Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak died Tuesday, nearly a decade after he was toppled in a chaotic coup that broke his iron rule but didn’t provide Egypt with a dynamic, post-Mubarak identity.
Mubarak has been a forgotten man in recent years, but his death evokes the paradox and pain of the Middle East. He governed Egypt for nearly 30 years, a modernizing despot who kept peace with Israel and liberalized the economy but balked at dismantling the military dictatorship and police-state tactics that had spawned him.
The revolt against Mubarak in early 2011 was the apogee of the “Arab Spring” movement; an idealistic President Barack Obama helped push him out the door, a move that Saudi Arabia and other conservative Arab states never forgave.… Seguir leyendo »
Doctors have been preparing for 15 years for “the big one,” a pandemic that will rock the global public health system like an earthquake. Now, with the rapid spread of coronavirus, it may be happening.
This viral outbreak probably won’t look like anything that most of us have seen. Some schools may be closed; sports schedules will be modified; travel plans will be shelved; and some workers will be advised to stay at home and telecommute. The infrastructure for delivering food and other essentials will be stretched.
U.S. public health officials on Tuesday warned of the “inevitable” spread of the virus in the United States.… Seguir leyendo »
We’re living in the information age. But when it comes to fundamental change in society, organized industrial workers remain a powerful, bedrock force. And that’s just as true in Iran as in other modern nations.
The Iranian labor movement may seem like a remote topic when the news is dominated by the hangover of impeachment and the dawn of America’s presidential primaries, not to mention the danger of global pandemic from coronavirus. But Iran remains the cockpit for destabilizing events in the world — and worker protest may be the X factor there.
Iran is moving slowly and erratically toward an eventual inflection point.… Seguir leyendo »
The “Chinese model,” as enthusiasts sometimes describe Beijing’s autocratic system for dictating policy, can look eerily successful — until you consider catastrophic events such as the recent coronavirus outbreak.
China’s response to the epidemic that began in Wuhan nearly two months ago shows some advantages of its police-state approach, and some severe disadvantages: Chinese authorities can commandeer resources to build a hospital in 10 days. But by stifling bad news and even arresting vigilant doctors, they create deep distrust at home and abroad, risking their ability to be effective.
Chinese people simply don’t believe their government. They know that government health data is suspect, just like China’s official economic numbers.… Seguir leyendo »
At the military headquarters here where commanders oversee America’s longest war, an official explains in one sentence the U.S.-led coalition’s bottom-line objective: “Peace is a situation where we can leave, and we don’t have to come back.”
But how will the United States move toward this endgame, as U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad nears conclusion of his secret peace negotiations with the Taliban jihadists that America has been fighting for 18 years? Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is said to have complained late last week that a draft of Khalilzad’s agreement contains “mere promises”from the Taliban and major concessions by the United States, according to a knowledgeable Afghan source who talked recently with Ghani.… Seguir leyendo »
One disturbing aspect of the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka was that the slaughter of 321 victims came at a time when the United States is suffering what might be described as terrorism fatigue.
The wars against al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are part of a painful past that policymakers and the public want to escape. Those Middle East conflicts were costly and distracting. They didn’t produce many tangible gains, other than killing terrorists. Sept. 11, 2001, feels like it happened a long time ago, and many politicians want to move on.
But the networks of violent extremists are still there, stretching to places most of us probably hadn’t even imagined, like Sri Lanka.… Seguir leyendo »
The handmaiden of peace is exhaustion. We are seeing that lesson in the killing fields of Afghanistan and Yemen.
Fragile peace agreements are emerging in both conflicts, thanks to skillful diplomats. There are a hundred reasons each negotiation may fail, and in assessing Middle East conflicts, we should remember that, unfortunately, “pessimism pays,” as my former Wall Street Journal colleague Karen Elliott House observed nearly 40 years ago.
But a process has started: Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special envoy, said Monday, “We have a draft of the [peace] framework that has to be fleshed out.” A senior Gulf official told a Washington gathering Monday night that because of U.N.… Seguir leyendo »
As the Syrian tragedy lurches toward a bloody final showdown in Idlib province, the Trump administration is struggling to check Russia and the Assad regime from an assault there that U.N. Secretary General António Guterres warns would be a “humanitarian catastrophe.”
The administration’s efforts are so late in coming, and so limited, it’s hard to muster much hope they can reverse seven years of American failure. But at least the administration has stopped the dithering and indecision of the past 18 months and signaled that the United States has enduring interests in Syria, beyond killing Islamic State terrorists — and that it isn’t planning to withdraw its Special Operations forces from northeastern Syria anytime soon.… Seguir leyendo »
The brutal war in Yemen may be moving toward a tipping point following a controversial siege of the port of Hodeida by a coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
A U.N. mediator and a top diplomat from the United Arab Emirates both expressed hope Thursday for a negotiated deal with Houthi rebels that could relieve pressure on the city. But they disagreed about details, and humanitarian groups warned that the assault is choking relief supplies for the country’s tormented civilian population.
Yemen is caught in a proxy war between the Saudi-UAE coalition, which backs the Yemeni government, and Iran, which supports the Houthis.… Seguir leyendo »
Armenia appears at last to be breaking with its post-Soviet malaise and embracing democratic change, thanks to a grass-roots movement that has found a way, for now, to straddle Russia and the West.
Tens of thousands of people thronged Yerevan’s central square Wednesday night, chanting “Victory! Victory!” in what one Armenian reform supporter in the United States told me was “a celebration of the country as much as a protest.” The movement’s mass street demonstrations over the past month have deposed the prime minister, Serzh Sargsyan, and this week appeared ready to topple his long-entrenched ruling party.
Videos circulating on social media Wednesday captured a country embracing the reform movement headed by Nikol Pashinyan, who is seeking to replace Sargsyan.… Seguir leyendo »
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed a treasure trove of secrets on Monday about Iran’s hidden nuclear activities. But it would be a waste of this extraordinary intelligence to use it as a pretext for American withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal. Much better to use it as a pressure tool to squeeze Tehran.
The Israeli intelligence coup should open the way for a much smarter U.S. campaign to isolate Iran and tighten the deal — and bring Europe, Russia and China along in a common push for a better agreement. This approach would keep the international community together and avoid handing Iran the propaganda victory that unilateral U.S.… Seguir leyendo »
A word of advice for Congress as it ponders new schemes for Internet regulation after the “perp walk” this week of Facebook tycoon Mark Zuckerberg: Don’t do it.
Zuckerberg is a tempting target. His serial apologies show how Facebook became so entangled in its corporate mission to “bring the world closer together” that it stopped putting the customer first.
Facebook is paying for its mistakes in loss of customer trust — its main asset — and this market punishment has only just begun. It’s obvious to users now that Facebook’s business model isn’t about making the world better, but about obtaining information about its customers and profiting from it.… Seguir leyendo »
The seizure of the Syrian Kurdish enclave of Afrin on Sunday by Turkish forces is a rerun of one of modern history’s saddest recurring themes: The Kurds struggle for survival while their friends among the great powers stand aside and watch.
The Kurds’ plight is especially painful for U.S. military commanders, because the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have been America’s key ally in defeating the Islamic State in Syria. U.S. commanders fear that the decisive gains won against the jihadists since 2014 may be slipping away as the SDF leaves the Islamic State front in eastern Syria to combat the Turkish assault on Afrin in the northwest.… Seguir leyendo »
Hearing the emphatic modernization message of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a visitor can’t help wondering: Is this for real? Are the young leader’s proposals for change supported by the religious leadership and the public in this traditionally very conservative country?
Making reliable forecasts about Saudi Arabia is impossible for an outsider. But I can offer some data points gathered during a trip here, where I heard strong support for reforms from young Saudis interviewed on the street as well as a senior Muslim cleric.
Whether MBS, as he’s known, can succeed with his transformational agenda is still an open question.… Seguir leyendo »
The Trump administration shares with Russia and all of the regional powers of the Middle East the same nominal end goal in Syria — a political transition that creates a new, decentralized government that can reestablish sovereignty throughout the country.
The problem, as the nightmare of war and tangled diplomacy of the past seven years has demonstrated, is how to get there. A recent column of mine highlighted how tricky this passage can be, as well as the delicacy of the Geneva negotiations to create a new Syria.
My column Friday noted “a controversial new twist” in thinking about how to stabilize Syria that was “being discussed quietly by some U.S.… Seguir leyendo »
The abiding image from this past weekend’s security conference here was of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu theatrically brandishing a piece of an Iranian drone shot down over Israel a week before — and starkly warning Tehran: “Do not test Israel’s resolve.”
Are Israel and Iran heading toward war, in their new jockeying for influence amid the rubble of Syria? Probably not, but a delicate game of brinkmanship has certainly begun. Policymakers in Washington, Jerusalem, Moscow and Tehran are struggling to define and communicate the rules.
The Israel-Iran confrontation is the most dangerous new factor in Syria, which has become a gruesome cockpit once again after some months of relative quiet.… Seguir leyendo »
How bizarre that the biggest obstacle to finishing the war against the Islamic State and beginning the stabilization of Syria is America’s supposed friend and NATO ally Turkey.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made the latest attempt to mollify an angry Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a three-hour meeting in Ankara Thursday. But this may be mission impossible: Granting Turkey’s demands would make Syria more unstable and prolong the threat of radical Islamist terrorism there.
The U.S. goal is “getting to yes” with Erdogan, says a senior administration official. To that end, the United States has crafted a tentative package meant to appease the Turks by offering them a buffer zone in the Kurdish enclave of Afrin, joint Turkish-American patrols of the Manbij region where Erdogan has threatened an “Ottoman slap” if U.S.… Seguir leyendo »
Wednesday was a strange and scary day in Syria, even by Middle East standards:
In the early afternoon, American military commanders, nearly victorious against the Islamic State, were standing at a hilltop observation post here complaining about harassing fire on their Syrian Kurdish partners — from a rebel force that is backed by Turkey, our NATO ally.
And then a few hours later, about 100 hundred miles to the southeast, ground troops supporting the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad struck a headquarters of Syrian Kurdish fighters and their partners from U.S. Special Operations forces, five miles east of the Euphrates and possibly near Syrian oil fields.… Seguir leyendo »
Vered Ben-Saadon says she and her husband felt a sense of biblical mission to cultivate “part of the land of Israel” when they founded their winery here at a settlement about 30 miles north of Jerusalem. And she appears to have no intention of leaving, regardless of what peace negotiators may say.
“The two-state solution is not relevant anymore,” she says, answering questions as she offers visitors glasses of the gewurztraminer and cabernet sauvignon she and her husband have produced at their Tura Winery here. She hopes President Trump will come visit their settlement one day.
The Ben-Saadon family has built a thriving business, with wine production growing from 1,200 bottles a year in 2003 to 100,000 bottles last year.… Seguir leyendo »
After visiting Tehran in 2013, I wrote that the Iranian capital seemed suspended somewhere between Pyongyang and Los Angeles. We’ve seen this past week how passionately Iranians want the latter, not the former — as they denounced their impoverished garrison state and demanded a prosperous, modern future.
Asking whether Iran’s demonstrations create a “pre-revolutionary” situation may miss the larger point. The process of change has already begun. The regime will use its instruments of repression, and the unrest may wane. But the protests have been so widespread, taking place in what a former U.S. intelligence officer says are 80 cities, that it will be impossible to put the whole country back in a box.… Seguir leyendo »