I attended the excerpted readings of the first English translation of the late Syrian writer Saadallah Wannous’ play ‘Rituals of Signs and Transformations.’ Not an earth-shaking event, but I was struck by the tremendous power that cultural performances can have in creating appreciation and respect among Americans and Arabs who otherwise spend much time mocking, abusing and killing each other.
I do not normally engage in hypotheticals. But questions of “what if?” open the door to self-examination, to lessons learned from experience. It is on this basis that I want to ask “what if?” to evaluate the Egyptian constitutional referendum, which passed in January.
The Jewish state concept is not defined, it does not take account of the Palestinian Arab and other non-Jewish Israelis, it does not address the implications of such recognition for the UN-acknowledged rights of the Palestinian refugees, and it does not have any basis in prevailing international law or diplomatic norms related to how states recognize each other.
Striking in this whole process is the almost total absence of initiatives by the Palestinian leadership, and the necessary mobilization of the three critical support communities that can help advance the Palestinian diplomatic position.
With perhaps just weeks to go before the United States unveils its framework accord that it hopes will prod Palestinians and Israelis towards a comprehensive negotiated resolution of their conflict, it seems that every dimension of this conflict is generating new ideas, trial balloons, or fresh pressures on both sides, as the moment of truth for both sides approaches.
These groups did not just suddenly appear in the past three years of the war in Syria; rather, they have been incubating slowly for a much longer period of time because of the slow deterioration in conditions in various Arab countries during the past quarter century or so.
Tunisia was the first Arab country ever to draft its own constitution, which came into force in 1861, and fittingly it is now the first Arab country to draw up a really meaningful and legitimate constitution after a popular revolution that removed a long-serving autocratic government.
After a round of talks between the regime and the opposition, little has been resolved. The Al-Assad regime has no incentive to enter these negotiations with any seriousness; the opposition has no meaningful or effective leverage to convince the key actors to bring significant pressure to bear on the regime.
The widespread anticipation among what seems like just 27 people in the United States who follow the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations is that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will soon table a set of American positions or proposals for the key elements of a “framework agreement” that would define the next phase of the permanent status talks and extend them beyond the April deadline.
The Arab American National Museum is hosting an exhibition on art and protest in the Arab world, “Creative Dissent: Arts of the Arab World Uprisings.” Scholars Christine Gruber and Nama Khalil have curated a powerful array of snapshots from Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen.
It is fitting that Egyptian armed forces commander Field Marshal Abdel Fattah Sisi has decided to assume the presidency of his country, because two of the three main problems that Egypt faces are a consequence of his own decisions during the past year.
Now that the Arab League has decided to ask the UN Security Council to back its plan to resolve the crisis in Syria, the prospects of international involvement in Syria inch forward just a bit more. This adds a new dimension to the already fertile debate on how the mounting violence and expanding political crisis in Syria will end. In the past several months, I have heard dozens of suggested scenarios. Some are plausible, others are fantastic, but all are suggested seriously by usually knowledgeable observers and analysts, and they go something like this.
Tunisia’s struggle to agree on a constitution that satisfies both the conservative-liberal majority and the liberal opposition is giving way to consensus in many critical aspects of the new constitution.