country’s competitiveness and would affect a slow but steady growth in the country’s middle class. The result would be the emergence of a multi-polar power structure.

Egypt’s demographics—and the culture of young Egyptians, the forty-five million who are under thirty-five-years-old—could augment this scenario. This generation is connected to the world, opinionated, daring, and commercially and socially entrepreneurial. No central power will be able to control this major social segment for any significant period of time. This is already conspicuous. Despite the immense popularity that the powers of the first republic, and especially the military, currently enjoy in Egypt, the society’s young are clearly disenchanted. Youth participation in the January 2014 referendum on the constitution was conspicuously low. Social media is awash with bitter humor that tells of the sour mood of the most active social segment in the country. This means that the young’s dynamism could accelerate the dilution of power-centralization and the rise of plurality.

But there is another scenario. The sourness that many young Egyptians feel could rapidly evolve into anger if the economic and security situations deteriorate. This could fuel social unrest, at a time when polarization is entrenched and significant social groups—including the sizable constituencies that support political Islam—feel marginalized or threatened. In this scenario, the immense popularity that the powers of the first republic enjoy would disappear and large social groups could once again take to the streets. And again, anger will give rise to aspirations, and to a new beginning. There will be novel possibilities; they could lead to that elusive happy ending, or to another crushed dream.

Tarek Osman is the author of Egypt on the Brink: From Nasser to Mubarak, and the writer and presenter of the British Broadcasting Corporation’s 2013 radio series, “The Making of the Modern Arab World.” He writes regularly for the Financial Times, Foreign Affairs, and Project Syndicate, among others, and is a frequent commentator on international news channels. He is the political counselor for the southern and eastern Mediterranean at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. On Twitter: @TarekmOsman.

A New Palestinian Strategy

Until Secretary of State John Kerry began his intensive efforts to finally resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, politicians on both sides of the conflict were rather pleased with the status quo. The Israeli government succeeded, as a result of the Oslo Accords, to shift responsibility for controlling Palestinian protesters to the Palestinian National Authority. Israelis have also enjoyed an economic boom in part by milking the occupied territories, avoiding paying an economic price for its illegal occupation, and control (directly and indirectly) over millions of Palestinians. For its part, the Palestinian National Authority is delighted that Palestine has a president, a prime minister, passports, an Olympic team, and even postage stamps. These trappings of state were given symbolic international recognition when the United Nations General Assembly voted to recognize Palestine as a non-member state. The vote on November 29, 2012—International Day for Solidarity with the Palestinian People—gave a 138–9 result. The United States, Canada, and Israel were among the no votes.

Yet, the UN vote that gave the Palestinian National Authority the right to call itself the State of Palestine did nothing to change the lot of Palestinians still under the boot of the Israeli army. It did nothing to halt continued Israeli land confiscation and colonization in the West Bank, nor did it lift the unprecedented years-long siege of the Gaza Strip. The UN move did not lead to the suspension of illegal settlement activities or curb the continuing attempts by radical Jewish groups to gain a foothold on the Haram Al-Sharif, site of the sacred Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City.

Like so many earlier Palestinian efforts with the UN and other international bodies, this decision did little to produce a tangible change in the status of the occupied territories. In fact, the international community has debated the Palestinian issue ad nauseam without much to show for it. Indeed, international meddling has tended to harm Palestinians rather than help them—dating back to the eve of the First World War when imperial Britain gave contradictory promises regarding the future of Palestine to both Jews and Arabs. A striking illustration of international failure to address Palestinian rights can be seen in a panel of four maps displayed in New York City subway stations and in other cities around the world, which depict the dramatic loss of Palestinian land from 1946 to 2000.

Fatah and Resistance
Palestinians throughout the first half of the twentieth century were largely disorganized, and suffered from internal divisions and factional fighting. Then in 1948 came the nakbah, or catastrophe: the loss of western Palestine in Israel’s War of Independence, and the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem—hundreds of thousands of people who fled the conflict and settled in squalid refugee camps in eastern Palestine (the West Bank) and the Gaza Strip, and in neighboring Arab states.

It took Palestinians a decade to regroup and establish an organized resistance movement. Palestinian activists in Kuwait decided to take things in their own hands, and in 1959 established Harakat al Taharur al Watania al Falastinia, or the Palestinian National Liberation Movement, known by its acronym, Fatah. At the time of Fatah’s launch, the big talking point was the right of return for Palestinian refugees—as called for in UN Resolution 194 adopted in December 1948. Fatah started an underground newspaper called Our Palestine to raise national consciousness among refugees, and on January 1, 1965, announced its first military operation launched from Lebanon. Nonetheless, the group and its leaders—including Yasser Arafat, Khalil Al-Wazir, Salah Khalaf, the Hassan brothers (Said and Hani), and Mahmoud Abbas—remained largely unknown even to the majority of Palestinians.

The devastating Arab defeat in the June 1967 war led to a change of fortunes for the Palestinian resistance movement, which would include a variety of other factions, notably the Marxist-oriented Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), led by George Habash. The defeat of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan—and Israel’s capture of the Sinai Peninsula, Golan Heights and West Bank (until then controlled by Jordan)—galvanized the young guerrilla movement. Fatah began staging frequent resistance attacks from Jordanian territory. One day in the spring of 1968 Fatah fighters, with the help of the Jordanian army, managed to repulse a raid by the Israeli army on a Fatah base in the town of Karameh; when news of the guerrilla victory spread, donations and volunteers poured in. Before long, Arafat and his comrades were able to take over a political structure created by the Arab League—the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

The challenge of leveraging armed resistance in a political strategy became quickly apparent, however. The unruly Palestinian fedayeen irked East Bank Jordanians and posed a threat to Hashemite rule; in 1970, King Hussein’s Bedouin army fought the brief but bloody “Black September” civil war and drove the Palestinian guerrilla fighters out of the kingdom. They regrouped in Lebanon, where they were able to use Palestinian refugee camps as the crucible for revolution and build coalitions with like-minded Arabs unhappy with the ruling regimes in the Arab world. The romantic Palestinian armed struggle coupled with an Arab cultural and intellectual blossoming helped consolidate a Palestinian national movement that would inspire Palestinians inside and outside the occupied territories for years to come. At least for a while, the movement helped restore Arab pride, and even kindled dreams of the Arab renaissance that had once spanned from Iraq to Andalusia.

Yet, while the armed struggle attracted Palestinian, Arab, and even international supporters, it did little to change the balance of forces with Israel, nor did it do much to improve the lives of the refugees. It did bring some hope to Palestinians, and it helped them demonstrate their national identity; in 1974, the Arab League recognized the PLO as the “sole legitimate representative” of the Palestinian people. Arafat had begun to use the armed struggle as a means to a political end. At the United Nations in the same year, the PLO chairman gave a speech from the podium, declaring to the world: “I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter’s gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.”

Neither the gun nor the olive branch proved decisive. Israel rejected any dealings or negotiations with the PLO; the armed struggle did little to change the equation. Indeed, the “purity” of the freedom fighter’s gun had become increasingly corrupted by the use of violence. Palestinian militants hijacked international airliners in episodes that often ended in fatalities; a group from Arafat’s own Fatah organization masterminded a seizure of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich that left eleven of the Israelis dead. The spectacular exploits, intended to draw attention to the legitimate Palestinian cause, instead boomeranged on the Palestinians. The violence enabled Israel to brand Palestinians as ruthless terrorists who have little regard for innocent civilians.

It would take an uprising by young people inside the occupied territories to palpably change the calculus of the struggle. The intifada erupted in Gaza in December 1987, and quickly spread to the West Bank. The images of unarmed teenagers throwing stones at Israeli military forces helped draw attention to the Palestinians as a people fighting for a legitimate cause; lethal Palestinian attacks, albeit in the face of an iron-fisted Israeli response to the intifada, eventually undermined the nonviolent picture. Nonetheless, the popular resistance led inexorably to new political opportunities; in 1993, the Israeli government and the PLO signed the Oslo agreements providing limited self-rule in the occupied territories, and a path to negotiating a final peace accord.

Sari Nusseibeh, a Palestinian professor at Birzeit University in the West Bank, once posed two options to his students: sharing the power, or sharing the land. He explained that sharing the land meant that Palestinians must come to terms with the existence of Israel in historic Palestine; in the two-state solution, Palestinians would have to accept a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Then Nusseibeh offered a provocation: he argued that if the old PLO slogan of a secular state was to be truly implemented, then young Palestinians should call for Israel’s annexation of the West Bank, join the Israeli army, and transform their fight into a civil rights struggle for equality. That shocked the students, and some of them actually attacked Nusseibeh after one of his classes in 1986.

In fact, nonviolent struggle was not new to Palestinians. In 1936, Palestinian Arabs went on a six-month general strike to protest the continued flow of illegal Jewish immigrants into Palestine under the British Mandate. Later, Mahatma Gandhi and the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. would provide tangible proof to the world that nonviolence produces political results. Mubarak Awad, a Palestinian activist who had become an American citizen, returned to Jerusalem in 1985 promoting nonviolence, and created the Palestinian Center for the Study of Nonviolence. His lectures and discussions influenced many Palestinians, including Faisal Husseini, a Fatah leader in Jerusalem and son of Abdel Qader Husseini, one of the most revered Palestinians heroes of the 1948 war, who died fighting in the defense of Jerusalem. Israel deported Awad in 1987.

But Palestinians were not totally convinced of the effectiveness of nonviolence with the Israelis occupiers. They argued that unlike the powers that Gandhi and King confronted in India and the United States, Palestinians faced a militarized settler regime that was neither willing to pull out their soldiers nor provide equal rights to all people under its authority. This realism effectively sidelined the demand for a unitary secular democratic state as outlined in the PLO Charter and by Arafat in his UN address. At the Palestinian National Council meeting in Algiers in November 1988, the PLO accepted an idea that had originated with intifada leaders under occupation to declare a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The slogan that Palestinians were against the occupation and not the State of Israel launched the process that would lead to the signing of the Oslo agreements at the White House—in which Israel recognized the PLO and the PLO recognized Israel.

The Oslo Accords fooled many into believing that resistance (whether violent or nonviolent) was a thing of the past. No one told this to the Islamic movement Hamas, which opposed the peace process. At critical times, such as when Israel was about to withdraw soldiers from certain areas as per the agreement, Hamas launched suicide bomb attacks, often against civilians. Nor was Israel totally on board with Oslo either. Settlement activities continued despite the famous handshake on the White House lawn between Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The assassination of Rabin by a radical Jewish militant in 1995 proved to be a critical setback to the peace process.

Israel’s ambivalence toward the Oslo agreements following Rabin’s death forced Palestinians to reconsider their strategy. President Bill Clinton, at Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s urging, held a summit at Camp David in 2000 in a last-ditch attempt to salvage the Oslo peace process before the end of his term of office. But Israel’s refusal to halt settlement construction and continuance to deny Palestinian rights in Jerusalem pushed Palestinian leaders to rethink their strategy further.

After the collapse of the Camp David summit, Ariel Sharon, the right-wing leader who aspired to become prime minister, made a provocative visit to the Haram Al-Sharif. Demonstrators hurled stones; Israeli security violently put down the unrest, killing dozens of Palestinians. News of the deaths in Jerusalem spread quickly throughout the occupied territories; another uprising, the Al-Aqsa Intifada, had begun. This time, Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel joined the protests; Israeli security forces killed thirteen Israeli Arabs in the disturbances. An orgy of violence continued for more than two years; suicide bombings struck deep into the heart of Israeli communities, resistance fighters launched guerrilla attacks on Israeli occupation forces, while Israeli troops eventually reoccupied most Palestinian cities and encircled Arafat’s headquarters in Ramallah.

The idea of violent resistance seemed to satisfy various and often competing groups of Palestinians. Left-wing Palestinian revolutionaries romanticized the return of Kalashnikovs and Che Guevara insignias, and resurrected slogans for a secular democratic state. PLO centrists from Arafat’s Fatah movement found themselves obliged to join the new resistance or risk losing their political stature. Militant Islamists fantasized the idea of martyrdom; they carried their attacks into the State of Israel to propagate their view that all of historic Palestine is an Islamic waqf (endowment) that should be liberated by force with the help of mujahideen fighters willing to die in the service of Islam. After Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2006, Hamas launched homemade rockets on Israel—violence that Israel used to justify the massive Operation Cast Lead incursion of Gaza in 2007.

This violence and refusal to recognize Israel’s existence played into the occupier’s hands. Israel constructed a huge separation wall, continued building settlements, and brutally crushed any form of Palestinian resistance, violent or otherwise. Israel became even more hawkish with the election of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the settler camp increased its influence within the Israeli Knesset. The Israeli peace camp was completely undermined, unable to defend its position in the face of citizens being killed.

The election of Mahmoud Abbas as the president of the Palestinian National Authority following the death of Yasser Arafat in 2004 put Palestinians more firmly on the road of moderation. Abbas represented a realistic platform that rejected what he called the “militarization of the intifada.” His platform was also consistent with the Oslo Accords which he had signed, supporting the two-state solution, coordinating security with Israel, and cooperating with the U.S., Europe, and moderate Arab countries.

However, Abbas’s rejection of violent resistance was not matched with genuine support for nonviolent resistance. Abbas spoke in favor of “popular resistance” and succeeded in getting the sixth Fatah general congress in 2009 to adopt a resolution in favor of “popular struggle.” Hamas leader Khaled Meshal also supported the idea.

In truth, this was little more than lip service. Palestinian leaders from Fatah, Hamas, and the PFLP failed to support the various movements and groups that sprung up to oppose Israel’s wall and other settlement activities through civil disobedience. Palestinian leaders preferred to complain that Oslo’s failure was proof that peaceful actions don’t work. They loved to repeat Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s injunction: “What was taken by force, can only be restored by force.” It was rarely noted that violent actions by Hamas and Fatah in the second intifada failed to get Israelis to change their position or to withdraw from the occupied territories.

The Way Forward
Disillusion with both major Palestinian groups (Fatah and Hamas), including over their failure to reconcile their factional differences, has led many Palestinians in the diaspora to search for ways to get involved in the liberation of their homeland by supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement.

These Palestinians, as well as many inside the occupied territories who support BDS, have not reached a consensus on the political goals of the movement. Some such as Ali Abunimah, author and editor of the Electronic Intifada online publication, argue that Palestinians should push for a single secular democratic state. Others are in favor of using the BDS campaign to pressure Israel into agreeing to a two-state solution that includes the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. Islamic militants inside and outside Palestine continue to believe in the armed jihad despite their lack of success with such an ideology. Hamas, however, appears to be curbing violent attacks at least for the time being, acting often to stop more radical groups from launching rockets from Gaza against Israel.

For now, we can say that the long Palestinian struggle has been reduced to two approaches: the talks on a two-state solution led by the Palestinian National Authority, and the civil resistance movement including BDS. These parties appear to be working separately, although generally with a similar goal. The failure of John Kerry’s intensive diplomatic efforts will certainly provide a wider opening for the still largely leaderless nonviolent movements inside and outside of Palestine.

The era of Arafat and Abbas may be nearing an end. If Abbas ultimately fails to deliver tangible change, Palestinians will undertake a serious re-evaluation of their political strategy. It is incumbent on Palestinians to develop a long-term and agreed-to strategy that can address Palestinian aspirations of both freedom from occupation and independence. Such a strategy will need to take into consideration the aspirations and needs of all Palestinians—not just those living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, 22 percent of mandatory Palestine. Palestinians including refugees living outside Palestine are a huge force that if properly deployed can be a major asset to any liberation strategy. Ultimately, Palestinians must launch a national process that unifies Palestinians and leverages the enormous energy and resources of more than eleven million Palestinians around the world.


Daoud Kuttab is a regular columnist for Al-Monitor and the Jordan Times. He is the director general of Community Media Network, an NGO supporting independent media across the Middle East and North Africa. He is the recipient of the Committee to Protect Journalists’ International Press Freedom Award (1996) and the International Press Institute’s World Press Freedom Hero Award (2000). He resides in Jerusalem and Amman. On Twitter: @daoudkuttab.

The Tunisian Experience

Democracy is a dream that can be fulfilled around the globe. Despite significant political regression throughout the Middle East in recent months, the dream can be realized in the Arab world, too. The Tunisian people have bravely defended their revolution and their democratic transition, standing against terrorists and those who plotted to bring about political chaos. Tunisians are enjoying freedom today.

The cost of encouraging coups and giving up on the Arab Spring is much greater than showing patience. Nations must find their own solutions to their internal crises and disputes, which are often caused by a lack of experience on the part of the political elite, and a need for more time to become accustomed to democratic practice after decades of despotism.

Moreover, the Tunisian experience has proved—to those doubting the intentions of Islamists—that Islam and democracy are compatible. The victims of decades of repression, marginalization, and exclusion are not carrying hatred or the desire for revenge in their hearts. Rather, they believe in an enlightened modernist civil project, as embodied in the new Tunisian constitution which achieved the widest possible consensus: on January 26, Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly adopted the constitution by a vote of 200 to 12, with four abstentions.

Despotic regimes deposed by revolution justified their repression of Islamists as a necessity in the war on obscurantists, for the protection of democracy in the face of theocracy, and of global security against terrorism and extremism. Such slogans were long used to justify violations of human rights, the killing of hundreds of people under torture, the imprisonment of tens of thousands, and the banning of all freedoms.

Tunisia has now demonstrated the false nature of those claims, and that the real dangers threatening democracy, security, and stability, are dictatorship, corruption, and the monopolization of power.

Today, Tunisia is saying to the world, to freedom-lovers everywhere, that there is no dichotomy between Islam and democracy, and that Islamists stand at the forefront of those defending the right to differences, cultural diversity, political pluralism, freedom of conscience, women’s rights, and all values establishing a free, just, prosperous society.

The success of the Tunisian experience did not come as a surprise to those observing the Tunisian process from its early moments and particularly the path our Ennahda Party had chosen before the October 2011 election and afterwards. Once Ennahda won that election and gained a majority in the assembly, it was the first to call for national unity, to avoid the monopolization of power, and for co-existence and cooperation between secularists and Islamists. The troika coalition that included Ennahda and two secular parties was clear proof of our conviction that Tunisia can only be governed through consensus, and that transitions cannot be managed by the logic of majority versus minority.

Reconciliation is in fact inherent in Ennahda’s vision since its foundation, as a movement that reconciles modernity with Islam, reconciles post-independence Tunisia with its identity and history, and reconciles Islam and democracy. Believing in the positive power of Islam as an inspiration for the values of freedom and justice, Ennahda aimed at liberating society from political despotism, economic exploitation, social injustice and cultural stagnation or dependence. Over four decades, this vision was faced with brutal repression from successive regimes.

Whether in government or in the assembly, Ennahda committed itself to the same consensual approach, putting the national interest above partisan interests, happily giving concessions in order to accelerate the writing of the constitution and protect social cohesion and national unity. Ultimately we made the greatest sacrifice: Ennahda withdrew from the government in order to end a political crisis. Following the assassination of assembly member Mohamed Brahmi, many opposition deputies withdrew from the assembly and demanded its dissolution. We believed that adopting the new constitution—in a consensual inclusive manner—would lead to a resolution of the crisis and the return of much-needed calm and stability. We had not lost a re-election bid; nor were we faced with a counterrevolution or a coup d’état. But we believed that the crisis threatened the revolution and the country as a whole.

Many had repeatedly insisted that Ennahda would never cede power, even if it were to lose the coming elections, and that democracy—for Islamists—only means reaching power, monopolizing it, and clinging to it. Such claims pained us, but at the same time encouraged us to prove to our partners, to our people, and to the world, that these were unfounded fears in Tunisia. Ennahda Party is a mature political party that is profoundly committed to democracy, which has learned from the errors of other governing parties, secularist and Islamist, around the world.

Protecting the Revolution
Tunisia’s new constitution is a source of immense pride for all Tunisians. It enshrines the demands of the revolution: freedom, dignity and justice. It clearly establishes equality between all citizens without any discrimination, guarantees political, social, economic and cultural rights, and promotes gender equality. It sets the foundation for a civil state, a balanced democratic political system, independent neutral state institutions and an independent judiciary.

Today, no one can doubt Ennahda’s democratic conviction, our political realism, or our civil commitments. No one can claim that Ennahda was forced out of power, or withdrew from government as a tactical maneuver.

First, our departure from government was part of a complete process in which we were committed to national consensus, both in governance and the writing of the new constitution. Ennahda’s vision was clear, namely that the aim of being in power in the second transitional phase was the adoption of the constitution and leading the country to the second elections, both of which required broad consensus and a climate of national unity. We rejected the notion that the Tunisian constitution be the constitution of a majority imposed on a minority. We appreciated the demands of the opposition that elections be held under an independent government.

We dealt with all political crises with the same logic. Following the assassination of the martyr Chokri Belaïd of the Democratic Patriots’ Movement in February 2013, we accepted the “neutralization” of key ministries; Ennahda conceded a number of other ministries to be taken over by technocrats. We insisted on preserving the constituent assembly in order for it to continue its work on the constitution, and we decided not to remain in power for the sake of power.

Second, we rejected ideological polarization and resorting to populist appeals to the street for resolving political differences—even though we believed that our street was bigger. We refused to divide Tunisians, and as leader of Ennahda, I was keen to open communication channels with opposition leaders and prevent a rupture. I signed the Quartet road map because we were fully aware that the logic of conflict and confrontation will not resolve problems. We understood that Ennahda, as the largest party in the country, is required to give the greater concessions to protect the revolution and the democratic transition process.

Third, Ennahda’s departure from the government followed the success of the national dialogue, and was not the result of pressure or failure to address the crisis. We agreed to implement the road map in the framework of concurrence of the three processes of the road map; that is, the resignation of Ali Laarayedh’s government following agreement on a new prime minister, the adoption of the constitution, and the election of members of the election commission. The day of the adoption of the constitution was a historic moment and cause for national celebration. Laarayedh’s resignation in January 2014 was a lesson in the peaceful alternation of power and confirmation of Islamist respect for democratic rules.

Tunisians went to the polls in October 2011 to elect a constituent assembly whose principal task was writing a new constitution, a historic task for which the people hold us accountable. They would hold us accountable for the completion of the constitution, as well as its content: was it a constitution setting the foundations for a modern democratic state that respects the identity of the Tunisian people, or a constitution imposing the majority’s vision on the minority?

To the political right of Ennahda, many pushed to make the constitution more conservative; and to the left of moderate secular forces, radical secularists pushed for a constitution that contradicts the Tunisian people’s identity. The result, however, was the victory of the middle, which we consider to be the fruit of an important, but difficult, co-existence between Islamists and secularists in power.

The victory of the middle path is what will make the constitution the link that unites all Tunisians and will protect our country from being pushed to the right or the left, which is what Tunisia needs over the coming decades.

Thus, the Tunisian constitution is based on a vision focused on Tunisia’s future, because we do not want a text that establishes monopolization and exclusion, and the culture of revenge and retribution by putting in place a political system tilted in favor of one side at the expense of another. Today’s victor is tomorrow’s loser, and such is the problem of short-sighted politics. We wanted a constitution for all Tunisians where their fundamental freedoms and rights are protected on the basis of equality and citizenship.

Our constitution represents the dream of the great reformers of the nineteenth century like Khaireddine Al-Tounsi, Muhammad Abduh and Abdelaziz El-Thaalibi, who tried to combine the values of Islam and the values of modernity, who believed that Islam and the universal values and Islam and democracy are compatible.

These are the characteristics of the Tunisian experience, which can be summarized in two words: national consensus. This phrase gave Tunisia the constitution of the revolution, took the country out of a stifling crisis, and is leading it, God willing, towards elections later this year. Consensus means that everyone is a winner; there are no losers.

We have achieved this national consensus with the help of four civil society organizations that presented an initiative for national dialogue when politicians failed to find agreement. During six long months of the political crisis, twenty-two different parties were involved in the national dialogue where everyone contributed ideas and made concessions to find a way out of the crisis. The businessmen’s association united with the labor union, in an unprecedented and unusual way, in order to lead the national consensus. And I met the president of the Nidaa Tounes party, Beji Caid Essebsi, despite the profound differences between our two parties; the Ennahda assembly bloc and other blocs overcame their differences which could have delayed completion of work on the constitution.

All this means that consensus is possible. It is the only solution for overcoming disputes and establishing a stable democracy that benefits from one of Tunisia’s most important characteristics: the neutrality of the military institution and its refusal to play any political role that contravenes its national duty.

Hope of the Arab Spring
Consensus has triumphed in Tunisia, and I believe that the political elite is committed, to a great extent, to supporting the transitional government of Mehdi Ben Jemaa, which enjoys the backing of the Tunisian people. However, the path ahead is still long, and forces wishing to undermine the revolution and the democratic transition in our country have not despaired of trying to derail the process.

Our country is united in the face of terrorism, and the political elite is conscious, to a great extent, that there is no justification for a return to the state of tension and confrontation. All sides are aware of the importance of contributing to support the atmosphere of cooperation and calm in order to facilitate holding elections in the best possible conditions.

Of course, the economic situation is very important for ensuring stability in the country, and we hope that the national consensus achieved in Tunisia will encourage Tunisia’s friends around the world to support the government economically and financially, and encourage international institutions and businesspeople to support our new democracy—perhaps, at the moment, the only bright flame of the Arab Spring.

Tunisia has turned a difficult page in its political history, praise be to God. It has been placed on the path of democracy, and has given the world the gift of the first constitution of the Arab Spring revolutions, marking the end of the era of “the Arab exception” in the field of democracy. Arabs and Muslims are able to build free democratic systems, practice peaceful alternation of power, and write constitutions that guarantee freedom of conscience and freedom of difference, women’s rights, the rights of minorities, protection of the environment, sustainable development, and justice.

We believe that this spirit of national consensus is still needed after the next elections. We believe that the main trends and parties in the country should contribute to the shaping of the Tunisia of tomorrow. Tunisia’s ship should set sail with all its people aboard.

We believe that Ennahda has a very good chance in the next elections. However, we also believe that the country cannot be ruled by one party or one trend only. During transitional periods, a 51 percent majority is not enough to have a stable government and a stable democracy. We believe that the country will need a coalition government that brings together the main parties in the country in order to achieve stability and strengthen democracy and its institutions.

That is the Tunisian model, a lesson from a country that is small in its geographic size, modest in its natural resources, but great in its people enamored with freedom, democracy, and peace.

This essay is adapted from an address delivered at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC, on February 26, 2014.

Rachid Ghannouchi
is co-founder and president of the Ennahda Movement in Tunisia. He founded Ennahda’s predecessor, the Islamic Tendency Movement, in 1981, and was imprisoned, from 1981 to 1984 and from 1987 to 1988, for his political activities. After spending more than two decades in exile in Europe, he returned to Tunisia in January 2011 to participate in the country’s democratic transition. He is the author of more than a dozen books on Islam and the principles of pluralism, freedom, modernity, and democratic governance. On Twitter: @R_Ghannouchi.

Perspectives on Western Sahara

Perspectives on Western Sahara: Myths, Nationalisms, and Geopolitics. Edited by Anouar Boukhars and Jacques Roussellier. Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Maryland, 2014. 354 pp.

The conflict in Western Sahara is largely unknown to the broad public. Not much is written on the subject in English and what little there is tends to be plagued by distortions, or even outright fabrication. Here is a case of international injustice, yet even in elite and intellectual circles, Western Sahara has long been abandoned to the margins of discussion. A considerable body of myths has been allowed to accumulate around the conflict, which may obscure the limited remaining avenues for anything like a just solution.

The facts are straightforward. Western Sahara is a former Spanish colony, a little larger in size than the United Kingdom. The United Nations failed to guide the territory through a successful transition to independence. It remained under colonial administration long after its neighbors, Morocco, Mauritania, and Algeria, gained independence, in 1956, 1960, and 1962 respectively. By the 1970s, Spain was finally coming to realize that its days of controlling a large slice of the Sahara were numbered. Faced with rising internal resistance and UN pressure, Spain announced in 1974 that it would bow to demands for self-determination in the territory by holding a referendum in which the Sahrawi would be free to choose independence.

Western Sahara’s northern neighbor, Morocco, had other ideas. The Moroccan monarchy sought to restore its own pre-colonial empire; it viewed Western Sahara as part of a Greater Morocco that stretched from Tangiers to Senegal, incorporating all of Mauritania, parts of western Algeria, and even as far as Gao and Timbuktu in northern Mali. The claims to the rest of Greater Morocco had by now been abandoned, but the Moroccan king, Hassan II, had no intention of allowing an independent Western Sahara—confidently predicted by all sides to be the most likely outcome of the referendum. Hassan organized first an invasion, and then an under-the-table deal with Spain and Mauritania (in contravention of the UN Charter) to take control of most of the territory. The United Nations has failed to do anything about it since, and Morocco has retained control of Western Sahara for the last thirty-eight years.

Despite these basic points having been repeatedly demonstrated by researchers, international human rights organizations, independent scholarship, and the official documentary record, the Moroccan government still claims that it has done nothing more than peacefully recover Moroccan land stolen by European empires. It denies the invasion, denies committing human rights abuses in the territory, and often brands the indigenous Sahrawi—who refuse to stay silent about the conflict—as Algerian-backed terrorists.

There are, surely, many myths about Western Sahara that should be addressed, and Perspectives on Western Sahara: Myths, Nationalisms, and Geopolitics, a collection of essays edited by Anouar Boukhars and Jacques Roussellier, occasionally does so. Morocco’s historical claim that Western Sahara had been consistently under Moroccan sovereignty until Spanish colonization in 1884, for instance, is comprehensively shown to be false in an essay titled “A History of the Conflict in Western Sahara” by Osama Abi-Mershed and Adam Farrar. The myth first purveyed by Hassan II (and still parroted by apologists for the Moroccan government) that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled in favor of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara in 1975 is likewise rightly dispatched. The ICJ opinion examining Morocco’s claims, as Abi-Mershed and Farrar point out, “unambiguously” ruled against Moroccan sovereignty.

Unfortunately, the most pervasive and destructive myths about the Western Sahara conflict are at best left unmentioned and are at worst repeated and embellished in this 354-page tome. It doesn’t help that some of the authors are paid lobbyists of the Moroccan government. The false claim that there was no Moroccan invasion of Western Sahara might seem like a reasonable starting point. The official Moroccan government line has it that, in 1975, a peaceful collection of 350,000 Moroccan civilians reclaimed Western Sahara on foot in an event promoted as the Green March, or Massirat Fath (Victory March). What really happened is rather less poetic. The Moroccan civilians were, in fact, accompanied by 20,000 soldiers, and only ventured around ten kilometers into the territory before turning back. Days before the Green March, Moroccan troops had already illegally entered the territory and taken key strategic positions, clashing with the Sahrawi.

This attack, which constitutes the “supreme international crime” of aggression, marked the beginning of a massive Moroccan military presence in the territory that remains today. The local population numbers just over 500,000, but the Moroccan armed forces maintain a force of between 100,000 and 140,000 soldiers, not to mention a 2,600-kilometer separation wall equipped with advanced surveillance technology. In Western Sahara, multiple independent civilian sources recounted their experiences of the invasion to me, which included reports of killings, captures, the slaughter of livestock, and the razing of villages—notably Guldon, Hausa, Mahedrega, Fehehrita, and Berenzeen. It is surprising to find the myth of a peaceful Green March still uncritically repeated, as it is in Perspectives at least half a dozen times.

In the arguments made by Morocco in defense of their continued presence in Western Sahara, not only is the invasion of the territory denied, but the refugees from the invasion are vilified. In the 1975 invasion, thousands of Sahrawi fled their homes for refugee camps in Tindouf, in the western Algerian desert. They remain there today, surviving as best they can in extreme conditions. In the chaos and war that followed, an armed resistance group known as the Polisario Front became the primary remaining organizational structure available to the Sahrawi, and it emerged as a de facto government. The Polisario was established in 1973 after the Spanish had crushed an earlier non-violent Sahrawi independence movement, Harakat Tahrir. They fought the Spanish, attempted to resist the Moroccan invasion, and waged a guerrilla war against the Moroccan occupation until 1991. There are many legitimate criticisms to be made of the Polisario (not least among these that they failed to successfully resist the invasion), but the extent of internal Sahrawi dissatisfaction with the Polisario is often exaggerated.

According to the majority of independent academics and researchers who have carried out fieldwork in the camps, most of the Sahrawi refugees still support the Polisario. Whatever one thinks of the group, it remains the main representative body of the Sahrawi. The Moroccan state and its supporters, however, claim that the Polisario has no popular legitimacy and even, in extreme cases, that it is imprisoning refugees. Perspectives does little to correct this misconception. In her essay, “The Algerian Foreign Policy on Western Sahara,” Laurence Aïda Ammour makes the bizarre claim that the Polisario today represents nothing more than an entirely discredited anachronism, and that the Tindouf refugee camps have deteriorated into little more than terrorist recruiting grounds. She also claims as a fact “that [Polisario] camps have become recruitment centers for Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA), and other criminal groups.” This is a claim also often made by paid lobbyists in Washington, yet no substantive conclusive evidence of this has been presented.

Another myth that goes unaddressed is that the conflict represents a dispute between two basically equal sides. The Moroccan state clearly enjoys advantages over the Sahrawi. Among them are its ties with foreign powers; with Spain, including at the time of the handover of Western Sahara to Morocco at the Madrid Conference in 1975; and with France and the United States, in strategic relationships that enable Morocco to maintain its occupation. Yet according to the myth, Sahrawi obstinacy as an obstacle to peace is given the same weight as the Moroccan rejection of the Sahrawi’s legal right to a referendum. The Polisario Front is described as the “Algerian-backed” Polisario in an attempt to reinforce the notion of equivalency. In “Western Sahara: A Conflict on the Fringes of New Regional Dynamics,” Khadija Mohsen-Finan reinforces the myth thusly: “Backed by Algeria in its fight for a territory it considered to be its own, the Polisario Front harnessed all the great myths of Third World resistance and insisted that the Sahara was still a territory under colonial yoke.”

Another myth is that Western Sahara is a “disputed” territory. Morocco and its supporters deny that Western Sahara is under occupation. But in “The Use and Development of Natural Resources in Non-Self-Governing Territories,” Glynn Torres-Spelliscy correctly notes that “Morocco is not the de jure administrator of Western Sahara.” Furthermore, he says, “Under international legal principles, a state in de facto control of a territory has three possible legal classifications: sovereign, administrator, or occupier.” As we have seen, Morocco is not the legal administrator of Western Sahara and therefore a fortiori can’t legally be sovereign either (in any case no state in the world recognizes Moroccan sovereignty). The third option remains: occupier. It would be difficult to imagine a state of affairs that more resembles a military occupation. The UN came to the same conclusion in General Assembly Resolution 34/37 in November 1979. Debate on this question should no longer be necessary.

The perpetuation of myths raises serious questions about the prospects for a settlement of the Western Sahara conflict, which continues to be framed by many as an ideological impasse trapped in “the complexity of identity.” Within this narrative, the Sahrawi hold that they are an independent people who had an independent (albeit occupied by colonizers) land that was taken from them by the Moroccan monarchy. Morocco conceives of the territory as a portion of its pre-colonial nation that was cruelly dismembered by the European powers and must now be safely reattached. The truth of the matter is seen as unimportant; instead, a “realist” settlement should be sought.

Each side presents a proposal that is reasonable on its face. The Sahrawi accept being subjected to a referendum for their own land; Morocco is willing to extend autonomy to its “Southern Provinces.” In theory, and with more hard-nosed, realistic analysis, the two perspectives will be reconciled enough to bring them both to the table, and in view of Morocco having the support of the great powers and having created facts on the ground for almost forty years, it is seen as more practical to negotiate an end to the conflict with a settlement based on the 2007 Moroccan autonomy plan.

This is fantasy. First, it misunderstands the commitment of the Sahrawi to their right to a free referendum, and the commitment of Morocco not to acknowledge any such thing. These positions have become in effect sacred values and no  amount of diplomacy will see the parties compromise on them. A failure to recognize  this helps no one. Second, the argument relies on the belief that there is a Moroccan autonomy proposal to begin with. Of course, there is a Moroccan autonomy proposal in the most technical sense: some documentation exists and rhetorical flourishes about its “seriousness” abound in Rabat, Brussels, and Washington. But closer analysis of what’s called the Moroccan autonomy proposal reveals that it, in fact, amounts to little more than diplomatic sleight of hand.

To see this, one has only to look back to 1997—ten years before the current “autonomy proposal” emerged—and read reports of discussions in high-level Moroccan policy circles of what was referred to as “decentralization” or “regionalization.” For reasons independent of Western Sahara, the Moroccan palace has long been considering restructuring elements of the Moroccan state by devolving some small matters to local government councils—the governors of which would of course all be directly appointed by, and answerable to, Rabat. Tentative planning of this local government restructure has been quietly pursued for almost twenty years, but in the mid-2000s the notion of including Western Sahara into the plans began to emerge. By March 2011 advanced decentralization featured as a central theme of a speech King Mohammed VI gave in response to widespread street demonstrations organized by the February 20 protest movement.

As Middle East scholar Marina Ottaway has noted, Morocco transformed its 2007 proposal for Western Sahara into a “one-size-fits-all” system in which all Moroccan regions would enjoy more self-rule. In other words, the autonomy plan has become advanced decentralization, nothing more. The problem is worse than that. Inside the framework of the decentralization plan Western Sahara is addressed, namely by dividing it into multiple regions that are then combined with other parts of mainland Morocco. The territory as it exists today would not even be one of the decentralized regions on its own. In reality, the autonomy plan is a serious and credible threat by the palace to fully complete the annexation of Western Sahara.

There are alternatives. The parties have fundamental and irreconcilable commitments—the Sahrawi to their legal rights, and the Moroccan state to its imagined ones. Given this, the conflict must no longer be treated as a local matter and instead be recognized for what it has always been: an international responsibility. This is an approach that happens to also be more realistic than the “realist” proposals for “negotiated settlement achieved over time” because of the nature of the parties’ intransigence. Despite Samuel J. Spector’s claims in “Self-Determination for Western Sahara: The Evolution of a Concept,” a free referendum is only “unworkable or unattractive” for Morocco. The UN long since established the right of the indigenous people of Western Sahara to decide what happens to their land: integration with Morocco, special autonomous status under Morocco, or independence. International law could be enforced.

One might very well contend that this would require a fundamental change in the policies of the nations holding veto power in the UN Security Council. But such a change is by no means impossible. It has been done before—something similar was achieved in the case of U.S. policy towards East Timor—and could be done again. Were the convenient myths about the conflict discarded rather than perpetuated, real popular pressure could be brought to bear on the governments of the powerful states to ensure that a free referendum is held. The values of the UN Charter call on us to dispense with the notion that there was no invasion, that there is no occupation, that the Sahrawi are merely terrorists, and that the Moroccans are offering viable autonomy.

Tom Stevenson is an independent journalist based in Cairo. He has contributed to This is Africaand International Business Times. In 2013, he reported from Western Sahara for Al Jazeera English. On Twitter: @TomStevenson.

Tunisia’s Political Transition

Editor’s Note: In Tunisia, where the Arab Spring uprisings began in 2010, the National Constituent Assembly voted 200 to 12 with four abstentions on January 26, 2014, to approve a new constitution. President Moncef Marzouki signed it into law the next day.

2014 Constitution of the Republic of Tunisia
Source: Tunisia Live (unofficial English translation)

In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate

We, the representatives of the Tunisian people, members of the National Constituent Assembly,

Taking pride in the struggle of our people to gain independence and to build the state, to eliminate autocracy and achieve its free will, in response to the objectives of the revolution of December 17, 2010 to January 14, 2011, of freedom and dignity, and out of loyalty to the blood of our blessed martyrs and the sacrifices of Tunisian men and women over generations, and to break with oppression, injustice and corruption;

Expressing our people’s commitment to the principles of Islam and its open and moderate objectives, on sublime human values and the principles of universal human rights, inspired by our civilizational heritage accumulated over successive epochs of our history, and from our enlightened reformist movements that are based on the foundations of our Islamic-Arab identity and to the acquisitions of human civilization, and adhering to the national gains achieved by our people;

With a view to building a participatory, democratic, republican regime, where the state is civil; where sovereignty is granted to the people through peaceful rotation of power through free elections, and on the principle of the separation of powers and balance between them; guaranteeing the right to association based on pluralism, neutrality of administration and good governance representing the basis of political competition; and where the state guarantees the supremacy of the law, respect of freedoms, human rights, independence of the judiciary, equality of rights and duties between all male and female citizens, and fairness between all regions;

Based on the dignified status of humankind; enhancing our cultural and civilizational affiliation to the Arab-Islamic nation, on the basis of national unity that is based on citizenship, brotherhood, solidarity, and social justice; with a view to supporting Maghreb unity as a step towards achieving Arab unity, integrating with the Muslim and African nations, and cooperating with the peoples of the world; supporting the oppressed everywhere, and the people’s right to self-determination, and supporting just liberation movements at the forefront of which is the Palestinian liberation movement; and standing against all forms of occupation and racism;

Being aware of the necessity of contributing to the safety of the environment and the protection of the environment to ensure the sustainability of our natural resources and the sustainability of a safe life for coming generations; and achieving the will of the people to be the makers of their own history, believers in knowledge, work, and creativity as sublime human values, seeking to become pioneers, and aspiring to contribute to civilization, on the basis of the independence of national decision-making, world peace, and human solidarity;

We, in the name of the people, draft this constitution with God’s blessings.


Chapter 1: General Principles
Article 1: Tunisia is a free, independent, sovereign state; its religion is Islam, its language Arabic, and its system the Republic. This article cannot be amended.

Article 2: Tunisia is a civil state based on citizenship, the will of the people, and the supremacy of law. This article cannot be amended.

Article 3: Sovereignty belongs to the people, who are the source of powers, and shall be exercised through their freely-elected representatives and by referendum.

Article 4: The flag of the Tunisian Republic is red and bears in its midst a white circle in which is inscribed a five-pointed star surrounded by a red crescent, as provided for by law.

The national anthem of the Tunisian Republic is “Defenders of the Homeland,” in accordance with the provisions defined by law.

The motto of the Tunisian Republic is: freedom, dignity, justice, and order.

Article 5: The Republic of Tunisia is a part of the Arab Maghreb and works towards achieving its unity and takes all measures to ensure its realization.

Article 6: The state protects religion, guarantees freedom of belief and conscience and religious practices, protects sanctities, and ensures the neutrality of mosques and places of worship away from partisan instrumentalization.

The state is committed to spreading the values of moderation and tolerance, and to protect the sacred and prevent it from being attacked, and is also committed to prohibit charges of apostasy (takfir) and incitement to hatred and violence, and to combat them.

Article 7: The family is the basic structure of society and the state shall protect it.

Article 8: Youth are an active force in building the homeland. The state seeks to provide the necessary conditions for developing the capacities of youth and realizing their potential, and strives to give them responsibility and expand their contribution to social, economic, cultural, and political development.

Article 9: Protecting the unity of the homeland and defending its sanctity is a sacred duty for all citizens. National service is a duty according to regulations and conditions established by the law.

Article 10: Paying taxes and bearing responsibility for public expenditure are an obligation in accordance with a fair and equitable system. The state shall put in place the necessary mechanisms for the collection of taxes, preventing corruption, and combating tax evasion and fraud. The state shall ensure the proper use of public funds and take the necessary measures to spend it according to the priorities of the national economy. It works to prevent bribery or anything that undermines national sovereignty.

Article 11: Those who become in charge of the presidency, the head of government or membership of the cabinet, or membership of the National Assembly, or membership of any of the independent constitutional bodies, or any senior public positions, must declare their assets according to the regulations of law.

Article 12: The state shall seek to achieve social justice, sustainable development and balance between regions, in reference to development indicators, based on the principle of positive discrimination, and to ensure proper utilization of national resources.

Article 13: The state commits to support decentralization and apply it throughout the country within the framework of unity of the state.

Article 14: Public administration is at the service of citizens and the public interest, and is organized and operates in accordance with the principles of impartiality, equality and the continuity of public services, and the rules of transparency, integrity, efficiency, and accountability.

Article 15: The state guarantees the impartiality of educational institutions away from partisan instrumentalization.

Article 16: Only the state may establish armed forces and national security forces, as per the law and in service of the public interest.

Article 17: The national army is a republican army and is an armed military force based on discipline that is composed and structurally organized in accordance with the law. The army’s duty is to defend the nation, its independence, and the unity of its territory. It must remain completely impartial. The national army supports the civil authorities in accordance with the provisions set out by law.

Article 18: The national security forces are republican forces assigned the duty of maintaining security and public order, ensuring the protection of individuals, institutions, and property, and law enforcement, while ensuring that freedoms are respected and within the frame of total impartiality.

Article 19: International agreements approved and ratified by the Chamber of Deputies shall be superior to laws and inferior to the constitution.

Chapter 2: Rights and Liberties
Article 20: All citizens, male and female alike, have equal rights and duties, and are equal before the law without any discrimination. The state guarantees to citizens, male and female, individual and collective rights, and provides them with conditions for a dignified life.

Article 21: The right to life is sacred and shall not be prejudiced except in exceptional cases regulated by law.

Article 22: The state protects human dignity and physical integrity, and prohibits all types of moral and physical torture. Crimes of torture must not be subject to statute of limitations.

Article 23: The state protects the right to privacy and the sanctity of domiciles, and the confidentiality of correspondence and communications, and personal information. Every citizen has the right to choose a place of residence and to free movement within the country and the right to leave the country.

Article 24: No citizen shall be stripped of his/her nationality, exiled, extradited, or prevented from returning to his/her country.

Article 25: The right to political asylum shall be guaranteed as prescribed by law. Surrendering political refugees shall be prohibited.

Article 26: A defendant shall be presumed innocent until proven guilty in a free trial where he/she is granted all guarantees of the right of defense throughout all phases of prosecution and trial.

Article 27: Punishments are individual and are not to be imposed unless by virtue of a legal provision issued prior to the occurrence of the punishable act, except in the case of issuance of a more favorable provision for the defendant.

Article 28: No person may be arrested or detained unless in flagrante delicto or by virtue of a judicial order. The person placed under arrest must be immediately informed of his/her rights and the relevant charges. The person may request the services of a lawyer. The period of arrest and detention are to be defined by law.

Article 29: Every prisoner shall have the right to humane treatment that preserves his/her dignity.

In executing a freedom-depriving punishment, the state shall take into account the interests of the family and shall guarantee the rehabilitation and reintegration of the prisoner into society.

Article 30: Freedom of opinion, thought, expression, media, and publication shall be guaranteed.

These freedoms shall not be subject to prior censorship.

Article 31: The state guarantees the right to information and the right to access information. The state works to guarantee access to communications networks.

Article 32: Academic freedoms and freedom of scientific research shall be guaranteed.

The state shall seek to provide the necessary resources to develop scientific and technological research.

Article 33: The rights to election, voting, and candidacy are guaranteed, in accordance with the law. The state seeks to guarantee women’s representation in elected councils.

Article 34: The freedom to establish political parties, unions, and associations is guaranteed. Parties, unions and associations must abide, in their internal charters and activities, by the constitution, the law, financial transparency and the rejection of violence.

Article 35: The right to join and form syndicates is guaranteed including the right to strike. This does not apply to the national army.

Article 36: The right to peaceful assembly and demonstration shall be guaranteed.

Article 37: Health is a right for every person. The state shall guarantee preventative health care and treatment for every citizen and provide the means necessary to ensure the safety and good quality of health services.

The state shall ensure free health care for those without support and those with limited income. It shall guarantee the right to social assistance as specified by law.

Article 38: Education shall be mandatory until at least the age of sixteen. The state shall guarantee the right to free public education at all stages and shall seek to provide the necessary means to achieve a high quality of education and training, as it shall work to embed youth in the Arab-Islamic identity and strengthen and promote the Arabic language and expand its usage, and openness to foreign languages and cultures, and dissemination of the culture of human rights.

Article 39: Work is a right for every citizen, male and female alike. The state shall take the necessary measures to ensure the availability of work on the basis of competence and fairness. All citizens, male and female alike, shall have the right to adequate working conditions and to a fair wage.

Article 40: The right to property shall be guaranteed, and it shall not be interfered with except in accordance with the cases and conditions stipulated by law. Intellectual property rights are guaranteed.

Article 41: The right to culture shall be guaranteed. The right to creativity shall be guaranteed. The state shall encourage cultural creativity and support national culture in its authenticity, diversity, and renewal, insofar as it promotes the values of tolerance, rejection of violence and an openness to different cultures and a dialogue between civilizations. The state shall protect cultural heritage and guarantee the right of future generations to it.

Article 42: The state shall promote sports and shall seek to provide all the facilities necessary for the exercise of physical and leisure activities.

Article 43: The right to water shall be guaranteed. Conservation and the rational use of water shall be a duty of the state and society.

Article 44: Contribution to a sound climate and the right to a sound and balanced environment shall be guaranteed. The state shall provide the necessary means to eliminate environmental pollution.

Article 45: The state commits to protecting women’s achieved rights and seeks to support and develop them. The state guarantees equal opportunities between men and women in the bearing of all the various responsibilities in all fields. The state seeks to achieve equal representation for women and men in elected councils (parity). The state takes the necessary measures to eliminate violence against women.

Article 46: Children are entitled to dignity, health, moral upbringing, and education from their parents and the state. The state must provide all forms of protection to all children with no discrimination, according to the best interest of the child.

Article 47: The state shall protect persons with disabilities against all discrimination. All citizens with disabilities shall benefit, according to the nature of their disability, from all measures that guarantee their full integration into society. The state shall take all necessary measures to realize this right.

Article 48: The law shall specify the restrictions related to the rights and freedoms guaranteed in this constitution and their enjoyment on the condition that such restrictions shall not compromise the essence of these rights and freedoms. Such restrictions shall only be imposed where necessary in a civil, democratic society and with the purpose of protecting the rights of others or where required by public order, national defense, public health or public morals, while ensuring any restrictions are proportionate to the intended objective. Judicial authorities shall ensure that rights and freedoms are protected from all violations. No amendment may undermine the human rights and freedoms guaranteed within this constitution.

Chapter 3: Legislative Powers
Article 49: The people exercise legislative power through their representatives in the People’s Chamber or through referenda.

Article 50: The headquarters of the Chamber of Deputies shall be located in the capital, Tunis. In the event of exceptional circumstances, the chamber may hold its sessions in any other place in the republic.

Article 51: The Chamber of Deputies of the people shall enjoy financial and administrative independence within the framework of the state budget.

The Chamber of Deputies shall set its rules of procedure and ratify them by an absolute majority of the members of the chamber.

The state shall provide to the chamber sufficient human and material resources to allow representatives to fulfill their obligations.

Article 52: Candidacy of the Chamber of Deputies shall be a right to every voter who has acquired Tunisian nationality at least ten years prior and is no younger than twenty-three years of age on the day of candidacy, provided that they are not subject to any form of deprivation specified by the law.

Article 53: Every Tunisian citizen aged over eighteen years shall be entitled to vote in accordance with the conditions set by the election law.

Article 54: Members of the Chamber of Deputies shall be elected in secret, direct, free, transparent, fair, and general elections in accordance with the electoral law. The electoral law must guarantee the right to voting and representation in the chamber for Tunisians of the diaspora.

Article 55: The Chamber of Deputies shall be elected for five years, within the last sixty days of the term of their mandate.

In the event of failure to hold the elections as a result of imminent danger, the mandate of the Chamber shall be extended by law.

Article 56: The Chamber of Deputies shall hold an ordinary session starting in October of every year and ending in July, provided that the first session of the mandate of the Chamber of Deputies shall begin during the fifteen-day period following the announcement of the final results of the elections, by invitation from the speaker of the preceding chamber.

In the event that the beginning of the first session of the mandate of the Chamber of Deputies coincides with the recess thereof, an extraordinary session shall be held until the granting of a vote of confidence to the government.

The Chamber of Deputies shall, during its recess, convene an extraordinary session upon the request of the president of the republic, the prime minister, or one-third of the members in order to look into a specified agenda.

Article 57: Every member in the Chamber of Deputies shall, upon assuming his or her functions, swear the following oath: “I do solemnly swear to God that I will work to serve the nation with sincerity, that I will abide by the provisions of the constitution and total loyalty to Tunisia.”

Article 58: The Chamber of Deputies shall elect a speaker from amongst its members in its first session.

The Chamber of Deputies shall form standing and special committees. Their responsibilities shall be established and distributed on the basis of proportional representation.

The Chamber of Deputies may form investigation committees. All authorities shall assist such committees in undertaking their missions.

Article 59: The opposition shall be an integral element of the chamber of deputies and shall enjoy the rights that enable it to undertake its tasks in parliamentary work. The opposition is granted an appropriate and effective representation in the Chamber’s committees and internal and external activities. The opposition is assigned the presidency of the finance committee, rapporteur of external relations committee, and has the right to establish and head an investigation committee annually. The opposition’s duties include active and constructive contribution in parliamentary work.

Article 60: The process of voting in the Chamber of Deputies shall be done in person and may not be delegated.

Article 61: Legislative initiative shall be exercised through proposals for laws by no less than ten deputies, or through draft laws by the president of the republic, or by the prime minister.

The head of the government is exclusively competent to present draft laws relating to the ratification of treaties and the draft budget law.

Draft laws shall be given priority.

Article 62: Proposed laws or amendments presented by deputies shall not be admitted if their ratification would cause prejudice to the state’s financial balance as determined by the budget law.

Article 63: The Chamber of Deputies shall, by an absolute majority of its members, ratify draft organic laws, and shall, by a majority of the members present, ratify normal draft laws, provided that such a majority is no less than one-third of the members of the chamber.

No draft organic law shall be presented to the Chamber of Deputies for deliberation unless a fifteen-day period has passed since the date of referral of such law to the competent committee.

Article 64: Laws relating to the following areas are deemed ordinary laws:

—Classification of public institutions and facilities and the provisions regulating sales thereof.


—Civil and commercial obligations.

—Procedures taken before various types of courts.

—Specifying felonies and misdemeanors and the punishments applicable thereto, in addition to violations resulting in a penalty involving deprivation of freedom.

—General pardon.

—Regulation of taxation rules, percentages and procedures for collection thereof.

—Regulations of currency issuance.

—Loans and financial obligations of the state.

—Regulation of senior public officials.

—Declaration of earnings.

—Basic guarantees given to civil and military employees.

—Organization of the ratification of treaties.

—Laws of finance and balancing of the state budget, and the ratification of development plans.

—The fundamental principles of property laws, rights in rem, education, scientific research, culture, public health, the environment, land and urban planning, energy, the labor law, and social security.

Laws relating to the following areas are deemed organic laws:

—Ratification of treaties.

—Organization of justice and the judiciary.

—Organization of the media, press, and publication.

—Organization and funding of parties, trade unions, associations, and professional organizations and bodies.

—Organization of the national army.

—Organization of the internal security forces and customs.

—Election law.

—Extension of term of the parliament according to Article 55.

—Extension of presidential term according to Article 74.

—Freedoms and human rights.

—Personal status laws.

—Fundamental duties of citizenship.

—Local authorities.

—Organization of constitutional commissions.

—The organic budget law.

All matters which do not form part of the domain of laws shall be part of general regulatory powers.

Article 65: The law determines the state’s resources and its expenses in conformity with the provisions set out in the organic budget law.

The Chamber of Deputies shall ratify the draft finance laws and the balancing of the budget in accordance with the terms stipulated under the organic budget law.

The draft finance law shall be presented to the Chamber no later than October 15 and shall be ratified no later than December 10.

The president of the republic may return the draft finance law to the Chamber for a second reading within two days following ratification by the chamber. In this case, the chamber meets to deliberate a second time within three days to exercise their right of response.

The parties listed in the first section of Article 117, during the three days following the ratification of the draft finance law by the chamber when they deliberate a second time after the draft finance law is returned to them, or after the expiration of the term to exercise the right of response without its exercise, in such a case such parties can contest the unconstitutionality of the provisions of the draft finance law before the constitutional court, which shall issue its decision no later than five days of such contestation being lodged.

If the court rules that the provisions are unconstitutional, it shall communicate its decision to the president of the republic, who in turn communicates it to the president of the Chamber of Deputies, all of which shall be completed within two days of the date of the court’s decision. The Chamber shall ratify the draft finance law within the three days following its being informed of the decision of the constitutional court.

If the court rules that the provisions are constitutional or in case of ratification a second time after its return to the Chamber or upon the expiration of the term for response and contestation without either of these occurring, the president of the republic shall ratify the draft finance law within two days. In all cases, the law shall be ratified no later than December 31.

If the draft finance law is not ratified by December 31, the law can be implemented where it relates to expenditures, in installments of three months, subject to renewal by a presidential order, and revenues shall continue to be collected in accordance with the laws in force.

Article 66: Commercial treaties and treaties related to international regulations, to borders of the state, to financial obligation of the state, to the status of individuals, or to provisions of a legislative nature shall be submitted to the Chamber of Deputies for ratification.

Treaties shall not be deemed enforceable unless upon their ratification.

Article 67: No member of the Chamber of Deputies may be prosecuted for a civil or criminal matter, arrested, or tried for expressing opinions or proposals or undertaking acts that are related to the performance of their parliamentary functions.

Article 68: If the member maintains criminal immunity in writing, he/she may not be prosecuted or arrested during his/her term of office for a criminal charge unless immunity is lifted. In the event of in flagrante delicto, the member may be arrested and the Chamber of Deputies shall immediately be notified on the provision that the member be released as soon as the bureau of the chamber so requests.

Article 69: In the event of the Chamber’s dissolution or during its recess, the president of the republic may issue decrees with the approval of the prime minister to be submitted for ratification to the Chamber during its subsequent ordinary session. The Chamber of Deputies may with three-fifths of its members delegate authority for a limited period and for a certain purpose to the prime minister, for a maximum duration of three months, to issue decree-laws to be submitted for ratification to the Chamber upon the end of the period mentioned. The electoral law is excluded from this process.

Chapter 4: Executive Authority
Article 70: Executive authority is exercised by the president of the republic and a government which is presided by the prime minister.

Article 71: The president of the republic shall be the head of state, shall represent its unity and guarantee its independence and continuity, and shall respect the constitution.

Article 72: The official seat of the presidency of the republic shall be the capital Tunis. In the event of exceptional circumstances, the headquarters may be transferred to any other location in the republic.

Article 73: Running for the position of president of the republic shall be a right entitled to every male and female voter who holds Tunisian nationality since birth, whose religion is Islam.

The day of filing the application, the candidate must be a minimum of thirty-five years old. If the candidate has a nationality other than the Tunisian nationality, he or she must submit an application committing to abandon the other nationality if elected president.

The candidate must have the support of a number of members of the Chamber of Deputies or heads of elected local municipal group councils or voters designated in accordance with the terms specified by the election law.

Article 74: The president of the republic shall be elected for a five-year period during the last sixty-day period of the presidential term by means of general, free, fair, transparent, direct, and secret elections, by an absolute majority of valid votes.

In the event of failure of any candidate to achieve an absolute majority in the first round, a second round shall be organized during the two weeks following the announcement of the final results of the first round. The two candidates having won the highest number of votes during the first round shall run in the second round.

In the event of the death of one of the candidates during the first round, or being prevented from continuing by force majeure, nominations shall be re-opened and new dates for elections shall be set. In the event of the withdrawal, death, or prevention by force majeure of any of the candidates in the runoff, he/she is replaced by the candidate with the next highest number of votes in the first round.

In the event of failure to hold the elections on the set dates as a result of imminent danger, the term of presidency shall, by virtue of a law, be extended.

No one can occupy the post of presidency for more than two terms, whether consecutive or otherwise. In the case of resignation, the term counts as a full term. The number of presidential terms may not be amended or increased.

Article 75: The elected president of the republic shall, before the Chamber of Deputies, swear the following oath: “I do solemnly swear by God Almighty to maintain the independence of Tunisia and the safety of its territories, to respect its constitution and legislation, to safeguard its interests, and to remain loyal to it.”

The president of the republic may not hold a party political post while president.

Article 76: The president of the republic is responsible for representing the state. He is responsible for determining the general state policies in the domains of defense, foreign relations, and national security related to protecting the state and national territory from internal and external threats, after consulting the prime minister.

He is also responsible for:

—Dissolving the Chamber of Deputies in accordance with the constitution’s provisions, provided it is not within the first six months following the Chamber’s vote of confidence on the government following parliamentary elections, and that it is not in the last six months of the presidential or Chamber’s terms.

—Presiding the national security council, to which the prime minister and president of the Chamber of Deputies are invited.

—Being the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

—Declaring war and establishing peace, upon the approval by a majority of the Chamber of Deputies by three-fifths of its members, as well as sending troops abroad with the approval of the president of the Chamber of Deputies and of the prime minister provided that the Chamber shall convene with a view to deciding on the matter within a period of no more than sixty days from the date of the decision to send troops.

—Taking measures that are required by a state of emergency, and to declare such measures in accordance with Article 79.

—Ratifying treaties and authorizing their publication.

Article 77: The president of the republic undertakes the following appointments through presidential orders:

—Appointing and dismissing the general mufti of the Tunisian republic.

—Appointing and dismissing individuals with respect to senior positions in the presidency of the republic and affiliated institutions. These senior positions are determined by law.

—Appointing and dismissing individuals with respect to senior military and diplomatic positions and positions related to national security, after consulting the prime minister. These senior positions are regulated by law.

—Appointing the governor of the central bank upon a proposal from the prime minister. The parliament must approve the appointment by absolute majority of members. The governor shall be dismissed in the same manner or upon the request of a third of members of the Chamber of Deputies and by approval of the absolute majority of the members.

Article 78: The president of the republic may address the Chamber of Deputies.

Article 79: In the event of imminent danger threatening the nation’s institutions or the security or independence of the country in such a manner preventing the normal operation of the entities of the state, the president of the republic may undertake any measures necessitated by the circumstances, after consultation with the prime minister and the president of the Chamber of Deputies and informing the head of the constitutional court. The president shall announce the measures in an address to the nation.

The measures shall aim to secure the normal reoperation of the public authorities as soon as possible. The Chamber of Deputies shall be deemed in a state of continuous session throughout such period. In such event, the president of the republic cannot dissolve the Chamber of Deputies and cannot bring a motion of censure against the government.

After the elapse of a thirty-day period as of the implementation of the measures, and at any time after such, the president of the Chamber of Deputies or thirty of the members thereof shall be entitled to resort to the constitutional court with a view to verifying whether the circumstances specified in Paragraph 1 of the present article still exist. The court shall issue the decision thereof publicly within a period no later than fifteen days.

The measures cease to bear effect upon the termination of the reasons causing the existence thereof. The president of the republic shall, to that effect, address the nation.

Article 80: The president of the republic shall seal and approve the publication of laws in the official gazette of the Tunisian republic within a period of no more than fifteen days as of receipt thereof from the constitutional court if there is no contestation before the constitutional court. Except for draft constitutional laws, the president of the republic is entitled, during a period of ten days as from the receipt of a draft law from the president of the Chamber of Deputies, to return the draft law to the Chamber for a second reading. In the case of ordinary laws, the draft law must be ratified by an absolute majority of the members of the Chamber, and in the case of organic laws, by a majority of three-fifths of its members. On ratification by the Chamber, the president of the republic shall seal and approve its publication within a period of no more than fifteen days as of receipt thereof from the constitutional court.

Article 81: The president of the republic may, in exceptional circumstances, submit for a referendum, the draft laws related to ratification of treaties, or to rights, freedoms, or personal status, which were ratified by the Chamber of Deputies that are not in contradiction with the constitution based on the ruling of the constitutional court. The submission for referendum shall be deemed a waiver of the right to return the draft law. If the result of the referendum is the ratification of the draft law, the president of the republic shall seal and publish the draft law within a period exceeding no more than fifteen days as of the date of announcement of the results of the referendum.

The electoral law shall regulate the means of conducting the referendum and announcing its results.

Article 82: The president of the republic may, in the event of a temporary inability to perform his tasks, temporarily delegate his powers to the prime minister for a maximum period of thirty days, renewable once. The president of the republic shall inform the president of the Chamber of Deputies of the temporary delegation of powers.

Article 83: In the event of the position of president of the republic becoming temporarily vacant for reasons that prevent the president of the republic from delegating his powers, the constitutional court shall promptly meet and acknowledge the temporary vacancy of the office, and the prime minister shall undertake the tasks of the president of the republic. The period of temporary vacancy may not exceed sixty days.

Should the temporary vacancy exceed the sixty-day period, or if the president of the republic submits a written resignation to the president of the constitutional court, or in the event of death or absolute incapacity, or for any other reason that causes a permanent vacancy, the constitutional court shall promptly meet and acknowledge the permanent vacancy and notify the president of the Chamber of Deputies who shall, on a temporary basis, immediately undertake the tasks of the president of the republic for a duration of no less than forty-five days and no more than ninety days.

Article 84: In the event of permanent vacancy, the interim president of the republic shall take the oath set out in the constitution before the Chamber of Deputies, and in case it is necessary before the Chamber’s bureau or before the constitutional court in case the Chamber is dissolved.

Article 85: The person undertaking the tasks of the president of the republic, during the temporary or permanent vacancy of the office, shall exercise presidential tasks. He shall not be entitled to propose amending the constitution, resort to a referendum, dissolve the Chamber of Deputies. During the interim presidential period, a new president for the republic shall be elected for a full presidential term. No motion of censure against the government may be presented.

Article 86: The president of the republic enjoys judicial immunity throughout his/her mandate. All statutes of limitations and other deadlines are suspended, and judicial procedures can be recommenced after the end of his/her term.

The president of the republic cannot be prosecuted for acts that were carried out in the context of performing his/her functions.

Article 87: A majority of the members of the Chamber of Deputies may initiate a request to bring an end to the president of the republic’s mandate for the deliberate violation of the constitution, detailing their arguments, and it must be approved by two-thirds of members. In such event, the matter is referred to the constitutional court for determination. In the event of condemnation, the constitutional court must render an order of removal of the president of the republic from office. This shall not mean immunity from criminal prosecution when necessary. Where the president has been removed from office under these circumstances, he is not entitled to run in any other elections.

Chapter 5: The Government
Article 88: The government shall be composed of a prime minister, ministers, and under-secretaries of state selected by the prime minister. The ministers of foreign affairs and defense shall be selected by the prime minister, and in the case of the ministers of foreign affairs and defense, in consultation with the president of the republic.

Within one week of the date on which the final election results are declared, the president of the republic shall assign the candidate of the party or the election coalition having won the largest number of seats in the Chamber of Deputies to form the government within a one-month period extendable only once. If two or more parties or coalitions have the same number of seats, then the nomination should be made based on the numbers of votes that were cast in the election.

If the specified period of time elapses without the formation of the government or in the event of failure to receive the vote of confidence of the Chamber of Deputies, the president of the republic shall, within ten days, consult with the parties, coalitions, and parliamentary blocs to entrust the person most capable of constituting a government within a period of no more than one month.

If a four-month period elapses from the date of appointing the first candidate and the members of the Chamber of Deputies fail to grant confidence to the government, the president of the republic is entitled to dissolve the Chamber of Deputies and to call for new legislative elections to be held within at least forty-five days and not more than eighty days.

The government shall present a summary of its program to the Chamber of Deputies to gain confidence by an absolute majority of its members. When the government gains the confidence of the Chamber, the president of the republic shall immediately appoint the prime minister and members of the government.

The prime minister and the members of government shall be sworn in before the president of the republic in accordance with the following oath: “I swear by Almighty God to work for the benefit of Tunisia, to respect the country’s constitution and its legislation, to defend its interests and remain loyal to it.”

Article 89: Membership of the government and of the Chamber of Deputies may not be combined. The elections law shall regulate the process of filling vacancies.

The prime minister and the members of the government may not be employed in any other profession.

Article 90: The prime minister sets the state’s general policy and shall ensure its execution.

Article 91: The prime minister is responsible for the following:

—Creating, amending and dissolving ministries and bureaus of state, as well as determining their mandates and powers after discussion with the Council of Ministers.

—Removing one or more members of the government or receiving the resignation of one or more members of the government, after consultation with the president of the republic if the minister of defense or foreign relations is concerned.

—Creating, amending or dissolving public institutions, public entities and administrative departments as well as regulating their mandates and powers after discussion with the Council of Ministers, except for those under the authority of the president of the republic, which shall be created, amended or dissolved by way of a proposal by the president of the republic.

—Appointing and dismissing individuals from senior civil positions. These positions are determined by law.

The prime minister shall inform the president of the republic of the decisions taken within the powers mentioned above.

The prime minister governs the administration and concludes international agreements of a technical nature. The government ensures the implementation of laws. The prime minister may delegate some of his powers to ministers. If the prime minister is temporarily unable to carry out his tasks, he shall delegate his powers to one of the ministers.

Article 92: The prime minister is the head of the Council of Ministers. The Council of Ministers meets by convocation by the prime minister, who sets its agenda.

The president of the republic heads the Council of Ministers in the domains of defense, foreign relations, and national security relating to the defense of the state and national territory from internal and external threats, and he may also attend other meetings of the Council of Ministers. When he attends meetings of the Council of Ministers, he shall preside over them. All draft laws shall be discussed in the Council of Ministers.

Article 93: The prime minister shall exercise general regulatory powers and shall issue individual decrees that shall be signed after discussion with the Council of Ministers. Decrees issued by the prime minister are referred to as governmental decrees. Regulatory decrees shall be signed by the competent minister. The prime minister shall sign the regulatory orders issued by ministers.

Article 94: The government shall be held accountable before the Chamber of Deputies.

Article 95: Each member of the Chamber of Deputies has the right to submit written or oral questions to the government in accordance with the Chamber’s internal rules of procedure.

Article 96: Votes may be taken on a motion of censure brought against the government, after at least one-third of the members of the Chamber of Deputies make a justified request to the president of the Chamber of Deputies. The voting process shall not take place except after the lapse of a fifteen-day period as from the date that the request was presented to the president of the Chamber.

Withdrawal of confidence in the government shall be conditional upon the approval of an absolute majority of the members of the Chamber of Deputies and upon the presentation of an alternative candidate for the position of prime minister whose candidacy shall be ratified in the same voting process. The president of the republic shall entrust the candidate with the task of forming a government, in accordance with the provisions of Article 88. In the event of failure to attain the specified majority, a motion of censure may only be reintroduced against the government after the lapse of a six-month period. The Chamber of Deputies may withdraw confidence in a member of the government after a justified request is submitted to the president of the Chamber by no less than a third of the members. Withdrawal of confidence shall be by an absolute majority of votes.

Article 97: If the prime minister resigns, the entire government is considered to have resigned. The resignation shall be submitted in writing to the president of the republic who notifies the president of the Chamber of Deputies.

The prime minister may propose to the Chamber of Deputies to give a vote of confidence to the government to continue its work. The vote shall be by an absolute majority of the members of the Chamber of Deputies. Should the Chamber not renew confidence in the government, it shall be deemed to have resigned. In either case, the president of the republic shall assign the person who is most capable to form a government in accordance with the provisions of Article 88.

New Article After 97: The president of the republic may request the Chamber of Deputies to vote on a vote of confidence for the government to continue its tasks, a maximum of two times in a presidential term. Such a vote would be by absolute majority of the members of the Chamber. If the Chamber does not give a vote of confidence to the government in such an event, it would be considered to have resigned and the president of the republic shall task the most capable person with forming a government within thirty days in accordance with paragraphs (1), (5), and (6) of Article 88.

If the set period expires without the formation of a government, or if it does not gain a vote of confidence from the Chamber of Deputies, the president of the republic may dissolve the Chamber and call early legislative elections in a period not before forty-five days and no later than ninety days. If the Chamber of Deputies grants the government a vote of confidence on two occasions when requested by the president of the republic, the latter shall be deemed to have resigned.

Article 98: If, for any reason other than resignation or withdrawal of confidence, the post of prime minister is permanently vacant, the president of the republic shall task the candidate nominated by the ruling political party or coalition to form a government within one month. If this period lapses without a government having been formed, or it fails to receive a vote of confidence, the president shall task the most capable person with forming a government, which shall be put to a vote of confidence by the Chamber in accordance with the provisions stipulated in Article 88.

The outgoing government shall continue its activities under the supervision of one of its members, to be selected by the Council of Ministers and appointed by the president of the republic, until the new government takes over.

Article 99: Any disputes arising with respect to the powers of the president of the republic and of the prime minister shall be referred to the constitutional court. The court shall rule on the dispute within one week based on a request presented by the most concerned of the parties.

Article 100: The judiciary is an independent authority that ensures the prevalence of justice, the supremacy of the constitution, the sovereignty of law, and the protection of rights and freedoms.

Judges are independent. No power shall be exercised over their rulings other than the power of the law.

Article 101: A condition of being a judge is the possession of competence. He must abide by impartiality and integrity. He shall be held accountable for any shortcomings in the performance of his duties.

Article 102: Judges shall enjoy immunity against criminal prosecution and may not be prosecuted or arrested unless their immunity is lifted. In the event of in flagrante delicto, a judge may be arrested and the judicial council shall be notified with a view to decide on the request to lift the immunity.

New Article After 102: The legal profession is a free independent profession that contributes to the establishment of justice and the defense of rights and liberties. Lawyers enjoy the legal guarantees that protect them and enable them to fulfill their functions.

Article 103: Judges shall be nominated by virtue of an order made by the president of the republic with the assent of the Supreme Judicial Council. Senior judges shall be nominated by virtue of a presidential order after consultation with the prime minister, based on the sole opinion of the Supreme Judicial Council. Senior judicial posts shall be determined by law.

Article 104: No judge may be transferred without his/her consent or dismissed, and no judge may be suspended, expelled, or subjected to disciplinary punishment except in such cases and in accordance with the guarantees provided for by law and by virtue of a justified decision issued by the Supreme Judicial Council.

Article 105: Every individual shall be entitled to a fair trial within a reasonable period. Litigants shall be equal before the judiciary. The right to litigation and the right to defense shall be guaranteed. The law shall facilitate access to justice and those without financial means shall be granted financial legal assistance. The law shall guarantee litigation on two levels. Court sessions shall be public unless the law decides otherwise and the sentence shall only be announced in a public session.

Article 106: Any interference with the judicial process is prohibited.

Article 107: Classifications of courts shall be established by virtue of law. No exceptional courts or exceptional procedures that may prejudice the principles of fair trial may be established or adopted.

Military courts are specialized courts dealing with military crimes and with crimes committed by members of the military. The law shall regulate the structure, organization, procedures, and internal regulations of the military courts, their applicable procedures and the internal regulations of military judges.

Article 108: Judgments shall be issued in the name of the people. Failing to execute or impeding the execution of a sentence without legal grounds is prohibited.

Article 109: The Supreme Judicial Council is composed of four bodies, which are the Judiciary Council, the Administrative Judicial Council, the Financial Judicial Council, and the Judicial Councils Organization. Two-thirds of each of these entities are composed of judges, the majority of whom are elected, as well as judges appointed by capacity, while the remaining third shall be composed of specialized independent individuals. The majority of the composition of these bodies shall be elected. Elected members shall undertake their functions for a single six-year term. The Supreme Judicial Council shall elect its president from amongst its most senior judges.

A law shall regulate the mandate, structure, and organization of each of the four entities as well as the procedures applicable to each.

Article 110: The Supreme Judicial Council shall enjoy administrative and financial independence and shall manage itself, and shall prepare its draft budget and discuss it before the competent committee of the Chamber of Deputies.

Article 111: The Supreme Judicial Council shall ensure the judiciary’s sound performance and respect for its independence. The conference of the three judicial councils shall propose reforms and express opinions with respect to proposals and draft laws related to the judiciary that are presented to it. Each of the three councils shall decide on the professional conduct of judges and on disciplinary measures.

The Supreme Judicial Council shall submit an annual report to the speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, the president of the republic, and the prime minister, by the month of July. The report shall be published. The Chamber of Deputies shall discuss the annual report in a plenary session of dialogue with the Supreme Judicial Council.

Article 112: The judiciary is composed of the Court of Cassation, appellate courts, and courts of first instance. The public prosecution is part of the judicial justice system, covered by the guarantees provided to the judicial justice system in the constitution. Judges in the public prosecution system shall practice their tasks within the framework of the penal policy of the state according to the procedure set out by the law.

The Court of Cassation shall prepare an annual report and submit it to the president of the republic, the president of the Chamber of Deputies, the prime minister and the head of the Supreme Judicial Council. The report shall be published. A law shall regulate the judicial system, its mandate, its procedures, as well as the statute of the judges.

Article 113: The administrative judiciary is composed of the Supreme Administrative Court, administrative courts of first instance, and administrative courts of appeal. The administrative judiciary has jurisdiction over any abuse of power by the administration as well as administrative disputes. The administrative judiciary shall, in accordance with the law, exercise consultative functions.

The Supreme Administrative Court shall prepare a general annual report to be submitted to the president of the republic, the president of the Chamber of Deputies, the prime minister, and the president of the Supreme Judicial Council. A law shall regulate the organization of the administrative judiciary, its mandate, its procedures, as well as the statute of its judges.

Article 114: The financial judiciary is composed of the Court of Audit with its different bodies.

The Court of Audit shall have jurisdiction to supervise the sound spending of public funds in accordance with the principles of legality, efficiency, and transparency. The financial judiciary shall decide on the accounts of public auditors. The financial judiciary evaluates the expenditure of public funds and punishes any mismanagement in that regard. The financial judiciary shall assist the legislature and the executive in supervising the enforcement and sealing of financial laws.

The Court of Audit shall prepare a general annual report to be submitted to the president of the republic, the president of the Chamber of Deputies, the prime minister, and the president of the Supreme Judicial Council. The report shall be published. The Court of Audit shall, when necessary, prepare special reports that may be published. A law shall regulate the organization, mandate, and procedures of the Court of Audit as well as the statute of its judges.

Article 115: The constitutional court is an independent judicial body that is composed of twelve competent members, three-quarters of whom are legal experts having no less than twenty years experience.

The president of the republic, the Chamber of Deputies, and the Supreme Judicial Council shall each appoint four members, three-quarters of whom must be legal experts. The nomination is for a single nine-year term. One-third of the members of the constitutional court shall be renewed every three years. Any vacancies in the court shall be filled by the same means adopted during appointment, taking into account the nominating party and the specialization. The members of the court shall elect a president and a vice president of the court from among its members who are legal experts.

Article 116: It shall be prohibited to combine membership of the constitutional court with undertaking any other employment or post.

Article 117: The constitutional court is the sole body competent to oversee the constitutionality of the following:

—Draft laws, upon the request of the president of the republic, the prime minister, or thirty members of the Chamber of Deputies.

—Constitutional draft laws submitted to it by the president of the Chamber of Deputies as specified in Article 142 or to determine whether the procedures of amending the constitution have been respected.

—Treaties presented to it by the president of the republic before they are ratified by law.

—Laws referred to it by courts as a result of a request filed by a litigator, in accordance with the procedures provided for by law, to claim the unconstitutionality thereof.

—The Chamber of Deputies’ rules of procedure presented to it by the president of the Chamber.

The constitutional court is also responsible for the other tasks that are granted to it by the constitution.

Article 118: Decisions in the constitutional court shall be taken by a majority and the president of the court shall, in the event of a split vote, cast the deciding vote. Decisions issued by the constitutional court shall explain their reasoning, shall be binding upon all authorities, and shall be published in the official gazette of the Tunisian republic.

Article 119: Any draft law that is in violation of the constitution shall be referred to the president of the republic and from the president to the Chamber of Deputies to be reconsidered and amended in accordance with the decision issued by the constitutional court. The president of the republic shall, prior to the law’s ratification, return the law to the constitutional court to consider its constitutionality within a one-month period.

Article 120: In the event the constitutional court takes up a claim of unconstitutionality, the court shall be limited to examining the issues that have been put before it. It shall render its decision within three months, which can be renewed only once and by virtue of a decision setting out its reasoning. If the constitutional court determines that the law is unconstitutional, the law shall, within the limits specified by the court, no longer be applied.

Article 121: A law shall govern the organization of the constitutional court and the procedures it should follow as well as the guarantees enjoyed by its members.

Chapter 6: Independent Constitutional Bodies
Article 122: The independent constitutional commissions shall seek to support democracy. All institutions of the state must facilitate their work. These commissions shall enjoy legal personality as well as financial and administrative independence. These commissions shall be elected by the Chamber of Deputies by qualified majority, and shall submit an annual report to it, with the report of each commission being discussed in a special plenary of the Chamber. The composition of these commissions as well as representation within them and the method of their election, their regulations, and ways of holding them accountable shall be governed by law.

Article 123: The Electoral Commission shall be entrusted with the management and organization of elections and referenda, and overseeing all their phases. The commission shall ensure the soundness, integrity, and transparency of the election process, and announce the results.

The commission has regulatory power in the areas that are related to its mandate.

The commission shall be composed of nine independent, impartial members possessing competence, who undertake their work for one six-year term. One-third of its members shall be replaced every two years.

Article 124: The Audio-Visual Communication Commission shall oversee the growth and development of the audio-visual communication sector and seek to guarantee freedoms of expression and of the media and the existence of pluralistic and fair media. The commission shall have regulatory power in matters related to its mandate and must be duly consulted on relevant draft laws.

The commission shall be composed of nine independent, impartial members possessing competence and integrity who undertake their work for one six-year term. One third of its members shall be replaced every two years.

Article 125: The Human Rights Commission shall oversee the extent to which human rights and freedoms are respected, and promote human rights and freedoms. The commission shall propose reforms to develop the human rights framework and must be consulted on draft laws that are related to its mandate. The commission shall conduct investigations into violations of human rights with a view to settlement or referral to the competent authorities. The commission shall be composed of independent and impartial members who possess competence and integrity. They undertake their functions for one six-year term.

Article 126: The Commission for Sustainable Development and the Rights of Future Generations shall be consulted on draft laws related to economic, social, and environmental issues and on development plans. The commission shall have the right to give its opinion on issues related to its mandate. The commission shall be composed of members possessing competence and integrity. They undertake their functions for one six-year term.

Article 127: The Commission for Good Governance and Anti-Corruption contributes to policies of good governance, preventing and fighting corruption and monitoring their implementation and dissemination of their culture, and strengthen the principles of transparency, integrity, and accountability. The commission shall be in charge of monitoring cases of corruption within the public and private sectors, investigating and confirming them, and submitting them to the competent authorities. The commission must be consulted on draft laws related to its specialization and can give its opinion on general regulatory texts related to its mandate. The commission is composed of independent impartial members possessing competence and integrity, who undertake their missions for one six-year term. One-third of the members must be renewed every two years.

Chapter 7: Local Government
Article 128: Local government shall be based on decentralization. Decentralization shall be embodied in local authorities composed of municipalities, districts, and regions covering the entire territory of the republic in accordance with a distribution set by law. Special categories of local authorities may be established by law.

Article 129: Local authorities shall enjoy legal personality as well as financial and administrative independence. They shall manage local interests in accordance with the principle of free administration.

Article 130: Local authorities shall be managed by elected councils. Municipal and regional councils shall be elected by virtue of general, free, secret, fair, transparent, and direct elections.

District councils shall be elected by the members of the local and regional councils. The electoral law shall guarantee the representation of youth in local authority councils.

Article 131: Local authorities shall enjoy autonomous powers, powers shared with the central authority, and powers delegated to them from the central government. The joint and delegated powers shall be distributed in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity. Local authorities shall enjoy regulatory power in exercising their mandates. Regulatory decisions of the local authorities shall be published in the official gazettes of local authorities.

Article 132: Local authorities shall have self-generated resources and resources that are provided to them by the central government. These resources shall be appropriate for the powers that are assigned to them by law. All powers that are created or transferred by the central government to the local authorities shall be coupled with the corresponding resources required. The financial system of localauthorities shall be governed by law.

Article 133: The central government shall guarantee the provision of additional resources to local authorities in order to consolidate the principle of solidarity, and to adopt the mechanism of coordination and balance. The central government shall seek equivalence between local resources with local burdens.

Article 134: Local authorities shall have the freedom to dispose of their resources within the framework of the approved budget in accordance with rules of good governance and under the financial judiciary’s supervision.

Article 135: Local authorities shall, with respect to the legality of their work, be subject to a posteriori oversight.

Article 136: Local authorities shall adopt the mechanisms of participatory democracy and the principles of open governance to ensure broader participation by citizens and civil society in development programs and land management and the monitoring of their implementation, in accordance with the law.

Article 137: Local authorities may cooperate and enter into partnerships with each other in order to implement programs or undertake activities of common interest. Local authorities may also build foreign relations for partnership and decentralized cooperation. Rules for cooperation and partnership between authorities shall be regulated by law.

Article 138: The Supreme Council of Local Authorities shall be a representative structure for all local authorities’ councils, and its headquarters shall be outside the capital. The Supreme Council of Local Authorities shall examine matters related to development and balance between regions and shall render an opinion with respect to draft laws related to local planning, budget, and financial issues. The head of the Supreme Council of Local Authorities may be invited to attend discussions of the Chamber of Deputies. The composition and tasks of the Supreme Council of Local Authorities shall be regulated by law.

Article 139: The administrative judiciary shall decide on disputes related to the jurisdiction arising among local authorities and between the central government and local authorities.

Chapter 8: Amendment of the Constitution
Article 140: The president of the republic, or one-third of the members of the Chamber of Deputies, shall have the right to propose an amendment to the constitution. A proposal initiated by the president of the republic shall have priority.

Article 141: Removed

[Editor’s note: Article 141 was removed from the final version of the constitution after a compromise was reached between Ennahda and opposition parties. Debates about the article had raised concerns that statutes pertaining to Islamic law would diminish the authority of civil law in the country.]

Article 142: Each proposal to amend the constitution shall be submitted by the president of the Chamber of Deputies to the constitutional court to ensure that such proposition is not related to an article to which the constitution has banned any amendment. The Chamber of Deputies shall study the proposed amendment with the approval of the absolute majority of the members required for any amendment.

With the exception of the terms set out in Article 141, the constitution shall be amended upon the approval of two-thirds of the members of the Chamber of Deputies. The president has the right to submit the amendment to a referendum and it shall be approved in this case by attaining an absolute majority.

Article 143: This constitution’s preamble is deemed an integral part of the constitution.

Article 144: The constitution’s provisions shall be interpreted as a harmonious whole.

Article 145: After approving the complete constitution according to Article 3 of the constitutional law No. 6 of the year 2011 dated December 16, 2011, related to the temporary organization of public authorities, the National Constituent Assembly shall convene an extraordinary general session where the constitution shall be ratified by the president of the republic, the president of the National Constituent Assembly, and the prime minister. The president of the National Constituent Assembly shall give permission to publish the constitution in a special issue of the official gazette of the Tunisian republic, and the constitution comes into effect upon its publication. The president of the National Constituent Assembly shall announce the date of publication in advance.

Chapter 9: Transitional Provisions
Article 146: Provisions of Articles 5, 6, 8, 15, and 16 of the provisional organization of public authorities continue to be applied until the election of the Chamber of the People’s Deputies.

Provisions of Article 4 of the Provisional Organization of Public Authorities continue to be applied until the election of the Chamber of Deputies. However, once the constitution enters into effect, no proposed law presented by deputies can be accepted unless it relates to the electoral process, the transitional justice system, or the bodies that emerge out of the laws ratified by the National Constituent Assembly.

Provisions of Articles 7, 9 to 14, and 26 of the Provisional Organization of Public Authorities continue to be applied until the election of the president of the republic in accordance with Article 73 and subsequent articles of the constitution.

Provisions of Articles 17 to 20 of the Provisional Organization of Public Authorities continue to be applied until the first government receives a vote of confidence from the Chamber of Deputies.

The National Constituent Assembly continues to exercise its legislative, oversight, and electoral prerogatives approved in the constituent law on the Provisional Organization of Public Authorities or in current laws until the election of the Chamber of Deputies.

The following provisions come into effect in the following manner:

—Chapter three which is related to legislative power, except articles 52, 53, 54, and the second part of chapter four which relates to the government: these shall come into effect on the day of announcing the final results of the first legislative elections.

—Section one of chapter four which relates to the president except articles 73 and 74: Shall come into effect on the day of announcing the final results of the first direct presidential elections. Articles 73 and 74 do not come into effect unless in the case of the president of the republic who is elected through direct elections.

—Section two of chapter five which relates to judicial, administrative, and financial justice, except Articles 105 to 108, come into effect upon the completion of the formation of the Supreme Judicial Council.

—Provisions of section two of chapter five relating to the constitutional court, except Article 115, come into effect upon the completion of appointment of members of the first composition of the constitutional court.

—Provisions of chapter six relations to the constitutional bodies come into effect after the election of the People’s Deputies.

—Provisions of chapter seven which relates to local authority come into effect when the laws it cites go into effect.

Presidential and legislative elections shall be held in the period starting from four months after the establishment of the High Independent Electoral Commission and no later than the end of 2014. Nomination for the first direct presidential elections is made by a number of National Constituent Assembly members according to the number set for members of the Chamber of Deputies or a number of registered voters, either to be set by the electoral law.

Within a period no longer than six months after the date of legislative elections, the Supreme Judicial Council must be established, and the constitutional court shall be created within one year of those elections. In the case of partial renewal of members of the constitutional court, the Audio-Visual Communications Commission, and the Good Governance and Anti-Corruption Commission is done by drawing lots between the first members of the board, with the exception of the board’s president.

Within three months following the ratification of the constitution, the National Constituent Assembly shall create a temporary committee specifically for verifying the constitutionality of draft laws, to be composed of:

—The first president of the Court of Appeal, as president.

—The first president of the Administrative Court, as member.

—The first president of the Accounts Department, as member.

—Three members within a legal specialization, to be appointed by the speaker of the National Constituent Assembly, the president of the republic, and the prime minister, respectively.

No other court is entitled to oversee the constitutionality of laws. The temporary committee’s functions expire with the creation of the constitutional court. The temporary commission overseeing judicial justice continues its functions until the complete formation of the Supreme Judicial Council. The Independent Commission for Audio-Visual Communication [HAICA] continues its functions until the election of the Audio-Visual Communications Commission.

The state commits to implementing the transitional justice system in all its domains within the time framework set by related legislation, and in this regard, no claim of retroactivity of laws or the existence of a previous pardon or the binding force of double jeopardy or statute of limitations or punishment, may be admitted.

New Article: The Military Court continues to exercise the powers granted to it by the current laws until the latter are amended in accordance with the provisions of Article 107.

And God is the grantor of success.

Syrian Civil War

March 6, 2011: In the southern town of Daraa, police arrest some fifteen young boys for spray-painting buildings with the slogan, “The people want the downfall of the regime.”

March 15, 2011: On Day of Rage, small protests against the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad (1965-) take place in Damascus and Aleppo.

March 18, 2011: Anti-regime demonstrations take place in Damascus, Homs, Baniyas, and Daraa; security forces shoot and kill six protesters in Daraa.

March 23, 2011: Security forces kill dozens of protesters in Daraa in attempt to end growing uprising.

March 24, 2011: Al-Assad advisor Butheina Shaaban announces measures and reforms including government salary increases, licensing of new political parties, and studying a possible end to emergency law.

March 29, 2011: Large pro-regime demonstrations are held in Damascus and elsewhere in Syria.

March 30, 2011: Bashar Al-Assad addresses parliament in first speech since start of protests; blames foreign conspirators and satellite channels for unrest; promises reforms and dismisses government of Prime Minister Mohammed Al-Otari (1944-); Adel Safar (1953-), former agriculture minister, is later appointed to form a new cabinet.

April 6, 2011: Bashar Al-Assad announces the granting of Syrian citizenship to tens of thousands of Kurds.

April 12, 2011: Security forces with tanks and heavy weapons begin mobilizing in Syrian cities to quell spreading unrest.

April 16, 2011: In a televised address, Bashar Al-Assad announces the repeal of emergency law and the granting of permission to hold demonstrations under certain conditions.

April 22, 2011: Bloody Friday protests leave more than 120 people dead in Daraa, Damascus and elsewhere in Syria; President Barack Obama and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issue statements condemning the regime’s crackdown on demonstrators.

April 29, 2011: Syrian refugees begin crossing border into Turkey; first of twenty-one Syrian refugee camps is established in the country; President Obama issues U.S. Executive Order 13572 blocking property of three Syrian officials because of human rights abuses, including Maher Al-Assad (1968-), the Syrian president’s younger brother, who is commander of the Republican Guard and the army Fourth Armored Division.

May 9, 2011: European Union imposes arms embargo on Syrian regime and freezes assets of and applies travel ban on senior regime officials.

May 18, 2011: U.S. Executive Order 13573 blocks U.S. property owned by Bashar Al-Assad and six other senior Syrian officials.

June 3, 2011: Security forces reportedly kill thirty-four protesters in Hama during the largest anti-regime demonstration since the unrest began.

June 6, 2011: Syrian government reports that more than 120 soldiers were killed by “armed gangs” in Jisr Al-Shughour; some Western media reports suggest that residents took up arms to repel assault by regime security forces.

June 14, 2011: Arab League condemns regime crackdown on protesters; Secretary-General Amr Moussa says Arab states are “worried, angry and actively monitoring” the crisis.

June 17, 2011: Syrian conflict spreads to Lebanon with the outbreak of clashes in Tripoli between Lebanese supporters and opponents of the Syrian regime.

July 8, 2011: Tens of thousands of Syrians, many carrying roses and olive branches, stage a demonstration in Hama.

July 10, 2011: Syrian government holds a two-day national dialogue; opposition factions boycott the meeting.

July 11, 2011: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says that Bashar Al-Assad has “lost legitimacy” and that “we have absolutely nothing invested in him remaining in power.”

July 29, 2011: Defectors from the Syrian army announce the formation of the Free Syrian Army, led by former Colonel Riad Al-Asaad (1961-).

July 31, 2011: Security forces reportedly kill more than 100 protesters in Hama.

August 3, 2011: UN Security Council issues a statement condemning “the widespread violations of human rights and the use of force against civilians by the Syrian authorities.”

August 8, 2011: Saudi Arabian King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud condemns Bashar Al-Assad’s “killing machine”; Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain recall their ambassadors from Syria.

August 17, 2011: U.S. Executive Order 13582 bans Syrian oil imports and new U.S. investments in Syria, and blocks Syrian government property in the United States.

August 18, 2011: Leaders of the United States, France, Germany and Britain issue coordinated statements calling on Bashar Al-Assad to resign.

August 23, 2011: Syrian factions inside and outside of Syria form the Syrian National Council to oppose the Al-Assad regime.

September 2, 2011: European Union bans imports of Syrian oil.

September 21, 2011: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan says that his government has cut off contacts with Syria.

September 27, 2011: Security forces and military defectors engage in heavy fighting in the city of Rastan.

October 4, 2011: Russia and China veto draft UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution that would condemn “grave and systematic” human rights violations in Syria.

October 14, 2011: UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay warns that the Syrian crisis “is already showing worrying signs of descending into an armed struggle.”

October 29, 2011: Security forces shell Homs after clashes between Al-Assad loyalists and military defectors in the city.

November 2, 2011: Arab League announces that the Syrian government has accepted an Arab League proposal to immediately halt violence, free prisoners and open dialogue with the opposition.

November 12, 2011: Arab League votes to suspend Syria from membership and impose political and economic sanctions until the Al-Assad regime adheres to Arab League peace plan.

November 27, 2011: Arab League votes sanctions on Syria, terminating transactions with the Syrian Central Bank, imposing a travel ban on Syrian officials, suspending commercial flights between Syria and Arab countries, and freezing assets related to the Al-Assad regime.

December 7, 2011: Bashar Al-Assad tells ABC News: “I did my best to protect the people, so I cannot feel guilty.”

December 12, 2011: UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay says more than 5,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict.

December 19, 2011: Syria signs new Arab League agreement requiring the regime to withdraw security forces and heavy weapons from civilian areas, commence talks with the opposition, and allow human rights workers and journalists into the country.

December 19-20, 2011: Security forces reportedly kill nearly 200 people including army defectors in a massacre in Idlib province.

December 23, 2011: Two suicide bombings kill at least forty people outside the State Security Directorate and another security building in Damascus.

December 26, 2011: Arab League representatives arrive in Syria to monitor Al-Assad regime’s compliance with Arab League agreement.

December 28, 2011: Syrian regime announces release of more than 750 prisoners detained during protests.

December 30, 2011: Large anti-regime protests take place across the country.

January 6, 2012: General Mustafa Ahmad Al-Sheikh becomes highest-ranking military officer to defect and join the Free Syrian Army.

January 22, 2012: Arab League calls on Bashar Al-Assad to hand over power to his top deputy, and for the formation of a national unity government and new Syrian elections.

January 23, 2012: Formation of Al-Nusra Front (Jabhat Al-Nusra), a Syrian affiliate of Al-Qaeda, is announced.

January 28, 2012: Arab League suspends monitoring mission, citing escalating violence.

February 4, 2012: Russia and China veto draft UN Security Council resolution supporting Arab League call for Bashar Al-Assad to resign and demanding all parties cease violence and reprisals; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticizes the veto as a “travesty” and calls for “friends of democratic Syria” to unite against Al-Assad.

February 6, 2012: United States closes its embassy in Damascus.

February 10, 2012: Car bombings kill twenty-eight people outside the Military Intelligence Directorate and a police compound in Aleppo.

February 12, 2012: Arab League approves a resolution opening communication channels with the Syrian opposition and calling on the UN Security Council to send a peacekeeping mission to Syria; Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri issues a videotaped message calling on militants throughout the region to participate in the overthrow of the Al-Assad regime.

February 16, 2012: UN General Assembly votes 137-12 with seventeen abstentions to condemn the Syrian regime’s “widespread and systematic” human rights violations and demand Bashar Al-Assad’s resignation.

February 23, 2012: Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is appointed Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the Arab League on the Syrian crisis.

February 24, 2012: Friends of Syria conference in Tunis demands that Bashar Al-Assad cease the use of violence and allow humanitarian aid into the country, and calls on the UN to send a peacekeeping mission to Syria.

February 26, 2012: In a national referendum Syrian voters approve a new constitution that establishes a multi-party system; opposition leaders call the vote a sham.

March 8, 2012: Deputy Petroleum and Mineral Resources Minister Abdo Hussameldin announces his defection from the Al-Assad regime and urges colleagues to abandon “sinking ship.”

March 15, 2012: Nationwide protests by regime opponents and supporters mark the first anniversary of the Syrian uprising; Gulf Cooperation Council announces that its six member states—Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait—will close their embassies in Damascus.

March 21, 2012: UN Security Council backs six-point Annan peace plan, which calls on the Syrian government to partake in an inclusive political transition process; cease violence and withdraw security forces; allow access for humanitarian assistance; release prisoners who have been arbitrarily detained; allow freedom of movement for journalists; allow Syrians to demonstrate freely.

April 1, 2012: Friends of Syria conference in Istanbul recognizes the Syrian National Council as the representative of Syrian opposition; United States agrees to send communication equipment to rebels, while Arab nations pledge more than $100 million in financial support; United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) opens the Domiz camp in Iraq for Syrians fleeing the conflict.

April 12, 2012: Ceasefire brokered by Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan takes effect.

April 21, 2012: UNSC Resolution 2043 establishes 300-member UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) to monitor the ceasefire and ensure implementation of Annan peace plan.

April 22, 2012: U.S. Executive Order 13606 blocks U.S. property of and bans entry to Syrians suspected of committing human rights abuses with information technology.

May 3, 2012: Security forces raid Aleppo University, killing at least four student protesters.

May 7, 2012: Syria holds parliamentary elections amid boycott by opposition; reports say that ruling Baath Party and allies won a 60 percent majority, with most of the other seats going to pro-regime independents.

May 10, 2012: Suicide bomb attacks kill more than fifty people near a police base in Damascus.

May 25, 2012: Security forces and pro-regime irregulars known as shabiha reportedly kill more than 100, half of them children, in the town of Houla.

June 6, 2012: Bashar Al-Assad dissolves Adel Safar’s government and appoints Riyad Hijab (1966-), former agriculture minister, as prime minister.

June 12, 2012: Hervé Ladsous, UN undersecretary-general for peacekeeping operations, calls the crisis in Syria a full-scale civil war.

June 16, 2012: UN suspends its monitoring mission in Syria, citing dangerous conditions after observers are directly targeted in attacks.

June 21, 2012: Syrian air force pilot flies fighter jet to Jordan and defects.

June 22, 2012: Syrian forces shoot down a Turkish military aircraft.

June 30, 2012: Action Group for Syria, comprised of the six members of the UN Security Council, European Union, Turkey, Iraq, Qatar and Kuwait, meets in the Geneva I conference; Geneva Communiqué calls for implementation of the Annan peace plan.

July 6, 2012: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says that the Syrian conflict has reached a “critical stage” and warns that it could be devastating for the entire region; Brigadier General Manaf Tlass, a member of Bashar Al-Assad’s inner circle and son of former Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass, defects to Turkey.

July 11, 2012: Nawaf Al-Fares, Syrian ambassador to Iraq, defects.

July 14, 2012: International Committee of the Red Cross classifies the Syrian conflict as a civil war.

July 18, 2012: An explosion at the National Security Building in Damascus kills three top regime officials: Deputy Defense Minister Assef Shawkat (1950-2012), Bashar Al-Assad’s brother-in-law and a former intelligence chief; Defense Minister Daoud Rajha (1947-2012); and General Hassan Turkmani (1935-2012), a former defense minister; Free Syrian Army and the Islamic Brigade group issue separate claims of responsibility.

July 19, 2012: Rebel forces capture eastern Aleppo; Russia and China veto draft UNSC resolution that would extend the mandate of UNSMIS and threaten sanctions against the Syrian regime.

July 24, 2012: Lamia Al-Hariri, Syrian ambassador to Cyprus and niece of Vice President Farouk Al-Sharaa (1938-), defects; her husband, Abdelatif Al-Dabbagh, Syrian ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, defects shortly afterward.

July 28, 2012: UNHCR opens the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan.

August 2, 2012: Annan resigns as Joint Special Envoy; cites Bashar Al-Assad’s refusal to implement the Annan peace plan, escalating rebel military campaign and disunity among UN Security Council members.

August 6, 2012: Prime Minister Riyad Hijab defects to Jordan and accuses the Al-Assad regime of “genocide.”

August 9, 2012: Bashar Al-Assad appoints Wael Al-Halqi (1964-), former minister of health, prime minister; Syrian and Jordanian military forces engage in a border clash.

August 15, 2012: A report by the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic says that regime as well as opposition forces have committed crimes against humanity.

August 17, 2012: Lakhdar Brahimi, veteran UN diplomat and former Algerian foreign minister, succeeds Kofi Annan as Joint Special Envoy.

August 20, 2012: President Obama draws “red line” threatening U.S. military force if the Al-Assad regime deploys chemical weapons against opponents.

August 26, 2012: Security forces reportedly kill some 400 people in the Damascus suburb of Dariya.

September 16, 2012: Brigadier General Mohammed Ali Jafari of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps says that the IRGC is providing “advisory help” to the Al-Assad regime.

September 25, 2012: Sixteenth-century market in Aleppo is destroyed amid heavy fighting in the city.

September 28, 2012: At Friends of Syria conference in New York, United States pledges $45 million in non-lethal and humanitarian aid for Syrian rebels.

November 2, 2012: Office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights says rebel forces may have committed war crimes by summarily executing Syrian soldiers who had surrendered.

November 11, 2012: Syrian National Council and other factions form the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces; Moaz Al-Khatib (1960-), a Muslim cleric, is named coalition president; the coalition’s goals include overthrowing the Al-Assad regime and establishing a “democratic and pluralistic civil state”; Israeli tanks open fire on Syrian posts after shelling of the demilitarized zone in the Golan Heights.

November 30, 2012: Friends of Syria conference in Tokyo calls on Syrian regime to cease the use of violence and provide access for humanitarian aid.

December 8, 2012: Salim Idris (1957-) replaces Riad Al-Asaad as commander of Free Syrian Army.

December 10, 2012: U.S. State Department designates Al-Nusra Front a terrorist organization; UNHCR reports that more than 500,000 Syrian refugees have fled the country.

December 12, 2012: President Obama says the United States recognizes the Syrian National Coalition as “the legitimate representative” of the Syrian people; National Coalition attends Friends of Syria conference in Marrakesh.

January 6, 2013: In a televised address, Bashar Al-Assad announces reforms to end the conflict, including elections, a national reconciliation conference and a new constitution.

January 11, 2013: Special Joint Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi meets with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov and Deputy U.S. Secretary of State William Burns; they fail to resolve differences over role of Bashar Al-Assad in Syria’s transition.

January 15, 2013: Bombings at Aleppo University kill more than eighty people.

January 29, 2013: Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that the bound bodies of sixty-five people, apparent victims of a mass execution, were found on a riverbank in Aleppo.

January 30, 2013: Israel says its military aircraft bombed a convoy near Syria’s border with Lebanon transporting weapons to Hezbollah.

February 21, 2013: A car bombing near the ruling Baath Party headquarters in Damascus kills more than fifty people.

February 28, 2013: At Friends of Syria meeting in Rome, United States pledges $60 million in medical supplies and food for rebels; Syrian National Coalition expresses disappointment over the lack of military aid.

March 7, 2013: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres reports that more than one million Syrians have become refugees from the conflict.

March 24, 2013: Moaz Al-Khatib resigns as president of the Syrian National Coalition; he later cites interference from international and regional parties.

March 25, 2013: Rebels fire mortars into central Damascus.

March 26, 2013: Arab League grants Syria’s seat in the organization to the Syrian National Coalition.

April 21, 2013: At Friends of Syria meeting in Istanbul, United States pledges an additional $123 million in non-lethal aid to the Syrian opposition.

April 22, 2013: George Sabra (1947-), a former political prisoner and Communist Party official, is elected interim president of the Syrian National Coalition.

April 30, 2013: Lebanese Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah says in a televised speech that his group’s fighters have intervened in Syria in support of the Al-Assad regime.

May 4, 2013: Security forces and shabiha reportedly kill some 250 people in Baniyas and Bayda, triggering an exodus from the cities.

May 5, 2013: Israel says its military aircraft bombed a shipment of advanced surface-to-surface missiles in Damascus possibly intended for Hezbollah.

May 7, 2013: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that 4.25 million Syrians have become internally displaced persons (IDPs).

May 11, 2013: Two car bombings kill more than forty people in the Turkish town of Reyhanli near the Syrian border.

May 22, 2013: Friends of Syria conference in Amman condemns atrocities by Syrian regime and reiterates support for the Syrian National Coalition; clashes in Tripoli in Tripoli kill at least ten people.

May 25, 2013: Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah promises military support for Bashar Al-Assad until the defeat of Syrian rebels.

May 27, 2013: EU ends its arms embargo on Syrian rebels.

June 5, 2013: Syrian forces recapture Qusair with the help of Hezbollah fighters.

June 7, 2013: UN increases the target in its appeal for international aid to Syria from $3 billion to $5 billion, citing the rapid intensification of the conflict.

June 12, 2013: Sunni rebels reportedly attack Hatlah and kill some sixty Shiites.

June 13, 2013: White House announces that U.S. intelligence officials have “high confidence” that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons multiple times over the past year, and that as a result of the finding President Obama authorizes direct military support to the rebels.

June 22, 2013: Friends of Syria conference in Doha agrees to provide “material and equipment” to rebels, and demands fighters from Hezbollah, Iran and Iraq withdraw from the country.

July 6, 2013: Ahmad Jarba (1969-), a former political prisoner, is elected to replace George Sabra as president of the Syrian National Coalition.

July 24, 2013: Major General Aviv Kochavi, director of Israel Defense Force military intelligence, warns that Syria is becoming a “center of global jihad.”

July 25, 2013: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says that more than 100,000 people have died in the Syrian conflict.

July 26, 2013: Syrian National Coalition delegation, meeting with members of the UN Security Council, seeks a commitment that Bashar Al-Assad will not be part of a transitional government; calls on Russia to end its support for Syrian regime.

July 27, 2013: Security forces in Homs recapture the Khalid Ibn Al-Walid mosque, a symbol of rebel resistance.

July 30, 2013: Iran opens a $3.6 billion line of credit enabling Syria to purchase oil from Iran.

August 4, 2013: Sunni rebels capture Alawite towns in northwestern Syria, reportedly killing 200 people; rebels claim they killed regime forces, while residents say the dead were civilians.

August 15, 2013: Car bombing kills at least twenty-one people in the Beirut suburb of Ruwais, a Hezbollah stronghold.

August 18, 2013: Inspectors from Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons-United Nations Joint Mission (OPCW-UN) arrive in Syria to investigate allegations of chemical weapons attacks; jihadist groups attack Kurdish towns, forcing thousands of Kurds to flee into Iraq.

August 21, 2013: Starting at 2:30 a.m., thousands of social media messages report a chemical attack on Damascus suburbs; Western media publish images of bodies of purported victims; opposition accuses Al-Assad regime of toxic gas attack; Syrian Information Minister Omran Al-Zoubi says allegations are “untrue and completely fabricated.”

August 23, 2013: Two car bombings in Tripoli kill at least forty-two people.

August 26, 2013: Secretary of State John Kerry condemns the Syrian regime’s “undeniable” use of chemical weapons; regime accuses rebel fighters of launching chemical attacks.

August 27, 2013: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says that the United States is prepared to strike Syria if President Obama orders an attack to deter Bashar Al-Assad from further use of chemical weapons.

August 29, 2013: After British Prime Minister David Cameron calls for military response to chemical weapons attack, Britain’s parliament votes to reject military strike on Syria.

August 30, 2013: White House accuses Syrian regime of launching a chemical attack that killed 1,429 people in the Damascus suburbs on August 21; U.S. assessment says motive was to rid suburbs of opposition forces using area to stage attacks on capital; Doctors Without Borders later reports that three hospitals near Damascus treated 3,600 patients displaying neurotoxic symptoms, and that 355 of the patients were subsequently pronounced dead.

August 31, 2013: President Obama asks Congress to authorize a U.S. military strike on Syrian regime targets in response to its use of chemical weapons.

September 2, 2013: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov calls U.S. intelligence on the chemical weapons attack inconclusive; Bashar Al-Assad tells Le Figaro there is a risk of a “regional war” if Western nations strike Syria.

September 4, 2013: Russian President Vladimir Putin warns against a U.S. strike on Syria, saying: “We have our ideas about what we will do and how we will do it in case the situation develops toward the use of force or otherwise.”

September 5, 2013: At the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says that aid efforts are not keeping pace with the growing humanitarian crisis in Syria.

September 9, 2013: Russia proposes that Syria place its chemical agents under international control and gradually destroy them to avoid a U.S. military strike; Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem (1941-) says his government welcomes the Russian plan.

September 10, 2013: President Obama announces that he has asked Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force against Syria while a diplomatic approach is pursued.

September 14, 2013: Russia and the United States agree on a deal to place Syria’s chemical arsenal under international control, and to complete destruction of the arsenal by mid-2014; President Obama says that the United States is “prepared to act” if the deal fails.

September 16, 2013: A report by UN weapons inspectors finds “clear and convincing evidence” that on August 21 surface-to-surface missiles containing the nerve agent sarin were launched from regime-controlled positions on Ein Tarma, Moadamiyah, and Zamalka in the Ghouta area near Damascus.

September 24, 2013: President Obama announces $339 million in new humanitarian aid for Syria; total U.S. humanitarian aid reaches nearly $1.4 billion.

September 25, 2013: Thirteen Islamist rebel factions reject authority of Syrian National Coalition and call for opposition movement to unite within an Islamic framework.

September 27, 2013: UN Security Council unanimously adopts UNSC Resolution 2118 requiring the Syrian regime to dismantle its chemical weapons arsenal.

October 1, 2013: Officials from OPCW arrive in Damascus to monitor the dismantling of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal.

October 31, 2013: OPCW reports that the Syrian regime has rendered its chemical weapons production facilities inoperable.

November 19, 2013: Two suicide bombings at the Iranian embassy in Beirut kill at least twenty-three people.

November 23, 2013: Islamist rebels including members of the Al-Nusra Front capture oil installations in Deir Al-Zor province.

December 2, 2013: UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay says that a fact-finding team has found substantial evidence implicating the “highest levels” of the Syrian regime in war crimes.

January 5, 2014: Syrian National Coalition re-elects Ahmad Jarba as president.

January 7, 2014: U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights announces that it has suspended reporting updates on the Syrian conflict death toll due to difficulties in verifying information sources.

January 21, 2014: Guardian and CNN cite a report by former international war crimes prosecutors accusing the regime of the “systematic killing” of 11,000 detainees; report says evidence suggests regime is guilty of crimes against humanity.

January 22-31, 2014: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon convenes first round of Geneva II peace talks involving the Syrian government and Syrian National Coalition; Joint Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi reports no progress toward a political agreement or delivering humanitarian aid, saying “the gaps between the sides remain wide.”

February 1-5, 2014: Barrel bombs reportedly dropped by security forces kill at least 246 civilians in Aleppo.

February 4, 2014: U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says that Bashar Al-Assad has strengthened his hold on power; warns of “perpetual stalemate where neither the regime nor the opposition can prevail.”

February 10-15, 2014: A second round of Geneva II talks is held; representatives of government and opposition fail to agree on agenda; Joint Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi apologizes to the Syrian people for lack of progress in the talks.

February 16, 2014: Abdul-Ilah Al-Bashir Al-Noeimi replaces Salim Idris as commander of Free Syrian Army.

February 22, 2014: UN Security Council unanimously adopts UNSC Resolution 2139 calling on the Syrian regime and the rebels to cease attacks on civilians and allow the delivery of humanitarian aid; calls for an end to “all forms of violence” and condemns Al Qaeda-related terrorism.

March 22, 2014: Turkish military forces shoot down a Syrian fighter jet after it enters Turkish airspace.

May 1, 2014: UNHCR reports that by the end of 2013, 2.3 million Syrian refugees had sought asylum in Turkey (560,129), Iraq (212,181), Jordan (576,354), Lebanon (858,641) and Egypt (131,707); 18 percent of the refugees live in thirty UNHCR camps, located in Turkey, Jordan and Iraq.