قعر الزباله وأزمة الرجاله

نداء إلى من يهمه الأمر : نحو ميثاق للأخلاق، ومنهج للتغيير

بقلم الدكتور حسام الشاذلي، 

أصل الحكايه  

لا تزال تلك الكلمات للدكتور مرسي الرئيس المصري المختطف ترن في أذني وعقلي ووعيي ، وتستدعي جميع جوارحي وكل فهمي ، عندما قال ‘ إذا إستمر السيسي حيجيب لكم من قعر الزباله ‘ وبغض النظر إذا كنت أتفق أو أختلف مع سياسات الدكتور مرسي ومن المؤكد لكل من يعرفني أنني لا أنتمي لجماعة الإخوان المسلمين ، ولكنني أحترم الرجل وأكن له كل تقدير ، فلا خلاف ولا إختلاف علي كونه أول رئيس مصري منتخب بل والوحيد الذي جاء للحكم عن طريق إنتخابات حرة نزيهة في عصر مصر الحديثه ، رجل لم يقصف في عهده قلم ، ولم تصادر عنده حرية ، ولم يعرف مؤيد او معارض طريق لمعتقل أو درب لسجان خلال فترة حكمه ،

وعودة لكلمات الدكتور محمد مرسي ، فقد كنت أعتقد ومعي الكثيرون حينها بأن التفسير الواضح للخطب الفادح يرتبط باستشراف الرئيس لمدي الدمار السياسي والإقتصادي وكذلك الإجتماعي ، الذي سيلحق بالبلاد نتيجة إغتصاب أول تجربة ديمقراطية ووأد الحياة السياسية المصرية الوليدة في مهدها ، وعلي فراش طفولتها وفي أحضان ابتسامتها ، نتيجة لعودة الحكم العسكري بديكتاتوريته ودمويته وفساده وإفساد ،

ولكن مع مرور الأيام والسنين، ومع تبدل الظروف والمعطيات من حين إلي حين ، ومع زيادة المحن والإختبارات للأفراد والمجموعات لجميع المصريين من مؤيدين ومعارضين ، بات التفسير لا يناسب التوصيف وظهر أن المعني أدق وأشمل وأن التفسير أعم وأكمل ، فرأيت أن التوصيف يستمد تعريفه من عواقب وتوابع كارثية لحالة التدني الأخلاقي والديني والتي أنتجها الإنقلاب وتوابعه بين المؤيدين والمعارضين ،

تشخيص الداء  

فعلي صعيد المؤيدين للنظام وبين حاشيته وخدمه والمسبحين بحمده وكهنة معبده وحماة عرشه ، من شيوخ السلطان وشياطين الإعلام ظهرت علينا مخلوقات في خلق الإنسان ، ما أنزل الله بها من سلطان ولا تعرف إن كانت من بني الإنس أو من مردة الجان ، فعم النفاق والتطبيل والتهليل والفساد والإفساد ، وبلغت الإستهانة بالدين والأديان وبالأخلاق والأعراف والقرآن، مبلغا لم تعرف له مصر مثيلا ولم تحكي عنه الكتب ولو حتي أساطيرا، فباتت حثالة البشر وأئمة الفجر وقادة الغجر أعلاما تتطاول علي الدين والأخلاق وتحقر من رموز الأمة ومن أصحاب العمة ، فانتشرت الفتن وعمت المحن ، ولكن لا عجب ولا عجاب فقد زادت الزبالة وكثرت علي القوم الحثاله ، ولكنه تاريخ طويل عفن ،  من القتل والتعذيب والتنكيل ومن كل قاع نتن ،

ولكن العجب العجاب هو ما صار إليه حال الجسد المعارض وما آلت إليه دار الفكر المناضل ، ولعل هذا يأخذنا إلي بيت القصيد وإلي جذور الداء الوليد ، فمن العلم وبالعلم نعلم ومن أصول الطب والأمراض نفهم ، أنه إذا أردت أن توصف الداء وتتعرف علي سر الداء فيجب أن تدرس الجسم وطبيعته في كمال صحته وسلامة تركيبته ، لكي تري تأثير المرض وجرثومته وتتعرف عن أطواره وكينونته ،

ولهذا فأجل الأخطار واشد الأطوار  يتمثل في الحالة المتدنية لمعايير الأخلاق والتعاملات ، والتي ضربت جسد المعارضة والأخلاقيات ، فتأثر بها ذلك الجمع النقي وهذا الفريق الأبي ، فرغما عن كون المعارضة المصرية لم تجتمع علي هدف ، وجل تاريخها السياسي في مصر هو درب من الخرف ، إلا أن الثورة قد غيرت المعايير وولدت من بطون الميادين أشاوس و مغاوير ، فمعارضة اليوم علي ضعفها ووهنها تضم وبلا شك  خيرة الناس ومن أطهر الأنفس والأناس ، فلا أدل علي وطنية ولا إخلاص ، ولا علي جهاد إلي خلاص من رئيس قد اختطف ، وشهيد قد قتل ومظلوم قد أعتقل ، ومناضل حر قد دفع الثمن في أهله وأخيه ، وآخر قد فر بنفسه أو أهليه لغربة بلا أمل ، وأرض بلا عمل ، أو بطل محكوم أو مطارد في بلاد قد عمها الظلم وغشيها خيبة الحلم  ،

ولأن العلاج والحل يكمن في معرفة أصل الداء لكي يوصف الدواء ، فيجب علينا أن نعي أن آفة المعارضة المصرية هي في بيئتها السياسية ومكوناتها الهيكلية ، تلك البيئة التي تعرضنا لها قبلا بالشرح والتفصيل وبالتعريف والتأويل ، وتشتمل علي عدة مكونات  وكثير من المحتويات ،  يأتي علي رأسها ودرة تاجها المكون الأخلاقي والمعيار التعاملي بين المجموعات ،

ويأسف القلم ويتأسف ، ويتألم  الكاتب حين يكتب عن واقع مرير يعلمه أو يتعلم ،  بأن المعايير الأخلاقية داخل محراب المعارضة المصرية قد وصلت لحالة  غير مسبوقة من التدني في التعامل والتواصل بين الأفراد والمجموعات ، وأن المكون الأخلاقي قد تردي وتغير في خمس سنين من بعد الإنقلاب إلي يومنا هذا فتبدلت الأصول وتغيرت معايير الرفض والقبول ،

بات الجميع أعداء ، وصار الكره طريقة ونبراسا وتلاعبت بالناس الأهواء ، تشتت الجمع وانفض الصف ، فأصبح الكل مشغولا بلقمة العيش وبقوت اليوم ، صار الأمثل هو البعد عن الجميع والإلتزام بالمنظومة الفردية والشخصية في أضيق نطاق وأقل عدد من الأصدقاء ، فباتت الغرف المغلقة ملاذا للشرفاء ومحرابا للنبلاء ، فتحولت المنظومة إلي وحدات شخصية مكلومة ، لا يرجي منها نصر ولا تري فيها مددا ولا تغييرا لأي عصر ،

أصبح من المقبول أن تسمع أو تري مجموعات وأفراد لا تجد قوت يومها ولا ما تكفل به أهلها، بسبب الخلافات والمشاحنات ، وصار من الطبيعي عن يتوقف الجميع كمشاهدين أو مراقبين ، فاذا تدخلت قد يصيبك من المهانة والإهانة مالا يخطر علي بال صغير أو يحلم به كبير ،

توصيف الحال ووصف الدواء  

تبدلت معايير الخلاف و الإختلاف ، وتحدثنا التجارب عن مدي تبدل الأخلاق وتغير المعايير والموازين عند النزاع أو الإختلاف ، حيث الفجر في الخصومة والأحقاد المكتومه ،   بلا علم ولا عمل وبجهل طافح يسبقه الصراخ والذم وسوء الكلام  وغياب الدماثة والحلم أو تقديم العفو والفهم ،

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وهنا يتجلى قعر الزبالة وتتكاثر جراثيم القمامة ، فعندما يضعف الجسد أو تصاب مناعته،  تنشئ بيئة قميئة تمنح الفرص وتعطي الطريق لمخبري النظام وجواسيسه ، وأذنابه وحملة أمراضه وكوابيسه ، لكي ينشروا الفتن ويشوهوا الرموز والقمم ويعملوا من أجل وقف العمل والقضاء علي الأمل ،

فهؤلاء الجراثيم تمت زراعتهم وتحضيرهم وتلقيحهم منذ فترات كبيرة وداخل مجموعات عديدة  ، لكي ينطلقوا مع توفر البيئة المناسبة ، بيئة قليلة الخلق والأخلاق عند التنازع أو الإختلاف ، فتراهم في كل محفل وجمع وقد انطلقوا سبابين لعانين بلا سبب واضح وبلا أي وازع خلقي أو عرفي وبأخلاقيات خنزير بري جامح ،  فهم كالجرثومة المتحوصلة يتخفون في ثياب العفة والنضال لكي ينشروا المرض والدمار ، فالهدف كل الهدف هو إيقاف المسيرة وإنهاء المحاولات المستمرة والمريرة ،  من أجل تحرير بلادنا المغتصبة الأسيرة ،  هم الخطر كل الخطر فاحذروهم وقاوموهم ، فلا خيانة أدهي ولا أحقر ولا أمر، من استغلال ضعف الجسد الصالح للانقضاض عليه كالشيطان الأشر،

فأخطر الأخطار ، وقعر الزبالة المحتضن للجراثيم والمدمر لكل الأخيار ، هو تلك البيئة الأخلاقية المتدنية وذلك المكون البيئي الهدام ، فلابد لنا كمعارضة مصرية من تحصين أنفسنا وأعمالنا وكل نضالنا ضد هذا المرض وحامليه وضد ناشريه وحاضنيه ، نحن في حاجة ملحة وعاجلة إلي ميثاق أخلاقي واضح يلزم الجميع بآداب الخلق والأخلاق ويقضي علي الجراثيم المسببة لتلك الأمراض ، تلك الجراثيم التي تنمو من قعر الزبالة لكي تهاجم الجسد المعارض مستترة وراء أهداف نبيلة وصور مزيفة وقصص وضيعه ، تهاجم الجميع والكل وتشكك في اي فرد أو محاولة ، وتعمل علي القضاء علي كل حلم أو مبادرة ، تخشي الكلمة وتفر من الحكمة ، فعدو المرض هو الطهارة ، وقاتل الفتنه هو الحكمة والكلمة والخلق والعفو ،

Virus

ولقد أثبتت الخبرات والتجارب في المجتمعات الديمقراطية الحديثه ،  أن الأساس هو بناء البيئة الأخلاقية السليمة ، فالمكون الأخلاقي هو أساس بناء أي منظومة تغييرية صالحة ،  يتحرك فيها الأفراد بوازع إنساني داخلي مراقبين الله في أعمالهم ومخلصين له في كل نضالهم ،  فيجب علينا الحفاظ علي هذا المكون وتدعيمه وتأصيل جوانبه داخل مجموعات المعارضة وأفرادها،

ولهذا فأنا أدعو جميع رموز المعارضة ونخبها وأهلها وكل عمومها، بأن يجتمعوا من أجل إخراج هذا المنتج الأخلاقي ومن أجل التأصيل لميثاق أخلاق يوضح منهج الخلاف ويحدده ،  ويمنع التدني عند الإختلاف ويحجمه ، ميثاق أخلاق يحافظ علي الإحترام المتبادل ويضع معايير  للتخاطب والتحاور بين الأفراد والمجموعات وفي المحافل والمنتديات وبين كل المجاميع والمجموعات ، ميثاق أخلاق تراقبه لجنة حاكمة عادلة ترتفع عن الأهواء الشخصية والجماعية و تعمل من أجل الخير للجميع ، 

متي يتحقق الأمل 

 يتحقق الأمل عندما نستمع لبعضنا البعض باحترام واهتمام ، وتقدير و احترام ، عندما نساند المظلوم ونتصدى للظالم بمهنية وحرفية وحب ومفهومية ،

يتحقق الأمل عندما يكون لدينا منهجا ونهجا لكي تتعافي الروابط بين مجموعات المعارضة في الخارج ، وعندما يشعر كل فرد بأنه عضو في أسرة كبيرة تعني بهمه وتهتم لألمه ، ولا تتفرج عليه أو تشمت في مصيبته أو غمه ،  لا تنتظر له خطأ ، ولا تتصيد له هفوات،   لا تحكم عليه لأن لديه حلم مختلف أو أنه يري أن الحل في غير الخط المستقيم أو داخل شبه المنحرف ،   فأصل النجاح وأساس الإبداع في إختلاف الأحلام وفي تنوع الطرق وكثرة الإسهام ،  يتحقق الأمل عندما نرتقي بأخلاقنا فنوقر كبيرنا ونحتضن صغيرنا ، ننصح بلا تتطاول ونختلف بلا فجر ولا تشويه ،

نحن في حاجة ملحة وعاجلة إلي ميثاق أخلاق ينتشل الجميع من قعر الزبالة ويحصن الجسد من شر تلك القمامة ، قبل أن يفوت الأوان وتتحكم بنا مقادير الأيام والأزمان ،  فيموت المريض ويشيع الجسد من جديد ،  ويتحول الأمل إلي أوهام وإلي بقية من أضغاث أحلام ،

AI7B0032 copy حسام الشاذلي ، هو المستشار السياسي والإقتصادي الدولي، السكرتير العام للمجلس المصري للتغيير، الرئيس التنفيذي لمجموعة سي بي آي السويسرية الدولية،  وأستاذ إدارة التغيير والتخطيط الاستراتيجي بجامعة كامبريدج المؤسسية وباحث بقسم الدراسات العليا والبحث العلمي بجامعة ليفربول ، 

مصر… حراك سلمي لا يتوقف

عمرو حمزاوي

إزاء إلغاء الفضاء العام والحصار الممنهج المفروض على المجتمع المدني ومحدودية فاعلية الأحزاب السياسية إن المهادنة للحكم أو المعارضة له والتراجع البين في القدرات التنظيمية والجماهيرية لليمين الديني، بدت أوضاع مصر بين 2013 و2018 وكأن السلطوية الجديدة قد صارت في إخضاعها للمواطن والمجتمع وسيطرتها على مؤسسات الدولة دون منازع، وكأن فرص مقاومتها والضغط السلمي من أجل انتزاع شيء من حقوق وحريات الناس قد أضحت إلى الخيال أقرب.

وظفت السلطوية الجديدة أدواتها الإعلامية للترويج لقراءة الأوضاع المصرية على هذا النحو، ولسان حالها باتجاه المواطنين هو «لا جدوى للمواجهة، لا بديل عن الامتثال»! وأضافت أيضا تفسيرها التآمري البائس لثورة يناير 2011، ومرادفتها التحول الديمقراطي بهدم الدولة ونشر الفوضى وإلحاق البلاد بمصائر سوريا والعراق وليبيا. تدريجيا، وبفعل استمرار الانتهاكات والقمع والتعقب دون توقف، تملك الشعور بالإحباط وفقدان الأمل من المطالبين بالديمقراطية ومن المدافعين عن الحقوق والحريات واتجهت نظرتهم إلى الأوضاع المصرية أيضا إلى الدفع بغياب فرص المواجهة السلمية للسلطوية الجديدة وانتفاء القدرة على التغيير الإيجابي. حدث ذلك في سياقات إقليمية وعالمية أرادت بها القوى الفاعلة إغلاق ملف الانتفاضات الديمقراطية 2011، ونعتها بالفشل، وإعادة ترتيب أولويات بلاد العرب والشرق الأوسط لتأتي في الواجهة الحرب على الإرهاب وإدارة الصراع السني ـ الشيعي المتوهم والبحث عن مناطق نفوذ في دول وطنية منهارة (سوريا واليمن وليبيا) ودعم صعود وبقاء حكام أقوياء يعدون بالأمن والاستقرار ولا تعنيهم الديمقراطية من قريب أو بعيد. في مثل هذه السياقات الإقليمية والعالمية اكتسبت السلطوية الجديدة في مصر شرعيتها خارج الحدود، تلك الشرعية التي حققت منها قسطا داخليا باستعادة شيء من الأمن وبعض السياسات الاقتصادية والاجتماعية الناجعة.

غير أن الاستسلام لقراءة «لا جدوى للمواجهة، لا بديل عن الامتثال» فيما خص الأوضاع المصرية يتجاهل واقع الحراك المجتمعي ضد الممارسات القمعية للسلطوية الجديدة بين 2013 و2018. فقد تطورت مبادرات احتجاجية لتوثيق وكشف انتهاكات الحقوق والحريات المتراكمة، وضمت بين صفوفها طلاب وشباب ونشطاء وحقوقيين. غابت عن مبادرات مثل «الحرية للجدعان» الأطر التنظيمية المحددة، والتزمت كل منها بقضية واحدة فقط مثل جرائم الاختفاء القسري أو سلب حرية مواطنين بسبب القوانين القمعية كقانون التظاهر أو جرائم التعذيب داخل السجون وأماكن الاحتجاز، واستطاعت بنجاح مواجهة الإنكار الحكومي لحدوث انتهاكات للحقوق والحريات والتأسيس وإن بين قطاعات محدودة من المواطنين لوعي شعبي جديد بشأن ضرورة رفض القمع وإفلات المتورطين في الانتهاكات من المساءلة القانونية

egypt-security-forces

كذلك نشطت بين 2013 و2018 نقابات مهنية اشتبكت مع السلطوية الجديدة بشأن قضايا تتعلق بالدفاع عن استقلالها التنظيمي، وغل يد الأجهزة الأمنية عن العبث بداخلها، والانتصار لحقوق وحريات الأعضاء ومن بينها حرية اختيار ممثليهم والحماية من التعرض للتعقب والعقاب والتعبير العلني عن الرأي إن فيما خص القضايا النقابية أو القضايا العامة. وبرزت هنا نقابة الأطباء ونقابة الصحافيين اللتان اضطلعتا بأدوار حاسمة في مواجهة السلطوية، وفي المجمل مثل حراك النقابات المهنية استعادة لحيوية تلك المساحة الهامة الواقعة بين الحكم وبين المواطنين والتي كانت في ثمانينيات وتسعينيات القرن العشرين في صدارة الدفاع عن حرية التعبير عن الرأي وحرية التنظيم في مواجهة سلطوية ما قبل كانون الثاني/يناير 2011.

وفيما خص الحراك الطلابي، لم تتمكن السلطوية الجديدة من الضبط الأمني للجامعات الحكومية والخاصة والقضاء التام على الحراك. استخدمت السلطوية كل ما في جعبتها من أدوات للقمع والتعقب ومن أدوات للحصار باسم القوانين واللوائح والإجراءات، بل واستعانت بشركات أمن خاصة للتواجد داخل حرم الجامعات ودفعت الإدارات الجامعية لإنزال عقوبات قاسية بالطلاب غير الممتثلين وسلبت حرية بعضهم وأحالتهم إلى المحاكم. على الرغم من ذلك، استمرت الجامعة حاضرة كمساحة رئيسية للمواجهة، بين 2013 و2015 تظاهرا واعتصاما وبين 2015 و2018 مشاركة كثيفة في انتخابات الاتحادات الطلابية لإنجاح مرشحين غير مرشحي الأجهزة الأمنية والاستخباراتية. هنا أيضا شكل الحراك الطلابي استعادة للمساحة الجامعية كمساحة لمنازعة السلطوية والتعبير المنظم عن معارضة سياساتها وممارساتها، وجدد في الوعي الشعبي للمصريين دور الجامعة والطلاب في الدعوة للتغيير الديمقراطي.

أخفقت السلطوية الجديدة أيضا في القضاء على الحراك العمالي الذي واصل تصدر المشهد الاحتجاجي بين 2013 و2018. لم يفلح المزج بين القمع والتعقب وبين إجراءات الترهيب المتراوحة بين الفصل التعسفي من مكان العمل وبين إحالة بعض العمال المحتجين إلى القضاء العسكري في إنهاء الاحتجاجات العمالية، وتواصلت الاحتجاجات باستخدام أدوات التظاهر والاعتصام والإضراب للمطالبة بحقوق اقتصادية واجتماعية معرفة جيدا، وامتدت خريطة الاحتجاجات العمالية لتشمل القطاعين العام والخاص ولتجمع بين العمال وبين موظفي الخدمة المدنية (موظفو بيروقراطية الدولة والأجهزة الحكومية).

كما تكرر خروج بعض المواطنات والمواطنين إلى المساحات العامة للاحتجاج على قرارات وإجراءات وممارسات حكومية بعينها كتورط عناصر أمنية في تعذيب وقتل مصريين داخل أماكن الاحتجاز الشرطي أو للاعتراض العلني على سياسات حكومية. بالقطع، حاولت السلطوية الجديدة أن تدير أمنيا المبادرات الاحتجاجية والحراك النقابي والطلابي والعمالي مستخدمة تارة لأدوات القمع المباشر وتارة أخرى لأدواتها القانونية المصاغة لتهجير المواطن ولإغلاق الفضاء العام. بين 2013 و2018، استعادت السلطوية ماضي الحصار الأمني للنقابات المهنية وللحركات الطلابية والعمالية وأضافت لقوائم المسلوبة مواطنين خرجوا عفويا وسلميا إلى الشارع لمعارضة قرارات وممارسات حكومية. تكررت أيضا مشاهد ما قبل كانون الثاني/يناير 2011 مثل «التفخيخ الأمني» للنقابات المهنية التي عارضت مجالس إدارتها المنتخبة السياسات الرسمية، و«الاصطناع الأمني» للصراعات بين المجالس المنتخبة وبين أعضاء في النقابات عرف عنهم التبعية للحكم وللأجهزة الأمنية، و«الأطواق الشرطية» المحيطة بمقار النقابات وبالمصانع التي تحدث بها تظاهرات أو اعتصامات أو إضرابات، والإحالة السريعة للنشطاء العماليين والمواطنين المشاركين في الاحتجاجات إلى عمليات تقاضي (إن أمام القضاء المدني ـ الطبيعي أو أمام القضاء العسكري). على الرغم من كل هذا القمع الممنهج، وجدت السلطوية الجديدة صعوبات حقيقية في السيطرة الكاملة على الحراك المجتمعي وبدت من ثم في مأزق سياسي يتناقض من جهة مع سيطرتها المطلقة على المساحات الإعلامية التقليدية وإغلاقها للفضاء العام وحصارها للمجتمع المدني وتسفيهها للمساحات الرسمية لممارسة السياسة وللأحزاب السياسية ومرشح من جهة أخرى للاستمرار في الفترة القادمة.

تم نشر هذا المقال في جريدة القدس العربي

هل ستُحدث الانتخابات اللبنانية نهاية هذا الأسبوع أي تغيير؟

By MEPolitics Staff

كارلوس إده | رئيس حزب الكتلة الوطنية اللبنانية

نعم ولا. نعم، لأنّ وجوهاً جديدة ستصل إلى البرلمان؛ فللمرّة الأولى، يشارك المجتمع المدني بفعالية في الانتخابات؛ ولأنّ حزب الله سيشدّد قبضته على البلاد.

لكن بشكل أساسي لا، لأنّ القيم الجوهرية للمجتمع اللبناني لم تتغيّر. فلبنان بلد منقسم وطائفي، حيث تعدّ الزبائنية القوة الرئيسة التي تقود الثقافة السياسية. ومع أنه يرتدي عباءة الديمقراطية، إلا أنه خاضع في الواقع إلى سيطرة أقلية بلوتوقراطية. تفتقر اللوائح الانتخابية إلى أي منطق أو تماسك سياسي، كما أنّ القوانين الانتخابية مصمّمة دائماً لحماية الطبقة الحاكمة. وللقانون الحالي خصائص أفظع حوّلت الحملة الانتخابية خارج المناطق الخاضعة لسيطرة حزب الله إلى شجار صالونات بين الخصموم والحلفاء على حد سواء.

تشير التقديرات إلى أنه تم شراء ما لا يقل عن 35 في المئة من الأصوات في الانتخابات اللبنانية السابقة، وهي في ازياد هذا العام. أما بالنسبة للتوّاقين إلي دخول البرلمان، فإنّ ضمّهم إلى لوائح المرشّحين غالباً ما ينطوي على دفع مبالغ كبيرة لقبولهم من قبل قادتها – وهو مزاد يقيمه السياسيون المحنّكون. هكذا، وفي حين أنّ بعض الأسماء قد تتغير، فإنّ ملامح البرلمانيين ستظلّ كما هي، لا بل ستزداد فساداً، وستبقى الأمور “على ما هي عليه”.

وليد شقير | مدير الأخبار اللبنانية في صحيفة “الحياة”

قد يأتي التغيير في الشكل بدلاً من المضمون، لأنّه سيتم تطبيق القانون الانتخابي على أساس النظام النسبي للمرّة الأولى. وقد تكون لدى المجموعات التي لم يسبق لها الدخول إلى البرلمان فرصة القيام بذلك. هناك 128 مقعداً في مجلس النواب، موزّعة بالتساوي بين المسيحيين والمسلمين، ثم تنقسم إلى طوائف مختلفة في كل من الديانتين الرئيستين.

المزج بين التمثيل النسبي، الذي من المفترض أن يعزّز نظاماً متطوّراً وعلمانياً يسمح بتمثيل مروحة واسعة من المجموعات، وبين نظام طائفي قديم، يقتضي تطبيق قانون هجين ومعقّد. وسيزداد الأمر تعقيداً بسبب اعتماد ما يُعرف بالصوت التفضيلي، الذي يختار الناخبون بموجبه أيضاً مرشّحاً واحداً ضمن لائحتهم سيكون على الأرجح من الطائفة نفسها التي ينتمون إليها، ما سيؤدي إلى تشتيت الأصوات في كلّ لائحة من المرشّحين، وعدم ضمان أغلبية واضحة لأي أحد منهم.

لا تغييرات كبيرة متوقعة على المستوى السياسي. فقد يسمح هذا النظام الفريد للسنّة القريبين من حزب الله بالفوز ببعض المقاعد، وربّما يمنح الحزب وحلفاءه القدرة على منع قرارات حاسمة – أي على سبيل المثال المرشّحين الذين لا يريدهم حزب الله في الانتخابات الرئاسية المُقبلة، أو الجهود الرامية إلى دفع الحزب لتقديم تنازلات بشأن سلاحه. في الوقت نفسه، فإنّ فرص حدوث اختراق من قبل مرشّحين معارضين لحزب الله محدودة للغاية.

بشار حيدر | أستاذ الفلسفة في الجامعة الأمريكية في بيروت

خلافاً لما اعتاد كثيرون على اعتقاده، فإنّ ما يعيق إمكانية التغيير من خلال العملية الديمقراطية في لبنان ليس النظام الانتخابي الطائفي أو النظام السياسي القائم، بل الخيارات السياسية الطائفية لمتوسط ​​الناخبين. فمثل هذه الخيارات ستحدّد نتائج الانتخابات حتى في ظلّ نظام انتخابي غير طائفي. ويُعدّ العراق مثالاً على ذلك، حيث يتخذ الناخبون خيارات طائفية في ظل نظام انتخابي غير طائفي. لذلك، من غير المحتمل أن تُحدث القوانين الانتخابية في لبنان فرقاً، على الأقل في المدى القصير والمتوسط.

ثمة عامل أكثر أهمية يحدّ من قدرة الخيار الديمقراطي على إحداث تغيير مهم، وهو القوة العسكرية التي لا مثيل لها لحزب الله. فقد ظهر استعداده وقدرته على استخدام قوّته الغاشمة لفرض إرادته السياسية عبر استيلائه العسكري على بيروت الغربية، ومحاولاته القيام بذلك في الجبل في أيار/مايو 2008. حينها، برهنت الأحداث لخصوم حزب الله الحدود الضيقة لأي انتصارات ديمقراطية قد يحرزونها. ومع ذلك، ربّما لا يزال التصويت، على الرغم من هذه القيود وضدّها، يمثّل تحدياً سياسياً ومقاومة يُعتدّ بها.

مهند الحاج علي | مدير الاتصالات والإعلام في مركز كارنيغي للشرق الأوسط في بيروت

هناك طرق عدّة يمكن أن تؤثّر من خلالها الانتخابات على السياسة اللبنانية، سواء بشكلٍ سلبي أو إيجابي. فمن ناحية، قد تنتج هذه الانتخابات برلماناً ودوداً تجاه حزب الله، إذ تم تصميم القانون الهجين الحالي، وهو العاشر في تاريخ الجمهورية اللبنانية، إلى حدّ كبير من قبل الحزب والتيار الوطني الحر التابع للرئيس ميشال عون. فقد سعى كلّ منهما إلى تقليص كتل منافسيه في انتخابات العام 2009 الأخيرة بشكل كبير، خصوصاً رئيس الوزراء سعد الحريري والزعيم الدرزي وليد جنبلاط. وقد يسمح التلاعب بالدوائر الانتخابية وحقيقة أنّ القانون يعتمد التمثيل النسبي، لحلفاء حزب الله من الطوائف الأخرى، وتحديداً السنّة والعلويين، بالفوز. وإذا سيطرت على البرلمان أغلبية صديقة لحزب الله، سيوفّر له ذلك نفوذاً أقوى في لبنان، وقد يسمح له حتى بتشكيل “حكومة حرب”، من دون الحريري، في حال بدا الصراع مع إسرائيل وشيكاً.

من ناحية أخرى، قد يفشل حزب الله، وهناك طريقتان لتصوّر انتكاسة كبيرة له. الأولى، من خلال هزيمة حلفاء رئيسين له في معاقله. فخسارة جميل السيّد، المدير العام السابق للأمن العام، في دائرة بعلبك-الهرمل؛ أو أسعد حردان، زعيم الحزب السوري القومي الاجتماعي الموالي للنظام السوري، في جنوب لبنان، ستشكّلان صفعة للحزب. أما الطريقة الثانية، فتتمثّل بفشل حزب الله وحلفائه في تأمين أغلبية في البرلمان، مع استعادة الحريري وحلفائه للأغلبية الوازنة التي يتمتعون بها اليوم.

ستؤثّر الانتخابات على لبنان بشكل إيجابي إذا فاز فيها عدد من المرشحين المستقلين، بمن فيهم أولئك الذين شاركوا في حركة الاحتجاج المدني في البلاد في العام 2015، أو إذا حققوا نتائج جيّدة في تحدّي اللوائح الانتخابية المدعومة من الطبقة السياسية. وهذا أمر مهمّ إذ إن القوانين الانتخابية السابقة في البلاد قطعت الطريق أمام هؤلاء المرشحين. ومثل هذه النجاحات قد تشكّل مدخلاً لخوض غمار تحديات أكثر خطورة في الانتخابات المُقبلة.

If There’s a Trump Israeli-Palestinian Peace Plan, Netanyahu Says He Hasn’t Seen It

 

By Noa Landau

Several Israeli media outlets recently reported that the Trump administration will present their Israeli-Palestinian peace plan after the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem

Benjamin Netanyahu, said on Tuesday he has not seen a U.S. peace plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Several Israeli media outlets have recently reported the alleged intent of President Donald Trump’s administration is to present their Israeli-Palestinian peace plan immediately after the opening of the American embassy in Jerusalem on May 14.

According to the reports – some attributed to Israel’s envoy to the UN, Danny Danon, others to Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman following his visit to Washington – the White House team headed by envoy Jason Greenblatt is currently finalizing its work ahead of an initial presentation to both sides.

When asked about these reports on Tuesday while briefing reporters in Larnaca airport in Cyprus, Netanyahu said he “hasn’t seen” the aforementioned plan.

In March, a senior White House official told Haaretz the administration was still working on the plan. Yet it has no deadline for its publication. Among the considerations expected to affect the release date are the political climate in Israel, the security status in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and responses in the Arab world to Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.

The administration still hopes to convince the Palestinian to return to the peace process, but does not rule out the possibility of publishing the plan without direct Palestinian involvement.

Source: HAARETZ

 

 

 

Saudi Arabia and Israel in Iran’s Cross-hairs as Trump Weakens U.S. in Middle East, Experts Warn

We are now alone on a more dangerous path with fewer options,’ retired Army general Martin Dempsey, a former chairman of the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of staff

The United States risks greater isolation and unpredictability in its anti-Iran drive after President Donald Trump opted to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal despite warnings from European allies, advisers and even some fellow Republicans, experts tell Reuters.

While Israel has warned of possible retaliation in its border areas with Syria, both as a result of alleged Israeli airstrikes in Syria on Iranian targets and Trump’s Tuesday decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear accord, it is Saudi Arabia that may be the prime target for retaliation.

The U.S. has long accused Iran of escalating the civil war in Yemen and threatening to turn it into a broader regional conflict by supplying advanced weaponry, including missiles, to Houthi rebels who have fired rockets at targets in Saudi Arabia.

>> Trump Pulls Out of the Iran Nuclear Deal, What Happens Next? ■ Israel’s preventative actions thwart Iran’s revenge from Syria – for now

A U.S. intelligence official acknowledged concerns that Iran could, with some deniability, further assist the Houthis in Yemen as they target Iran’s arch-rival Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia claimed Wednesday morning to have intercepted missiles fire at its capital from Yemen.

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A successful missile strike from Yemen that kills large numbers of Saudis could trigger a major backlash, stoking risks of a broader regional war, experts say.

On the nuclear front, a collapse of the deal could also hasten the risk that Iran covertly attempts to reconstitute a nuclear program that once consumed U.S. intelligence officials and military planners.

Iran denies it has tried to build atomic weapons and says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

>> Nixing of nuclear deal turns Rohani into lame duck, empowers conservatives in Tehran | Analysis ■ Trump quits Iran deal: A career-defining moment for Netanyahu that may have a price | Analysis >>

While announcing the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran accord, Trump argued the deal provided Tehran generous sanctions relief without imposing tough enough limits on its nuclear program or other “sinister” activities.

But analysts said the decision could make it harder for the United States to rally European allies and others behind future action against Iran, which extends well beyond the nuclear arena to include threats by Tehran’s proxies in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and even Afghanistan.

The U.S. move also creates a more unpredictable environment in the Middle East, in which Iran could choose to lash out against U.S. interests more openly or keep chipping away at them and extending its regional influence.

“We are now alone on a more dangerous path with fewer options,” retired Army general Martin Dempsey, a former chairman of the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of staff, wrote on Twitter.

Underscoring the tension in the region, the Israeli military went on high alert on Tuesday for a possible flare-up with neighboring Syria, which is allied to Iran.

“It’s going to weaken the United States,” said Nicholas Burns, the State Department’s third-ranking official under Republican President George W. Bush, saying it would empower Iran’s hardliners, further isolate the United States from Russia and China on Iran policy and vex European allies.

Saudi-Arabia-Iran-hitler-leader-883678

This is going to have a profoundly negative impact on the willingness of the Europeans to work with us in the way that they have been for a very long time.”

One U.S. official noted that a deterioration in the U.S.-Iran relationship would likely have negative effects across the border in neighboring Iraq, where voters are due to elect a new parliament on Saturday.

“As tension goes up in the U.S.-Iran relationship, it’s always bad for the U.S.-Iraq relationship,” said the U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has accused Iran of “mucking around” in the parliamentary election, in which Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is seeking another term after a successful, U.S.-backed war against Islamic State militants.

‘Imperfect agreement’

Mattis, who once spoke publicly of the need to abide by the Iran nuclear deal, has since tempered his remarks and told Congress it was an “imperfect arms control agreement” that needed to be fixed.

But Mattis, in private conversations, has also stressed the need to act with allies, given the threat he believes that Iran poses in the region, one U.S. official familiar with the conversations told Reuters.

In April 26 remarks to Congress, Mattis said: “We need to focus on what is in the best interest of Middle East stability and the threat that Iran poses.” He said that threat extended beyond the nuclear program to “their support for terrorism” as well as their cyber threat.

A Western diplomat doubted the Iranians would retaliate against the United States in Syria because of the risk of Israeli retaliation, or in Iraq, where Tehran’s influence has vastly expanded since the 2003 U.S. invasion that toppled former dictator Saddam Hussein.

“They have no interest in destabilizing Iraq. Things are not going so bad for them in Iraq. And in Syria, there is the big, big stick, the Israeli stick, and they feel that the stick is ready to fall,” the diplomat said.

“They are not going to risk a war with Israel … to punish the Americans.”

Israel has traded blows with Iranian forces in Syria since February, stirring concern that major escalation could be looming.

The Israeli military said on Tuesday that after identifying “irregular activity” by Iranian forces in Syria, it instructed civic authorities on the Golan Heights to ready bomb shelters, deployed new defenses and mobilized some reservist forces.

Source: HAARTEZ

ماذا ستكون الاستراتيجية الأمريكية الجديدة إذا انسحب ترامب من الاتفاق النووي مع إيران؟

روبرت ساتلوف

خلال زيارة الرئيس الفرنسي إلى واشنطن في الأسبوع الماضي، أرسل الرئيس ترامب إشاراتٍ متضاربة حول مستقبل الاتفاق النووي مع إيران. فقد وصف الاتفاق بـ “الجنوني” و”التافه”، ولكنه قال إن واشنطن قد تتوصل إلى تفاهم جديد مع باريس والعواصم الأوروبية الأخرى “بسرعة كبيرة”، وأنه ملتزماً بـ “المرونة”.

وإذا أُخِذت هذه التصرفات سوية، فإنها تعكس [الشخصية] الكلاسيكية لترامب. فهو الذي يتفاخر بإثارة حيرة الحلفاء والخصوم على السواء حول خطوته التالية. وعندما سيأتي 12 أيار/مايو، وهو الموعد المحدد في القانون لتمديد الاعفاءات من العقوبات، سيبقى من غير المعلوم ما إذا كان سيلغي اتفاقاً سَخَر منه منذ فترة طويلة ووصفه بأنه أسوأ صفقة تم التفاوض بشأنها على الإطلاق – غير أنّ ما كشفته إسرائيل مؤخراً عن أرشيف إيران النووي السري سيعزز بالتأكيد الحجج الداعية إلى “إلغاء الاتفاق”.

ولكن إذا [قرر] الرئيس الأمريكي سحب الولايات المتحدة من الاتفاق واكتفى بسرد ما يشوبه من عيوب، فلن يحظى حتى بتهليل منتقدي الاتفاق (بمن فيهم كاتب هذه السطور). إذ لا يوفّر الانسحاب وحده نهجاً بديلاً لمنع إيران من امتلاك قدرات [لإنتاج] أسلحة نووية. كما أن الانسحاب وحده لا يفسّر كيف ستردّ الولايات المتحدة على ردود فعل الأصدقاء والخصوم، بمن فيهم إيران. بالإضافة إلى ذلك، لا يوفّر الانسحاب وحده دليلاً على الأهداف العامة للإدارة الأمريكية تجاه إيران والسياسات اللازمة لتحقيقها.

بعبارةٍ أخرى، يشكل الانسحاب من الاتفاق خطوة وليس استراتيجية. ونحن بحاجة إلى استراتيجية للتعامل مع إيران.

وإذا قرر الرئيس الأمريكي الانسحاب من الصفقة النووية، ستتبلور أربعة خيارات رئيسية حول الاستراتيجية تجاه إيران:

التفاوض على اتفاق أفضل يقوم بتصحيح عيوب الاتفاق الأصلي من خلال تضمين قيود دائمة على التخصيب، وفرض حظر على تطوير الصواريخ الباليستية واعتماد نظام تفتيش أكثر تقحماً. وقد يتطلب ذلك ورقة ضغط تُجبر إيران على العودة إلى طاولة المفاوضات، ويشمل ذلك إعادة فرض العقوبات التي وضعتها الأمم المتحدة والولايات المتحدة، وربما فرض غرامات ثانوية على الدول التي لا تقلّص مشترياتها من النفط الإيراني إلى مستويات منخفضة بما فيه الكفاية.

وعلى خلاف مناورة الرئيس أوباما التي سعت إلى عرض الاتفاق الإيراني على أنه “اتفاق تنفيذي”، يتعين على الرئيس ترامب أن يَعِد بتقديم أي اتفاق إلى مجلس الشيوخ على أنه معاهدة، الأمر الذي سيعزز الضغط على الشركاء الأوروبيين للولايات المتحدة كي يساعدوا على التوصل إلى اتفاق يستأهل عدد الأصوات المطلوبة بموجب الدستور، أي 67 صوتاً.

التفاوض على اتفاق أكثر أهمية لا يقوم فقط بإصلاح العيوب في الاتفاق القديم، بل يتناول الأنشطة الإقليمية الإيرانية الخبيثة أيضاً. وفي هذا الصدد، أدّى دعم طهران للإرهاب والتخريب والميليشيات الشيعية في سوريا والعراق إلى تغيير الوضع الأمني في المنطقة، مما أثار قلق العرب والإسرائيليين على حد سواء. إن التوصل إلى اتفاق أكثر طموحاً سيكون أكثر تعقيداً، إلاّ أنّ النجاح سيشكّل تأكيداً مثيراً للقيادة الأمريكية – ولبراعة الرئيس ترامب في إبرام الصفقات.

إطلاق سياسة تسعى إلى تغيير النظام. قد يأتي هذا النهج الجريء نتيجة تقييمٍ يبرز فيه فساد النظام في طهران، بحيث لن ينفع معه أي اتفاق. ويمكن للرئيس الأمريكي أن يجادل بأن سعي إيران للسيادة الإقليمية يشكل خطراً واضحاً وشاملاً على المصالح الأمريكية. وبطبيعة الحال، قد تأخذ الجهود الرامية إلى إحداث تغيير في النظام أشكالاً عديدة، مع استبعاد احتمال قيام مواجهة عسكرية. ولكن من شأن تحديد الهدف فقط أن يرسم مساراً جديداً للانخراط الأمريكي في الشرق الأوسط.

تنفيذ استراتيجية الانكماش في الشرق الأوسط تقلّص بموجبها الولايات المتحدة تعرّضها للمشاكل الخطيرة والمستعصية في المنطقة. وربما كان أوباما قد صمّم الاتفاق النووي كأداة لانتشال أمريكا من مستنقع الشرق الأوسط، لكن قد يجادل ترامب بأن الولايات المتحدة ما زالت عالقة هناك كما كان الحال دائماً. ويمكن أن يتصوّر المرء قيام الرئيس الأمريكي بإعطاء تصريح يقول فيه، “دعونا لا نكون ملزمين مثل جليفر باتفاق مرهِق يبقينا مقيّدين بإيران لسنوات قادمة”، مضيفاً “دعونا نتمتع بِحرية اختيار المكان والزمان المناسبين للتصرف”.

وفي هذا السيناريو، ستواصل الولايات المتحدة تقديم (أو، حتى أفضل من ذلك، بيع) الأسلحة إلى حلفائها المحليين لكي يتمكنوا من مواجهة إيران ووكلائها. ويمكن للرئيس الأمريكي أن يربط الانسحاب من الاتفاق النووي بعقيدة الردع الجديدة التي تنص على ما يلي: أي دليل على قيام إيران بتخصيب المواد الانشطارية إلى درجة تتخطى مستوى معيّن من شأنه أن يؤدي إلى قيام الولايات المتحدة بعملية عسكرية ضخمة تهدف إلى إنهاء النظام.

وعلى الرغم من أن هذه الخيارات تطال طيف السياسات، إلّا أنه ليس من الصعب تصوّر تأييد ترامب لأي منها. وهذا خير دليل على غياب التماسك الاستراتيجي في الإدارة الأمريكية فيما يتعلق بإيران والشرق الأوسط على نطاق أوسع.

وإذا اختار الرئيس الأمريكي الانسحاب من الاتفاق، فستتمثل الخطوة الصحيحة في شمل هذا القرار في استراتيجية جديدة [تهدف إلى] التوصل إلى اتفاق أفضل. وستؤدي هذه المقاربة إلى تقليل المتاعب بين أصدقاء الولايات المتحدة في أوروبا، حيث يشارك بعضهم قلق واشنطن بشأن عيوب الاتفاق الحالي، كما أنها تتمتع بفرصة أفضل للنجاح.

إلا أنّ هذا ليس كافياً. يتعين على الرئيس الأمريكي أن يعزز سياسة تتمثل [بالتوصل إلى] “اتفاق أفضل” يضم العناصر الأساسية للخيارين الثاني والثالث، من دون تحمّل التكلفة السياسية لتبنّي تلك المسارات الأكثر تطرفاً بشكلٍ علني وكامل. يجب أن يتضمن ذلك اعتماد تدابير أكثر فعالية وأكثر حزماً لمواجهة سلوك إيران المزعزع للاستقرار في جميع أنحاء الشرق الأوسط، فضلاً عن اتخاذ مبادرات جديدة – في مجال حقوق الإنسان والحرية الدينية والوصول إلى شبكة الإنترنت، على سبيل المثال – التي تضع أمريكا بشكل مباشر إلى جانب الإيرانيين الذين يناضلون من أجل الحرية. وقد تشكّل هذه المقترحات مجتمعة سياسةً حقيقيةً تجاه إيران – هي الأولى منذ عقود – وليس مجرد سياسة نووية تجاه إيران.

وهناك خطوة خاطئة أيضاً، وهي رد الفعل البغيض المتمثل بالانسحاب من المنطقة خلف جدار من التهديد والتوعّد. ففي نهاية المطاف، لا يقوم الانخراط الأمريكي في الشرق الأوسط على الغيريّة. فإلى جانب دعم مصالح الولايات المتحدة وحلفائها التقليديين، يكمن الهدف الأناني لواشنطن في حل المشاكل هناك قبل أن يتم تصديرها إلى الولايات المتحدة.

لنأمل أن يستمدّ الرئيس الأمريكي قراره بشأن الاتفاق النووي من خيار استراتيجي سليم ومعقول تجاه إيران، وليس من حافز انعزالي مضلّل أو من عدائية متأصلة تجاه الإنجاز الذي حققه سلفه.

روبرت ساتلوف هو المدير التنفيذي لمعهد واشنطن.

UK drones firing organ-destroying ‘vacuum bombs’ on the rise in Syria – FOI request reveals

The UK is ‘indiscriminately’ using thermobaric missiles as part of its ongoing air war in Syria, a Freedom of Information (FoI) request has revealed.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) admitted, for the first time, using thermobaric weapons during strikes carried out by Royal Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drones during missions in January and February, in response to the FoI request by anti-war campaign group Drone Wars UK.

Thermobaric weapons, known colloquially as “vacuum bombs,” differ from conventional munitions – which cause damage by spreading shrapnel – as they create a high-temperature explosion with an extremely powerful blast radius. The pressure created causes severe internal damage to the organs of people caught in the blast radius.

According to Drone Wars, the request saw “officials give a breakdown of the type of Hellfire missiles fired, stating that 19 AGM-114N4 and 44 AGM-114R2 had been used. The ‘N’ version of the missile uses a Metal Augmented Charge (MAC) warhead that contains a thermobaric explosive fill using aluminum with the explosive mixture. When the warhead detonates, the aluminum mixture is dispersed and rapidly burns.”

While use of vacuum bombs remain legal under international law, their use has been criticized by human rights organizations as they have the potential to create unnecessary human suffering.

“Anyone in the vicinity is likely to die from internal organ damage,” the group added.

Manufactured by US arms giant Lockheed Martin, the company boasts that over 21,000 units of the missile have been delivered to the US Air Force and over 13 of Washington’s international partners, including the UK.

Coming in three configurations, Hellfires have been integrated on a variety of air platforms including the Apache and Super Cobra attack helicopters. As well as Predator and Reaper drones. They have also been added to turboprop fixed-wing aircraft, offering operators a cheaper platform to carry out counter-insurgency missions.

Increased use by the RAF

The UK’s use of thermobaric missiles was first reported in 2008 when the British military used Apache helicopters equipped with Hellfires to tackle Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan. News that troops were using such weapons caused a stir in Westminster with The Times reporting that “MoD weapons and legal experts spent 18 months debating whether British troops could use them without breaking international law.”

They settled on redefining the missiles as “enhanced blast weapons” in order to get around any potential legal wrangling.

Since then, and until the request granted by the FoI, the MoD has tried to avoid answering questions on their use of the thermobaric variant of the Hellfire.

READ MORE: RAF strike killed one civilian in Syria as it targeted ISIS, defence secretary admits

Admission of their use comes the same week as UK Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson admitted that a recent RAF airstrike resulted in a civilian casualty. In a ministerial statement, Williamson said that the casualty “crossed into the strike area at the last moment,” during a targeted strike in northeastern Syria on March 26, that killed three militants of the Islamic State (IS).

In recent months, the RAF has been upping its use of drone strikes in Syria in favor of its dedicated multi-role strike bomber, the Tornado. According to Drone Wars, between January and March of this year, “UK drones fired as many weapons in Syria (92) as they have over the previous 18 months,” and is seeking further information on whether their use is increasing in favor of manned aircraft.

source: RT

Egypt’s Sham Election

By Andrew Miller and Amy Hawthorne

Egypt’s presidential election on March 26-28 effectively is a theatrical performance, staged by the regime to contrive a popular mandate for strongman President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s second term. Sisi, who as defense minister led the 2013 coup against the Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, has forced out every credible electoral contender—including two prominent challengers from the military establishment, Ahmed Shafiq and Sami Anan—using threats and even imprisonment. Moussa Mustafa Moussa, who entered the race at the last moment to play Sisi’s token opponent, is an obscure politician and an avowed supporter of the president who is thought to have long-standing ties to the Egyptian security services.

What is more, the vote is being held against the backdrop of a vast crackdown under Sisi. Tens of thousands of people are in prison on politicized or fabricated charges. Civil society organizations are hounded by the police, and the regime has been buying up privately held media organizations and punishing those outlets that dare to diverge from the state’s Orwellian narrative. With the security services unleashed, the incidence of torture has increased dramatically and, in a frightening tactic new to Egypt, hundreds have “disappeared” from the streets or their homes. A state of emergency has further eroded Egyptians’ meager rights. Any balloting held under such brutally repressive circumstances reveals very little about Sisi’s standing with the Egyptian public.

THE MILITARY AS KINGMAKER

Nevertheless, the way in which Sisi has managed the election, ratcheting up repression and angrily and ruthlessly quashing military-linked candidates, demonstrates that his hold on power depends in large part on the military’s loyalty, or at least its acquiescence. The fact that challengers even emerged from the military establishment in the first place suggests that such support has declined, a trend that has rattled Sisi.

The armed forces remain Egypt’s most powerful institution, and Sisi became president in 2014 with their strong backing. But he must be acutely aware that the military could turn against him. After all, the military removed Sisi’s immediate predecessors, Morsi and Hosni Mubarak, once it came to see them as a liability to its own interests.

In some ways, Sisi may be even more dependent on the armed forces than Mubarak was, as he came to power through a military coup and has not built up alternative bases of support outside the institution. By contrast, while Mubarak also came from the military, as president, he spent years cultivating constituencies in the business community and the state bureaucracy, especially the security agencies. (There are signs that some within state institutions harbor misgivings about Sisi, who has strong-armed the security services, shown frustration with Egypt’s bloated but influential civil service, and curtailed the judiciary’s independence.) Mubarak took the additional step of mobilizing these interest groups and spreading patronage through the establishment of a loyal ruling party. Sisi, who disdains civilian politics, has declined to create such a party, and by increasing the role of the military in the economy, has crowded out opportunities for important private-sector players. Arguably, he has also alienated other potential constituencies through his unbridled repression.

Sisi’s political survival will depend primarily on whether he can keep the perceived costs of his removal higher than the costs of his remaining in power.

Although it is notoriously difficult to get a clear picture of politics inside the Egyptian military and regime, there have been episodic, if somewhat cryptic, signs from the military of discontent with Sisi, and even of potential dissent. Rumors of dismissals and purges within the officer corps have circulated periodically during Sisi’s rule. In 2015, 26 serving and retired military officers reportedly were convicted of conspiring to overthrow the regime. Sisi’s controversial 2016 decision to hand over two Egyptian Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, his regime’s main patron, was privately opposed by top military figures, including Defense Minister Sedki Sobhy and Chief of Staff Mahmoud Hegazy, and was widely unpopular among Egypt’s political class.

More recently, in October 2017, Sisi abruptly fired Hegazy (whose daughter is married to one of Sisi’s sons), and put him under house arrest, reportedly because Hegazy had pushed back against some of Sisi’s policies. In the last several months, pro-Sisi figures have floated the idea of amending the constitution to remove presidential term limits. In addition, some reports have hinted that Sisi also may change the constitution to allow him to remove the defense minister, who is currently appointed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). This implies that Sisi does not fully trust Sobhy and that he cannot count on the SCAF to fire him.

That two high-profile challengers with military backgrounds tried to step forward for the 2018 presidential election, however, provides perhaps the clearest sign of disaffection in parts of the military. Former prime minister and air force commander Shafiq, who narrowly lost Egypt’s 2012 election and remains popular with some Egyptians, announced in November that he intended to challenge Sisi. In January, Anan, who was chief of staff from 2005-2012 (and Sisi’s army superior), declared that he planned to run.

It is highly unlikely that Shafiq and Anan would have taken the risk to step forward unless they were confident of at least some support in the military. Lest there be any doubt that their candidacies were aimed at repudiating Sisi’s leadership, both men criticized Sisi, directly or indirectly, for his dictatorial tendencies and economic failures. Anan even expressed cautious disapproval of Sisi’s handling of the Red Sea islands transfer and other sensitive national security issues.

Sisi has reacted to these developments with a combination of fury and panic. To force Shafiq to drop his bid, Sisi had him detained for weeks and put him and his family under intense pressure. Anan was placed in military detention immediately after refusing to end his campaign, and his running-mate was attacked by unidentified “thugs” and then imprisoned. In an unusual speech on January 31, Sisi lashed out against “anyone trying to undermine Egypt’s security” and, staring menacingly at the defense minister, declared that an uprising like in 2011 would never be repeated. Following Anan’s arrest, there have been unconfirmed reports of more military reshuffles and purges.

It is hard to know if these embryonic signs of dissent will grow into more significant military opposition to Sisi, much less support for his eventual removal. The Egyptian military is generally a risk-averse institution, and would be especially reluctant to act against one of its own. As we saw in 2011, the military did not remove Mubarak until it concluded, after 18 days of mass grassroots protests, that it had no other option. And so far, Sisi has been able to snuff out any burgeoning discontent within the military.

Yet, as the 2011 uprising also demonstrated, there are conditions under which the Egyptian military is prepared to force a change. The armed forces fear instability above all else, and the possibility of chaos, in the form of sustained large protests or general disorder, can cause it to act. The military’s posture towards Sisi likely will be driven by its assessment of what is riskier: keeping the president in power or removing him. Moving forward, this suggests that Sisi’s political survival will depend primarily on whether he can keep the perceived costs of his removal—such as the unavailability of acceptable alternative leaders and political uncertainty—higher than the costs of his remaining in power, such as the reputational damage that the military could suffer from continuing to support a president who has manifestly lost public support.

Egyptian Army soldiers are seen in the troubled northern part of the Sinai peninsula during a launch of a major assault against militants in Al Arish, Egypt.

SISI’S TWO MAIN CHALLENGES

Whether the military leadership will eventually move against Sisi may hinge on how it views his management of two main challenges: the economy and security. Should either issue threaten to strain military cohesion—the armed forces’ unity of purpose and respect for the authority of the leadership—senior leaders may be even more inclined to take the drastic step of forcing Sisi out. Sisi must prevent further deterioration in the public’s living standards, which, when combined with popular mobilization around other grievances, has the potential to trigger public unrest that could elicit a response from the military. Most of Egypt’s nearly 100 million people, many of whom have long struggled with poverty, are enduring even greater hardship under Sisi. Egypt’s security establishment has long feared a “revolution of the hungry” in which the economically dispossessed would spontaneously rise up against the political system.

Foreshadowing this possibility, economic grievances were central to the 2011 revolt against Mubarak and shortages in key commodities during the Morsi presidency were exploited by opponents of the Islamist president to build popular support for the July 2013 coup. Should declining living conditions yield full-blown protests or civil disturbances, the military could face incentives to remove Sisi, who would likely bear the brunt of the blame from the public. His ouster could ameliorate popular grievances and distance the military, as an institution, from his policies. Sisi, apparently aware of such risks, has implemented a series of difficult economic reforms, including cutting subsidies and devaluing the Egyptian pound, to improve Egypt’s vulnerable macroeconomic position. These measures have had the immediate effect of harming living conditions for the Egyptian people, most obviously in the form of runaway inflation that topped out last year at 34.2 percent, but many Egyptians seem to have accepted Sisi’s argument that short-term austerity measures are necessary for long-term prosperity.

Popular patience is unlikely to be infinite, however, especially if conditions worsen, and it remains to be seen whether Sisi can translate monetary and fiscal-stabilization steps into better living conditions for the Egyptian people. If past is prologue, the prospects may not be promising. While prior episodes of economic reform in Egypt did help to generate higher aggregate growth, most recently in the 2000s, the benefits of increased economic activity were not widely shared, as reflected in stubbornly high unemployment rates, expanding poverty, and higher wealth inequality. It should be a cautionary tale for Sisi that popular frustration with an earlier period of economic reform and vast corruption among the ruling class formed the background for the 2011 revolt.

Alongside the need for revitalizing the economy, Sisi must avert a substantial decline in security conditions in the Egyptian heartland. Providing security is central to the military’s image as the defender of the Egyptian nation, and an abject failure to fulfill this duty could provoke public disenchantment with the regime or even seed doubts in the military about Sisi’s ability to cope with the country’s top threats, such as violence from jihadist groups. Although a significant worsening of the security environment is less likely to provoke popular demonstrations than a continuing decline in living conditions, if the military leadership holds Sisi responsible for such a deterioration, they could feel compelled to act.

Concern about the counterterrorism performance of the Egyptian military is not merely theoretical. It appears that the armed forces are failing in the main combat theater of the Sinai Peninsula, though the regime’s control over media reporting has obscured the full extent of its struggles. The security situation in remote Sinai does not affect most Egyptians, however, and the military seems prepared to accept a steady stream of casualties amongst rank-and-file soldiers, who have been sent there to battle the Islamic State’s (ISIS’s) local affiliate.

By contrast, a scenario in which jihadist groups make major inroads in the population centers of the Nile Valley, resulting in the state’s loss of effective control over territory or the collapse of law and order, would present a serious challenge to Sisi’s standing, publicly and within the regime. Unlike in the Sinai, military and security agencies have been more successful in disrupting threats in and around the Nile Valley. And groups like ISIS will probably find it harder to embed in Egypt’s major population centers, where there is a stronger sense of nationalism. But, as a series of lethal, high-profile attacks in the past 16 months demonstrates, the intensification of terrorism in the heartland remains a distinct possibility.

Sisi’s growing authoritarianism, while on its own is unlikely to disquiet the autocratic military, could exacerbate these economic and security challenges. Egyptians will probably be less willing to tolerate the deprivation of their political and civil rights if their security and economic expectations are not met. To the extent that political repression, when coupled with insecurity and economic hardship, begins to provoke a popular backlash against the regime, the military may have cause for concern. And separate from how poorly his regime treats ordinary citizens, Sisi’s moves to consolidate power within the state could antagonize some in the military.

Only time will tell whether Sisi’s response to recent challenges is just another step towards regime consolidation or the beginning of the end.

COMING TESTS OF SISI’S POWER 

As other analysts have noted, after his reelection, Sisi is expected to seek to amend the constitution, and we agree that the military’s debate over such a move would provide a more meaningful indicator of support for Sisi than does the election itself. But even if Sisi is successful in expanding his powers, it will not mean that his position is then secure. The coming struggle over constitutional amendments is likely to be an important, though not final, obstacle to his consolidation of power.

This is partly because another test is in the offing—one even more consequential because it directly affects security and economic interests: responding to the new Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). It seems likely that Ethiopia will begin filling the dam as early as this summer, a process that could reduce Nile water flow and result in a cut to Egypt’s already scarce water supply by as much as 25 percent. This could have huge implications for the living conditions of millions of Egyptians, who already have one of the lowest per-capita water shares in the world, and for Egypt’s economy. Owing to Ethiopia’s apparent reluctance to address Egypt’s legitimate concerns, there are few options available to Sisi to mitigate the threat posed by the GERD. He could initiate covert or overt military action against the dam. But, due to the Egyptian military’s limited expeditionary capacity, the prospects of using force to stop or even delay the dam filling are slim, and a high-profile, failed military attack on Ethiopia would undermine Sisi’s security credentials and damage the military’s prestige.

The preceding analysis strongly suggests that Sisi’s hold on power is far from secure, but it does not necessarily indicate that the demise of his regime is imminent or even inevitable. All prior Egyptian presidents who hailed from the military—Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar el-Sadat, and Mubarak—faced major challenges in consolidating their regimes, which required years to fully resolve. If, in hindsight, these iconic figures’ eventual domination of the Egyptian political scene now seems inexorable, their triumph appeared anything but assured to their contemporaries. For instance, that Mubarak, upon succeeding Sadat in 1981, was viewed in certain circles as a placeholder president is now a distant memory.

To be sure, Sisi enjoys certain advantages in his effort to eliminate threats to his rule: the power of incumbency, his support among some Egyptians (though apparently weaker than when he took power), and the military’s conservatism. Yet, his failure so far to cultivate and organize alternative bases of support outside the military, in contrast to his military predecessors, and his reliance on repression, like his predecessors, may not only leave him more dependent on continued military support, but may also exacerbate the very pressures that could lead the military to act. Ultimately, only time will tell whether Sisi’s response to recent challenges is just another step towards regime consolidation or the beginning of the end.

Source: Foreign Affairs

 

Reluctant Stakeholder: Why China’s Highly Strategic Brand of Revisionism is More Challenging Than Washington Thinks

EVAN A. FEIGENBAUM

To compete in geopolitics—as in sports, business, and life—one needs to actually compete. Washington has to outperform the Chinese competition, not just belittle it.

At the end of 2016, as Donald Trump prepared to take office as President, I penned an essay for Foreign Affairs magazine on “China and the World.” The editor, my friend Gideon Rose, had asked me to respond to two straightforward questions: Is China a “revisionist” power? And in particular, does not Beijing’s championing of a new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) demonstrate its revisionism?

Feigenbaum’s work focuses principally on China and India, geopolitics in Asia, and the role of the United States in East, Central, and South Asia. His previous positions include deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asia, deputy assistant secretary of state for Central Asia, and member of the secretary of state’s policy planning staff with principal responsibility for East Asia and the Pacific.

Evan A. Feigenbaum

Nonresident Senior Fellow
Asia Program

More from this author…

Well, much has happened since I published that essay in December 2016.

For one thing, the Trump Administration has developed its own answer to these questions. In White House and Defense Department strategy documents, the Administration has made clear that it views China not just as a “revisionist” power but as the world’s principal champion of alternative rules, principles, and structures.

In this telling, Beijing has eschewed the institutions and rules that have prevailed since World War II, especially those preferred by the United States. Instead, it aims to lock in a Sinocentric vision of the world through parallel institutions, disruptive bilateral initiatives, and a rewriting of global rules.

Some administration officials have gone further in their public statements. Take former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. He displayed a reasonable grasp of history, but absolutely zero sense of irony, when he praised the Monroe Doctrine in a speech about Latin America, then warned the region to beware the “imperial” ambitions of you-know-who.

Treasury Stephen Mnuchin, meanwhile, has cautioned pretty much every country against taking China’s money. Chinese infrastructure lending, he (correctly) notes, lacks transparency. But Mnuchin extends that argument about transparency into something more like a rap sheet: take Beijing’s money, he warns, and risk being trapped in a debilitating cycle of debt—something that has led to asset-stripping by Chinese practitioners of what the National Defense Strategy calls “predatory economics.” This, in turn, could undermine governance principles championed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

In recent weeks, the administration’s nominee for Pacific Command, Admiral Philip Davidson, has taken that argument to its logical conclusion. In testimony to Congress, Davidson came pretty close to calling Chinese infrastructure plays a tool of anti-democratic subversion.

In this changed context, it seems like a good time to take a long look back at my 2016 essay. I still see a lot more complexity than these many strategies, statements, and speeches do.

Here are six important things Washington is missing.

Thinking through the implications of these could help the United States to compete more effectively.

1. It’s tough to critique another country’s obvious revisionism when you’re a revisionist yourself.

China is moving in some very troubling directions. But in the 16 months since I wrote my essay, the United States—and for that matter, some of its trans-Atlantic partners—has also changed in at least three notable ways:

First, while much of the pushback against Chinese activism has been framed as a conservative defense of prevailing rules and institutions, there is nothing either conservative or defensive about the political sentiment that now prevails in some Western capitals. Trump’s Washington. Brexit London. A potential Five Star government in Rome. A Berlin that now has the far-right AfD as the third-largest party in the Bundestag. These signal not a doubling down on prevailing institutions, modes, and rules but an underlying desire by some governments—and many more in their electorates—to actually change them.

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Second, the United States has long been the principal champion of trade multilateralism and, in recent years, of regional approaches to liberalization too. Now, the US is moving briskly away from both of these, favoring instead a firm preference for bilateral agreements and managed trade. In fact, the politics of trade in Washington now raise serious questions about whether the US can ever again undertake a large-scale multilateral deal.

Bluntly put, this has changed Washington’s trade policy—and perceptions of and reactions to it—very considerably from 16 months ago. It is often noted that the administration has abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in a probably fruitless pursuit of bilateral agreements in Asia. But that isn’t the only thing that has changed. Washington is also re-emphasizing pre-WTO instruments (sensibly, in my view, but nonetheless to the chagrin of most of its partners). And it seeks to impose penalties and offer incentives in a mostly bilateral, not multilateral, context.

Third, this has meant a return to managed trade—a throwback resented by many and encapsulated, most recently, by the multiple separate bilateral negotiations that Washington has conducted with its allies for tariff exemptions. And here’s the irony: the US is pursuing throwback approaches with the very partners it seeks to enlist against Chinese rule breaking. Take Japan: Tokyo shares American concerns about China but has seen the US withdraw from TPP in favor of a managed approach to trade that looks eerily similar to the US-Japan structural impediments initiatives of the 1990s. Nor does Washington favor other approaches that its Japanese ally now champions.

2. China is a revisionist power but not a revolutionary one. This distinction is being blurred but actually matters.

This distinction may sound too cute by half, but it is a distinction with a difference.

China is emerging as a disruptive force on the international stage. For thirty years, it was encouraged to join international institutions and subscribe to their norms. Now, having joined them, it seeks, like most major powers, to leverage its seat at the top table to support its national interests.

But this is not even one iota surprising.

As China’s military, economic, and financial power have grown, it has been patently obvious that Beijing would not accept all global institutions, rules, standards, and norms exactly as they are configured today. And importantly, this would be true even without Xi Jinping in power. China’s sheer size, weight, and self-perception of its interests will invariably lead it to expect changes in the governance of international institutions and, in some cases, to their underlying rules.

Yet the proposition that China aims to construct a “parallel” order of competing institutions, rules, and initiatives to subvert, and perhaps even replace, the postwar international system both misstates and understates the challenge China actually poses.

It misstates the challenge because it lacks historical perspective and institutional memory. A “disruptive”China is not, after all, a “revolutionary” China. And we know this because we have seen precisely such a China in the very recent past.

Less than fifty years ago, in the 1960s, Mao Zedong’s China actually did seek to overturn the architecture of the international system. Beijing opposed nearly every global institution. It promoted internal, often violent revolution against established governments from Bolivia to Borneo. It argued for an “anti-capitalist” order. When it entered the United Nations in 1971, the West’s biggest fear was that Beijing would disrupt and undermine the organization. And China isolated nearly every aspect of its own economic and social systems from outside influences and global trends, restricting flows of goods, capital, people, technologies, and information almost completely.

Americans have largely forgotten what the world was like when China sought—and in many areas, achieved—a functional autarky. But today’s China is, quite obviously, not that China. And in the case of the AIIB, a China-backed institution has, in many ways, ended up aping and adapting practices from existing institutions.

But if many critics overstate what China is not, they also understate what China actually is—a stakeholder in existing institutions and rules but a habitually reluctant, seldom satisfied, and frequently ambivalent one, at best.

This means the challenge to Washington is far more complex than if China actually did seek to overturn the international order wholesale.

To put this pithily, China accepts most forms but not necessarily our preferred norms. And that disconnect between forms and norms means that Beijing’s revisionism and demands for change often play out within the existing international framework.

This, in turn, means we risk misidentifying the problem.

China’s strategy is actually one of portfolio diversification, not the replacement of institutions and systems. Beijing aims to give itself options—and by extension, leverage—not least to push for reform of these various groups and a larger role for itself and its preferred outcomes and standards.

To illustrate, look at the multilateral development banks: Beijing has not only joined but supports with financial muscle all of the prevailing development institutions, both globally and in Asia. It is the number-three shareholder in the Asian Development Bank—the very institution it is said to be “destabilizing” with its sponsorship of the AIIB. When China has endorsed new structures, such as the New Development Bank and BRICS contingency reserve arrangement, it has simultaneously made sizeable replenishment contributions to the IMF, where it now has nearly three times the voting weight of Canada, about a third more than Britain and France, and only a whisker less than Japan. Beijing has joined regional development banks in Europe, Latin America, and Africa. It has transitioned from a net borrower to a net contributor in the International Development Association (IDA) and other institutions. And then there is the AIIB, where China wields a veto—there, Beijing’s “alternative” institution has struck up partnerships and co-finance arrangements with every other leading MDB, including the Islamic Development Bank, African Development Bank, Asian Development Bank, World Bank, and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

To put this somewhat pointedly, China is a revisionist power but one that is both highly strategic and carefully selective in its revisionism.

In the maritime domain, for example, it seeks to advance its territorial claims by challenging international law and customary practice. In the cyber domain, it is promoting a distinctive vision of cyber sovereignty. But in the majority of instances and institutions, Beijing pursues structural change by demanding changes to the existing framework.

And a more ambitious China cannot, by definition, be a “status quo” power, in any case. The same could be said of some other emerging powers. Merely by seeking a greater role, heftier voting weight, extra chairs and expanded shares, Beijing is, by definition, attempting to force structural changes and achieve gains relative to the established powers, especially America’s European partners.

China is no revolutionary, then, yet it is determined to gain leverage in almost every prevailing institution and rule-making body.

3. American policy did not “mistake” the implications of China’s rise.

Frankly, “portfolio diversification,” as opposed to wholesale replacement, will make it harder for America to simply get its way. Washington needs strategy and foresight, above all. But in recent months, I’ve read three-dozen articles that claim America has compounded its own problem by “failing” to anticipate this Chinese challenge and, in effect, missing the boat on China’s desire to undermine and replace the existing order.

Frankly, that, too, is ahistorical.

China’s brand of revisionism is not at all surprising—first, because leveraging structures and rules to own advantage is among the most predictable behaviors of major powers, but second, because China’s intensifying demands were not, in fact, unanticipated by prior administrations. The United States has seen precisely such a Chinese challenge coming. And in the decade of the 2000s, when I served in the George W. Bush Administration, I saw firsthand how Washington tried to get out in front of it.

Let me illustrate with some examples from my own experience:

In September 2005, I was responsible for East Asia on Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s Policy Planning Staff. My then boss, Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, delivered an important conceptual speech that came to define much of the debate about China’s global role in the ensuing decade, but which has sometimes been misconstrued or misinterpreted.

Zoellick began his so-called “responsible stakeholder” speech by noting that US policy, through seven presidents from Richard Nixon to George W. Bush, had sought to “integrate” China into the international system. But with China having acceded to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, that process was largely complete. Structurally speaking, Zoellick argued, China already was “in.” Beijing had joined most of the major institutions, and, on paper, subscribed to the major treaties and protocols from ozone depletion to chemical weapons.

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Zoellick’s conclusion was that American rhetoric about China lagged at least five years behind the new realities of Chinese power. So US policy, he argued, needed to change dramatically as a result.

The shift Zoellick advocated was to deemphasize structure and instead emphasize Beijing’s conduct and behavior. The proper question for US policy, he implied, was no longer whether China was “in” or “out”of this or that institution or rule, but rather whether Beijing supported and sustained through its actions, even as it might demand to adapt, those aspects of the international system that had enabled its own success.

Zoellick put this point pretty bluntly, deploying a now famous catchphrase: “It is time to take our policy beyond opening doors to China’s membership into the international system. We need to urge China to become a responsible stakeholder in that system.”

From my vantage point, at least, the Bush Administration clearly sensed from its earliest days an impending challenge from Beijing. So it tried to get in front of, shape, and steer China’s emerging energies.

One reason for this was that Washington faced a gathering problem with China in the mid-2000s: Beijing’s power and capacity for action were growing, yet China was, in many areas, taking a big fat free ride as a consumer of the security and stability the US was working to provide.

One way to think about this challenge is to turn Zoellick’s catchphrase on its head. The logical opposite of a “responsible stakeholder” is an “irresponsible free rider.” And since the administration had no interest whatsoever in encouraging China to be an irresponsible free rider, it made sense to encourage its logical opposite.

By late 2005, as President Bush swung into his second term, China was developing a truly global footprint for the first time since its revolutionary foreign policy of the 1960s. So Washington had every good reason to push Beijing to act as a stakeholder in the system it had joined, not continue to free ride on its benefits.

Operationally, the US confronted specific examples of this challenge from Beijing nearly every day throughout the decade of the 2000s. And since I worked on quite a few of these, I saw how debilitating they could become at the ground level:

In 2001 and 2002, for instance, my boss on the Policy Planning Staff, Richard Haass, was dual-hatted as the US coordinator for Afghanistan policy. As a neighboring country that shared a continental border with Central Asia and was a member of the Six-Plus-Two group on Afghanistan, China derived security and counterterrorism benefits from the war against the Taliban and al Qaeda.

But while China made modest financial contributions at international donors conferences in Tokyo and The Hague, it contributed little to the effort when weighed against its capacity and interests. And it tended to make its contributions unilaterally rather than in coordination with us and other donors.

But because Washington pressed, changes happened. So where Beijing had made its Afghanistan pledges unilaterally, its initial pledges to Iraq, by contrast, were made multilaterally and in coordination with the US and others donors, as was Beijing’s participation in the process of Iraqi debt forgiveness.

By 2006, I had become the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Central Asia, the principal day-to-day official for the region. Among other challenges I inherited was the bitter taste left by China having most unhelpfully joined Moscow and fellow members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in a 2005 statement that called for a “final timeline”to end coalition operations in Afghanistan.

From Washington’s perspective, this highlighted Beijing’s propensity to mouth empty slogans while enjoying the benefits of a free ride on the security and stability America was spending blood and treasure to provide. In that instance, too, Washington sat on Beijing (and countries in Central Asia), urging them never again to repeat this statement—and, better yet, to step up to the plate with tangible or enhanced contributions to the international effort.

A third example from this period was Beijing’s quixotic effort to “lock up” energy supplies through equity hydrocarbon investments in Africa and Central Asia by Chinese state-owned firms. China was hardly the first power to embrace neo-mercantilist energy investments overseas. But amid volatile global oil and gas markets, it held the potential to disrupt global stability—a point Zoellick specifically highlighted in his speech.

4. Domestically, China’s Leninism matters. Externally, its traditionalism may matter more.

Looking back on all this a decade later, this adjusted way of thinking about China still strikes me as ahead of trend.

For one thing, Zoellick’s speech focused on China’s global role before that role grew exponentially in the late 2000s and the decade of the 2010s. In that sense, he was prescient.

But China today is a changed country. It has more problems, but also a lot more capacity. Despite a growth slowdown and a crying need for structural reform, its $1 trillion economy upon entering the WTO in 2001 has become a $14 trillion behemoth (measured in nominal GDP). Its $220 billion in foreign exchange reserves in 2001 have ballooned over the same period to a staggering $3 trillion. Xi Jinping has injected a sharper edge and greater ambition to Chinese statecraft, not least through his advocacy of new institutions, such as the AIIB, and the massive “Belt and Road” infrastructure scheme.

In this context, US efforts to adapt—but also defend—the existing architecture are surely going to be more difficult than many in Washington presume:

One reason is that China rejects the trans-Atlantic preference for a liberal bias to the existing system but not “international order” per se. In other words, it subscribes to much of the existing order but not our desire to lock in a liberal bias.

It is often argued that China rejects these liberal norms internationally because it has an illiberal, Leninist government at home. But that is just one part of the story.

In fact, the Communist government’s skepticism of the application of liberal ideas internationally reflects not just its Leninism but also its deep-seated foreign policy traditionalism. The roots of this lie squarely in the 1990s—fully two decades before Xi Jinping, a committed Leninist, took power.

Post-Cold War shifts, especially the NATO intervention in the Balkans, caused China and the West to diverge on many of the bread-and-butter issues of international relations: How should the international system be organized? Can states legitimately intervene militarily in another state—as for instance, the US and NATO did through humanitarian interventions in the Balkans and elsewhere? What is the proper role of security alliances in a post-Cold War world? Does globalization erode the role of the state and, especially, of sovereignty? Who gets to decide how to interpret and apply international law?

On these questions, Beijing’s preferences in the 1990s began to diverge sharply from the American view of international statecraft, especially in its post-Cold War variant. And one issue in particular shaped and defined these evolving Chinese preferences—Beijing’s preoccupation with its territorial claims, especially to Taiwan.

When the US intervened in the Balkans, Panama, and Haiti, Beijing’s preoccupation with its own territorial claims hardened into a view of sovereignty and non-intervention that many in the US and Europe view as antique. Likewise, when the US relied on NATO in the Balkans, bypassing the UN Security Council where China (and Russia) could wield the veto, Beijing’s inherent skepticism of alliances seemed to grow.

Much of China’s revisionism, therefore, is aimed squarely at a trans-Atlantic version of international order. But on sovereignty and territoriality China is speaking the language of many other countries, particularly the “global south.”

A second example of China’s traditionalism is what I earlier termed “portfolio diversification.”

The decade of the 2000s was an inflection point. By 2010, China had begun to embrace a handful of “parallel” structures, such as the SCO and the BRICS. These groups assembled members, such as China, Russia, and the Central Asian states, that lack a commitment to liberal values at home. But these countries are also suspicious of it as an organizing principle abroad. And in that particular aspect, they are joined by some democracies, including, I would argue, even democratic India, that do not view it as thesingular organizing principle of international statecraft.

And yet ironically, even as Beijing embraced these parallel structures, its enthusiasm for the more traditional groups—groups that are core institutions of the liberal order—actually grew, not lessened.

China pursued bigger stakes in the World Bank and IMF at the 2009 Pittsburgh G20, and joined more of regional multilateral developments banks in Latin America and Africa. Beijing developed a $2 billion co-financing fund with the Inter-American Development Bank and ramped up its role in UN peacekeeping operations.

As I argued in 2016 in Foreign Affairs, China’s goals in shifting to this more diverse approach are presumably fourfold: to (1) hedge its commitment to existing groups and rules lest they turn against Beijing; (2) give China leverage to demand faster and deeper reforms to existing structures; (3)“democratize” international governance by working with India and other emerging powers to establish groups not led by the G7 industrialized democracies; and (4) put Washington on notice that Beijing has the capacity and will to generate alternatives if its calls for reform and change are not respected.

The AIIB, in some sense, exemplifies this more diverse Chinese strategy.

A third example of Beijing’s traditionalism is its frequent argument that institutions should reflect current power realities, not the legacies of decades past.  It is obvious enough that China and India have risen while Belgium and the Netherlands have declined in relative terms. But here’s the rub: enhancing China’s role while reducing the “Western” footprint has significant implications for the effort to lock in a liberal bias within structures and rules.

The fact is, by reducing the European footprint to ensure that various groups better reflect the power realities of 2018 not 1948, they inevitably become less reliant on the trans-Atlantic powers.

As a result, Washington has faced a growing contradiction between its strong preference for liberalism and its growing need for functionalism—the more “Western” an institution, the more liberal it is but the less representative and thus potentially less functional it may be. The transition from the G7 to the G20, and the failure to adjust the membership of the International Energy Agency (IEA) (whose voting shares have been weighted to 1973 consumption) well illustrate this challenge.

5. China has leveraged pan-Asian ideas that others actually invented first. That makes it harder for Washington to push back.

So much for global institutions. Then, there is Asia, where the US has withdrawn from TPP and rejected regional approaches even as efforts have been underway for decades to organize some of those approaches on a pan-Asian basis, excluding the United States.

China is not the only country to have been implicated in that effort. Asia has repeatedly flirted with preferential trade and financial arrangements, as well regionally based regulations and standards, without American participation.

It has become fashionable to ascribe efforts to build pan-Asian groups to rising Chinese assertiveness—or, more precisely, to Chinese ambition. But once again, that captures just one part of a more complex story.

China’s advocacy of pan-Asianism has been effective precisely because it draws off a deep well of sentiment and experience across Asia. The region boasts long traditions of pan-Asian ideas, ideologies, pacts, and negotiations—the subject of a Council on Foreign Relations monograph I co-authored with my friend, Bob Manning, in 2009. And this was well underway before China is said to have become “assertive” in Asia, indeed when Xi Jinping himself, that great champion of assertiveness, had only recently been promoted up from the provinces.

Contemporary Asian regionalism—the desire to forge at least some cohesion out of the region’s enormous diversity—has deep roots. It has found expression across Asia, in many countries, and over several decades.

Japan, for instance, is a close US ally, suspicious of the rise of Chinese power, and has a strong trans-Pacific identity. Still, Japan’s bureaucracy has incubated a variety of pan-Asian ideas, especially with respect to monetary integration. Before there was an AIIB, there was Japan’s proposal of an Asian Monetary Fund, which helped give rise to today’s Chiang Mai Initiative of bilateral currency swaps among Southeast and Northeast Asian countries.

In the 1990s, the US could squash such incipient regionalism. But relative power balances have changed considerably since then. Worse, the US withdrawal from TPP has fueled perceptions across Asia of American protectionism. Viewed through this frame, Beijing’s proposal of the AIIB (and probably other ideas yet to come) cannot be so easily squashed since they lie squarely in a longer pan-Asian tradition.

American policymakers make much in speeches today about indebtedness to China and the potential for Beijing to exact a steep price in exchange for its loans. But the IMF itself was hardly popular in Asia not long ago. Many in the region, especially in Southeast Asia, reacted badly when Washington refused to bail out Thailand in 1997, just three years after bailing out Mexico. And for many Asians, the most enduring image of the crisis is a photograph of IMF managing director Michel Camdessus standing, arms crossed over a seated Indonesian president Suharto, his head bowed, as he was compelled to sign onto the IMF’s terms for financial support.

The biggest takeaway is that when Washington absents itself (or merely shows disinterest in the region’s concerns), Asians will grope for their ownsolutions.

This is precisely what happened with the TPP after American withdrawal. The US frequently argues that Asia will pay a big price for failing to confront China. Actually, the US stands to pay a far steeper price for creating, and then abetting, a vacuum. It is no surprise that the eleven remaining TPP parties completed the agreement without Washington: for all their tensions with one another, forging agreement on pan-Asian rules beats both “Chinese” rules and no rules.

6. Whining isn’t competing.

Finally, that brings us to the Belt and Road (BRI) infrastructure initiative that has become the principal target of Mr. Mnuchin’s and Admiral Davidson’s ire.

BRI is widely viewed as an attempt to foster dependence on China’s economy, with potential strategic and even military effects. And there is something to that argument. Still, Beijing is succeeding, in part because it is borrowing and adapting ideas long advocated by others, including the United States.

Ironically, in the 2000s, the other foot wore the shoe. Instead of the US condemning China’s BRI, it was Beijing that bombastically condemned Washington as a “schemer.” America’s “crime”? Daring to envision a “Greater Central Asia” and making efforts to connect Asia’s sub-regions through infrastructure, policy coordination, and project finance.

This context strikes me as very important. The regrowth of economic connections across Asia’s disparate sub-regions is a function of the choices, actions and capabilities of many states, including Japan, South Korea, and India. It is not a Chinese invention, did not begin only in 2013, and did not spring from Xi Jinping like Athena from the head of Zeus. Indeed, China was part of this connectivity effort even before it launched the Belt and Road, breaking Russia’s monopsony on Central Asian oil and gas with pipelines from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, an onshore production sharing agreement in Turkmenistan, and dozens of projects around the world.

Why do others’ efforts matter? Well, the ADB and the World Bank, for instance, have undertaken longstanding efforts on roads and power lines in Asia. The ADB’s CAREC program (which happens to include China) has been promoting six connectivity corridors—”linking the Mediterranean and East Asia”—for two decades. Does the idea of “linking the Mediterranean and East Asia” sound anything like Beijing’s sloganeering on behalf of the BRI? It does.

Here’s another example from my own experience: The Bush Administration actually reorganized the State Department around a connectivity concept in 2005, when it moved the countries of Central Asia out of a westward-facing European bureau into an Asian-facing bureau that included India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. During those years, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her team developed a variety of US-backed ideas for regional infrastructure integration, most of them premised on leveraging the strengths of the international financial institutions and the ongoing efforts of many partners.

This included Japan, whose role remains notable—it has been Tokyo, not Beijing, which is playing the dominant role in project finance in India, for example, including building the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, the Delhi Metro and the development of high-speed rail for Indian Railways.

Then there is the sheer “Asianization” of Central Asia, which owes as much to the retreat of Russian economic power and relative ebbing of Moscow’s primacy as it does to the arrival of Chinese trade and capital.

What I’m trying to say is that the “challenge of China’s new activism” is more complex than the BRI being some sort of binary counterpoint to the United States. Rather, we need to enlarge our framing of the strategic problem:

The United States risks being marginalized by an organic process through which numerous Asian states, including but not limited to China, are reintegrating East, Central, and South Asia through the direction of trade, capital flows, infrastructure, and new pan-Asian pacts and agreements. More often than not, this is happening without American involvement.

Gradually, but inexorably, the region is becoming more Asian than ‘‘Asia-Pacific,’’ especially as Asian economies look to one another, not just the trans-Atlantic West, for new economic and financial arrangements; more continental than sub-continental, as East and South Asia become more closely intertwined; and, in its continental west, more Central Asian than Eurasian, as China develops its western regions and five former Soviet countries rediscover their Asian roots.

Insufficiently, in my view, the US response to this has mostly been to complain about the Belt and Road. Even without the Belt and Road, the US was already increasingly out of the picture.

My own view is that Washington can and must do better.

For one thing, American policymakers need greater discretion and better judgment about when and where to pick their fights. In the case of the AIIB, for example, the US went to the mat, contesting a Chinese initiative in a functional area where existing structures were clearly insufficient and the US itself offered no distinctive model. It turned China’s proposal of a multilateral bank into a bilateral test of wills but without the leverage to stop Beijing from moving forward. Worse, Washington badly misread the sentiment of some of its allies.

Here are some final takeaways:

One, like Don Quixote tilting at windmills, it is futile for the United States to try to write China out of Asia’s story. And this would be true of any China, not just Xi Jinping’s assertive and nationalistic China.

One reason for this is cartographic: China borders every sub-region of Asia—Northeast, Southeast, Central, and South. The United States does not. Neither does any other big Asian player.

Another reason is financial: even if China cannot ultimately deploy the billions of state-backed project finance it has pledged to the Belt and Road, it can still drop plenty of meaningful money into countries all over Asia where the United States and its firms are largely invisible. To reject and battle against every instance of China’s effort to foster connectivity, then, would require Washington to fight both geographic and economic gravity.

A more realistic way to counterbalance the spread of Chinese power, especially in Asia, is to be more successful at bolstering America’s ownpower, presence, initiative, role, relationships, and arsenal of military, economic, and technological tools. And it can best do this in concert with other partners who have stepped into the vacuum created by US absence, disinterest, protectionism, and worse.

That is why the recent Trump Administration effort to coordinate infrastructure priorities among the US and Japan and the US, Japan, and India is so welcome. So, too, is a development finance reform bill making its way through Capitol Hill, which aims to make it easier for US firms to manage and mitigate risk in tough business environments.

To compete in geopolitics—as in sports, business, and life—one needs to actually compete. Washington has to outperform the Chinese competition, not just belittle and whine about it.

There is certainly a deep suspicion of Chinese intent across Asia today. But I have seen enough from every sub-region of Asia to know that the US will not get far by telling third countries that they should forestall deepening their economic relationships with China. For nearly every country, and especially the smaller ones, that is an impractical choice, and therefore will be rejected.

And that is not all. Trashing China’s initiatives while failing to counter and compete with them signals other capitals that their countries are of little interest to the United States on their own terms. Their takeaway will surely be that the United States pays attention to them only in the context of its strategic competition with China. That is a poor message indeed.

The recent US approach, whether to BRI or to AIIB, risks inviting comparisons, both implicit and explicit, between what Washington is offering and what Beijing is offering. The US is diplomatically challenged and commercially weak in around two-thirds of the Eurasian continental landmass—including many countries in Central Asia, South Asia, and mainland Southeast Asia. Sadly, then, the comparison will often benefit Beijing not Washington.

I have written elsewhere about how the US could be more proactive in Asia, not reactive. But in responding to BRI, at least, it’s important when designing US policies not to compare American apples to Chinese oranges. America isn’t China. For instance, it doesn’t have state-backed firms that it can leverage through billions channeled through state-backed policy banks.

So Washington should be better leveraging its uniquely American strengths—technology, innovation ecosystems, STEM education, connections to the global capital markets, best in class services and other firms, and so on.

It will be harder to deploy that leverage in the context of messages that say “America First.” American business remains crucial, especially in East Asia. US companies have invested more than $200 billion into the ten ASEAN countries of Southeast Asia alone. But what is at stake is not just business but rules, norms, standards, and strategic momentum.

Ultimately, at the political level, Washington spends far too much time playing defense against Beijing. As Asia becomes more integrated, the US will become progressively less relevant in many parts of the region—in Central Asia, in most of South Asia except India, and in mainland Southeast Asia, as noted above.

Within a generation, Americans could find their firms at a competitive disadvantage in a part of the world that will constitute as much as half of the global economy. Americans could become bystanders to the economic and strategic dynamics quickly reshaping this region.

The fact is, China is going to continue proposing initiatives like the Belt and Road. So the US needs to get off its back foot and onto the initiative.

The US can work with China but that needs to happen in the broader context of strategy and policy in Asia. And this includes leveraging the many initiatives and partnerships from Japan to Singapore that should also aim to promote economic expansion and connectivity.

I wrote in 2016—and I still believe—that the best adaptation to China’s new activism is a stronger offense, not perpetual defense.
This article was originally published in MacroPolo.

 

Hamas: Constrained or Nimble?

IMAD ALSOOS,  NATHAN J. BROWN

While other Palestinian institutions are in crisis, Hamas has maintained its integrity and survived political turmoil. But to capitalize on this, it will need to revise its strategy.

n 2017, the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas made news by taking three major steps that did not involve firing a single shot: it issued a new charter; it elected a new leadership; and it allowed the administration in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip to answer to the ministries of the Palestinian Authority (PA) based in the West Bank, a relationship that had been sundered a decade earlier.

These measures were interpreted by observers as having been brought about by external political constraints. There were good reasons for reaching such a conclusion, since Hamas was, and to an extent still is, hemmed in from all sides. However, focusing solely on external considerations misses a great deal and is hardly sufficient for explaining why and how Hamas behaves as it does. The movement’s ability to take observers by surprise was dramatically illustrated in April 2018 with a series of marches on the fence surrounding the Gaza Strip.

Rather, three additional factors must be taken into account. First, Hamas’s leadership does not passively respond to outside conditions, but actively evaluates them in order to optimally manage its responses. Second, international pressure does not so much directly affect Hamas’s calculations as it has an impact on domestic public opinion, which in turn shapes the group’s understanding of opportunities and constraints. And third, Hamas is distinctive on the Palestinian scene in that it has developed an institutionalized rather than a personalized organization, one with mechanisms linking its leadership with the rank and file.

Understanding Hamas’s internal dynamics helps to show how its actions reflect strategic choices, allowing for a better comprehension of the way the organization interacts with political realities, makes concessions, and capitalizes on these to maximize its gains. This, in turn, allows observers to grasp how Hamas achieves its goals, manages challenges, maintains its integrity, and survives, despite the formidable obstacles it has encountered in recent years. Such resilience has particular resonance at a time when Hamas’s main rival, Fatah, is showing signs of incoherence and decay, when many Palestinian political structures are in crisis, and when the Palestinian national movement is facing an uncertain predicament.

THE HEADACHE OF GOVERNING

Hamas was founded on the eve of the First Palestinian Intifada (1987–1993) as an “Islamic resistance movement.” While it has long sought to join the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), this has never happened. Fatah has dominated the PLO since 1969 and is unwilling to cede to Hamas any part of its power. Hamas rejected the Oslo Accords of 1993 and the negotiations with Israel that followed. When this process led to the election of a Palestinian president and parliament in 1996, as part of a supposedly temporary Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza, Hamas refused to go along with it.

In 2000 the Second Intifada broke out, following the failure of the Oslo process to establish a Palestinian state. Hamas was active in the protests, solidifying its standing in Palestinian society. When new parliamentary elections were scheduled for January 2006, Hamas decided to participate, even though it continued to reject the Oslo process. The organization quickly showed a remarkable capacity for mobilizing in opposition to the PA, and this helped propel it to a stunning electoral triumph.

A picture and its story: Smoke clears and photographer captures momentÊof protest

That triumph, which led to Hamas’s entering government for the first time, was met with a harsh international response. The Middle East Quartet—an ad hoc body created to mediate in Middle East peace talks, made up of the United States, the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations—sought to impose conditions on Hamas for negotiations to continue. These involved recognizing Israel, accepting past agreements with Israel, and renouncing violence. When Hamas demurred, Israel and the United States took steps aimed at generating popular discontent with the Hamas government in Gaza and the West Bank. Israel ceased transferring tax revenues to the new Hamas-led Palestinian government while Western backers stopped providing it with budgetary support. Even private banks, fearing sanctions, put an end to their dealings with the new government. Under such pressure, Hamas did agree in principle with Fatah to form a national-unity government in 2007, but the efforts to unseat it continued. These efforts, spearheaded by the Palestinian security forces loyal to Fatah, failed, showing Hamas’s significant ability to maneuver domestically.

Power struggles between Fatah and Hamas over control of PA institutions escalated during that period, until there was a major outbreak of violence in June 2007, when the two groups engaged in a military showdown in Gaza. The ensuing Hamas victory allowed the organization to take over PA institutions in the territory. This provoked a rift in Palestinian areas, with Hamas ruling over Gaza and Fatah over the West Bank, from where it retained control of the PLO. While Hamas’s refusal to comply with the Middle East Quartet’s conditions had led to a momentary increase in its popular support, this did not help Hamas to overcome growing public dissatisfaction with the tightened blockade on Gaza imposed as a result of its victory, which began eating away at its popularity.

Hamas’s leaders justified their military takeover in 2007 as a reaction to what they said was a planned coup by Fatah, but their actions placed them in a difficult position. The organization had crossed its own self-imposed redlines of never killing Palestinians or attacking other Palestinian groups. Hamas imposed a tight grip on power in Gaza, but it also lost its reputationas a more principled movement in the eyes of much of the population.

Even if the situation was corrosive to Hamas’s status, it was manageable. The PA deposed the Hamas-led cabinet after its takeover of Gaza, but this came with a decision to continue funding the salaries of PA employees in the territory, allowing it to retain a base of loyalists there. In response, Hamas set up a parallel administration, hiring thousands of people, whose salaries the PA refused to pay. To counter the stranglehold on Gaza by Israel and Egypt, Hamas encouraged the growth of a “tunnel economy,” whereby economic activity took place through hundreds of tunnels dug under Gaza’s border with Egypt. This provided Gaza’s inhabitants with work and cheap goods, generating renewed satisfaction.

As a result of the tunnels, Hamas’s revenues rose, so that by 2009 they totaled $150–$200 million annually, a figure that would rise to about $375 million in 2011, when the regime of Egypt’s then president Hosni Mubarak fell. During the same period, unemployment in Gaza dropped from 45 percent to 32 percent. This led to the increased stability of Hamas rule and a bigger regional role for the organization after the election of Mohamed Morsi as Egypt’s president in 2012. All this seemed to promise an end to Hamas’s isolation.

Periodically, the rival Palestinian leaderships would pledge to reconcile, and at times specific steps were taken to further this, such as extensive negotiations in 2011. Generally, it was the weakness of one side or the other at a particular time, and sometimes both, that led to efforts to appear to favor unity. However, neither side was willing to risk surrendering authority in its respective realm and international actors remained guarded, with some even hostile to such attempts.

Things changed for the worse for Hamas after July 2013, when Egypt’s military overthrew Morsi and the political system led by the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas’s sister organization. The military-dominated regime in Cairo put an end to the tunnel economy, exacerbating the impact of the blockade on Gaza. The ensuing economic strains forced Hamas to accept the Shati Agreement of April 23, 2014, an unprecedented development in the Fatah-Hamas relationship that was aimed at allowing the Fatah-led PA to govern Gaza again. The accord collapsed following the war between Hamas and Israel in summer 2014, as both Palestinian groups focused on retrenchment rather than reconciliation. However, the brief opening revealed that Hamas was looking for a way out of the Gaza straitjacket in a manner that would strengthen its domestic popularity.

HAMAS CHOOSES RENEWAL

In early 2017, amid the continuing stalemate in Hamas-Fatah relations, Hamas once again faced a crisis. In an attempt to raise the heat on Hamas, the PA cut the salaries of some of its own employees in Gaza as well as other forms of support for the territory, because such revenues facilitated Hamas’s continued rule by reducing discontent. The organization concluded that, despite widespread dissatisfaction with the PA, “popular agitation would turn against [Hamas] rule,” as one activist put it.1 The collapse of the tunnel economy and the PA’s punitive measures had pushed Gazans to their limit, given the misery in which they lived. Hamas’s stark choice was either “reconciliation at any cost” and handing Gaza’s administration over to Fatah, or accepting an “inevitable catastrophe.”

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This new reality forced Hamas and its electorate to be pragmatic with regard to the internal and external challenges the organization was facing. Hamas elections in February and October 2017 brought in Saleh al-Arouri, as deputy head of the Hamas Political Bureau, and Yahya al-Sinwar, as the movement’s head in Gaza. While both were seen as hardliners, they moved forward on a reconciliation agreement with the PA. The difficulties all around seemed insurmountable, but the two new leaders’ status as former Israeli prisoners and the fact that they represented new faces gave them the latitude to take Hamas in a new direction. As Sinwar stated in a meeting with Gaza trade unions in October 2017, reconciliation was a collective decision by the movement at home and abroad.

Under the reconciliation agreement that ensued, ministers from the PA in Ramallah are supposed to take formal control of political structures in Gaza, with Hamas ending any governing role there. However, full implementation seems unlikely at present. A unified cabinet in Ramallah nominally governs Gaza, but its effective control of the bureaucracy there is shaky and untested. Several outstanding issues, such as Hamas’s insistence on retaining an armed wing, will likely remain unresolved. But even if parts of the agreement remain frozen, it has allowed Hamas to cede governing responsibility without losing influence over much of what goes on in Gaza. Even a bomb attack in Gaza in March 2018 targeting visiting PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, though it raised tensions, failed to bring about a collapse of the accommodation between Fatah and Hamas.

Why was Hamas willing to discontinue governing Gaza? And how did the election of seemingly uncompromising figures lead to its more relaxed grip on power and a more flexible ideology? External constraints, acting on public discontent in Gaza, had generated enormous pressure on Hamas, making its leaders realize that they could no longer govern, let alone wait out the blockade. However, Hamas also had choices, and in 2017 it showed that it could react not by accepting defeat passively but by turning crisis into opportunity.

Hamas was able to do this because its internal deliberations are conducted in such a way as to allow for the emergence of a broad consensus. The organization has always striven to have in place mechanisms allowing it to sustain itself, maintain links between the leadership and the base, and ensure that its members are united around party structures and a common strategy. That is why when Hamas faced external challenges, geographical isolation, a lack of allies, and rising popular discontent in 2017, it reacted by electing a new leadership. During this period it also altered its charter in a protracted, movement-wide process that suggested a willingness to compromise without formally repudiating past positions. These moves, aimed at giving new momentum to the organization, came as part of Hamas’s preparation to disengage from its governing role in Gaza.

While Hamas has decisionmaking institutions, it gains by being able to anchor its choices in interactions between these institutions and local activists on the one hand, and between the organization and the broader public on the other. Hamas activists emphasize that all members were involved in deciding on a number of strategic choices in recent years, through forums providing for intense discussions—including whether to participate in local or legislative elections, to approve of a truce with Israel, or to endorse reconciliation talks with Fatah.2

A mechanism that Hamas uses for internal dialogue is monthly gatherings that it calls lailat katiba (or “battalion night”), in which its leaders share the movement’s ideas with all members in each region.3 Hamas also depends upon local bodies to create informal networks based on kinship, friendship, and neighborhood ties. In addition, these local bodies build a profile of the population by conducting surveys and registering people in the organization’s database of inhabitants.4 This allows Hamas to get a sense of the public mood about issues, in particular its standing and general attitudes toward its behavior and political choices.

WHAT LIES AHEAD FOR HAMAS?

Were the measures Hamas adopted in 2017 anything more than a quick fix? Hamas’s ability to reestablish its position will depend on regaining the popular support it once enjoyed in Gaza, as well as on its success in rebuilding regional alliances to mitigate its political and geographical isolation. Achieving breakthroughs on these fronts depends on Hamas’s organizational potential and its strategic choices.

Hamas’s support dropped sharply as a result of its military takeover of Gaza and preservation of order through the heavy hand of its security forces. The organization realized it had to pursue conciliation as the violence had led to the death of dozens of people, leaving influential local families embittered. Hamas’s social and political interaction with the public had shifted its initial approach, from direct and largely unrestricted access toward more limited contact suiting an autocratic governing authority. Hamas sought to reverse course and once again position itself as the protector of the population, rather than as a force policing society and suppressing the political opposition.

Hamas does have a history of reviving itself. During the Second Intifada between 2000 and 2005, after years of repression by the PA at a time when Palestinian-Israeli negotiations were ongoing, Hamas was able to persuade many of its compatriots that the arrest of its cadres and the torture of some of its top leaders had been necessary to defend popular interests.5

However, while the post-2007 period allowed the movement to organize freely at the local level throughout Gaza, its current quest to regain public support could prove more difficult. Hamas’s decision to abandon governance in the territory and work in favor of Palestinian reconciliation, particularly societal reconciliation in Gaza, might facilitate this task. However, the organization’s enemies will not make it easy for Hamas to regain its previous stature.

Regionally, Hamas is attempting to revive its past relationships in a highly contested environment. The Middle East is polarized between a Saudi-led coalition that includes Egypt, Jordan, and the PA, and an Iran-led alliance that includes Syria and Hezbollah. Hamas is caught between the two poles. To bridge the gap with the Saudi-led camp, Hamas accepted some ambiguity about a two-state solution in its amended charter. It also dropped any mention of its links with the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt and Saudi Arabia consider a terrorist organization, a contrast with how Hamas had presented itself in the past. However, such efforts will be complicated by the fact that Sinwar and Arouri come from Hamas’s military wing, whose primary supporter has long been Iran.

It is unlikely that Hamas will be able to navigate the regional split for long. The divisions are too strong and bitter for the organization to succeed in retaining a foot in both camps. Today, Egypt and Iran are the main rivals for Hamas’s allegiance, each important with regard to the organization’s specific political priorities, which are themselves a reflection of its multifaceted identity.

Hamas’s relations with Egypt deteriorated after Mohamed Morsi’s removal from power. However, the organization cannot afford to be on bad terms with the largest Arab country and the neighbor that controls Gaza’s major lifeline, its twelve-kilometer southwestern border. Egypt is also the one actor that can persuade the PA to implement a reconciliation agreement with Hamas, and push Israel to go along with it. For its part, Egypt needs Hamas’s cooperation to combat the Islamic State, a common enemy that has been effectively contained in Gaza, but not on the Sinai Peninsula, where an insurgency continues.

At the same time, there are strong forces attracting Hamas to the Iranian camp, even if the relationship worsened in 2012. Khaled Mishal, then the head of the Hamas Political Bureau, publically supported the uprising against the Syrian regime, Iran’s major regional ally. Yet Hamas needs Iran’s financial support, which was suspended following that fissure, to pursue its social and political activities. Rebuilding the alliance would allow Hamas to resume providing services to the population and would help it regain regional standing as a major opponent of Israel. Iran, in turn, believes that renewed ties with Hamas would permit the Islamic Republic to recover its reputation as leader of the regional “resistance axis,” rather than just as the sponsor of a sectarian Shia coalition.

The regional context suggests that the Iranian pull may be stronger since it is based on a longer-term, strategic concurrence of views. Arouri has described the relationship as being built on “solid ground.” By contrast, the connection with the Saudi-led coalition seems to reflect détente more than any strong alignment. However, the lesson that Hamas learned from the failure of its alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood after the Arab uprisings in 2011 is that it is better not to be tied to an ideological framework, but, instead, to pursue Hamas’s interests according to circumstances. A Hamas leader, Mahmoud al-Zahar, has emphasized this, arguing, “We are not at a stage where we are comfortable with ideological alliances [as they involve us in] regional [political] games.”

But the cold pursuit of Hamas’s interests may prove tricky today. Regional polarization between the Saudi- and Iranian-led camps leaves little room for the organization to maneuver as it pleases. Hamas is also at its weakest internally and regionally since its establishment in 1987, which means that it is not in a position to play each side off against the other. Any attempt by Hamas to generate advantage from one camp will provoke problems with the rival camp.

FOLLOWING IN FATAH’S FOOTSTEPS?

Hamas has stood out among Palestinian groups for its ability to maintain its power and effectiveness over time, while remaining united and cohesive. But if the organization is strong, its strategy has been more problematic. Hamas’s control over Gaza highlighted the contradiction between the organization’s resistance role, intended to defend Palestinians, and its governance tasks, which frequently meant imposing strict, unpopular control over the population.

Against this backdrop, Hamas and its electorate reacted in 2017 by bringing in a new leadership, introducing hints of compromise into its charter, and showing a greater readiness to adjust to internal Palestinian and regional political realities. In a comparison that Hamas leaders would find distasteful, the organization had to manage the same tensions faced earlier by Fatah in the period after each Palestinian intifada, when it sought to prioritize a political strategy over armed resistance. Fatah’s unpersuasive performance led directly to its electoral defeats in local elections in 2004 and legislative elections in 2006.

As an organization, Hamas may fare better than Fatah, because it has a greater ability to deliberate, decide collectively, and even vote internally. But while the organization is likely to survive and renew itself, it faces a real problem down the road. The new leadership of Hamas has no clear solution to the strategic vacuum lying at the heart of the Palestinian national movement that it seeks to lead.

Source: Carnegie ME Center