A forum devoted to current political, economic trends, and news of the Maghreb region.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Tunisia's First Test

As Egypt continues to spiral down the path of authoritarianism, Tunisia held its first free, fair and competitive elections on October 23rd. By all accounts, the elections registered virtually no violations, and witnessed the resounding plurality victory of the Islamist al-Nahda Movement. The movement cast to abeyance during the dictatorship of Ben ‘Ali won 41 percent of the votes and 90 seats of the Constituent Assembly. The first order of business for al-Nahda is to form an interim transitional government to oversee the promulgation of a new democratic constitution for Tunisia.

Like the electoral process, the aftermath of the election results unfolded in an impressive fashion. Most of the losing parties conceded defeat and “bowed to the will of the Tunisian people. The elections are historical not only in Tunisia, but for the rest of the Arab world as well. Tunisians rose up to the challenge as the whole world observed their electoral contest. In so doing, they set the example for the rest of the Arab world in their ability to conduct peaceful democratic elections. The Tunisian success assuages fears in some western circles and local skeptics on the ability of Arab societies to fully implement basic institutional tasks leading to the elections. In this respect, most Tunisians I talked to commend the colossal work of Yadh Ben Achour, head of the Election Commission (ISIE), in the tedious task of party list registration.

Tunisia has passed the first test with flying colors, but the toughest work lies ahead. The new government and constituent assembly have to tackle issues of freedom of the press, police reform and economic development. The new constitution should undoubtedly embody principles of separation of powers, horizontal accountability, individual and group liberties and a firm emphasis on the rule of law. Islamist leaders of al-Nahda will be the first Arab Islamist party in charge of a political system. The naysayers and alarmists will inevitably doubt the abilities of al-Nahda and question its motives. Al-Nahda will have to dispel orientalist arguments of democratic dissimulation and show real commitment to principles of good governance. Al-Nahda leader, Rachid Ghannouchi, has so far spoken in favor of a civil state and Tunisia's secular liberal code of personal status, which among other things, bans polygamy. His vision is for a synthesis between Islam and modernity as al-Nahda aims "to ensure stability, to reform justice, and to prosecute corruption cases, putting an end to it, in all its forms."

These are remarkable times for Tunisia and the Arab world. Despite still re-entrenched dictatorial regimes in Syria and Yemen, Tunisia and Libya (except for the summary execution of Gaddafi) show the potential for an Arab democratic renewal. No longer can the world dismiss the Arab Middle East region as a zone of democratic deficit. As Tunisia undergoes a fascinating political experiment, the eyes of the world will be closely watching, but ultimately the fate of Tunisia is for the first time in the hands of its own people.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The End of Qaddafi: A New Beginning for Libya

Dramatic news out Libya today. After weeks in hiding, Qaddafi is dead. The TNC has confirmed the news of Qaddafi and his son Mu'tassim's death today through its vice-chairman, Abdul Hafiz Ghoga. The details of Qaddafi's death are still unclear and there are several unconfirmed reports about the colonel's last minutes. Apparently, Qaddafi's convoy was shot by a US drone and after an attempt to flee, Qaddafi was later found holed in a storm rain where he was captured alive but wounded by rebel forces. The Daily Mail reports that the former dictator pleaded with his captors in vain and subsequently killed by the rebels (this vide show Qaddafi's capture by the rebels).

What's clear is that his death marks the effective end of 42 year-tyrannical rule and comes at the heel of successive military victories by the TNC forces. The demise of Qaddafi is only the beginning of the much tougher task of re-building Libya on new firm and democratic foundations. In a country that lacks minimum institutional structures, that task is increasingly difficult, complicated by deep regional and tribal divisions.

This latest episode in the Libyan saga will undoubtedly bring about the end of the military involvement of NATO in the conflict. It also signals a shift in international interventionism in global affairs as it is a successful precedent for calibrated and measured military involvement against states' imminent threat to their own people. It inevitably raises issues of double standards as the same approach has not been pursued in other cases, such as Syria, Yemen and Bahrain still reeling from tremendous state violence. 

The news from Libya today will also provide much needed boost to some fledgling protest movements in other parts of the Arab world. This could embolden protest and oppositional factions as there is a increased palpable sense of regime vulnerability in much of the Middle East today. Some already see it as a message to Arab rulers for swift meaningful reforms.

As Libya celebrates its emancipation from the last vestiges of the former despotic regime, Tunisia is entering a new chapter in its nascent political history. The country is holding its first post-Ben Ali and the first post-Arab spring elections for a 217-member constituent assembly on Sunday. The stakes are high for the Maghrebi state, but the first phase of voter and party list registration concluded last month in relatively calm and transparent environment. Some 10000 candidates from over 100 parties are contesting the elections, but the major cleavages remain the Islamists of Ennahda and the center left (secular) Progressive Democratic Party (PDP). Future posts will attempt an analysis of the results of the elections and future trajectories for the Tunisian experiment.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Moroccan Monarchy and the Islamist Challenge

Shameless self-promotion. My book on the Moroccan monarchy is out. As am I as an anonymous blogger. The following is an online interview on the book I did for Jaddaliya.

The book provides a new approach to the study of the prevalence of authoritarianism in the MENA. It re-introduces socio-institutional variables into this debate without resorting to essentialist macro-claims; rather, it focuses on the micro-dynamics of symbolic power. The book provides an alternative way to conceptualize political legitimacy and power in the Middle East. It argues that the monarchy’s religious authority and its use of rituals of power limit the ability of Islamist and non-Islamist opposition groups to contest the monarchy’s legitimacy. This study goes beyond most institutionalist accounts of authoritarian persistence by exploring the micro-dynamics of symbolic power and the extent to which the regime uses rituals of power to create a political culture conducive to the monarchy’s supremacy in the socio-political realm, thus promoting regime stability in Morocco.

These rituals have been institutionalized in the political system and have become part of the political discourse in Morocco. The study examines the effects of the ritualization of the political process on oppositional—especially Islamist—forces. The book argues that the monarchy’s religious authority and its use of rituals of power impede the ability of Islamist and other opposition groups to mobilize and to penetrate Moroccan society. The prevalence of this cultural and social hegemony contributes to the stability and resilience of the monarchical authoritarian regime in Morocco.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Transitions and Breakdowns in the Arab Spring.

At a time where seismic changes are taking place in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), few have noticed, or perhaps are reluctant to note the counterrevolution trends in the Arab spring. Already Egypt is struggling under the might of an unenlightened military regime, supposed to act in the best interest of the revolution. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has stymied dissent and subjected dissenters to its extrajudicial and military trials.

In Tunisia, perhaps the closest to a steady post-revolutionary transition, registration for the Constituent Assembly closed last Wednesday, September 7th with a dizzying 1750 electoral lists. The Islamists of Ennahda and the Community Party of Tunisia (PCOT) are the most noticeably organized in terms of party lists. Ennahda is fielding candidates in all of Tunisia's 23 governorates, while PCOT has 14 lists and the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) submitted a meager 8 lists. The Constituent Assembly elections set for October 23rd will be the first such contest in post-Ben 'Ali era and could be key analytical tool to examine the future of Tunisian democracy. In Libya, still jubilant after toppling the 42 rule of Colonel (fugitive) Gaddafi, the task of state-building looms in the horizon amidst unclear lines of leadership of the National Transitional Council (NTC).

While no one can predict accurately the results of such elections, we do know for sure that post revolutionary aftermaths can be messy, fuzzy periods of uncertainty, where new socio-economic and political structures are formed. Elite predispositions are key after the breakdown of authoritarian rule. The fate of states and societies lies with the actions of the few political elite organizations and groups. From Latin American experience, we know regime transitions are abnormal periods of ‘undetermined’ political changes in which there are not enough structural or behavioral parameters to guide and predict the outcome. Transitologists O’Donnell and Schmitter, for instance, posit a ‘contingent’ model of change. This model assumes that in the political game during transition periods, one actor’s initiative prompts another actor’s response and that political events follow from one to another. From a contingent point of view, political outcomes stem from interaction and bargaining. The key to any democratic transition, then, is the ability of participants to arrive at negotiated agreements that grant everyone a piece of the transitional pie.

Absent from this political crafting is the will of the people in its exercise of accountability. Societal accountability is to be fostered within that dimension. Societal accountability is a non-electoral, yet vertical mechanism of control of political authorities that rests on the actions of a multiple array of citizens’ associations and movements and on the media. These actions monitor the action of public officials, expose governmental wrongdoing, and can activate the operation of horizontal agencies. Absence of societal accountability leads to myopic democratic transitions susceptible to breakdown.

Democratic breakdown is not merely the result of ineffective leadership response to crisis, but goes more deeply to the response of various parties and groups to political and social change (i.e. in Latin America). As long as so called transition has a set of rules of the game that protect the purveyors of the regime's interests, democracy or some facade form of it is tolerated. Argentina's military, for instance, allowed democracy after 1955, as long as the "wrong" party of the Peronistas did not win. We could potentially see SCAF in Egypt taking on that role of the watchdog of a sham democratic transition, overseeing and controlling the outcome of electoral contests. however, history dictates that such military role is short-lived and never amounts to full-fledged consolidation of democratic governance.

For long, the MENA region languished under the yoke of Sultanistic authoritarian regimes (to borrow Juan Linz's terminology). These carry institutional baggage and memory of personalism and arbitrary rule, which hinder any movement towards the rule of law, an efficacious state bureaucracy and a vibrant free civil society. All necessary ingredients for any consolidation of democratic rule. Egypt, Libya and Tunisia all suffered from decades of repression where civil society was battered by the state apparatus and dissent was suffocated. However, the existence of relatively organized opposition during the Mubarak era in Egypt, could prove important in rebuilding the current era if SCAF steps away from political rule. Military rule can only be acceptable if it subsides under the democratic civilian authority.

Tunisia had little in terms of civil society. Ben 'Ali virtually purged the political scene of all dissident and oppositional voices. Institutional purgatory was even extreme in Gaddafi's Libya, where state institutions are inchoate and no political parties existed in a quasi-totalitarian system. This approach to governance in both north African states inevitably affects the current political experiment in Tunisia and Libya. After all, the authoritarian dictatorships of Latin America and Southern Europe left a more positive legacy for the legal system and left a heritage for state building that was less negative than that of post-totalitarian regimes, where none of the ingredients of an effective economic or civil society existed.

Similarly, the continued existence of figures from the old guard threatens the transition to democracy. Whether it is the octogenarian interim prime minister Beji Caid Sebsi in Tunisia or Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi's SCAF in Egypt, the future of transition to democracy in either country remains improbable and uncertain. Libya so far suffers from a crisis of leadership despite attempts of Mustapha Abdul Jalil and Mahmoud Jibril to provide much needed guidance to conflicting tribes and militia groups. What the three newly emancipated countries share in common is that their future democratic transition and consolidation will greatly depend on choices, and decisions made in this tightly controlled inner circles of power.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Libya's Rebels' Rise from the Ashes

Just when skeptics began writing obituaries of the Arab spring, the remarkable events unfolding in Libya over the last three days have renewed hope in the Arab struggle to rid the region of authoritarianism. The Libyan rebel forces have captured Tripoli and have finally stormed Bab al-'Aziziya compound (Gaddafi's fortified residence). There was no trace of Gaddafi and his family in the compound amidst wild speculations about his whearabouts.

Unlike the relatively easy toppling of Zine al-'Abidine Ben 'Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt, the Libyan affair dragged on for over six months. The liberation of Tripoli required intense fightng on the ground and some 75 NATO air sorties. Most importantly, the fighting have claimed more than 13ooo lives. Few feel vinidcated in their support of NATO's involvement in Libya, but that should be shortlived and all efforts must focus on post-Gaddafi reconstruction. The Libyan fight for liberation showcases the varied nature of the Arab spring as change can either result from peaceful protests or sometimes through violent means.

The Liberation of Libya also proved that NATO's involvement has been key in depleting the power of pro-Gaddafi forces. The air and ground fighting simply proved too much for Gaddafi loyalists. NATO's mandate to protect the advances of the rebels into Tripoli quickly turned into an action for regime change, following the launch, Saturday, August 20, of Operation "Siren of the Sea." NATO's involvement signals a new era in successful international intervention based on humanitarian legitimacy, where the cost of non-intervention is higher than measured and calibrated military involvement.

As Libyans regain control over their destiny and their oil resources for the first time in 42 years, the harder part of state building lies ahead. Libya presents greater challenges than any other Arab country. There is virtually no apparatus of the state, no constitution and no coherent political institutions that could serve as a platform for transition towards potential democratic governance. Libya also features significant tribal cleavages that have to be taken into consideration as the new Libyan state is built. For four decades, Gaddafi played tribes against each other, and there is still significant tribal rivalries in Libya. Everyone is jubilant in Libya today, but the future could prove even tougher than the military fighting.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Feb. 20 Movement's Struggle for Relevance

Finally back from a long sojourn in Morocco and Tunisia. My trip to Morocco coincided with the national debate on the constitutional revisions put forth by the palace commission's recommendations, and approved by an alarming 98% of voters. The high percentage of approval is indeed alarming because it signals a shocking return to the doctored percentages and egregious electoral transgressions of yesteryear. The years of Driss Basri, the former powerful Minister of the Interior. Several reports of fraud and lax voting procedures surfaced soon after the polls opened on July 1st. Though I didn't observe any in the voting station I visited.

The whopping 72% voter turnout is also an indicator of the state's successful campaign to alienate the "No" and boycott movements espoused by the Feb. 20 movement, and further dampened by the resounding royal endorsement of the new constitution. In a country with 44% illiteracy rate and where the king is semi-sacred, the vote for the constitution became a plebiscite on the monarchy itself. Any chances then for a popular rejection of the constitution was stillborn. Therein lied one of the many mistakes of the Feb. 20 movement: they have not adequately distinguished between their wholesale rejection of the proposed constitution and their specific position towards the monarchy in the constitutional draft. Their position on the role and status of the monarchy has been ambiguous and subject to several interpretations. The confusion made it easier for the state and its cronies to mount a counter campaign that cast the Feb. 20 movement against the monarchy and the territorial integrity of the country.

The mistakes of Feb. 20 movement were made all the more palpable by the apparent lack of organization and coherent strategy of protests which, at this point, are dwindling in strength and numbers. I was at the movement's post-referendum protests in Marrakech last Sunday, and the number of protesters didn't exceed 200 to 300 (see video I shot of the protests below). Most of the bystanders were gathered to deride and mock what a lot of Moroccans perceive today as an exercise in futility. That is the image the Feb. 20 movement has to shake off in the weeks to come. The results of the referendum have dealt the movement a major blow, maybe not a fatal one, but it has severely restricted its ability to mount a significant challenge to the corrupt undemocratic foundations of the state in Morocco.

The movement for reform in Morocco has to regroup and recast its message in more strategic ways focusing on what can be achieved in the short versus long terms in the kingdom. Any attempt or perceived attempt of reproach of the monarchical institution has to be carefully calibrated in order to reflect the duality in the modern Moroccan state between the Alaoui monarchical regime and the institutions of the government. The monarchy has been an institution above the political fray, of course with total control over the travails of the political scene. The Feb. 20 movement must at this point strive for cohesion and build the foundations for autonomous visionary leadership away from widely perceived "puppet" relationship with the left or the right in Morocco. If this movement is a reflection of the youth movements elsewhere in the Arab world, it has to distance itself from old aged political and civil society organizations. Most of all, it has to polish its image and message.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Ahead of Tomorrow's Constitutional Referendum

Back from Tunisia where I was a guest observer at the Board meeting of the Foundation of the Future (this will be subject to a future blog post). Tunisia's post revolutionary experience is under way with its ups and downs. The first day I was there, my friend went to the movie theater to watch Nadia el Fani's "Ni dieu, ni Maitre," (Neither God, nor Master) where she was assaulted by so called Salafis. Nevertheless, Tunisia has started a progressive movement towards change. However, my mind is with Morocco ahead of the constitutional referendum tomorrow. I have made my position clear in previous posts. This one includes a couple of pictures I took and a wishful thought the referendum was about meaningful reforms.

Monday, June 27, 2011

In post-revolutionary Tunisia.

I am in Tunisia where the atmosphere is cautious but optimistic. This is a new reinvigorated society inspired by ideals of freedom, human rights and democratic governance. Gone are all of the cult personalistic and ubiquitous portraits and pictures of deposed dictator Ben 'Ali. Instead, walls and streets are adorned by revolutionary graffiti and names of martyrs killed in the street demonstrations against the ancien regime. Many Tunisians are cognizant of the historical moment they have initiated in the Arab world. As the spark that ignited the wave of the Arab spring, Tunisia could stand as a model for post-revolutionary peaceful transitional politics.

While many are apprehensive of this or that group, namely the Islamists, Tunisians I spoke to feel empowered. Tunisians in the souks, cafes, taxicabs and streets has left a positive impression of reserved jubilance. Many have welcomed me to the "new Tunisia," and the "Tunisia in revolution." visiting the Qasba and the Avenue Bourguiba were truly inspiring, but made me think of elsewhere in the Arab world, where protests have not resulted in regime change. As the Arab spring turns slowly into summer, Tunisia gears up for the elections for the constituent assembly originally set for July, but recently postponed until October 23rd. Tunisians and Egyptians fare a lot better than their counterparts in Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, and Morocco

Morocco, for instance, has a date with a constitutional referendum for which everyone knows the result. Especially after the state-orchestrated marches on Sunday and the ever present billboards calling for citizen participation on July 1st. There has also been no media space allowed for any movement calling for either a "no" vote or boycott of the referendum. Moroccan TV has purposefully alienated those opposition movements and engaged in mere propaganda for a "yes" vote. So on Friday, change will take place on paper and Morocco will have a new constitution, but it will not serve the cause of democratic change. In this sense, Morocco perfectly fits the old French adage: "plus ça change, plus ça reste le même."

Thursday, June 9, 2011

UPDATE: Rachid Nini Sentenced to Jail

An update: a few post ago, I commented on the case of columnist Rachid Nini accused of "offense against national and the security of citizens." Today, the journalist has been sentenced to one year in jail and a fine of 1,000 DHs (around US $128). This is another sad day for freedom of the press in Morocco and a further negative signal pointing to the state intentions to stifle any impulse for the liberty of expression.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Police Brutality in Morocco

Events are heating up in Morocco. The regime seems to have abandoned its early tactical reconciliatory approach to the demands of pro-democracy movement. Last Sunday, security forces violently repressed peaceful protesters in Casablanca. Protesters were clearly shouting: "no stone, no knife, peaceful [protests]" This still didn't deter the forces of order from using violence against everyone, including elderly women carrying young children.

It is apparent that early statements on reforms were mere strategies to diffuse a rapidly contagious and popular movement for change in Morocco. That early tactical retreat by the regime was meant to allay the Feb 20 movement, riding high on the wave of Arab spring. However, the plight of the Moroccan spring is in tatters as the little media attention it once garnered has virtually faded, especially with atrocities committed in Syria, Bahrain, ongoing conflict in Libya and shaky post-revolt tumult in Tunisia and Egypt. The regime is betting on this "quiet repression" of the protests, while engaging in rhetorical support for clichéd talking points of democratic change.

Recent police brutality is taking place as the whole country awaits the recommendations of the royal blue ribbon committee on constitutional reforms set by the king in March. Suffice it to say that no one is holding their breath for vast structural changes, still the scope of the recommendations could provide additional levels for analysis of the regime's strategy to placate the calls for reforms. The pro-democracy movement is steadfast in its demands and its call for weekly demonstrations. The recent repression will only galvanize the protesters with legitimate demands for political and socio-economic renewal in the kingdom.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Morocco's Shaky Commitment to Reforms

One would think that Morocco is headed towards better times, especially as the king promised constitutional reforms last March. There also seemed to be an air of openness in state-society relations. Even after the Argana bombing in Marrakech, state authorities showed a measured response to the terrorists act far short from the wholesale arrests launched after the 2003 bombings in Casablanca. Those were promising indicators of a nuanced state approach to civil society and protest movement's demands for democratic reforms. However, events in the last two weeks suggest a determined state retreat from early progress, and a shaky commitment to meaningful reforms.

Two weeks ago, widely read and contentious columnist, editor in chief of the daily al-Massae Rachid Nini was arrested by state forces and is in prison on charges of "offense against national and citizens' security." The vagueness of the charge only masks the true nature of the indictment against Nini, for he has been rounded up for the totality of his critical stances of the government, and at times vociferous comments against immorality in Moroccan politics. Nini's daily column "shouf-tshouf," (in Arabic: شوف تشوف) has in the past talked about taboo subjects from the health of the king to the transgressions of the security forces in Morocco. He faced hefty fines, notably an exorbitant 6 million MAD (approx. US $500, 000) in 2008, knife assault in Rabat, and a near exodus of several members of the editorial team of al-Massae. Now his social commentary has become too much of a nuisance for the authorities.

I have long thought Nini to be a populist, vitriolic and at times, a misguided journalist. However, this should never serve as a pretext to silence what ought to be the expression of freedom in any society. Charges against Nini are similar to those leveled against other fiercely independent journalists in the Moroccan press. Last year, Abu Bakr Jama'i saw his Le Journal bled to death for similar offense of upsetting the power that be.

Morocco's attempt to shed the relics of past limitations on associational and informational freedom has long been beset by unease towards the press' increasing criticism of the state. Reforms or project of reforms has to start at the altar of the press as a watchdog for the travails of state-society negotiations. The state cannot claim reform and change on one hand, but continue to brutalize society on the other. Today's violent state repression of the protests near the purported detention center in Temara (5 miles southeast of Rabat) is yet another setback. Dubbed by many protesters as Guantemara for alleged torture of political prisoners, the mere alleged existence of the secret detention center indicates a reversion to the mindset of intransigence towards legitimate demands for change. The detention center is a definite reminder of the notorious "years of lead" of the ancien régime that should forever be cast in the ash heap of Moroccan history.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Arrests in the Marrakech Bombing

Three suspects have been apprehended with alleged ties to the bombing in Argana cafe in Marrakech. Two are from the coastal town of Safi (220 miles south of Casablanca), while the third is a local Marrakechi (see Moroccan TV news cast here). Several questions have been raised about the absolute silence of the Moroccan authorities during the investigation. However, yesterday the Minister of the Interior Taieb CherKaoui held a press conference, in which he announced the capture of the three suspects. According to Moroccan authorities, the alleged conspirators are inspired by al-Qaeda an militant Jihadi ideology, but not operationally part of the terrorist network. Two of the suspects tried several times to join Iraq to partake in militant Jihad, but each time were expelled from Libya in 2008, Syria in 2007 and Portugal in 2004. This raises serious questions about Moroccan authorities' competence as they seem to have lost track of a committed militant Jihadi, and hence failing to anticipate the terrorist acts.

These developments were only eclipsed by the sensational news of the death of master terrorist Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. Bin Laden's death deals a significant blow to al-Qaeda, but it is does not put an end to the militant ideology that has spelled disaster for the Islam and the world. Al-Qaeda may be losing ground, but al-Qaedism is still present amongst us, notably through its different subsidiaries in different parts of the world. In the Maghreb, the scepter of al-Qaeda is ever palpable with the al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). AQIM remains marginally active in the northern Sahara region of Sahel, and responsible for kidnapping and killing scores of foreign aid workers and tourists.

AQIM maintains Jihadist aspirations to carry attacks in north African countries. But they've denied any involvement in the argana cafe bombing. In the midst of the Arab uprising, states might lose sight of the ever present threat of militant Islamism. There is a need for an effective counter terrorism strategy, which will not be successful without the joint cooperation between Maghreb and Sahel states. Perhaps the current Algerian-Moroccan rapprochement leading to an eventual re-opening of the borders is a positive step that could potentially aid in combatting AQIM. Such optimism is only tempered by the on-going conflict over the Western Sahara, which Algeria is significantly involved in on the side of POLISARIO.

UPDATE: Moroccan authorities arrested three more suspects in the argana bombing. All from Safi and allegedly had knowledge of the plot to bomb the cafe on April 28th.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Explosion in the Red City of Marrakech

An explosion rocked the red city of Marrakech earlier today. The blast occurred around 11:30am local time at Argana Café right at the heart of the bustling and colorful Jama'a el Fna Square. The café and its famed terrace serve as a popular hangout spot for tourists and locals. The early tally of casualties reveals 14 dead and some 20 injured (see latest photos here or here). This is the second terrorist attack in Marrakech after the 1994 Atlas Asni hotel assault. For the first time in its long history, the fabled Jama'a el Fna Square is sad and empty tonight. Instead of the nightly festival of soothsayers, storytellers, mobile restaurants, singers and dancers, the square is a zone for investigative squads.

It is early to lay blame on any particular entity and I don't want to revel in conspiracy theories or premature analysis. Many have pointed the finger at militant Islamists, Algeria and the Polisario, but none of that is constructive at this point and is simply too early to ascertain. One thing is known so far is that the blast was a criminal act that sought to wreak chaos and fear in the hearts of tourists and Moroccans alike. In a city and country dependent on the tourism industry, this definitely deals a major blow to the Moroccan economy.

Today's tragic event transpires amidst a defining time for Morocco. Over the last couple of months, protesters have taken to the streets demanding greater political and socio-economic reforms. The king seemingly open to meaningful reforms promised constitutional revisions. There has been a general atmosphere of openness and proclivity towards dialogue. The Marrakech bombing couldn't have come at a worse time. This could potentially derail or delay the pace of reforms. One can certainly hope the blast would be an impetus to launch far reaching and systemic reforms in the face of whatever entity that seeks to tarnish the current national dialogue about the future trajectory of the kingdom.

My heart goes out to those affected by this tragic act of cowardice. Tonight I have my home city of Marrakech in my prayers and thoughts.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Large Protests in Morocco

Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of several cities and towns in Morocco. Protesters were calling for an eradication of despotism and corruption. Despite royal efforts to contain the angst in the streets through proposed commission for constitutional reforms. Peaceful protesters specifically called for the abolition of said commission and for real, not cosmetic reforms of yesteryear.

So far, political parties and civil society organizations have offered their own versions of proposed reforms to the constitution. Their proposals largely reflect the wide ranging demands for complete overhaul of the constitution including the (in)famous article 19 of the constitution that sets the king as the purveyor of both spiritual and temporal powers. This article does not give effective powers to the king, but endows him with a symbolic status above all political forces in the kingdom, as "Amir al-Mu'minin (commander of the faithful), the supreme representative of the nation and the symbol of unity..the guarantor the perpetuation and continuity of the State."

Real reforms will have to focus on the principles of separation of powers and popular sovereignty. Setting those only as the backbone for a massive campaign to bring about accountability and transparency in the public sphere. This means dismantling the existing kleptocratic and nepotistic structure of government. The regime knows that whatever the constitutional revisions are in June will have to be vast in scope and radically different from earlier constitutional reforms. Moroccan society is growing anxious and bolder as they directly address their monarch with demands direly needed in a country placed to be a model for constitutional monarchism.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Unrest Continues in the Region

As the Middle East continues to witness new waves of protests. Last week, Tunisians took to the streets to voice out dissatisfaction with the pace of change two months after the ouster of Ben 'Ali. Yemenis continue to display the same steadfast resolve against the thuggish regime of Saleh, who has unleashed the full might of his security forces killing scores of peaceful protesters. However, today he agreed to enter into talks with the opposition in Saudi Arabia. This might be a bit too late given Saleh's early intransigence that proved deadly for his own people.

Syria finally erupted as well with massive protests in the agricultural towns of Dar'a, Sanamin and the port city of Latakia. Sporadic protests also took place in Damascus. There in Syria as in Yemen, the regime responded with tremendous show of violence killing dozens of protesters. The events spurred the regime's attempt to address the protesters' demands fell as flat as the speech delivered by an aloof smug Bashar al-Asad. Blaming everyone but his repressive regime, Bashar talked about a foreign conspiracy behind the riots and lashed out on foreign media for what he viewed as systematic and deliberate lies against his regime.

Al-Assad's speech drew the ire of many Syrian activists. However, some argue that the speech accomplished its goal of rallying people around the security of the state of al-Assad especially after thousands of Syrian came out in support of the regime after the speech. This line of argumentation suggests Syrians are presented with two choices: security or mutli-ethnic civil strife, with the Syrians evidently opting for the former. This sounds myopic and reductionist since such argument is solely based on state-orchestrated demonstrations.

After a couple of weeks of sustained air strikes and a barrage of US Tomahawk missiles, Libya still oscillate between the ebb of pro-Gaddafi forces retreat and flow of rebel frustrated push towards the west in a hopeful attempt to topple Gaddafi. Both sides have shown fissures as the rebels continue to be mired in complete disorganization, while Gaddafi's inner circle lost some key officials to defection. Last week the all powerful former intelligence chief and foreign minister Moussa Koussa flew to London, where he resigned all of his formal posts in the Libyan state. Even Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam came out with an outlandish plan to devolve power away from his megalomaniacal father, promising democratic reforms, but with only one caveat: all of that will be performed under Saif al-Islam. The conflict in Libya is destined to a stalemate unless there are more notable breaks within the inner circle of Gaddafi, who is increasingly isolated.

The deciding factor could well be provided by the international community, whose military, logistical and financial support is key in toppling the regime of Gaddafi in Tripoli. However such support raises great concern in the US, where shades of the past in Afghanistan haunts US foreign policy makers. Many raise the issue of Jihadi Libyans among the rebels that could benefit from US weaponry and later on use it against US interests. Others in the US want a strict adherence to the wide-ranging mandate in the UNSC resolution 1973 authorizing the safeguard of Libyan civilians, short of a military intervention on the ground. Lost in this debate is a clear goal for the international intervention. Granted it has saved thousands of lives, but anything other than effective military aid for the rebels will fall short of toppling Gaddafi thus turning the conflict in Libya into a stalemate.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Awaiting International Intervention...

As the world awaits the first manifestations of the no-fly zone over Libya, Gaddafi forces continue its bombardment campaign on Misrata and Benghazi despite his declaration of a ceasefire. Videos showed utter destruction in the western part of Benghazi. Angst is growing amongst rebel leaders on what they perceive as the delay in deploying the no-fly zone. Meanwhile, Gaddafi is engaged in a last ditch effort to position his forces as close to Benghazi as possible, maybe in anticipation of a stalemated conflict in Libya.

In fact, short of substantial international military support beyond the no-fly zone decision, rebels couldn't probably topple Gaddafi in Tripoli. A lack of greater international involvement, short of ground invasion, could see Libya split into two parallel de facto region of influence. The Paris summit underway could go farther into providing much needed logistical and military support for the rebels. The summit also features Arab participation of Morocco, Jordan, UAE and Qatar part of what appears to be a gathering of an impressive international coalition against Gaddafi. In the coming hours, we should expect air strikes against select pro-Gaddafi targets. Such action is direly needed in order to destroy the air and ground capabilities of Gaddafi's forces. The latest reports suggest that Gaddafi is gathering civilians as a human shield around potential sites for international air strikes.

The coming days could decisively determine the future of the conflict in Libya. Hopefully the writing on the wall is clear for some in Gaddafi's entourage, and there is some substantial defection in his inner circle. However, that is highly unlikely as that circle is tightly knit and comprises his own sons with their military forces and members of his tribe. Gaddafi has shown utter contempt and disregard for the Libyan people, shelling at will in an attempt to punish those that dared to defy his dictatorial rule. Let's hope the international intervention swiftly bring about a successful conclusion to the turmoil in Libya, one that see Gaddafi's regime crumble.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Mohammed VI Promises Reforms in Morocco

Morocco's king Mohammed VI pledged constitutional reforms in today's speech (full text). This is the first time the king has openly invoked talks of political reforms since the Moroccan "day of rage" on February 20th. The speech (watch here) addressed the regionalization process that was launched last year under the Advisory Commission on Regionalization. In his speech, king Mohammed promised political reforms: "We have decided to undertake a comprehensive constitutional reform." He also stated his "firm commitment to giving a strong impetus to the dynamic and deep reforms... taking place". The king provides some detailed specifics for the proposed constitutional changes including:
1. Enshrine in the Constitution the rich, variegated yet unified character of the Moroccan identity, including the Amazigh component as a core element and common asset belonging to all Moroccans;
2. Consolidate the rule of law and the institution-based State; expand the scope of collective and individual freedoms and guarantee their practice; promote all types of human rights - political, economic, social and cultural rights as well as those relating to development and the environment - especially by inscribing, in the Constitution, the Justice and Reconciliation Commission’s well-founded recommendations as well as Morocco’s international commitments in this domain.
3. Elevate the judiciary to the status of an independent power and reinforce the prerogatives of the Constitutional Council to enhance the primacy of the Constitution, of the rule of law and of equality before the law;
4. Strengthen the principle of separation of powers, with the relating checks and balances, and promote the democratization, revamping and rationalization of institutions through the following:
* A parliament emerging from free, fair elections, and in which the House of Representatives plays the prominent role; expand the scope of legislative action and provide parliament with new powers that enable it to discharge its representative, legislative and regulatory mission;
* An elected government which reflects the will of the people, through the ballot box, and which enjoys the confidence of the majority of the House of Representatives;
* Confirming the appointment of the Prime Minister from the political party which wins the most seats in parliamentary election, as attested by election results;
* Consolidating the status of the Prime Minister as the head of an effective executive branch, who is fully responsible for government, civil service and the implementation of the government’s agenda;
* Enshrining, in the Constitution, the Governing Council as an institution and specifying its prerogatives;
5. Shore up constitutional mechanisms for providing guidance to citizens, by invigorating the role of political parties within the framework of an effective pluralistic system, and by bolstering the standing of parliamentary opposition as well as the role of civil society;
6. Reinforce mechanisms for boosting moral integrity in public life, and establish a link between the exercise of power and the holding of public office with oversight and accountability;
7. Enshrine in the Constitution the institutions concerned with good governance, human rights and protection of liberties.

The king promisingly calls for more separation of power, but glaringly stops short of mentioning how the monarchy is going to fare in relation to these reforms. In the past, the kingdom underwent top-down constitutional reforms that only strengthened the monarchical control over the political system, drowned the party system with more political parties loyal to the palace and introduced mechanisms used for electoral engineering. However, this time, the discourse is full of strong language for reforms in king's speech calling for "comprehensive political, economic, social and cultural reforms."

Despite favorable reactions from the Islamist Party of Justice and Development and premature adulation from political scientist Mohammed Darif, constitutional reforms have to rise to the expectations of millions of Moroccans demanding a reduction in the scope of monarchical political prerogatives and discretionary powers in the political system. A system of checks and balances has to include the monarchy in it not as an arbiter above the political fray, but a component of a government that is subject to the processes of horizontal accountability. Similarly, concentration of power in the hands of a small political elite and Fassi families close to the palace has to be dismantled to provide representation and political participation across a broad spectrum of qualified Moroccans.

The events unfolding in the MENA region over the past two months have showcased that the Arab societies are no longer satisfied with cosmetic changes of yesteryear. Arab regimes have to devolve power back to their people and retreat from the political system in manners that satisfy fair, free and competitive elections, supremacy of the rule of law and vast individual liberties. The speech may well be a courageous first step undertaken by the king to provide meaningful reforms, but more is definitely needed. To be successful, the reforms have to involve a wide array of civil, political organizations and groups in a full and autonomous consultative way. Anything short of that will not meet what the king himself aims to set as a national dialogue on the future trajectory of the kingdom.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Libya's Nero

As the noose tightens on Gaddafi, the dictator has resorted to unparalleled levels of violence. With massive defections in the ranks of the civilian and military authority, Gaddafi's Jamahiriyya has all but crumbled around Tripoli. Still in charge from Bab al-'Aziziyya, the megalomaniac is as unpredictable as Nero or Caligula were. In his speech yesterday from the Green Square, Gaddafi called on his supporters to go out: "sing, dance and get ready." This is not a man who will go down without a fight. It is clear that his sons are also behind the arrogant and murderous defiance of the regime. In an interview with CNN Turk, Seif al-Islam Gaddafi pledged that the Gaddafi clan has three plans and each one of them involve living and dying in Libya. Seif has also dismissed any reports of thousands of causalities, and foreign mercenaries roaming the streets of Tripoli and neighboring cities randomly killing innocent Libyans.

It is only a matter of time before Gaddafi either flees the country or is dragged down from his feet by throngs of angry jubilant crowds. Especially as the UN Security Council unanimously voted to impose sanctions on Gaddafi, his sons and associates, and to refer the matter to a war crimes tribunal. However, in the absence of some form of foreign intervention, Gaddafi's demise won't happen without a massive tally of casualties. The international community has always been slow to respond to humanitarian crises. This should not go down as another Bosnia or Rwanda. Calls for humanitarian interventions, severe economic and military sanctions, and a no-fly zone over Libya are multiple. The last two options should garner consensus, but with every minute that passes, more innocent Libyans lose their lives at the hands of Gaddafi's mercenaries and murderous revolutionary committees. The US is working to master an international coalition against Libya, but their initial hesitance has been disastrous.

In the event of the likely demise of Gaddafi, Libya faces a monumental task of building the institutional foundations of a new state from an absolute scratch. At least Tunisia and Egypt has some existing institutions that with reform could engage in some form of democratic transition. In Libya, there is a complete institutional void. There is hardly any institutions, and where they exist, they are inchoate and partially formed. Libya does not have a constitution and all laws are promulgated through revolutionary committees and annual popular congresses. Gaddafi has veto power over all decisions, not as a president, but a leader of the revolution. However, this is slightly premature and should not deter from a complete focus on toppling a dictator who for 41 years, has squandered Libyan resources and violated his own people.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Arab Uprising: Whose Turn Is It Now?

The reverberations of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolts, which toppled two of the longest-ruling Arab dictators, continue to be felt throughout the Middle East. In Yemen, Iran, Bahrain and Libya, demonstrations are calling for political and economic reforms. Bahraini protesters have been brutally suppressed by security forces, killing two protesters, and even firing on funeral processions in the first two days of the protests. In Libya and with a complete media blackout, the police has been clashing with protesters for days and reportedly using foreign mercenaries to repress the rioters killing a reported 80 people in three days (The footage here is from Benghazi).

Morocco has a date with planned demonstrations on February 20th, amid recent reports that the youth movement behind it has withdrawn from the protest over disagreements with the Islamists of Justice and Charity. There are also divisions among some organizers of the protesters as three original founders of the movement called for the cancellation of the demonstrations because of what they perceived as foreign interference with the movement. Nonetheless, several human rights and activist organizations have joined the Feb 20 movement. Even the king's cousin Hicham has come out in support of the planned protests. the protest organizers are calling for sweeping constitutional changes, reducing the scope of monarchical powers, dissolving the parliament and sacking he government (see some of their slogans in Arabic).

Morocco has to be concerned about the events in the Arab world and of course it does share some of the socio-economic woes of many in the region, in terms of unemployment, poverty and the rising cost of basic commodities. However, Morocco's case may prove different from the mass-protests and uprisings that toppled dictators in Egypt in Tunisia. This does not mean we won’t see protests and demonstrations in the kingdom, but those, I suspect will be smaller in scale than what we saw in Tunisia and Egypt.

First of all, the nature and style of government in Morocco is different that in the Arab republican states, where political legitimacy is lacking. The Moroccan monarchy is largely popular and entrenched in the socio-cultural foundations of the country., so much so that in Morocco we can actually talk about two layers of political authority that help set the monarchy as regime and political order above the political fray, and one that is capable of deflecting all criticism towards the state government led by the prime minister. This is not surprising then that the small protests we’ve seen so far in Morocco, notably in Fes, Tangier have largely been demanding for the king to sack his government and away from any calls of regime change.

Another factor is that maybe M6’s early reforms proved key in deflecting some of the anger we see in the Arab world today. As he established one of the first truth and reconciliation commission to investigate the atrocities of years of lead and compensate victims of those years of state violence. The king also to introduce some small scale political reforms inviting vast array of political parties to partake in relatively open elections, and empowering a relatively viable civil society, which brought about significant policy changes to some social issues: women issues and Amazigh. However, there have been recent setbacks especially in the spaces allotted to the press, with the incarceration and economic asphyxiation of major independent newspapers and magazines. This is where the challenge for the country lies ahead. Allowing a modicum for freedom of expression outside state intimidation, retaliation and undergoing constitutional changes to reduce the scope of political powers of the monarchy.

February 2011 may go down in history as the most tumultuous month in the annals of Arab political history. These are truly historical times for the Middle East, and when the dust settles, we may come to see the region in a radically different new prism.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Ahead of Algeria's "Day of Rage"

Algerian university students have already launched a general and indefinite strike ahead of the planned February 12 protests. It is difficult to prognosticate with great deal of accuracy about where the Algerian protests will go and it seems more and more analysts are cautions not to fall in the trap of over-generalization, expecting a domino-effect of sorts in the Arab world. Andrew Lebovich's excellent piece in today Middle East Channel on Foreign Policy predicts small-scale protests, but nothing à la Tunisian/Egyptian scenarios.

Already the Syrian "days of rage" last week didn't amount to anything significant. Syria is probably not ready yet for a mass uprising in a country where the Assad cult personality has managed to depoliticize Syrian society, and the security (mukhabarat) system has maintained a close grip on all socio-political activities in Syria's bunker state. However in a surprise but calculated move to keep tabs on potential irevolutionaries, Syria has lifted the ban on Facebook, Youtube and Twitter.

As events unfold in Tunisia and Egypt, Arab autocrats must all be concerned about the state of their republics and kingdoms. The Arab street has broken the shackles of fear towards their governments. No longer are Arabs lacking in bravery in their demands towards better governance, rule of law and individual freedoms. Years of economic deprivation and political decay are now under microscopic examination around the world. The pressure is on the tyrants to reform. It is not surprising that many are in a race to offer preventive cosmetic changes.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Arab Winter Uprising

The Arab world is undergoing a remarkable winter uprising. Unlike, the social revolutions of yesteryear, which were framed in the context of radical ideologies against a socio-economic elite, the revolts in the Arab street lack a clear ideological foundation and are spontaneous uprisings against the excesses of the state, lack of good governance, rule of law and accountability. The common denominator between Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Algeria and Jordan is the inability of their regimes to promulgate real meaningful political and economic reforms. Politically, Arab authoritarian states feature the same menu of political manipulation featuring electoral engineering, limited space for opposition politics, and violations of individual civil liberties.

Economically, Arab autocrats in a bid to tighten control over the political system built an elaborate kleptocratic and clientelistic system that have siphoned off billions of dollars to the ruling elite and its state and social allies. It is not surprising then that the uprisings are largely led by disenchanted unemployed or under-employed youth. The IMF, for instance, estimates that Egypt needs approximately 10 million jobs, roughly 12% of its population. The numbers are even higher in countries such as Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan and Lebanon.

With protests scheduled in Syria (Feb.4-5), Algeria (Feb. 12) and Libya (Feb.17), Arab leaders are scrambling to engage in impromptu "reforms." King Abdullah of Jordan sacked the government for lack of economic and political progress, and Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh announced he won't be seeking reelection amidst protests in Sana'a. These knee-jerk decisions won't probably make a difference to the Arab street. We've already seen clear determination with the Egyptians that anything short of the complete ouster of the Mubarak regime is unacceptable.

The octogenarian has been stalling amidst local and international calls for a regime change. One thing is sure, Mubarak has started a power transition after declaring he will step down in September and his appointment of Omar Suleiman, former head of the intelligence services, as his VP for the first time in 30 years. He has also unleashed his thugs in Tahrir Square to intimidate and crack down on the protesters. All are acts of a desperate man cognizant of the fact that his days are numbered at the helm of the largest Arab country.

In all likelihood, we won't see a true transition to democratic (good) governance in Egypt, as the military has simply no vested interest in giving up its socio-economic privileges. The events in Tahrir today speak volumes about the complicity of the military in keeping more of the same regime structure intact. As we speak, the military is calling on the protesters to go back home. This is radically different from the Tunisian case where the military and General Ammar made a decision to back the Tunisian street, since the army has traditionally been apolitical and on the margin of political institutions. The short term future in Egypt bears continuous strikes and social mobilization efforts to sustain the pressure on the regime.

Finally, the US needs to better prepare and position itself for an eventual change of the guards in the Middle East. Behind the scenes, the US ought to exercise more pressure on all Arab regimes to undergo real, not cosmetic political reforms. This is a momentous opportunity for the US to appeal to the Arab street after decades of disastrous foreign policy in the region. In public, the US has to stand by the Arab street and engage channels of communication with all forces of the opposition, including the Islamists.

Any real democratic change in the Middle East won't be complete without a full Islamist participation. Setting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt or An-Nahda in Tunisia as scarecrows is dishonest and showcases the US continuous failure to accurately appraise political Islam. Being the most organized political force in Egypt dictates that the Muslim Brotherhood might have a larger role in any potential post-Mubarak, but freer Egypt. Inclusion of democratic Islamists will make them stakeholders in the political system and showcases their diversity as nationalist, liberal, entrepreneurial movement, and yes with an Islamic reference seeking a better future for Egypt. The US and domestic forces in the Arab world need not indulge in this mainstream "Ikhwanophobia," for as long as Islamist groups and parties are willing to abide by legal norms, their participation in the future of the Arab Middle East should be encouraged.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Open Letter to President Obama

Several academics have drafted an open letter to President Obama urging him to stand behind the social protests in Egypt against the regime of Hosni Mubarak. The text of the letter can be found here and here.

An Open Letter to President Barack Obama

January 30, 2010

Dear President Obama:

As political scientists and historians who have studied the Middle East and U.S. foreign policy, we the undersigned believe you have a chance to move beyond rhetoric to support the democratic movement sweeping over Egypt. As citizens, we expect our president to uphold those values.

For thirty years, our government has spent billions of dollars to help build and sustain the system the Egyptian people are now trying to dismantle. Tens if not hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in Egypt and around the world have spoken. We believe their message is bold and clear: Mubarak should resign from office and allow Egyptians to establish a new government free of his and his family’s influence. It is also clear to us that if you seek, as you said Friday “political, social, and economic reforms that meet the aspirations of the Egyptian people,” your administration should publicly acknowledge those reforms will not be advanced by Mubarak or any of his adjutants.

There is another lesson from this crisis, a lesson not for the Egyptian government but for our own. In order for the United States to stand with the Egyptian people it must approach Egypt through a framework of shared values and hopes, not the prism of geostrategy. On Friday you rightly said that “suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away,” For that reason we urge your administration to seize this chance, turn away from the policies that brought us here, and embark on a new course toward peace, democracy and prosperity for the people of the Middle East. And we call on you to undertake a comprehensive review of US foreign policy on the major grievances voiced by the democratic opposition in Egypt and all other societies of the region.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Arab Awakening Sweeping Through the Middle East

Tunisia has decidedly inspired the Arab street and the wind of freedom is moving east. As Tunisians labor through their post-uprising political experiment, Egyptian street has erupted in all corners of the country from Cairo to Suez demanding en end to Hosni Mubarak's 29-year autocratic rule. But unlike Ben 'Ali in Tunisia, Mubarak has decided to ride out this wave of demonstrations, plunging the whole country in a complete media blackout with no Internet.

After four days of deafening silence, a frail but defiant Mubarak appeared on national TV to sack his government, pledging to "fulfill his presidential duties" towards the Egyptian people for order and security. Mubarak's speech is unlikely to quench Egyptians' thirst for regime change. Many contend such change resides in the military, which will have to forego its privileges and economic interests to appease the Egyptian street.

There is a feeling that an Arab awakening is taking place. This does not appear motivated by any one coherent ideological perspective or by external forces. The Islamist discourse didn't feature in the Tunisian uprising, nor is it prominent in the Egyptian "days of wrath." Instead, what we have are angry citizens disenchanted with despotic kakistocratic systems and bleak socio-economic prospects.

One tend to forget that Islamism is less of a force in Tunisia today due to years of state repression. Most importantly, Tunisia is an exception among the Arab states in its institutional and social secular character, first rooted by Habib Bourguiba after the independence from France in 1956. In Egypt, cradle of modern political Islam, a free post-Mubarak system will undoubtedly feature a strong presence for the Muslim Brotherhood, arguably the most organized political group in the country.

Henceforth, the tendency, even the jubilation among some to declare Islamism obsolete is premature and wrong. Similarly, dismissing the hitherto resilient Arab authoritarian state as a house of card susceptible to devastating mass street level revolutions is also misguided. If there is one thing that the Arab regimes have perfected throughout the years is the ability to reinvent their autocratic structures and placate new challenges to their authority. Alas, much to the chagrin of those of us longing for democratic transition in the Arab world.