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vendredi 4 novembre 2011

FESPACO Winner Screening in Philadelphia

I recently attended a screening of the film "Da Monzon" by Sidi Diabaté. This film won the FESPACO prize this year in the feature film category. The event was supposed to have a discussion with Diabaté, but unfortunately he had to return to Mali. Luckily, he has given interviews, which help me to better understand the film.

"Da Monzon" is a historical film, depicting the Segu kingdom in the former half of the 19th Century. A son succeeds his father and begins expanding his territory. He is particularly focused on overcoming Bassi, a nearby Fulani king.The film follows his quest to expand his kingdom through political maneuvering, clever ruses, and military campaigns.

Between the Modern Languages program at Penn, the Ritz theaters in Philadelphia, and several years of living in France, I've had the opportunity to see a large variety of films by Francophone directors. As far as I recall, this is the first film that I've seen from West Africa of the historical epic genre. It was thrilling to see names and places I knew from books come to life on screen. The details of the settings, as well as the dazzling variety of clothing and objects, were amazing to see. Were I to have been able to speak with Diabaté, I would have liked to know his sources for these objects, since they date from before the invention of photography.

While the film was very enjoyable, it was also very one-sided. The narrative was engaging, but although the action did switch to Bassi's kingdom, it did not investigate his motives, nor how or why he had defeated Da's father. This is a common drawback to historical films; in order to make them interesting, they flatten some of the events and don't show or investigate the complexity of the historical events themselves. Similar examples are "Lion of the Desert," "Lawrence of Arabia," and "Gandhi". There's nothing wrong with this flattening in terms of story-telling, but since these films are sometimes the only encounter viewers have with the history they depict, it leads to an overly simplified understanding of history and a tendency to idealize the past.

Another interesting aspect to the film was the representation of relationships and reciprocity. I'm familiar with the idea of “caste” in West African societies and also the function of people occupying the position of “griot” to question, tease and deliver bad news. There's even a scene where the “griot” figure is faced with an angry person and shouts “You cannot kill a casted man!” The depiction of women in the film was also striking. Da routinely consults a matriarch figure and seeks advice from her. The representation of the character Niyale, who is sent to seduce and trick Bassi is also remarkable, especially when she discusses being selected for this mission with her husband and parents. The status of women in West Africa is complex today, so there is no reason to suppose it was not complex 200 years ago, but it was nonetheless notable that Diabaté chose to include these scenes. 
Additionally, the film highlighted the complexity of the pre-colonial religious landscape, including both Islamic and varied indigenous beliefs and the king seeking support from multiple different religious leaders. It is easy to fall into the error of thinking that because the centers of Islamic learning Timbuktu and Djenné are in Mali that Islam is the main religious reference, so the film served as a helpful reminder of Mali's diversity. If Diabaté had been able to attend the screening, I would have liked to ask him if he was trying to make any kind of point by highlighting this diversity.

Film and definitions of identity through film are a huge interest of mine. Da Monzon's win at FESPACO is not only a great honor for Mali and also and important encouragement for the arts in Mali, but also an opportunity for West Africans to consider their historical past and how they relate to these historical heroic figures. I was very grateful for the opportunity to see the film here in Philadelphia and disappointed not to be able to have a conversation with Diabaté, but it certainly adds another facet to my understanding of West Africa.

mercredi 12 octobre 2011

History and graphic novels / L'histoire et la bande dessinée

History and graphic novels

Recently, Jeune Afrique shone the spotlight on a graphic novel about the history of relations between the United States and the Middle East. This first volume, of a projected three part series, is a collaboration between Jean-Pierre Filiu et David B., and covers 1783-1953. Those dates correspond with the end of the American War of Independence and CIA-engineered coup that deposed the popularly elected Iranian Prime Minister, Mohamed Mossadegh. Certainly, it's a narrative with many dramatic twists and turns.

Both authors are well-respected in their fields and there is no reason to suppose that this project is anything other than well-crafted. And that's important; graphic novels have a different, larger readership than the audience Filiu generally reaches, with a different set of expectations and a different toolkit for understanding history. A larger, more diverse audience is a double-edged sword; while it means more readers, it also means more scrutiny, and a greater possibility of backlash.

Les meilleurs ennemis is particularly interesting, because it deals with history, and thus runs up against questions of objectivity and subjectivity. History is a discipline, one of the social sciences, but history is also popular memory of past events. In German, there is a distinction between Historie, which is verifiable facts and Geschichte, which is the interpretation of these facts in a variety of contexts. Pierre Nora's monumental work, Realms of Memory, investigates this cleavage in French history, examining what meaning people attach to historical events, famous individuals, and commemorations. Of course, the question then becomes: who are the people who choose what meaning an event has? And when they choose, what other viewpoints get brushed to the side? A relevant example is the establishment of the state of Israel; the Israeli government and many Israelis view it as a great achievement, while Palestinians refer to it as the Nakba, or catastrophe.

Since the advent of the printing press (which is a disputed historical milestone in itself), governments have sought to use newspapers and other media to present a favorable perspective on their actions. The Atlantic has a wonderful summary of the development of print culture and the impact it has had on politics. It's not for nothing that today's dictators censor the internet, limit access to journalists and hire firms to manage their images. But despite this, citizens find ways to express their dissent, and employ formats that are accessible, like cartoons and songs, which can be disseminated easily. Unfortunately, high visibility puts the dissenters in danger. Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria, several outspoken artists have been targeted for reprisals, including the pianist Malek Jandali's elderly parents and Ali Ferzat, a well-known political cartoonist, whose hands were broken in an attack.

Very few people would come to the defense of these Syrian attackers, but sometimes dissent is more controversial. Thousands of angry people filled the streets several years ago in reaction to the cartoons in the Jyllands-Posten. And more recently, a film by the Franco-Tunisian director Nadia el-Fani caused an uproar in Tunisia. Many Muslims see these as a provocation and don't consider that free speech should extend to what they consider blasphemy. Of course, if some speech is forbidden, who then decides where to draw the line? And what guarantees that they won't abuse this power for their own gain or to hold on to power?

Part of the power of the Arab Spring has been that at long last, the citizens of the Middle East are throwing aside fear of their repressive leaders and expressing themselves. They will finally be able to contest and interpret the meanings of history and current events. When Filiu and David B. get to the third volume of their series, the story might look very different.

L'histoire et la bande dessinée

Dernièrement est apparu en Jenue Afrique une critique de l'album de bande dessinée Les meilleurs ennemis. Une histoire des relations entre les Etats-Unis et le Moyen-Orient. Première partie 1783/1953 qui décrit les relations entre les Etats-Unis et le Moyen-Orient. Ce premier tome, sur une série de trois, est une collaboration entre le chercheur Jean-Pierre Filiu et l'artiste David B. et s'étend sur la période entre 1783 et 1953. Une période qui commence avec la fin de la guerre de l'indépendence des Etats-Unis et qui finit par le coup, orchestré par la CIA, qui a déposé le premier ministre iranien Mohamed Mossadegh. Evidemment, un récit qui comprend des aventures et des rebonds dramatiques.

Tous les deux auteurs sont bien connus et respectés dans leur domaine, donc l'on peut supposer que le travail est bien fait. Et cela est important; les bandes dessinées ont un public plus grand et plus varié que celui dont réjouit habituellement les écrits du chercheur, avec des attentes et une manière différente d'aborder l'histoire. Mais alors un public plus grand et plus varié est une épée à double tranchant; plus de lecteurs entraîne aussi plus de visibilité et une possibilité plus grande des réactions défavorables.

Ce qui rend particulièrement intéressant Les meilleurs ennemis est qu'il traite de l'histoire et donc du clivage entre objectif et subjectif. L'histoire est une science sociale, mais l'histoire est aussi la mémoire du grand public. En allemand, l'on fait une distinction entre Historie, qui comprend que les faits certifiables, et Geschichte, qui est l'interprétation de ces faits dans plusieurs contextes. L'oeuvre monumental de Pierre Nora, Les lieux de la mémoire, examine ce clivage au cours de l'histoire française, interrogeant la signification assignée aux evènements, personnes renommées et commémorations. Et alors la question se pose : qui assigne cette signification? Et quand ils choississent, quelles autres persepctives sont balayées? Tenez l'exemple de la création de l'état d'Israël : le gouverenment israëlien et beaucoup des israëliens célèbrent cet evènement, mais les Palestiniens l'appelle “nakba” ou catastrophe.

Depuis l'apparition de la machine à imprimer (qui est elle-même controversée), des états cherchent à contrôler les journaux et les médias, afin de donner un image favorable de leurs actions. La revue Atlantic résume le développement de la culture imprimée et son effect sur la politique. Ce n'est pas pour rien que les dictateurs de nos jours coupent l'internet, limitent l'accès des journalistes, et engage des conseillers pour soigner leur image. Malgré tout ces obstacles, certains citoyens parviennent à exprimer leur contestation, et utilise des formats abordables, tels les caricatures et les chansons, qui se distribuent facilement. Malheureusement, cette renommée met en danger les dissidents. Depuis le déclenchement du conflict syrien, des artistes sont devenus des cibles des représailles, comme les parents de pianiste Malek Jandali, ou encore le caricaturiste Ali Ferzat, dont les mains ont été brisées lors d'une aggression.

Très peu de gens trouveraint des justifications pour ces abus en Syrie, mais il existe des cas où la contestation est plus controversée. Des milliers de gens en colère ont défilé dans la rue contre la parution des caricatures dans le journal Jyllands-Posten. Plus récemment en Tunisie, le film de Nadia el-Fani crée un scandale. De nombreux musulmans les considèrent comme une provocation, et veulent que la libre expression s'arrête là où commence le blashphème. Mais, quand l'expression est limitée, qui décide ce qui est permis et ce qui ne l'est pas? Et comment assurer qu'ils n'abusent pas ce pouvoir?

La puissance du Printemps arabe est le fait qu'enfin, les gens du Moyen-orient se libèrent de la peur et s'expriment. Ils ont le pouvoir de contester et interpréter l'histoire pour eux-mêmes. Une fois arrivés au troisième tome, l'histoire que dépeignent Filiu et David B. serait bien différente.

samedi 1 octobre 2011

The Zon-Mai in Philly; What Viewers does it Reach?

During the Fringe Festival, I went to see the Zon-Mai which is on loan from the Cité nationale de l'histoire de l'immigration in Paris. It's a house with dance performances about the experience of migration projected on the outside. In Philadelphia, it was presented in the Pump House space, along the Delaware River waterfront, which used to be a busy port and is now underused.

The performances showcased in the Zon-Mai were filmed in intimate spaces, like the bathroom of a Parisian apartment. The pain and separation of migration are very private feelings and the Zon-Mai is designed to confront the viewer with this experience.

I visited the installation with someone who has migrated twice; once from the Maghreb to France and now to the US. His reaction highlights a contradiction that I have noticed many times; the art forms used to express migration are often lost on the people who would most likely relate to these feelings. While he was impressed by the flexibility and technical skill of some of the dancers, he did not see how it expressed anything relevant to his experience as a migrant.

Migrants feel a panoply of pressures; to succeed financially, to meet the sometimes inflated expectations of their families in their home countries, to build new lives without forgetting their families and cultures, to be good citizens of their new countries. None of this necessarily gives them time to understand or appreciate high culture.

I wrote my French thesis about films that depict the range of experiences of immigrants and children of immigrants in France and how they relate to their country and its culture. Film and television are more accessible than dance performances, and thus maybe reach more people and can inspire them to reflect on their own identity and experience.

The home site of the Zon-Mai, the Cité nationale de l'histoire de l'immigration was controversial to open and was born out of complex set of academic and political negotiations about France, immigrants and identity. The Palais de la Porte Dorée, where the museum is housed was built for the Universal Exposition in 1931 and housed the museum of the colonies. Many of the migrant populations in France come from France's former colonies. How do they feel about this? Does having a museum dedicated to the history of immigration give them recognition or isolate them from other French citizens? These questions are unresolved.

Does this mean that the Zon-Mai is useless? Not at all; but it also will perhaps reach an elite audience. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Communicating what other people experience to elites can connect them to the needs and aspirations of the greater population who they are supposed to serve.

jeudi 8 septembre 2011

Letter to the Editor

I wrote a letter to the Editor that was published in the New York Times on August 28th. My letter was a response to the piece "An Empty Regard" by William Deresiewicz. In it, he points out that professed reverence for the military shuts down any discussion about its actions and objectives. Interestingly, he also examines the tendency to refer to soldiers as "heroes" and how, in addition to cheapening the contributions of real heroes, allows most people to shift engagement and responsibility onto the backs of military personnel.

Here's what I said:

William Deresiewicz is right when he says we don’t need heroes; we need citizens. No meaningful change will come about without the hard work and attention of the American people.
But I think he misses something very important. He asks if servicemen and women fulfill every mission that we ask of them. Here’s our bigger problem: There is no clear mission, and no definable goal. This is why eventually we will have to accept that we’ve lost, because we aren’t sure what winning means.
Better to accept this loss gracefully now than to continue bleeding lives and treasure and causing ever-greater resentment around the globe.
A great deal of what's going on in the revolts and revolutions around the world has at its core the question of who a citizen is and what citizenship means. Sometimes it is easy to fall into the error of thinking citizenship is a static concept and not an ongoing engagement, but recent upheavals in long-established states, like the UK, show that the question is relevant to almost everyone

mardi 23 août 2011

Sofiène Chaari

The Tunisian actor Sofiene Chaari passed away Monday night of a heart attack. He was well-beloved in North Africa for his role on “Nsibti Laaziza” (“My dear mother-in-law”) as well as other comedic shows.
Like many people in America learn English though watching television, I spent many hours watching “Nsibti Laaziza” trying to improve my Arabic. He put a big smile on my face during what would otherwise have been a chore.
Rest in peace, Sofiene.

L'acteur tunsien Sofiène Chaari est décédé lundi soir d'une crise cardiaque. Il était très apprécié au grand maghreb pour son rôle dans l'emission “Nsibti Laaziza” (“Ma chère belle mère”) ainsi que d'autres comédies du petit-écran.
Comme beaucoup de nouveaux arrivés aux États-Unis qui apprennent l'anglais en regardant la télévision, je passais des heures à regarde “Nsibti Laaziza” afin d'améliorer mon arabe. Il avait rendu une corvée agréable pour moi.
Repose en paix, Sofiène.

jeudi 18 août 2011

Relance de Tourisme en Tunisie

Il y avait une très intéressante discussion animé par France Inter sur la relance du tourisme en Tunisie. Le pertes des revenues du tourisme a pesé lourd en Tunisie et beaucoup des gens vivant des salaires liés au tourisme ont beaucoup souffert. Cependant, certains trouvent que le modèle actuel du tourisme ne rapporte pas grand chose aux tunsiens simples, du moments que les touristes restent cantonnés dans les hôtels de luxe et ne vont pas à la découverte de la “vrai” Tunisie.

Pour aller à l'encontre de ce modèle touristique, un des intérvenants suggère des rester chez les habitants, en proposant le site . Je ne doute pas que cette démarche puisse répondre aux attentes et au goûts certains mais ce n'est pas une panacée.

Ayant effectuée un séjour de deux semaines en Tunisie en 2008, j'ai quelques remarques à faire. 

La première est qu'il m'était bien claire que les gens n'étaient pas libres à s'exprimer sans crainte. Dans ce contexte, un vrai échange des idées est impossible. Suite à la révolution, l'on pourrait espérer que cela ait changé. Mais comment connaître des gens qui sont obligés de pratiquer l'auto-censure?

La deuxième remarque est par rapport à la sécurité. Durant mon séjour, j'étais obligée d'aller m'enregistrer à la mairie et j'étais soumise à surveillance intermittente. Je ne sais pas comment ces formalités ont changé depuis la révolution. Entre-temps, sont survenus non seulement la guerre en Libye, mais aussi des rumeurs et des incidents qui font monter la peur du terrorisme. Tandis que je considère la peur du terrorisme exagérée, il est néanmoins vrai que la guerre et la présence des refugiés libyens perturbent certaine régions tunisiennes. Alors il est bien possible que la qualité d'acceuil diminue et que les touristes craignent leur sécurité.

La troisième remarque est par rapport aux différences culturelles qui pourraient empêcher ce modèle de tourisme de réussir. En dehors du capital, il est moins facile pour les femmes de circuler librement. Par exemple, il est bien rare de voir des femmes assises dans les cafés. Donc les touristes sont obligées de fréquenter des restaurants ou de faire du shopping, où elles risquent de se faire duper ou escroquer. Il est aussi déconseiller pour les femmes de voyager seules, par crainte de harcèlement.

Enfin, beacoup de touristes veulent tout simplement se reposer, et ne sont pas intéressés à visiter des monuments ou de voir la culture authentique. Les séjours en Tunisie étant de prix assez bas, on peut constater que le publique concerné ne souhaite pas trop des leçons d'histoire ou des débats poltiques. Certains peuvent critiquer le tourisme comme “Skander” dans les commentaires, mais si l'offre ne répond pas aux attentes des touristes, ils choisiront une autre déstination.

Tout en espérant la reprise de l'activité économique, la relance de tourisme doit être repensée de manière à mieux servir aux intérêts du peuple tunsien.

jeudi 28 juillet 2011

Talking to "El General"

Foreign Policy has an interview with Hamada Ben Amor where he provides an interesting viewpoint on the Tunisian Revolution. Known as El General, he was arrested and interrogated in the days leading up to Ben Ali's departure.

The entire interview is interesting, but the key is the idea that people define themselves in multiple ways. He says: "I'm just a Tunisian citizen. I'm Muslim. I'm an African from a poor country. I'm proud of my heritage. I'm 21. I travel but I mostly stay in Sfax. My family is here. My parents have regular jobs; my mom owns a book store and my dad works at the local hospital. My girlfriend -- I call her my wife -- she's here."

This is important because it's very easy talking about people involved in current political events to essentialize them and stick them into neat categories that don't reflect reality. And it's even more important to have a good grip on reality because bad information leads to even worse decisions. Luckily, the internet provides a platform to access multiple sources of information, as well as allowing voices like El General's, to be heard.

None of this means that everything out there is true, or even that having access to multiple viewpoints can break a pundit out of tunnel vision. For a humorous take on confirmation bias, consult Sarah Carr's send-up of Thomas Friedman. She demonstrates exactly why relying on Western experts to "explain" other countries is a problem.

lundi 30 mai 2011

Some unintended consequences?

The Arabist had a link to a well done, if very difficult to watch, set of interviews with women who have been trafficked. With such an uncomfortable issue, there are so many challenges to be addressed.

The women interviewed on the site are from Eastern Europe and were trafficked to Turkey, the UAE and Israel. But it's what put them at risk that makes the issue particularly relevant. After the fall of communism, these women and their families were struggling without employment or a way to support themselves and sought jobs abroad. Hoping for jobs in restaurants or as nannies, they were tricked into prostitution and many were seriously injured (both physically and psychologically).

Recently, President Obama urged Poland as a model for the Arab Spring, and many people have compared 2011 to 1991. To be fair, he was not overly sanguine about the prospects of democracy movements, saying , “What you have is a process that’s not always smooth...There are going to be twists and turns, there are going to be occasions where you take one step forward and two steps back.”

However, he is talking about election cycles and establishing independent institutions, not about the possibility that vulnerable girls from Egypt and Tunisia may find themselves the prey of traffickers.

dimanche 29 mai 2011

A New Ottoman Empire? Une Nouvelle Empire Ottomane?

The New York Times recently published an interesting article about Turkey's place within the larger Middle East region. It lauded Turkey's regional connections and possible capacity to unite the region. And significantly, it quoted polls that show that young people do not feel the tensions that divided an older generation.
Functioning as a kind of counterpoint, the Times also contains an opinion piece by Timur Kuran, a Turkish professor of Economics and Political Science at Duke. Kuran's work focuses on two areas of particular interest: one is what he terms preference falsification and the other is his work on the connections between Islam and economic development.
Preference falsification is a fancy way to say that people say what they think other people want to hear. In Public Opinion Quarterly, Donald Green explains it more scientifically:
"Kuran argues that widespread preference falsification may give rise to multiple social equilibria. Small events that seem to bespeak a change in public sentiment can gather momentum and lead to dramatic political upheaval en route to a new equilibrium, the paradigmatic example being the downfall of communism in Eastern Europe. Longstanding and seemingly unalterable political arrangements can be brought down by sudden and dramatic shifts in public expressions of political opinion."
So while people fear the consequences of expressing their true opinions, they keep quiet, but all of a sudden, these tensions can bubble to the surface. This explains why Mohamed Bouazizi's self-immolation touched of the Tunisian revolution, and then why this example helped empower other populations to air their grievances.

Kuran's other topic, Islam and economic development is equally relevant to the current political situation in the MENA region. Those familiar with Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism might see Kuran's theory as its Islamic corollary. While Weber traces the Protestant ethic that viewed useful work as praising God to being essential to the accumulation of capital and the development of the capitalist system, Kuran argues that the interpretation of Shariah held back both credit and the concept of the corporation.
But most importantly, Kuran argues that civil society is lacking in the Arab World. He says:
"Democracy requires checks and balances, and it is largely through civil society that citizens protect their rights as individuals, force policy makers to accommodate their interests, and limit abuses of state authority. Civil society also promotes a culture of bargaining and gives future leaders the skills to articulate ideas, form coalitions and govern."
Of course, the Arab world is not entirely lacking in civil society groups. There are human rights groups, and those focusing on more specific issues, like the prevention of child abuse. Furthermore, particularly in North Africa, there are organized labor movements. The downside is that these movements can be harassed or co-opted by authoritarian governments that crush any and all dissent.

But how does a dictator accumulate such power? Again, the answer may have its roots in economic history. A short article posted on the VoxEU portal of the Centre for Economic Policy Research traces the differing urbanization patterns in Europe and the Arab world. In Europe, the development of international trade and port cities decoupled economic progress from the fate of polities. This follows the Weberian distinction between consumer and producer cities:
"The primary basis of the producer city is the production and exchange of goods and commercial services with the city’s hinterland and other cities. The links that such cities have with the state are typically much weaker since the cities have their own economic bases. It is this aspect that accounts for the fact that Arab cities suffered heavily with the breakdown of the Abbasid Empire, while European cities continued to flourish despite political turmoil."

So this tradition rooted in independent commercial enterprises and networks laid the groundwork for strong civil society. Of course, none of this means that the development of independent institutions is impossible in the Arab world.
But perhaps the impetus will come from outside. Turkey has been developing agreements to knit the region back together, with free-trade spaces and lifting visa requirements. Anthony Shadid explains the motivations:
"Just as Arab nationalism still runs run deep, with the fate of Palestine its axis, so does Turkish nationalism, which includes a sense that the country deserves a role in the region, and beyond that at least echoes of its Ottoman age. The more sophisticated Turks dismiss charges of a new rationale for Turkish imperialism and call the goal instead a peaceful partnership that might look like the free-trade zone that presaged the European Union after World War II. "

An avid student of history might also see a parallel with the zollverein which presaged the unification of Germany.

However, this analogy comparing the Middle East and Europe is not without problems. While relative differences in wealth existed in Europe, their magnitude is not comparable to the vast gulf between states with oil riches and those that are resource-poor. Additionally, the post-war cooperation in Europe was made possible by the collective trauma of the Second World War. While the legacy of dictatorship also constitutes trauma for much of the Arab world, there is not one clear issue to serve as the basis for cooperation, as the Coal and Steel treaty for Europe served to eliminate the rivalry between Germany and France. Besides, there are other parallels to draw; the revolutions of 1848 or the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Whatever ends up happening, the important point to take away is that Turkey is a key player throughout the MENA region, and can no longer be pushed to the periphery, as in the EU negotiations or recent diplomatic initiatives in the Iranian nuclear situation. Maybe it's not a resurgence of the Ottoman Empire, but it's definitely a period of renewed power and influence for Turkey.

Une Nouvelle Empire Ottomane?
Récemment est apparu dans le journal New York Times un article très interessant sur le rôle de la Turquie dans le Moyen-Orient. Il prône le savoir-faire regional et la capacité turque de réunir la région. De façon significative, l'article cite des sondages qui montrent que les jeunes ne sont pas divisés par le mêmes tensions que la gênération précédente.

Servant de contrepoint, le Times regroupe aussi un avis expert du professeur turque Timur Kuran, qui enseigne économie et sciences politiques à la faculté Duke. L'oeuvre de Kuran se focalise sur deux sujets intéressants: un qu'il appelle “preference falsification” et l'autre qui analyse les connections entre l'Islam et le développement économique.

L'idée de “preference falsification” décrit le phénomène où les gens disent ce qu'ils pensent que d'autres attendent de leur part. Dans le journal Public Opinion Quarterly, Donald Green l'explique plus scientifiquement.:
“Kuran postule que l'ampleur de preference falsification donne lieu a de multiples equilibres sociaux. De petits evènements qui representent des changements dans les sentiments publiques peuvent prendre de l'ampleur et conduisent à un bouleversement politique menant à un nouvel equilibre, à l'instar de la chute du communisme en Europe de l'est. Un contexte politique qui semblait inaltérable pourrait s'effondrer subitement suite à des changements dramatiques dans l'expression de l'opinion publique.”

Alors, quand la population craint les conséquences de l'expression de leurs vrais avis, ils préfèrent de se taire, mais tout d'un coup, les tensions peuvent éclater. Cela explique pourquoi l'immolation de Mohamed Bouazizi a déclenché la révolution tunisienne, et pourquoi cet exemple a donné le courage aux autres pays de réclamer la réparation des dommages
Kuran est spécialiste d'un autre sujet, egalement très important afin de comprendre la situation actuelle au Moyen-Orient, qui est le lien entre l'Islam et le développement économique. Ceux qui ont lu l'Ethique protestant et l'esprit du capitalisme de Max Weber reconnaîtraient son corollaire islamique dans la théorie de Kuran. Tandis que pour Weber l'éthique protestant qui prône le travail comme un moyen de glorifier Dieu est essentiel pour amasser le capital et pour développer le système capitaliste, Kuran constate que l'interprétation du Chariah constituait un frein pour l'utilisation du credit et de l'idée de grandes entreprises commerciales.
Surtout, Kuran constate que c'est la société civile qui manque au Moyen-Orient. Il dit:
“La démocratie exige l'équilibre des pouvoirs, et c'est à travers l'action de société civile qu'un citoyen protège ses droits individuels, met pression sur les acteurs politiques d'agir dans son intérêt, et tend à limiter les abus de pouvoir. En plus, la société civile encourage un environnement de négociation et donne aux jeunes le savoir-faire d' articuler les idées, former des alliances et gouverner.”
Bien sûr, le monde arabe n'est pas tout à fait sans société civile. Il existe de groupes qui militent en faveur des droits de l'hommes, et ceux qui se focalisent sur des problèmes plus spécifiques comme la maltraitance des enfants. Sans oublier, surtout au Maghreb, les syndicats et mouvements des travailleurs. Malheureusement, tous ces mouvements sont vulnérables au harcèlement et manipulation de la part des gouvernements authoritaires qui répriment la moindre contestation. 

Mais comment un dictateur amasse-t-il autant de pouvoir? Encore une fois, la réponse se trouve dans l'histoire économique. Un court article publié sur le portail VoxEU du Centre for Economic Policy Research démontre les différences dans l'histoire de l'urbanisation en Europe et dans le monde arabe. En Europe, le développement du commerce international et des villes portuaires dissociait le progrès économique du sort du régime. Cet analyse reprend la distinction entre ville consommatrice et ville productrice de Weber:
“Le base primaire d'une ville productrice est la production et l'échange des biens et les services commerciales avec l'arrière-pays et d'autres grandes villes. Les liens entres ces villes et leurs états sont souvent assez faibles, car elles ont leurs propres fondations économiques. A cause de cette fondation, les villes européennes étaient épargnées des difficultés liées à la chute de l'empire abbaside.”
Donc ce fondement des entreprises et réseaux commerciaux indépendents constituait la base d'une forte société civile. Certes, cela n'empêche en rien un éventuel développement des institutions indépendentes dans le monde arabe.
Mais peut-être l'impulsion viendrait de l'extérieur. La Turquie est en train de faire des accords afin de réunir la région à travers des zones de libre-échange et l'élimination des visas. Le journalists Anthony Shadid explique:

“De même manière que le nationalisme arabe démeure, basé sur le sort de Palestine, ainsi démeure le nationalisme turque, qui comprend un sentiment que leur pays doit jouer un rôle dans la région, et plus qu'un soupçon de nostalgie de l'empire ottomane. Les turques plus raffinés minimisent l'idée d'un nouvel impérialisme turque et le décrit plutôt comme un partenariat pacifique sur le modèle de zone de libre-échange”

Des amateurs de l'histoire européenne y reconnaîtront des zollverein qui présageait l'unification de l'Allemagne.

Cependant, cette anlogie qui fait la comparaison entre le Moyen-Orient et l'Europe n'est pas sans problème. Tandis qu'il existait des différences économiques et sociales en Europe, ce n'était pas de même ampleur des inégalités créant un golfe entre les puissance petrolières et les pays dépourvus des ressources. En plus, la cooperation parmi les pays européens a été rendu nécessaire pas le traumatisme de la deuxième guerre mondiale. Tandis que l'on pourrait considérer la dictature dont souffraient les pays arabes comme un traumatisme, on ne trouve pas un seul point de conflit qui peut servir de base de cooperation, telle la
Communauté européenne du charbon et de l'acier qui a permis à la France et l'Allemagne de mettre à côté leur rivalité historique. En plus, on pourrait également faire la comparaison avec d'autres périodes historiques, comme les révolutions de 1848 ou encore la chute de l'Union Soviétique.

Quoi qui arrive, ce qui reste à retenir c'est que la Turquie est indispensable dans la région Maghreb-Moyen-Orient et que l'on ne peut plus la reléguer a la périphérie, comme dans le procédure d'adhésion à l'Union Européenne, ou dans les négociations avec l'Iran sur la question nucléaire. Alors, peut-être ce n'est pas le réveil de l'Empire Ottomane, mais certainement une période de regain de pouvoir et influence pour la Turquie.

The illustration is based on a photo in the Abdul Hamid II Collection in the Library of Congress.

mardi 3 mai 2011

An Interesting Program in Jordan

The State Department has a lot of interesting programs in different countries around the world. Juan Cole mentioned the Arabic Book Program, whose mission is complementary to his Global Americana Institute project.

Believing that increased communication leads to increased understanding and respect, more translations can have a positive impact. Just as importantly, this program has a variety of activities designed for various groups. Relatively privileged English Literature students and refugee camp dwellers have different needs and interests, and it's encouraging to see that this program's organizers recognize that important fact.

samedi 16 avril 2011

A new law in France / Une nouvelle loi en France

This week, the French government began enforcing its ban on face-coverings in public. Two women wearing niqabs were arrested at a protest in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. French newspapers and blogs have debated the pros and cons of the niqab issue since last year, but opinion remains divided on the ban and on the larger issue of immigrant integration in France.

Veiling has been a fraught and contentious point of conflict in France since at least the 1980s. Those who oppose it point to the French principle of laïcité which demands a strict separation of religion in the public sphere. Supporters point to Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states : “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

People in America have a good deal of trouble understanding why France has such a big problem with what seems to them to be an individual woman's personal choice. On closer examination, it appears that the French are not convinced that it is a personal choice. Additionally, throughout history, the French have been uncomfortable with the relationship between women and religion, believing that Catholic clergy exercised undue influence over women parishioners.

The Open Society Foundations published a study that profiled women in France who wear niqabs, which revealed a complex reality that conflicts with popular perceptions. Notably, it showed that many women choosing to wear niqabs were French converts, and thus the “go back where you came from” attitude is not applicable to them. It also contradicted the idea the women are forced to wear this garb.

However, freely chosen or not, the question still remains: by wearing a niqab, is a woman refusing to engage with society?

It is here that the distinction ought to be made between public and private. While there should be no difficulty with a woman choosing to wear a discreet headscarf, there are circumstances under which wearing a face-covering niqab could constitute a problem.

The two main concerns are identification and security. In daily life, many circumstances require identifying a person, from access to some buildings, to renting a car, to picking up children from school. Without seeing a person's face, it is almost impossible to establish that the person is who they claim to be. The second concern, security, is more nuanced. Most banks and many stores require that a person remove face coverings before entering. This is not limited to niqabs, as it often includes sunglasses, hoodies and masks, and is intended to ensure people are not able to threaten the personnel or patrons inside. This is also because in face to face interactions, a good part of communication is non-verbal.

However, these instances do not comprise the bulk of day to day life. It should not be a problem for a woman to wear a niqab while walking around in her neighborhood, taking children to the park, or buying groceries. These are all activities she is undertaking as a private person. Yet, this dynamic changes depending on the circumstances. Most people would be uncomfortable being treated a doctor whose face they could not see, or dealing with a cashier whose face was invisible. And they would certainly balk at opening the door to someone dressed this way or leaving their children a day care with an employee wearing a niqab.

An example from Philadelphia illustrates how wearing a niqab adapts to circumstances in daily life. A nurse works in a facility for senior citizens. While at work, she removes the niqab from her face in order to put the patients at ease and be recognizable. When her shift is finished at midnight, she puts her niqab back on and walks to the bus stop. Since it is late at night and her niqab could appear threatening, she flips it up when she boards the bus and flips it back down when she gets off. At no point does her niqab pose a problem to the people around her, nor is she refusing to participate in society.

On the surface, then, it would seem possible to arrive at a compromise solution where a woman is able to express her religious conviction without infringing on the safety or comfort of the people around her. Yet, this issue just won't go away in France. Why therefore does it continue to make headlines, even in the midst of an economic crisis, multiple wars and the aftermath of the major disaster in Japan?

Tellingly, this week, Jeune Afrique ran a piece on Marine Le Pen and her growing influence and popularity in France. It is not difficult to draw a connection between economic hardship and a surge of anti-immigrant sentiment or scape-goating of minority groups. It is also worth noting that President Sarkozy's poll numbers have been slipping. In order to counter this, reviving an anti-minority discourse is politically advantageous in two ways. First, it distracts from other pressing problems or unpopular legislative projects, such as raising the retirement age. Second, it demonstrates to voters who feel resentment towards immigrant and minority groups and who might be attracted by the Front National, that Sarkozy and his party share their concerns.

Disappointing as it may be to believe that this law is a political ploy, the theory is not easily dismissed. However, whatever the motive behind the law, it does little to resolve any of the underlying tensions within French society. Additionally, as reported in Le Monde, it does not enjoy the support of police officers, who already have a tough job in France. Given the protests and backlash, one can expect that the ban will continue to face challenges, whether or not this controversy does anything constructive for the French rank and file.

Cette semaine, la loi interdisant le port de voile intégral rentre en vigeur en France. Deux femmes portant des niqabs ont été interpellées en train de se manifester sur le parvis de Notre Dame de Paris. Les journaux et blogs français tournent en rond en discutant cette loi depuis l'année dernière mais les avis restent divisés sur cette interdiction et aussi sur l'integration des immigrés en France.

Le port du voile crée un tollé depuis les années 1980. Ceux qui l'opposent le font au nom du principe de laïcité qui restreint la place de la religion dans l'espace publique. Ceux qui le soutiennent signalent l'article 18 de la Déclaration Universelle des Droits de l'Homme: “Toute personne a droit à la liberté de pensée, de conscience et de religion ; ce droit implique la liberté de changer de religion ou de conviction ainsi que la liberté de manifester sa religion ou sa conviction seule ou en commun, tant en public qu'en privé, par l'enseignement, les pratiques, le culte et l'accomplissement des rites.”

Les Américains ont du mal à comprendre la logique d'un tel polémique sur ce qui semble pour eux le choix personnel d'une femme. Mais, en le regardant de plus près, les Français ne sont pas convaincus qu'il s'agit d'un choix personnel. En plus, au cours de l'histoire, la relation entre les femmes et la religion dérange, surtout dans l'idée que les curés exercaient trop d'influence sur les paroissiennes.

Récemment, la fondation Open Society a publié une étude sur les femmes en France portantes le niqab, qui relève une réalité assez complexe qui s'affronte contre les perceptions. Notamment, plusieurs femmes qui choisissent de porter le niqab sont des converties de souche, alors l'attitude “Rntrez chez vous” ne s'appplique pas. Cela contredit aussi l'idée que ces femmes sont contraintes de le porter par leur entourage.

Cependant, choisi librement ou pas, reste la question: en portant un niqab, une femme refuse-t-elle se participer à la vie de société?

Ici doit se faire la distinction entre privé et publique. Tandis que le port d'un foulard discret ne pose aucun problème, il existe des circonstances où dissimuler le visage pourrait gêner.

Les deux grands enjeux sont l'identifcation et la sécurité. Au cours de la vie quotidienne, il est essentiel de pouvoir identifier une personne, que ce soit pour rentrer dans certains immeubles, louer une voiture, chercher les enfants à l'école. Sans pouvoir distinguer le visage d'une personne, il devient presque impossible de verifier qu'il s'agit vraiment de la personne prétendue. L'enjeu de sécurité s'avère plus complexe. La plupart des banques et plusieurs magasins exigent que les clients retirent tout objet qui cache le visage. Cela ne se limite pas au niqab, mais comprend aussi les lunettes de soleil, le capuches et les masques, sand le but d'empêches des menaces au personnel ou aux clients. En plus, au cours de rencontres en face à face, une grande partie de communication passe par des expressions de visage.

Cependant, on ne passe pas toute la vie à la banque, ni à la préfecture. Le port du niqab ne doit pas poser problème en marchant dans les quartier, ni en jouant avec les enfants au parc, ni en faisant les courses. Elle exécute toutes ces tâches en tant qu'une personne privée. Mais cela varie selon les circonstances. La plupart de gens ne seraient pas à l'aise en visitant chez un médecin au visage dissimulé, ni en passant à la caisse d'un caissier dont on ne voit pas la figure. Et plusieurs hésiteraient d'ouvrir la porte à une personne habillée de cette manière, ou de confier leurs enfants à une assistante de crèche portant un niqab.

Un exemple de Philadelphie illustre comment une femme peut porter un niqab en s'adaptant aux circonstance de sa journée. Une infirmière travaille dans un centre d'acceuil pour des personnes agées. Travaillant, elle enlève le niqab afin de mettre ses patients à l'aise et pour pouvoir être reconnue. Une fois sa période de travail finie, elle le remet et va à l'arrêt de bus. Mais, comme il est tard, elle le relève afin de ne pas apparaître menaçant au conducteur et le remet en descendant du bus. Au cours de sa journée, la présence du niqab ne gêne pas les gens autour d'elle et elle ne refuse pas l'interaction sociale.
Alors, il ne semble pas impossible d'arriver à un compromis qui permet à une femme l'exercise de la liberté religieuse sans perturber la sécurité ni le confort de ceux qui l'entourent. Pourtant, le port du niqab reste un problème épineux en France. Pourquoi il fait toujours la une, même en pleine crise économique, plusieurs guerres à la fois, et le désastre au Japon?

De façon révélatrice Jeune Afrique consacre un article à la montée en influence et renommé de Marine Le Pen. Il n'est pas difficile de faire un lien entre la crise économique et la hausse d'hostilité contre les populations issues de l'immigration. On ne peut pas ignorer le fait que l'opinion de Sarkozy s'écroule. Pour le neutraliser, il est de son avantage de stigmatiser les populations issues de l'immigration. En premier lieu, cette stratégie détourne l'attention d'autres problèmes ou encore des projets législatifs comme le report de l'âge de la retraite. Deuxièment, cela montre aux electeurs attirés par le Front National et le discours xénophobe que Sarkozy et l'UMP partagent leurs soucis.

Tandis que l'idée que cette loi relève d'une stratégie politique est décevante, on ne peut pas l'exclure. Cependant, peu importe le morif derrière cette loi, il ne contribue pas grand chose à calmer les crispations au sein de la société française. En plus, comme signale Le Monde, la police dénonce cette loi comme inapplicable, surtout dans un contexte tendu. Compte tenu de l'opposition, on peut attendre encore des contestations, même si cela ne rapporte rien pour la population en général.

dimanche 10 avril 2011

Where is Tunisia headed?

In the April 4 issue of The New Yorker, Steve Coll devotes seven pages to an interesting profile of the Tunisian Revolution. Since Coll has exemplary credentials and The New Yorker is an opinion-maker, this profile should work to raise a good deal of awareness about the stakes of the Tunisian Revolution.

Coll paints a skillful picture of the diversity of protesters “students, robed lawyers, jobless men, Islamists and parents toting young children” and captures Mohammed Ghannouchi's resignation. Then, he moves into the meaty part of his report. He meets with important actors and lets them speak.

Moncef Marzouki, the veteran dissident and leader of the League for Human Rights, expressed frustration with European and American hopes for reform:
“I am extremely surprised that in the West you have a lot of people who keep thinking that you can reform Syria, you can reform Saudi Arabia. It's complete nonsense....A dictatorship is a dictatorship, and it is not something you can reform.”

So Ben Ali had to go, but who or what will take his place? Here, Coll contrasts the Tunisian approach with the Egyptian. While constitutional amendments were rushed through a referendum in Egypt, on July 24th Tunisians will elect a new constituent assembly, who will rewrite the constitution. The hope is that this will allow the constitution to reflect the wishes of the people.

In a region full of turmoil, Coll is hopeful for Tunisia:
“The conditions in Tunisia seem more favorable to a durable democracy than those in many other Arab nations. The population is well educated; there are no sectarian or tribal divides; and there is a foundation of civil society. Tunisia's success would not guarantee that its neighbors will follow, but its failure would be a dark portent.”

At the same time, Coll is far from callow in considering the obstacles facing the burgeoning democracy in Tunisia. The repeated resignations from interim cabinets feed instability within the country. A prominent secular-socialist leader, Ahmed Néjib Chebbi, expressed worry: “There is no more confidence. I am seriously fearing that Tunisia will fall into turmoil and experience violence.”

Fear and violence were both rampant in the weeks following Ben Ali's departure, as gangs roamed the countryside, smashing and burning. Most people believed this was the work of the police politique trying to create the impression that liberty was dangerous and to make the populace nostalgic for the stability they enjoyed under the vanished rais. The revolution created a power vacuum, and almost no one is prepared to fill it. Coll points out the relative weakness of the Army, despite General Rachid Ammar's refusal to shoot protestors. Since Ben Ali kept the Army weak to avoid a coup like his own that replaced Bourguiba, there is no real possibility of a military government on the current Egyptian model.

But who else might fill this vacuum? Many politicians are too tainted by their ties to Ben Ali, and since the president and his family kept a stranglehold on business, there is no commercial elite. Instead there are trade-unionists, Islamists, and young wired activists. The General Union of Labor plays an important role, but has lost prestige over recent decades. Islamists are more of an unknown factor. While the best known group, Ennahda and it's leader, Rachid Ghannouchi enjoy a level of popularity, recently there have been tensions within Tunisian society over secularism. Finally, young bloggers have been key to spreading information and to organizing sit-ins, but while important, this does not directly translate into governing.

It's still a long time until July 24th, and in the time since Coll filed this report, alarming news of police brutality has surfaced in Tunisia. Additionally, the ongoing military operations in Libya and the presence of refugees, as well as the boats heading toward Lampedusa are problems that won't just go away. While the constituent assembly and a new constitution are laudable goals, Tunisians are agitated and risk a great deal of disappointment.

lundi 4 avril 2011

What's different in Algeria/ Qu'est-ce qui distingue l'Algérie?

Since the beginning of the Arab Spring, commentators have been speculating which countries will experience similar uprisings, how governments will respond, and what motivates citizens to rise up. Against the backdrop of ousted leaders in Tunisia and Egypt, civil war in Libya and stirring unrest in Morocco, why has Algeria remained relatively calm?

On the Foreign Policy Middle East Channel, Lahcen Achy advances five characteristics that differentiate the protest movement in Algeria from its neighbors.
  • The people do not have a shared set of grievances.
  • The opposition forces are divided among themselves and regulations prevent the organization of protests.
  • The security forces in Algeria are large and strong.
  • The military is integrated into the political and business power structure, so a change of president makes little difference.
  • People are still suffering from the traumatic effects of the civil war in the 1990s.
Achy admits that none of this makes change impossible in Algeria, simply that “in spite of the sporadic demonstrations and of the calls for change from prominent intellectuals and political figures, a unifying movement that transcends societal divisions is yet to be seen in Algeria.”

Much has been made of the characteristics that Tunisia and Egypt share (incidentally also with Iran) but now the movement has spread across a variety of countries all across the Middle East. For instance, while Egypt and Tunisia had cohesive historical identities, the same cannot be said for Yemen, nor for Syria. Tunisia has a relatively small and homogenous population, while Egypt has the largest, and a significant Coptic Christian minority. Algeria's population is also relatively large and diverse. While Tunisia's population is relatively affluent and middle-class, this does not hold true in other countries.
The only factor Achy mentions that may really have a durable effect is the legacy of the civil war. Other countries have experienced terrorism and atrocities, like the Hama massacre in Syria, but a civil war is different from even the most repressive tactics of a dictator. Having turned against one another in recent memory, it is understandable that they would want to avoid repeating the same situation.

Depuis le début du Printemps Arabe, les experts cherchent à discerner quel serait le prochain pays à se revolter, la réaction des dirigeants, et c'est quoi exactement qui pousse des citoyens jusqu'à là reprimés à agir. Entouré par des drames poltiques, le départ des dictateurs en Tunisie et en Egypte, la guerre en Libye, et la montée de contestation au Maroc, pourquoi l'Algérie reste relativement calme?
Sous la rubrique “Moyen Orient” de la revue “Foreign Policy”, Lahcen Achy signale cinq traits qui differencie le mouvement protestataire algérien de celui de ses voisins.
  • Le peuple ne partage pas des doléances communes.
  • Les forces de l'opposition ne sont pas réunis et sont limités dans leur capacité d'organiser et de se manifester.
  • Les forces de l'ordre sont nombreux et puissants.
  • Les responsables militaires sont bien integrés dans les milieux politiques et commerciales, diminuant l'importance de la fonction présidentielle.
  • Le traumatisme de la guerre civile reste dans les esprits.
Selon Achy, rien n'empêche un mouvement révolutionnair de déclencher en Algérie, mais “malgré des manifestations sporadiques et des appels au changement de la part des intellectuels et des hommes politiques, un bloc qui pourrait dépasser les divisions sociétales n'existe pas encore en Algérie.”
On parle beaucoup des caracterstiques que partagent la Tunisie et l'Egypte (et l'Iran d'ailleurs) mais maintenant que le mouvement prend ampleur et gangne plusieurs autres pays au Moyen Orient. Par exemple, tandis que la Tunisie et l'Egypte jouissent des indentités historiques cohésives, il n'en est pas ainsi pour le Yemen ni la Syrie. Un pays relativement petit, et d'une population homogène, la Tunisie se differencie de l'Egypt, avec ses 85 millions et sa minorité coptique assez importante. De manière analogue, la population algérienne comporte les Kabyles dans ses 35 millions. En fin, l'affluence relative et la place occupée par les couches moyennes en Tunisie se manifestent peu dans la région.

Le seul indice signalé par Achy qui peut jouer un rôle déterminant est la mémoire de la guerre civile. Bien que d'autres pays aient subi de terrorisme et des atrocités, comme le massacre de Hama en Syrie, une guerre civile dépasse même les tactiques les plus répressives d'un dictateur. Ayant vu la population s'en prend aux autres, le risque de faire reproduire la sitaution pèse lourd.

mardi 15 mars 2011

A Proposal where (almost) everybody wins / Une proposition qui plairera à (presque) tout le monde

A Proposal where (almost) everybody wins

Over the past few weeks, world leaders have attended a variety of meetings without arriving at a decision. Earlier, despite the catastrophe in Japan, the G8 met in Paris, and did not come up with a course of action. The Arab League has pronounced their agreement with a no-fly zone. Obama talks about “tightening the noose” around Qadhafi's neck. And yet, the army loyal to the “Guide” have retaken a string of towns, Ras Lanuf, Zawiya, Brega and now Ajdabiya. Things look bad for the Libyan rebels, in spite of their courage.

Almost everyone, with the possible exception of Hugo Chavez and some Libyans, agrees that Qadhafi poses a threat and that without help, Libya will either descend into an intractable civil war, or Qadhafi's forces will retake Benghazi and brutally repress the resisters. While certain hawks are beating the drum for war, Secretary Gates and General Wesley Clark prefer to proceed with caution, pointing to past difficulties with similar missions.

So, something must be done, but perhaps, for once, America shouldn't do it? This proposal centers firmly on NATO's neglected member; Turkey.

  • Turkey has a well-trained, well-equipped and experienced airforce
  • Turkey has few enemies (other than tensions with Armenia and Azerbaijan) and is popular
  • In a Middle East political landscape largely divided on sectarian line, with the two poles at Saudi Arabia and Iran, Turkey is not irrevocably aligned with either faction
  • However, since Turkey is majority Muslim, a Turkish-led intervention doesn't play into the jihadist narrative of Western infidel powers picking on Muslims
  • Prestige is important to Turks, whose feathers have been ruffled by
    • Being rebuffed when trying, with Brazil, to diffuse tensions with Iran
    • The Mavi Marmara fiasco
    • Lack of progress with EU adhesion, despite undertaking reforms
  • Turkey is not geographically far from Libya

Under this framework, NATO overall, or selected nations, or a UN force could provide tactical support and funds. This should not be too difficult, as long as a clear objective is defined. It is a mistake to enter into a conflict without a clear objective, and thus a clear point at which the conflict can be declared finished and forces leave definitively.

Une proposition qui plairera à (presque) tout le monde
Au cours des dernieres semaines, les dirigeants mondiaux se reunissaient plusieurs fois sans arriver à se mettre d'accord sur un politique commun envers la Libye. Nonobstant le catastrophe au Japon, le groupe G8 s'est réuni à Paris, mais ne décide rien. La Ligue Arabe se prononce en faveur d'une zone d'exclusion aérienne, et Obama parle de serrer le corde au cou de Kadhafi. Malgré tous ces prononcements, les forces fidèles au “Guide” enchaînent des victoires sur la côte libyenne, de Ras Lanouf à Zaouia, Bregua, et finalement Ajdabiya. Le bilan des forces rebelles n'est pas encourageant, malgré le courage du peuple Libyen.

Exceptés Hugo Chavez et quelques Tipolitains effrayés, les pouvoirs mondiaux s'entendent sure le fait que les actions de Kadhafi posent problème, et sans intervenir, le pays descendera soit en guerre civile sans fin, soit que Kadhafi reprendera Benghazi et reprimera brutalement la population. Certains hommes poltiques américains demandent haut et fort de préparer la guerre, mais le Ministre de la Défense Gates et le Général Wesley Clark conseillent plutôt le prudence, citant des cas similaires qui ont échoué.

Alors, il faut bien faire quelque chose, mais peut-être cette fois-ci, pas avec l'Amerique en tête? Cette propostion se focalise sur le mebre négligé de l'OTAN ; la Turquie.

  • L'armée de l'aire turque est bien équipée, bien entrainée et discipliné
  • La Turquie a de bonnes relation extérieures (sauf des tensions avescl'Arménie et le Azerbaïdjan) et jouit d'une bonne opinion internationale
  • Dans un Moyen Orient divisé par des clivages sectaires, s'opposant l'Arabie saoudite à l'Iran, la Turquie n'a pas définitivement choisi son camp
  • Cependant, étant de majorité musulmane, une intervention de la Turquie ne suit pas la logique djihaiste de domination des musulmans par les pouvoirs occidentaux
  • Estimant comme très important le prestige, les turques sont bien froissés de
    • avoir été repoussé quant à leur démarche avec le Brésil envers l'Iran
    • le debacle du Mavi Marmara
    • le manque d'avancement dans les négociations pour rejoindre l'Union Européenne
  • La proximité géographique de la Turquie par rapport à la Libye

Dans ce cadre, il serait possible que l'OTAN, ou certains pays occidentaux,ou l'ONU puissent fournier des aides tactiques ou finacières. Cela ne doit pas être trop difficile, une fois un objectif défini. Sans objectif, dès le début, une intervention risque de ne pas avoir de fin évidente, laissant s'enliser les intervenants.

vendredi 11 mars 2011

What to do about Libya?

The question of how to respond to the situation in Libya is proving complicated and contentious.

What's interesting is that opinions do not always line up with the general ideological stances of various political actors and commentators.

In a unilateral move, France recognized the rebels centered around Benghazi as the legitimate government of Libya. As of writing, no other government has followed the same course of action. As LeMonde reports, the rest of the EU is unsure of how to react. After all, part of the ideal of the EU is to have a common foreign policy, of which Catherine Ashton is the head. The New York Times paints a picture where only France and the UK are urging a no-fly zone, ranging them against other EU members, particularly the German heavy weight.

Various international organizations are also far from unanimous in their approach. The Sydney Morning Herald, reporting on deliberations in the UN Security Council, states " China, Russia and other nations had initially resisted that move but were swayed by Arab and African calls for action against Gaddafi." NATO is also seeking regional cooperation, along with a legal justification and demonstrated necessity to intervene.

Aside from individual governments and international organizations, experts and pundits display a wide variety of opinions.

A key question is whether Western powers should intervene at all. They are further divided into those who maintain it is not in America's interests, like Micah Zenko, and others who consider any intervention to be arrogant, imperialist interfering. Al Jazeera describes possible intervention as "disingenuous desire to reassert US leadership in the world." Many commentators emphasize the fact that US and European support for autocratic Arab regimes and participation in campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq have had a detrimental effect on their perception and prestige in the Arab world. As such, another intervention could only further harm international perception of Western powers.

Proponents of intervention are also motivated by a variety of factors. The death and destruction in Libya pose a genuine humanitarian problem. Within Libyan borders, there are many reports of deadly force against unarmed civilians, as well as harassment and targeting of black Africans, and there dangerous situations at the Tunisian border. The memory of failure to respond in Rwanda, and of massacres at other flash points, like Sbrenica, fuel a heartfelt concern for the lives and livelihoods of Libyan citizens. Others see intervention in Libya as a way to avoid being on the wrong side of history in the larger context of the Arab Spring.

These are all important factors to weigh, so it will be interesting to see how the decisions are played out in the days to come.

mercredi 9 mars 2011

Is Intelligence the problem?

Room for Debate ran a feature recently asking “Why Didn't the U.S. Foresee the Arab Revolts?” The answers vary by expert, but most mention the same themes: groupthink, the unpredictability of human events, lack of resources, and higher-ups who don't want to face unwelcome news.

One of the experts consulted is Peter Bergen, who is the author of "The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict between America and Al-Qaeda." Both this book and “Marching Toward Hell: America and Islam After Iraq” by Michael Scheuer advance similar claims. In their experience, it is not a failure of intelligence services, but rather a failure of the political elite to use the intelligence in America's interest.

Both Scheuer and Bergen also advance the idea that the conflict with Al-Qaeda and other Islamist terrorists has been misrepresented. When politicians claim that terrorist organizations hate freedom or the American way of life, these statements do not line up with the public positions that Al Qaeda and its affiliates have taken. In fact, they contrast the statements of Bin Laden with those of Ayatollah Khomenei, who attacked the supposedly decadent and depraved American way of life. For the most part, Al-Qaeda sticks to discussing American foreign policy and does not care very much what Americans do within the United States.

This analysis could either be a source for hope, or for despair. On the one hand, Scheuer makes the case that lower level intelligence, consular, and military personnel are doing their jobs well and ably. An article by David A. Andelman in the World Policy Journal emphasizes this point, but also points out that these dedicated public servants are often ignored and under-appreciated. Essentially, it means their hard work will have little or no effect on policy outcomes.

What is interesting is that most of the experts consulted for Room for Debate advanced different ideas than Scheuer, Bergen, and Andelman. Room for Debate suggests that intelligence is faulty or limited, while Scheuer et al say the problem is not an intelligence failure at all, but rather a lack of political will, for a variety of reasons, to act based on intelligence. If the problem is a political one, then it is difficult to know whether additional funding for intelligence gathering will have an effect.