Saturday, 12 October 2013

Malala Yousafzai and the Missing Brown Savior Complex

On October 9, 2012, a Taliban gunman accosted a bus carrying 15 year-old Malala Yousafzai and her schoolmates, and coldly shot them at close range. The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan not only claimed responsibility for the blatant assassination attempt of the teenage education activist, but as it emerged that Malala would survive the attack, the movement also reiterated its desire to kill her. Miraculously through the efforts of friends and family, the local community in Swat Valley where she is from and where she was shot, and the Pakistani army that airlifted her to Peshawar, Malala Yousafzai survived (as did the other victims). Given the seriousness of her condition, it was imperative she was treated by the best doctors, and a generous gesture by the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi allowed her to be flown by air ambulance to England for major surgery. Fast forward just one year later, Malala has recovered and is even more emphatic in her message against the Taliban, promoting the empowerment of young women like her across Pakistan, and all around the world. And expectedly, the global media, including The Daily Show's Jon Stewart, have been celebrating her courage (perhaps caught in the moment of it all).

Great story, right? And what could be wrong about the alleged 'overexposure' of a young girl expressing words of peace and fighting for girls' education against a religious patriarchy? Apparently a lot. In fact, in Pakistan and in her hometown, her global coronation is treated with derision: "Malala is spoiling Pakistan's name around the world." Others have more sinister accusations of a CIA conspiracy involving both Malala and the gunman, claiming the entire affair is a Western plot. Yet, in recent days, an article written by a blogger in July on Huffington Post has been making the rounds on social media, entitled, "Malala Yousafzai and the White Saviour Complex." It argues, "Please, spare us the self-righteous and self-congratulatory message that is nothing more than propaganda that tells us that the West drops bombs to save girls like Malala."

The truth is there is no white savior coming for Pakistan or for any Muslim country, the vast majority of which are characterised by pernicious politics, inequitable economics, and irrational intolerance. Lecturing the chattering classes about geopolitical realties and distributing treatises on Western imperialism won't change anything. Fundamentally it will only be the indigenous leadership - helped or not helped by outsiders - that will drive change. Yet, when leaders do emerge, it seems that the local media (and now social media) are pre-occupied with tearing them down rather than building them up. People instead squander their energy on misguided diatribes, as the case of Malala has unfortunately shown. The real reason that the 'white savior complex' even is relevant is that we fail to champion the very 'brown saviors' in our midst.

Malala Yousafzai was thrust into the spotlight after her initial attack, which was so jarring that all Pakistani leaders came out in strong condemnation. Then Pakistani President, Asif Ali Zardari - himself a questionable character to say the least - labelling the attack as one against "all civilized people." Prior to the attack, Malala had rose to prominence as an activist, encouraged by her father, for girls education and against the policies and values of the Taliban, which was why she was targeted in the first place. Without picking up a gun, her message was considered a threat to their movement, which is amazing in it of itself. Yet, it was on July 12 earlier this year, speaking on her birthday to the United Nations that Malala brought tears to the eyes of millions of people around the world. Having remarkably recovered from her wounds (and having undergone partial facial reconstruction), and still facing death threats, Malala stood steadfast in front of a global audience, and spoke with fortitude and confidence: "The terrorists thought that they would change my aims and stop my ambitions but nothing changed in my life, except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born."

It was such a powerful moment, that almost every international news outlet carried the speech of this young woman live across the world. And for the first time in a long time, the Pakistani and Muslim in the spotlight was not an extremist but someone standing up to extremism. The plaudits continued to come, especially in the last few weeks, as Malala released a book about her experience and was awarded the prestigious Sakharov Prize from the European Union. In fact, she was the rumored favorite for the Nobel Peace Prize, which in the end was awarded to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, in a surprise but perhaps deserving win. Of course, the Western media in particular have a penchant for over-hyping (if not over-milking) and over-sensationalizing such stories of heroism. And it will be very difficult for Malala to not only live up to such hype but also to prevent the perception that she is over-shadowing other deserving heroes. Yet, is that not the story of all figures of change who inspire us? Was Nelson Mandela really the only Black leader in South Africa's prisons? Was Martin Luther King Jr. the only individual marching in the South? Was Aung San Suu Kyi the only fighter for freedom in Burma?

It does seem increasingly, however, that Malala is a leader denied a strong constituency back home. It is easy to dismiss the allegations that she is a CIA agent - although the photo-op with the Obama's won't help - as well as the gloating of Taliban supporters after she was not awarded the Nobel Prize. Yet it is harder to dismiss the cacophony of criticism in Pakistan, in Swat Valley, and on the social media pages of Pakistanis, and for that matter, Muslims from around the world. As one government official said: "Everyone knows about Malala, but they do not want to affiliate with her." The primary complaints include the following:
  • This is another example of the West trying to portray themselves as a savior of the East. 
  • Malala is a secular heroine not a Muslim heroine. 
  • While her case is tragic there are other victims who deserve prominence. 
  • The crimes of the West through drones and in Iraq and Afghanistan, far outweigh the crimes of the Taliban. 
  • This is an effort of the West to try to avoid its own complicity in the situation in Pakistan that led to Malala's shooting. 
As with most disinformation campaigns, this one is based on kernels of truth. For starters, the world does neglect the stories of deserving others. One such example would be of the tour-de-force Pakistani social worker  Parveen Rehman who was shot dead in Karachi earlier this year. Additionally, it has been the Western media that has largely driven the popular support for Malala globally; that, however, has to be attributed to the dismal failure of the Pakistani media to not do so instead (in my humble opinion). Finally, and the most valid critique is that the story of Malala should not negate the very pivotal role the United States and the West has played and continues to play in creating the current perilous conditions in Pakistan and in contributing to the deaths of innocents there, and in other countries. 

Firstly, U.S. policy has been heavily involved in the rise of the Taliban in Pakistan, which it tacitly supported alongside Saudi Arabia and Pakistan's intelligence service in the mid-1990s. Moreover, the United States and Saudi Arabia (and some other Western and Muslim powers) cooperated to support radical jihadism (even printing textbooks to that effect for Afghanistan) and Islamism as a bulwark against the Soviet Union and communism. In fact, Israel also supported the radical group Hamas as a counterweight to the secular Fatah movement of then Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Yes, the world was and is screwed up, and the powers of the world have much complicity in that. 

Secondly, and more importantly, the military operations carried out by the U.S. in particular in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq have led to thousands of deaths of innocent people in recent years. These actions have largely gone unpunished and the victims have been forgotten. Certainly it is not just the Taliban that are killing and the world cannot dispense justice selectively. 

Does saying all of that make Malala Yousafzai any less of a hero (or heroine)? Is her courage dimmed by the crimes of others? Is her movement for the empowerment of young girls in Pakistan any less important? Of course not. Criticisms of the West will bring no one closer to emancipation. And it cannot mask the very pure fact that today's purveyors of disaster and death in the world also include Muslims.

Who bombed the church in Peshawar slaughtering 85 worshippers? Who attacked Westgate Mall in Nairobi killing dozens of innocents? Who murders dozens of men, women and children in Iraq every week? When a Muslim rises up - a so-called brown savior - to fight such crimes and the movements behind them, we should put him or her on our shoulders and not try to chase that person into the darkness. There is no shame in admitting Brown and Muslim guilt in the world's crimes, and it does not negate the wider reality and context around the violence that does occur. In fact, our fear of partial guilt in particular should not misguidedly cause us to throw out the very sparse examples of (counter-) leadership in Muslim countries that emerge and strike fear in the heart of radical extremists. 

It has become far too easy on all sides to blame the other rather than introspect inward. Above all, instead of blaming the West for its 'white savior complex' maybe it's time to develop our own brown savior complex to save ourselves from ourselves. 


Thursday, 12 September 2013

Award Spurs Debate in 'Desert of Silence' in Muslim World


This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post, where you can visit for the original piece by clicking here or on the title

Award Spurs Debate in 'Desert of Silence' in Muslim World


LISBON -- There was something truly captivating about sitting in the Castle of São Jorge in Lisbon, Portugal, waiting for the announcement of the 2013 winners of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. Overlooking the cityscape, the citadel is home to both the Christian and Muslim history of the Iberian peninsula, a fitting setting for an event looking to promote common linkages across geographic divides. Held every three years, the Award looks to promote conversation around the themes of development and the built environment in the Muslim world and beyond. Once again, the gathering -- hosted by the President of Portugal and the Aga Khan -- brought together an eclectic array of participants from representatives from around the world, ranging from ministers and diplomats to religious figures (including from the Vatican), to architects and builders, to thinkers and writers.
The Award recipients were equally diverse, with five projects celebrated in this cycle (bringing the number of winners in the history of the Award to 110). They included: the Salam Center for Cardiac Surgery in Sudan; the revitalization of Birzeit in Palestine; the Rabat-Salé Bridge in Morocco; the rehabilitation of the Tabriz Bazaar in Iran; and an Islamic cemetery in Austria (the latter perhaps the most intriguing project). While the initiative represents the largest, in terms of monetary value, architecture award in the world, its objective goes beyond aesthetic design, seeking to identify projects that are on the frontier of sustainable development (in all senses of the term) and that are locally attuned. Yet what was clear this year was the juxtaposition of the contemplative conversation in Lisbon and the "desert of silence "that still characterizes much of the Muslim world, outside specialized or academic circles, on these very themes. And this is the challenge for the Award, and similar such platforms -- to not just hold the conversation but to widen the debate to engage with the multitude of forces shaping and influencing the broader Muslim world (and beyond).
Founded in 1977, the Aga Khan Award for Architecture (AKAA) is part of the wider set of initiatives of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), which mobilizes annually over $600 million to support development activities throughout the 30 countries in which it works. The Award shares the holistic approach of the AKDN towards development, whereby local participation, alignment, and empowerment are critical to the viability and impact of any activity. Held every three years, 2013 represented the 13th cycle of the awards. Governed by a nine-person Steering Committee that includes some of the top minds in the field, such as Norman Foster and Glenn Lowry (from the Museum of Modern Art), the Award appoints a new Master Jury for each cycle; this year's Jury, for example, includedMahmoud Mamdani of Uganda and Wang Shu of China.
One of the central purposes of the Award, according to its founder, the Aga Khan, and voiced during this years ceremony was to replace the "vast desert [of] silence [that] had set in" in the Muslim world with lively debate, around the issues of development, architecture, and the built environment. Certainly, this would be no easy challenge. Over the last three decades, the Award has highlighted a number of worthy projects, recognized and encouraged leading architects and builders, and promoted education with the principles of the Award in mind. Yet, it has not been enough to fill the silence. Instead, at the frontier of the built environment in Muslim communities, and places like the Arab world, this silence has been filled by what appears too often like cacophonous chaos. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the holy city of Mecca, where a giant clock tower and monstrous skyscrapers not only cast a shadow over Islam's holiest mosque, the Kaaba, but are systematically destroying the city's historic heritage while contributing very little to community needs, besides increases in property values.
This is emblematic of the challenge of the Award, in particular, but also of other similar initiatives seeking to influence trends in the broader Muslim world, where it is not contemplative conversation that drives change but rather copious (often misallocated) capital that determines development patterns instead. How can you not just fill that vast desert of silence but also ensure that it is not the loudest voices that win the debate?
Given the ongoing shifts throughout the developing world, such as the move from rural to urban environments, political transition, and economic modernization, more engagement will be needed on a number of critical issues, especially the built environment and how it promotes sustainable development. Hopefully the conversations, such as those in Lisbon, begin to move beyond the classroom and into the mainstream.
Photo credit: AKDN

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Waiting for Obama: The Arab World and Intervention


This article originally appeared in Syria Deeply, and can be found here

On Aug. 2, 1990, a Saddam Hussein-led Iraq launched a bombing campaign and invasion of Kuwait. Part of the decision was the thought that the U.S., facing its own economic issues at home and a perceived passivity towards disputes in the Arab world, would not react with force. 

Almost five months later, Operation Desert Storm, led by a broad international coalition under the direction of then President George Bush (who had secured a resolution from the U.N. Security Council), began with aerial attacks and ended with the capitulation of Saddam’s forces after just five weeks.
Two things became clear: that the U.S. would take decisive action to enforce peace and security in the region when a “red line” was crossed; and secondly, that it would be methodical in building a strong coalition.
The countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have been waiting for a similar moment from President Barack Obama on the Syrian conflict.  After months of endless prodding, with only a series of half-steps coming from the U.S., the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack near Damascus (allegedly carried out by the Assad regime) finally seemed to have pushed Obama to take robust action on Syria.
But initial urgency by the U.S. to act has since subsided, or so it appears. With the passing of each day, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are left increasingly in the lurch, waiting for Obama, wondering if the U.S. has reversed its approach to the region that was heralded by the Gulf War over two decades ago.
In 1991, when military action was mobilized against Iraq, it was done so under the auspices of a U.N. resolution. And while the Arab world was divided on the intervention, the six GCC countries, along with Egypt and Syria, were part of the armed coalition that was formed. Twenty years later, the situation is markedly different as the Arab world contemplates involvement in military strikes against Syria.
Outside of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, enthusiasm to participate in a military coalition is weak at best. While Jordan will have to be involved due to its reliance on both Saudi Arabia and the U.S. for economic support, Syria’s other Arab neighbors, Lebanon and Iraq, have voiced staunch opposition to external intervention.
In an unambiguous statement, Egypt, under its new military leadership, also voiced its objections to “aggression in Syria.” Even the United Arab Emirates may not get involved without broad international legitimacy; unlike in Libya in 2011, this would constitute a military strike by Arab countries allied with the U.S. without any other legal or symbolic cover.
Obama’s initial enthusiasm for military action, juxtaposed with his subsequent hesitation, has furthered the Arab world’s reluctance to participate. Staunch Western allies like the United Kingdom have indicated a lack of desire to be involved, and it is still in doubt whether action would be approved by NATO or the U.N. In the current atmosphere, a broad coalition involving multiple regional actors is unlikely, especially from a military standpoint. Most of the “diplomacy” to build a coalition has so far been limited to public speeches by high-level U.S. officials, rather than effective diplomatic engagement in the region. It indicates to the Arab world that the U.S. is not serious about a response, and is itself perhaps buying time.
In Sunday’s Arab League meeting in Cairo, rhetoric was high. But it was clear that beyond Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the appetite for intervention had dissipated. Following two years of bluster, including countless meetings of the Friends of Syria, the moment for a decision finally came, and the U.S. blinked. The hawkish stance of the Arab League and even the GCC must, to Assad, have looked hollow. In the end, the statement by the Arab League called for “deterrent measures” by the U.N., without calling for military or unilateral action.
While we may yet see strikes on Syria or the symbolic contribution of military hardware (like fighter jets) by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the process has already overshadowed whatever the result may be. In many ways, whatever happens now in response will be far too little and far too late. All the while, the conflict in Syria will continue without any end in sight.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

The Democratic Case Against Islamism

This article originally appeared in Al-Monitor, where you can find the full text. 

These days, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is under a systematic (some would say justified) assault by authorities seeking to dissolve the entire organization.  Yet, it’s not just in Egypt that Islamists find themselves under attack, rhetorically or by force. Across countries in the Arab world that had revolutions in the past two years, there is a growing wave of public opposition to the participation of Islamists in the political system, whether in TunisiaLibya or elsewhere.

Against this backdrop, countless Western analysts have clashed with their liberal Arab counterparts on the issue of Islamism, arguing that the exclusion of religious parties is incompatible with modern democratic principles. Yet is the exclusion of parties like the Muslim Brotherhood undemocratic on its face? The truth is somewhere in the middle and in fact, there is a legitimate democratic case to be made against the inclusion of some Islamists.

Since 2011, there have been two primary grievances levied against Islamist parties. The most salient argument in recent weeks has been that these groups are linked to a wider “terrorist” agenda, and are, as such, enemies of the state. Of concern is not necessarily their religious nature but the fact that they represent a subversive political movement. Granted, the closed nature of the Brotherhood, given its precarious legality in past decades, only feeds this view. In addition, offshoots from the Brotherhood like Gamaa Islamiya have been responsible for terrorist attacks in Egypt, and other affiliated groups such as Hamas do have militant wings as well.

Nevertheless, this argument is not one against "Islamism" or in favor of "secularism." When Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi held court with his beautifully choreographed choir of support on the night of the coup on Egyptian state TV, at his side were two religious figures, the grand sheikh of Al-Azhar and the Coptic pope. Furthermore, the recently announcedconstitutional committee includes a representative from the Salafist Nour Party, a group also present at that previous gathering. Thus, the argument in Egypt appears to be that the right type of Islamists (and in limited number) can be tolerated, as can a role for religion in the state.

Of course, the second case against Islamism is that it is inherently incompatible with modern democracy. At its core, the ideology is an absolutist form of thought that rejects all other intellectual currents in a society. While that may be true, couldn’t the same argument be made for any political ideology, whether it be libertarianism, or communism, or socialism, and the list goes on? Each political movement sees its ideas and philosophies as essential and paramount. A corollary to Islamist thought, however, is that it constitutes a religious supremacist movement that seeks to achieve the supremacy of its religion — Islam — at the official level of the state. It is here where Islamism and democracy start to have legitimate friction....

Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/09/democratic-case-against-islamism-egypt-arab-world-rahim.html?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter#ixzz2dwRsXyRb

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

The only road to peace in Syria

This article originally appeared on CNN.com and can be found at the link below.

http://edition.cnn.com/2013/09/03/opinion/rahim-syria-conflict/

As has frequently been the case in the last two-and-a-half years, I found myself this past weekend caught in an intense conversation about the ongoing civil war in Syria. This time it was with a supporter of the al-Assad government. He was relentless, insisting that there was no choice but victory, at any cost, especially since the government has been facing foreign fighters from "83 countries." 

It's a common refrain I've heard in different variations from all sides of the conflict -- there is no choice but victory. As the world debates the efficacy of a military strike against the al-Assad government in response to its use of chemical weapons on civilians, the fighting on the ground shows no signs of abating. It is clear that the Syrian people are caught between a zero-sum political game being played by the regime and rebels, and their respective backers.

Despite lofty rhetoric from a number of countries, diplomatic efforts towards a political solution should have been more vigorous.

Calling for an immediate cease-fire on all sides is the only path towards peace. But will the United States and other key players go down that road?

Please visit CNN for the full article. 

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

10 Questions on the Conflict in Syria

A potential military strike by Western powers on Syria now appears to be a fait accompli and is being touted as long overdue. Given the spiralling humanitarian disaster that has overtaken the country during the last two years of conflict, continued inaction appears to be an untenable reality. The death toll is now well over 100,000 (although the proportion of civilians to combatants is unclear). There are 2 million refugees, half of whom are children, and over 4 million more internally displaced persons (IDPs), amounting to a quarter of the country's overall population. Yet, it was the apparent chemical weapons attack in the suburbs around Damascus known as Ghouta last week that has served as the impetus for international military intervention into the conflict. Amidst the rhetoric and war rehearsals, clarity on what is really happening seems to be cast aside in the media, in favor of faux-spontaneous leaks, retired generals, and trumpeters of past wars. Here are ten questions to try to set the record straight.


1. Were chemical weapons used in Syria?

When the initial attack unfolded last Wednesday, August 21 in the suburbs in Damascus known as Ghouta (near the town/suburb of Jobar), news quickly spread to local, regional and international media. Claims were made of hundreds of deaths, with some activists claiming the death toll was 1,300. Moreover, the Government of Syria immediately denied responsibility and has continued to do so. However, the attack did unfold amidst a series of army strikes on Jobar, which is a rebel-held area, and has been for quite some time. The Government conversely claimed to find chemical weapons supplies in tunnels in the same area, and it is alleged that some Hezbollah fighters were also exposed to chemical toxins.

A week on, it appears incontrovertible that chemical weapons were used, not just from YouTube videos but also from visits by independent journalists, and of course by a report by Médecins Sans Frontières that has documented at least 355 deaths from local hospitals. It is likely that the chemical agent used was a neurotoxin or nerve gas, most likely sarin gas. What is still not clear, is how they were delivered (i.e. in what form and carried on what type of weapon) and from where.

It should also be kept in mind that this was not the first attack that has been alleged. There have been numerous claims by rebels, and counter-claims by the government on the use of chemical weapons in the conflict. Here's a map of those events. In fact, this is precisely why the team of UN inspectors had arrived in the country, the day before this latest incident (and massacre) took place. In fact, what is interesting is that their investigation of other sites has now been put on the back-burner due to the latest developments.

2. Do we know who actually used the chemical weapons? 

The United States, United Kingdom, and France have all stated they are certain that the Government of Syria has undertaken the attack last week. On the U.S. side, at the forefront of the rhetoric has been Vice President Biden - who has said there is 'no doubt' - and Secretary of State John Kerry, who made an evocative plea for action several days ago. Of course, the next speech is the most important, and it would be one made by President Barack Obama. In light of this certainty, it would be difficult to question the attribution of blame. A leak from the US government also claims to have intercepted a murky call between commanders in the Syrian army that supposedly is evidence of culpability on the Syrian side.

There is tremendous reason to doubt U.S. claims. Firstly, it should not be forgotten that then Secretary of State Colin Powell presented ironclad evidence to the United Nations Security Council of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) that Saddam Hussein possessed, a finding that was later proven to be utterly false, but which was the basis of a war that continues until today. Secondly, the U.S. claimed that there was incontrovertible proof that the Government of Syria was responsible for earlier chemical attacks this year, but that finding has been contested, and some experts apportioned blame to the rebels fighting the government. And finally, in this case, no evidence has been presented, as of yet to make such a determination, at least not conclusively.

Does that mean the Assad and his regime are not responsible? No. It is very likely given the ongoing military operations in the same area that the Syrian government launched such an attack. Yet, more evidence needs to be presented to make a definitive conclusion. The other scenarios that could be possible are:

- Extremists groups like Jubhat al-Nusra, who have previously seized advanced weaponry and possibly chemical weapons from Syrian army bases and positions, were attempting to use them on Syrian soldiers (or conversely to cast blame on the Syrian army);

- The Government of Syria inadvertently hit a stockpile of sarin gas releasing the toxins (although unclear if this would lead to the effects that we've seen); or

- Rogue elements within the chain of command used chemical weapons intentionally or inadvertently.

Russia, Iran and China have of course cast doubt on western claims but that is to be expected.

3. What would be the basis or justification for US intervention?

The U.S. intervention would likely be on the basis of Obama's previously stated red line on Syria, which would be the mass use/movement of chemical weapons. It is not in fact about humanitarian intervention and the Responsibility to Protect framework, developed in the 1990s to prevent genocide and mass civilian deaths. If it was, then the humanitarian case for intervention has been present for some time, and other massacres by the Syrian regime, such as in Houla in 2012, would have provided sufficient pretext. Obviously, the U.S. and other Western powers, and regional countries, have their own interests at play that are much more geopolitical in nature, but the justification or casus belli being offered is around the issue of chemical weapons, and chemical weapons alone.

4. Will anybody else be involved in the military strikes besides the US and will this affect whether they are 'legal'?

Given Russian and Chinese opposition, and a likely veto of any resolution by the United Nations Security Council supporting such a military strike on Syria - especially in light of the intervention in Libya, which Russia regretted supporting - a 'coalition of the willing' will need to be developed. This coalition would be broader than the Iraq War in 2003, and would be similar to the coalition carrying out the strikes against Serb positions vis-a-vis Kosovo in 1999. While the U.S., U.K. and France will likely lead an effort, Turkey would also be critical as a staging ground (as it borders Syria from the North), and thus there will be an attempt to launch such an attack under the auspices of NATO. Despite its reluctance, Jordan, given its reliance on the U.S. and Saudi Arabia politically and economically, will have no choice but to support . The two other neighbours of Syria, Iraq and Lebanon are squarely against any military strike. And of course, the other neighbor - Israel - would sit this one out but would provide intelligence to the U.S. and other parties on Syrian positions, given that it has already undertaken a number of air strikes on Syria in the past two years.

Further afield, it is likely the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) will support military intervention, with Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates possibly sending fighter jets to participate in a strike to give it regional cover and credibility. Finally, while many groups within the Arab and Muslim world, and the 'left' of the West, will oppose military intervention, many others will support it, because of the spiralling humanitarian situation in Syria.

Technically speaking if the military intervention is not sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council, and there is no imminent threat that the U.S. and other parties can point to towards its own territory or its assets, it would be illegal under international law. However, that has not stopped NATO or other countries (i.e. Russia in Georgia) form undertaking military action in the past. And before the Iraq War, some scholars claimed that while such an attack would be illegal it would be legitimate, and demonstrated retroactively to be legal. Given the state of world affairs, 'legality' is likely not a determining factor for a strike on Syria.

5. Are we seeing a repeat of Iraq in 2003? 

No. The situation today with Syria is different than it was in 2003 in Iraq, for many reasons, despite some passing similarities. In Iraq, the U.S. claimed that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction while in Syria, we already know Bashar al-Assad possesses chemical weapons, and the question is whether he used them (small aside, it was released this week that thirty years ago, the U.S. obstructed a UN investigation when it knew Saddam Hussein had used chemical weapons). In Iraq, the U.S. alleged that Saddam Hussein had links with Al Qaeda (and related groups), while in Syria, Bashar al Assad is widely acknowledged to be fighting Al Qaeda (and related groups) in addition to the 'Free Syrian Army' (and in addition to crushing peaceful demonstrators). In Iraq, there was no active state of conflict that was leading to a spiralling humanitarian catastrophe (and the potential use of WMDs), while in Syria there is not just a violent conflict, but also WMDs have been used by somebody (even if the culprit is not yet clear).

What should be noted, however, is that both Iraq in 2003 and Syria in 2013, are in complex environments, and any removal of government or sustained military intervention would have dramatic unforeseen consequences. It seems like the media debate in the U.S. is also similarly anaemic (but slightly better) this time around.

6. What is the real motivation for the United States and other powers?

As with all things in this world when it comes to international relations, the primary interest is not humanitarian but geopolitical. This is not absolute, however, and it could be argued that Turkey has been insisting on humanitarian intervention from an early stage. However, the regimes (not peoples) in the Gulf, most notably Saudi Arabia, are exclusively concerned with dislodging Syria from the Iranian orbit, and severing connections between Syria and Hezbollah. Humanitarian concerns are a by-product. And for the United States, something similar is at play. As noted above, if this was about humanitarian concerns, action would have been taken long before 100,000 deaths had occurred.

For the U.S. it has been looking for regime change in Syria for a while. However, these strikes if they occur, will be about sending a message and asserting America's position in the Middle East, given the red line that Obama drew. Ultimately, it may tip the scales in the rebels favour or improve the U.S.'s negotiating position vis-a-vis Iran. The chemical weapons attack in a morbid way, opened a door of opportunity for Western powers (with GCC support) to do something limited without a full-scale intervention.

7. Will military intervention solve the Syrian conflict?

No. Military intervention no matter how small or how big will not solve the Syrian conflict. In fact, it could very much exacerbate the situation on the ground even further (if that can be imagined). What is being reported currently is that the U.S. and allies will undertake a series of 'surgical strikes', a euphemism for a large-scale assault on key military and strategic installations, such as army positions, air bases, radar installations, communications infrastructure, supply routes, and, where appropriate, power stations (among other targets). More than anything this will be intended to send a message to the regime and weaken its capabilities. Yet, it would not be a fatal blow. And it would not necessarily tip the scales in favor of the rebels. It may in fact mobilize certain parties to support the regime, if there are civilian casualties from the intervention.

The solution to the Syrian situation has to be political, if it is going to lead to stability or peace. Yet, if the military intervention escalated and led to the removal of the Syrian regime, that would still not be the end of the conflict. After the Soviets were booted out of Afghanistan, the country devolved into a civil war for five years until the rise of the Taliban in 1996. Somalia has only recently stabilised (somewhat), more than 20 years after the assassination of its leader, President Siad Barre. And neighboring Lebanon, took 15 years of conflict (1975-1990) to reach an end, which was brought about by ironically Syrian military intervention (which committed its own crimes), that produced a - audible gasp - political settlement.

8. What could potentially go wrong?

Everything. The potential for disaster following military intervention in any country is great (see Black Hawk Down, Iraq, Afghanistan and the list goes on). Yet, in Syria it could be apocalyptic. Here is a list of what that could entail:

- Chemical weapons are used by Syria against its neighbors such as Jordan and Turkey, or U.S. military positions in those countries;
- U.S. planes/helicopters are shot down leading to an escalation of U.S. involvement requiring boots on the ground;
- Syria sends a volley of missiles into Tel Aviv and other places in Israel, leading to a regional war;
- Proxy forces of Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah, launch a sustained campaign against Israel/U.S. interests, including attacks embassies within Lebanon/Palestine/Israel but also in other countries, in the short and medium-term;
- Al Qaeda forces in the region, while opposing the Assad regime, oppose U.S. intervention especially if there are masses of civilian casualties, and use it as a pretext for attacks in places such as Yemen;
- Russia objects to the U.S. strike, and mobilizes warships to the Mediterranean, leading to a standoff with Europe and the U.S.;
- Negotiations with Iran, still in embryonic stages are suspended irrevocably;
- Six party talks with North Korea are suspended by Russia, China, and North Korea irrevocably;
- The Syrian regime goes all out in its conflict and begins to bomb with even more abandon civilian areas controlled by rebels, leading to thousands of casualties, and counter-massacres by enraged rebel fighters;
- The Syrian regime is removed by force from power by the intervention, leading to a power vacuum sinking the country further into civil war for over a decade of even more violent strife and a possible Al Qaeda style government;
- Tensions rise in the Middle East, especially in places of sectarian division (i.e. Lebanon, Yemen, Bahrain, Eastern Province in Saudi Arabia, and Iraq) leading to civil strife and attacks on governments, and counter-attacks on populations; and
- World War 3.

9. What could potentially go right?

It may seem that what is written above is slightly alarmist and that's true. Many things can go wrong (most of which, to be honest, are hard to predict as they will be unforeseen consequences or as Donald Rumsfeld, ironically calls them, unknown unknowns). However, the U.S.-led strikes could be quite effective. Firstly, if they are limited in scope, they can be completed in one day, reducing the risk for a military entanglement and civilian casualties. Secondly, if they are from the air, there is limited risk for casualties on the side of the intervening forces. Thirdly, an attack that is forceful and hits Syrian military positions, will send a message to Assad that there is a limit to what he can do, which thus far has not been the case, and may entice him to reach a political settlement. Fourthly, it is unlikely that the Syrian regime would retaliate, for a short strike on positions, against Israel, knowing that they cannot afford to fight a war on so many fronts (and thus far they have yet to retaliate to any Israel air strike). Finally, the systematic destruction of Assad's air capabilities could be instrumental in limiting civilian casualties by the regime in the future.

All of this is one possibility of what could occur.

10. Let's cut to the chase - should I support or not support military intervention?

There is no clearcut answer. Ultimately, military intervention should not be supported as a solution to the Syrian conflict. It is not, and whether we like it or not, a political solution/settlement is the only way the current situation moves towards peace and stability. The U.S. is negotiating with the Taliban. The Vietnamese negotiated with the U.S. The Lebanese negotiated with each other. The Dayton Accords to end the Bosnian War were signed with Slobodan Milosevic. It may not be easy, it may be unlikely, and it will not work perfectly, but political discussions involving all parties is the only way to find a real solution.

That being said, if a case is made with overwhelming evidence by independent parties (not U.S. conjecture) that chemical weapons were used by the Syrian regime, then military intervention on a limited scale, and for a period of 1-2 days only, should be undertaken, ideally with UN support - and if not with broad support of half of the members, i.e. 90, of the UN General Assembly to demonstrate legitimacy - against military targets only, which will both send a message about the use of these weapons and damage the capabilities of Assad.

What is clear is that whatever happens, there are no clear answers with regards to the conflict in Syria.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Hypernationalism, Islamism, and Fascism all En Vogue

This article appeared in Al-Monitor, where you can find the full version. 


Since the military overthrow of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s government in early July, the rhetoric by critics of the Muslim Brotherhood has been vitriolic and relentless. The campaign has sought to delegitimize the Islamist movement, and in fact, negate its Egyptian identity. Morsi himself has been charged with espionage and serving foreign interests. The general prosecutor has accused Muslim Brotherhood supporters of hiring Syrian and Palestinian mercenaries. Partisans of the army-led government, including some familiar “democracy” activists, have repeatedly called for additional crackdowns on Islamists. More often than not, Muslim Brotherhood members are portrayed in juxtaposition to ordinary Egyptians, rather than among the people, and as a “cancer” that must be removed at all costs.

As the Arab world continues to politically devolve following the revolutions of 2011, it seems that a new fascism is becoming en vogue. In many ways, a response to the rise of religious supremacy over the past three decades, the ideology is predicated on a foundation of hypernationalism whereby the state is paramount, and any intellectual contestation is met with rhetorical — if not legal — excommunication. As the dust settles, a shrinking political class of moderate Islamists and liberals are increasingly caught between these dueling ideologies and their proponents.

This religious supremacy, or Islamism, has its roots in the modern Middle East in a seminal work by Sayyid Qutb, the Muslim Brotherhood leader imprisoned and executed in Egypt in the 1960s. In "Signposts along the Road" (or Milestones), Qutb intellectually grounds the rejection of fellow Muslims in a process of delegitimization, or takfir. This ideology went into overdrive with the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran and the subsequent jihad in Afghanistan in the 1980s, both of which laid the groundwork for Islamism as a modern political movement.

The continuum of Islamism has always been expansive, so it is sometimes hard to differentiate what constitutes the extremist elements of the political community as opposed to more moderate forces. In post–Saddam Hussein Iraq, the philosophy of takfir descended to a new level with the dehumanization of other Muslim groups, with authorization to kill those deemed takfiris. Yet, Morsi, allegedly a mainstream Islamist, sat applauding the same rhetoric targeting Shiites by preachers in relation to the Syrian conflict, illustrating how difficult it can be to draw distinctions.

With the rise of Islamism, most regimes in the region — lacking a real contesting ideology in response — felt compelled to peddle hollow exhortations of bygone regionalism, or pan-Arabism. Direct attacks on Islamism would have run the risk of alienating their Muslim populations. In this space and amid the tumult of the last two years during which Islamists have grown increasingly unpopular after ascending from the opposition to seats of power, religious supremacy has finally met its match — hypernationalism. In effect, takfir is now being opposed with takhwin, the delegitimization of opponents of the state as traitors of the national cause....

Read the full version here: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/08/violence-arab-nationalism.html#ixzz2crhOSTyD

Friday, 16 August 2013

The Middle East’s New Divide: Muslim Versus Muslim


This article appears on Al-Monitor.com, where you can find the full version. 

On June 8, a devastating clash between residents and militia members erupted at the headquarters of the Libya Shield Brigade in Benghazi, Libya, leaving dozens dead and scores more injured. Meanwhile, the next day on the Sunday talk show circuit in the United States, amid continued partisan discussion of the September 2012 consulate attack in Benghazi, there was scant mention of the major clash from the day before. The disconnect exemplified the chasm between the new battle lines on the ground across the Middle East and the political discourse a world away.

For much of the last decade, most have digested the narrative of a Muslim-West divide. It was so pervasive that newly elected US President Barack Obama, portrayed as a symbolic messiah bridging two worlds, was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize before even completing a year of his term. Twelve years after the 9/11 al-Qaeda attacks, much of the discussion about the "Muslim world" has internalized this language, and why not? The conflict between the Palestinians and US-supported Israel remains unresolved, US drone strikes continue unabated in Pakistan and Yemen and terrorist attacks like the Boston Marathon bombing are still occurring in deadly fashion.

These days, however, one is more likely to see the burning of a Syrian government flag than an American flag amid the world’s deadliest ongoing conflict, for which the United States is criticized primarily for not intervening. One is more likely to see Iraqis killed in a terrorist attack than Americans. In fact, in recent years approximately 90% of terrorism-related fatalities have been Muslim. One is more likely to see the demonization of a Shiite than a Jew by an extremist Muslim ideologue. The battle lines have shifted from Islam versus the West to Muslim versus Muslim, and it is time for politicians and pundits in the United States and the Middle East alike to catch up.

Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/08/new-middle-east-muslim-versus-muslim.html#ixzz2c5fRQCzj

Thursday, 18 July 2013

The Dubai Model and the new Arab world


Johann Hari’s article “The Dark Side of Dubai” in The Independent in 2009, crystallized the hyperbolic writing on the Gulf emirate in the recent past:

This is a city built from nothing in just a few wild decades on credit and ecocide, suppression and slavery. Dubai is a living metal metaphor for the neo-liberal globalised world that may be crashing – at last – into history.”

Of course, Dubai did not crash into history and Hari was dislodged from his perch due to a plagiarism scandal a few years later. Yet, for many commentators and journalists, any mention of Dubai still evokes a sense of moralistic derision – Dubai the land without culture filled with a people without history. For the youth of the region, however, Dubai represents something different: jobs, a relatively open society, and a government (in progress) that works. As countries in transition, like Libya, Tunisia and Egypt look to transform their own societies, Dubai is an enigmatic model in the distance.  


What is the Dubai model? It is hard to fully capture the multi-faceted nature of it in just a few words, but there are several key dimensions. In addition, the unique (and transferable) aspects of the Dubai model, however, are less to do with its political system, and more about the policies pursued. In fact, too much time is spent in the region debating the political system rather than the impact of policies on the ground enacted by any ruling group or party.

Fundamentally, Dubai made itself open to people flows from around the world, with all its associated risks. This has meant that its small population – today 90% of residents are non-citizens – has been able to build an economy depending on an externally generated labor and consumer market. In addition, to unskilled labor, Dubai has also been keen to open itself to the best talent from around the world.  Take Dubai Aluminum (DUBAL) as an example, founded n 1979 and predicated on leveraging international talent and expertise. In fact, in its initial year of operation, few of the 1,386 employees were Emiratis. Yet that has changed over time, as DUBAL has grown to become the world’s largest aluminum smelter. Understanding its own labor market and taking advantage of regional and international labors flows and talent has been critical to the Emirate’s success. 

Despite being in conservative surroundings, Dubai has also ensured that it functions as an open society, in terms of social and religious practices. While this diversity can raise tension, like last summer’s #UAEdresscode campaign for example, there is an open coexistence, as can be witnessed while walking on JBR Walk, along the beachfront, with full-length niqabs side-by-side with what could well be described as the opposite of that! This openness has also contributed to Dubai becoming a global hub, and now the 7th most visited city in the world, with 10 million tourist arrivals annually. This did not occur overnight, and was linked to the gradual (and sometimes sudden) growth of the hospitality industry and expatriate population. Being an open society, however, does not just mean bottles and bars; the government has consistently emphasized gender empowerment in all fields as a matter of policy, including in key positions, political and economic.

In addition to people flows, Dubai has ensured an inflow of capital, by building a financial sector and set of institutions to leverage the capital-rich environment around it. The Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) has created a separate regulatory environment and court system to provide security to investors and companies alike. In addition, while still not perfect, it is relatively easy for any foreigner to set up a local free zone company, allowing him or her to deploy capital, which subsequently generates employment (albeit more for non-locals than Emiratis). The stability of Dubai and the strength of its soft and physical infrastructure has meant that in times of uncertainty, capital finds its way there; last year that included $8 billion of foreign direct investment (FDI), a 25% increase from 2011.

In order to spur growth and absorb investment, Dubai borrowed a page from several economic models (Singapore & Hong Kong among them) and cluster-based theories (see Michael Porter). Take a look at the growth of the aviation sector in Dubai, which in 2011, directly or indirectly contributed $12 billion towards the GDP, and accounted for 125,000 jobs (in a city of 2 million people).  The same can be said for the logistics (e.g. Dubai Ports) and retail sectors (e.g. Majid al-Futtaim & City Centres), all of which have benefitted from an ecosystem approach that has included new regulation, government-driven investment, and infrastructure development. Emirates Airlines did not become one of the world’s leading airlines by accident or in isolation.

Finally, on a consistent basis, Dubai has pushed excellence in public services, culminating in the Government Summit earlier this year, which convened public servants from across the country to “exchange best practices.” In Dubai, there are regular awards for government excellence given to high-performing departments. In fact if you go see the Director-General of the Dubai Courts, he will likely give you a PowerPoint presentation on their caseload, wait times, and improvements.

Lest, anyone think that everything is ‘perfect’ in Dubai, it is not. There are a number of issues, ranging from political prisoners in the country (due in part to a stifling intellectual/political climate) to the lack of legislative oversight to continued labor exploitation (far less than before but still problematic, given there is still no minimum wage). Societally, there are also a number of challenges, including naturalization, obesity, and a growing culture of materialism, none of which should be taken lightly. And, for the local Emirati population, there is a high rate of unemployment due to a mismatch between expectations and skills and the needs of the labor market. None of these should be under-estimated for both the moral issues they pose as well obstacles they may present to the viability of Dubai's success, as is the case in many transformative development contexts. 

The Dubai model works quite obviously, in Dubai. While other countries – especially those in transition – cannot copy-and-paste what Dubai has done, particularly on migration, cultural change, and government led-investment, they can still apply lessons from Dubai’s experience. Although it may seem that Dubai had the guarantee of Abu Dhabi behind it or capital flows in the Gulf to harness, every country has an advantage, which can be used as a foundation. Egypt has the largest consumer base in the entire Arab world that can drive industry. Tunisia has some of the highest literacy rates and education levels in the region, and an established tourist bridge with Europe. Libya has tremendous oil-wealth and a strong connection to the Sub-Saharan economy.

The fragility of transitional countries means that everything must be done to improve.  What Dubai has demonstrated is that there can be positive momentum and development on areas that affect the quality of people’s lives and their livelihoods. There remain critical challenges in front of it, but there is also something that works in Dubai, and it’s about time that some of these lessons are transferred to the wider region. 

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Ramadan Dreams

This week marks the start of Ramadan. I would say today, but as is the case for many things, Muslims cannot even agree on what day marks the beginning of the holy month. Is it Tuesday? Wednesday? Thursday? Sometimes, even in the same country, clerics from different sects or schools of 'jurisprudence' disagree on the sighting of the crescent moon (which signifies that Ramadan has arrived). In Lebanon, Shiites started the fast on Tuesday, and Sunnis on Wednesday, at least the last time I checked. If only the Shiite-Sunni conflict was relegated to a debate over the start of Ramadan. Alas, while diversity is something to be treasured, that is not always true in what is the proverbial Muslim world. The Qur'an tells us about what we can gain from diversity:
O mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. 
Somehow throughout history, perhaps the year after Prophet Muhammad died (circa 633 AD, or 1), Muslims lost sight of this. Today, you're more likely to hear about diversity as a threat rather than an asset. In fact, it seems to go hand-in-hand with regards to whether a Muslim country can be peaceful or democratic or successful: Well, I would say Country X would have a smooth transition, but they have a very diverse population with different ethnicities and groups. It's almost like Muslims can't survive with their own layered identities in the modern-age, longing instead for some Orwellian dictator to give them all a uniform to gloss over any differences that they may have. Of course, enough of those beautiful strongmen have come along for us to know that is not a great path either (um, certain exceptions aside of course).

And so in 2013, we enter into Ramadan, all 1.5 billion Muslims, or 1.2 billion, or 1.8 billion of us, depending on who's counting (or better yet who's making up statistics off the top of their head and then getting cited by the media, thereby cementing that figure as real), with a 'Muslim world' in complete conflagration - i.e. business as usual. Now all these millions of Muslims, some nominal, some not so nominal, live in different places with different challenges faced. Some in the West. Some in the East. Some in Muslim majority countries. Some as minorities in secular or other countries. And so it goes. Yet, look around, and we see challenges. There's the conflict in Syria, with a death count now over 100,000 and a displaced population representing a quarter of the country. There's the spiralling situation in Egypt, with an uncertain future ahead. And you can never count Pakistan out, with essentially a bombing a day.

You start to go through Muslim countries, and there's a lot that leaves a lot to be desired. It's almost too long of a list. It kind of makes you want to sing an Islamicized version of Les Misérables "I Dreamed a Dream", I guess with a Fatima instead of Fantine. Given the state of Islam, you might actually get in trouble for singing in public. I know that the 29 or so days of Ramadan will not bring peace, emancipation, and progress to the lands where so many Muslims live. Likely the strife, struggle, and scarcity that defines so many people's lives will not change. In fact in places like Syria, violence could actually intensify this month (some militant groups have actually announced an 'Operation Ramadan').

Thus, the realities of Ramadan may overwhelm us. Yet, if Ramadan is anything, it is a time for reflection and thinking of what can be, rather than what is. And in that spirit, I thought it would be good to end with a vision, a so-called Ramadan Dreams, of the realm of a possible future, of the Muslim world (i.e. Umma), where:
  • There are far more Sushis than Sunnis & Shiites; 
  • Being an 'Islamist' means being an expert in Islam rather than a judge/jury/executioner; 
  • The takbeer is used in excitement of a goal scored on the soccer field rather than a direct hit on the battlefield; 
  • Having a beard is a fashion statement not a religious statement; 
  • When we hear about a scandal about a royal Prince, it's because he had a nipple slip and not a multi-billion dollar arms deal go to his bank account; 
  • There are more ninjas than women in face-covering black robes; 
  • There will be actual Jews around to respond to somebody who says "don't be such a Jew"; 
  • When someone says "that's the bomb" he's not actually pointing at a bomb; 
  • You can debate the existence of God with two sides of the debate present; and
  • People can be proud to be Muslim...and not Muslim. 
Now before anybody gets their kefiyyeh in a twist, there are many Muslims who live in countries where things are not so bad, and countless others in Muslim countries, who believe in a pluralistic and open society. Yet, there is a long ways to go before we escape so many of the ills that have come to define Muslim lands and societies. Ramadan 2013 will not bring the change many of us would like to see, but here's hoping that, that change will come sooner rather than later, and help shape a Muslim world that embraces its pluralism, recognises its intellectual tradition, and empowers its people. Ramadan Kareem

Saturday, 6 July 2013

In Egypt, is the only way forward out of the question?

It was clear that this would be no ordinary Friday (on July 5), given all the recent events the past week in Egypt. The holy Muslim day has served, for all sides, as a critical time to mobilize demonstrations. Yesterday was no different. Masses of supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, gathered outside the Rabaa al-Adawiyah Mosque in Nasr City, an area in Cairo just several kilometres from the famed Tahrir Square. Their chants grew louder throughout the day, with a series of speeches by leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, culminating in the fiery (oral) missive by the Supreme Guide of the movement, Mohammed Badie. It was a day of "rejection," called for by supporters of Morsi, and the rejection was vociferous and real. That rejection and its swell of supporters, later in the evening, marched down the October 6 Bridge towards Tahrir Square. Already earlier in the day, unarmed demonstrators from the pro-Morsi camp had been shot dead (as seen in this graphic video here) when coming too close to military positions. By nightfall, the two camps - the pro-Tamarod (or rebellion) groups in Tahrir & the pro-Morsi demonstrators - were in full-fledged street battles, not just in Cairo but in Alexandria and other cities as well, leaving 30 people dead.

If there's a lesson (for post-revolutionary contexts) to be taken from the past week  it is that 'impatience' is not a virtue. The military takeover of the Egyptian government - albeit fuelled by a legitimate and popular uprising - did not resolve anything but it definitely made things worse. Instead of hitting the reset button, Friday's clashes have shown that Pandora's Box is now wide open. In the midst of growing uncertainty, there would appear to be only one way forward and that is the immediate return to democratic legitimacy, whether through the re-running of a presidential election or a referendum on Mohammad Morsi. Everything else is a red herring, including discussion on whether what transpired in the last few days was a military coup.

There is no question that the movement to oust President Morsi was a popular uprising. Driven by deep frustration from political overreach (by Morsi) starting in November 2012 and exacerbated by worsening living conditions, millions of people joined the Tamarod movement, culminating in the Tahrir protests that coincided with Morsi's one year mark in office (more on this is available in a previous post). Yet, two things should have been clear: 1) Removing an elected President, no matter how unpopular, is not easy; and 2) There was a popular base that still supported President Morsi. On Friday, the latter disenfranchised group, perhaps the same that saw "their" democratically elected parliament invalidated back in September 2012 by the courts, now saw "their" democratically elected President overthrown. Add to that, the Constitution that was passed with 64% support of the vote was essentially also declared null and void by the armed forces, to be re-drafted or amended by a select committee.

To believe that an 85 year old movement - the Muslim Brotherhood - flanked by its supporters and with the winds of at least electoral legitimacy in their sails, would take these developments lying down, would have been naive. And if the face of this change for all intents and purposes was the very armed forces that have essentially dominated Egypt since 1952, than certainly it would raise the spectre of forceful if not violent resistance. Thus, what has unfolded so far in Egypt on Friday is completely expected and moreover, is a reaction that will only deepen and grow. Furthermore, there is an absence of a 'neutral' authority, as the military appears to have chosen one side in this clash of camps, especially as it is arresting leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood in the interim.

And so we arrive at the inevitable question: How bad can it really get? Despite the fact that the Brotherhood was ruling 'non-inclusively' and without an effective plan for the government, there is no basis to argue that what has replaced it is anymore inclusive (in fact likely the opposite) and has any clearer plan or set of policies for the country. The country is divided and there is no broader political or democratic legitimacy for the military transition, beyond the assumption that it represented the popular will; but can the latter be proved? We hear numbers such as 33 million bandied about but not only are these figures not based on any tangible scientific analysis (see Wired for how to measure people in Tahrir Square) but they are assuredly less 'legitimate' than an actual vote.

With both sides claiming popular support and the cringe-inducing word (thanks to Morsi's speech), 'legitimacy, the clashes that began Friday will not end and if anything, they will escalate (or become something even more dangerous if driven underground). There are 93 million people in Egypt, and each confrontation will lead to more deaths, more 'martyrs', and more outraged friends, supporters, and families. Each week that passes will only deepen the divide and the division, ultimately rooting out the basis for any coexistence in the near-term. Civil disobedience, will turn into civil strife, and civil strife could turn into, yes, civil war (a distant but real possibility). There are multiple videos emerging of salafi-jihadi style groups seeking to exploit this moment, and resort to outright violence against the governing authorities. While naysayers may be right that Egypt will not turn into Syria tomorrow, each day that passes without resolution, the disintegration of the state becomes an evermore possible scenario. And if that happens, the consequences will be unimaginable.

There then appears to be only one way forward and that is the immediate (or urgent) return to a democratic process. While there are some who have cheerleaded the military takeover and the appointment of Adly Mansour, not only does this not have broad-based (mind universal) support within Egypt, but the continuation of this process in its current form, will only destabilize the country further. Given that the unquestioned return of Mohammed Morsi to the presidency would also only inflame tensions within the previous opposition, the only way forward is to hold a referendum with the following question:

1) Do you support Mohammed Morsi finishing his full-term as President of Egypt?

It is a direct question on the mood in Egypt, and the answer given, while not quelling all unrest, would provide the legitimacy to any transitional period that would follow (that is if the people answered no). With this referendum in tow, the country could move towards new presidential elections under a carefully managed process or continue with Morsi's presidency, with guarantees that he would govern much more inclusively (if the answer is yes). Yet, who will press for this type of solution, both internally and externally? On an international level, thus far, the U.S. has appeared "aloof", the Europeans "ineffective," and the Arab states mostly partisan. And while the African Union, which has dealt with such situations previously and has come out strongly on the current situation, likely has less influence in Egypt. Thus the reality should dawn on all Egyptians and all political forces within the country that there will be no basis for compromise or true salvation, if it does not emanate from within Egypt itself.

There will be many analyses made in the coming days around definitions and comparisons. Yet, fundamentally, Egypt is not Iran in 1980 or Algeria in 1991 or Turkey in 1997. It is Egypt in 2013, as hollow as that sounds - but that is the truth through which everything flows. And any resolution that emerges, must come from within the forces of Egypt in 2013. With Nelson Mandela, appearing to be on his deathbed (and our prayers with him), it is worth heeding, in closing, some of his words of wisdom, in this crisis:

"If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner."