Arab States of Uncertainty

Tahrir Flags

Tahrir Flags. Photo: AK Rockefeller/flickr.

MADRID – The revolutions that swept the Arab world during the last two years have exposed the extraordinary fragility of key Arab states. With the exception of historical countries such as Egypt or Morocco, most Arab states are artificial constructs of European colonialism, which combined disparate tribes and ethnicities into unitary states that could be held together only by authoritarian rule and a common enemy – Zionism and its Western patrons.

Today’s turmoil, however, is no longer driven by anger at foreign forces; instead, it marks a second phase of the de-colonization process: the assertion of the right of self-determination by peoples and tribes united only by a dictator’s yoke. Indeed, it is not entirely farfetched to anticipate the emergence of new Arab states from the debris of the old, artificial ones. The American invasion of Iraq set the pattern, for it broke the central government’s power and empowered ethnic and religious enclaves.

What happened in Yugoslavia, an ill-conceived product of Wilsonian diplomacy, could happen in the more cynical imperial creations in the Middle East. What Sigmund Freud defined as “the narcissism of minor differences” caused Yugoslavia to split into seven small states (including Kosovo), following the bloodiest fighting in Europe since World War II. Can the Arab states avoid a similar fate? » More

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Mali – Can Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb Be Stopped?

Mali begins Touareg dialogue. Image by Flickr user Magharebia (CC BY 2.0).

Mali begins Touareg dialogue. Image by Flickr user Magharebia (CC BY 2.0).

A solution to the crisis in Mali seems to be vanishing as time goes by. It is now five months since the country was divided into two parts: southern Mali is ruled by a fragile [fr] government whereas the north, which includes the historic cities of Timbuktu and Gao, falls under the influence of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb‘s (AQIM) and their expansion across the Sahel. » More

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The Arab Uprisings and the State of Emergency

Emergency exit

Some declare a state of emergency and others lift it in an attempt to get out of the mess. Photo: v1ctor/flickr

Perversely, it took a state of emergency to have Syria’s 48-year-old emergency rule removed. But although this had been a key demand of the protesters, the move is now seen as too little too late. In many ways, the situation is reminiscent of the events early February, when Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak’s vague promises of reform were only salt in the wounds of the crowds on Tahrir Square.

A state of emergency derives from a governmental declaration in response to an extraordinary situation posing a fundamental threat to the country. Too often, however, dictatorial regimes misuse such rules for self-serving purposes: they introduce unwarranted restrictions on human rights and civil liberties, neutralize political opponents or postpone elections. There has also been a tendency to maintain states of emergency long after the original reason for its proclamation has disappeared. The result is a constitutional dictatorship.

With the turmoil in the Arab world, it’s easy to lose track of where emergency laws still apply. Here’s a brief overview of some of the recent changes:
» More

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The ISN Quiz: The Mediterranean

As we’re focusing on Euro-Mediterranean relations this week, here’s your chance to test your knowledge about the region in the first edition of The ISN Quiz.

The United Nations Buffer Zone in Cyprus runs for more than 180 km along what is known as the Green Line, and also on some maps is referred to as the:





“Balkan” is derived from a Turkish word meaning:





Which is the largest island in the Mediterranean?





Slovenia and Croatia have been embroiled in long-running territorial dispute over the 19-square-kilometer:





Which oil company operates the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline?





A Greek prime minister made an official visit to Turkey in January 2008. It was the first time since what year?





The Maghreb is generally recognized as







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Big State is Watching You

Police guard on the Kasr El Nil Bridge in Cairo.

Police guard on the Kasr El Nil Bridge in Cairo / photo: Cristina Viehmann

A new report released by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) tells us that Burma is the worst place in the world to be a blogger.

Next on the list of countries notorious for clever intimidation techniques are the Middle East and North Africa candidates: Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia.

I’ve just returned from Egypt, ranked 10th on the CPJ list. After my Cairo conversations with young journalists and artists, I also realized how difficult it still is to walk the thin line between the state and religious authorities in this country. Even with this, bloggers and internet artists dare to voice what they think.

Take Mohammed A. Fahmy for example, leader of the Ganzeer art project in Cairo. In his work he does not refrain from criticizing both the government and the societal or religious constraints ruling his country. Referring to a cover from a December 2004 Cairo youth magazine, illustrating the many “fine” inventions of Arab civilization, one of which is the “presidential monarchy,” I asked Mohammed: “How critical can you afford to be?”

“As critical as it gets,” he said.

Citizen journalism and artistic creation presuppose freedom of speech. Bloggers report, artists depict. Mohammed is one of those young critical voices that won’t be intimidated.

And yet, the role of intimidation remains strong in Egypt; in every aspect of life where opinions are to be voiced. A few fall prey to the oppressive state mechanisms: detention, hearings and weeks under state observation. These serve as warnings for all other critical voices out there.

As the CPJ report points out, in these countries it is enough to jail a few bloggers to intimidate the rest. It’s an oblation given for criticism and analysis to continue.

Yet even in these countries, censorship rules will not prevail. Technological advances are with the young and connected. Therefore, censors will lose the race.

In this article from the ISN Digital Library you can read how the new Arab media challenges the militaries. Also, you might want to check our Security Watch news stories, about the limits of Egypt’s cyberactivism, the Bahraini blogosphere and about how blogs and Internet forums debate political issues in Russia.

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