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Posted on on March 31st, 2012
by Pincas Jawetz (

In the Maldives,  an Islands-State former monarchy, that was a late convert to Islam (only 12th century while Indian sub-continent regions already had Muslims 500 years earlier, it was Arab merchant-seafarers   that converted the last Buddhist king of the Maldives), a republic since 1965, and after the totalitarian rules of Presidents Ibrahim Nasir and Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, a true  democracy was established in rather clean elections in 2008, it existed only for three and a half years, and was ended by a coup January 2012.

Mohammed Waheed Hassan Manik, the new ruler, was sworn in as President of the Maldives on 7 February 2012, in connection to the forced resignation of President Nasheed amidst weeks of protests and demonstrations led by local police dissidents who supposedly opposed Nasheed’s 16 January order for the military to arrest Abdulla Mohamed, the Chief Justice of the Criminal Court. Dr. Waheed came out against the arrest order and supported the opposition that forced Mohamed Nasheed to resign by telling him that if he resigns there will be no further violence. Nevertheless, since then prisons for the opposition have been reopened, and Mr. Nasheed claims that it is a return to the Gayoom – Nasir competition days when Nasheed himself was imprisoned.

It seems that  economic issues are behind the upheaval, and as we heard from Mr. Nasheed he proposes that the US and India recognized Mr. Waheed in an attempt to acknowledge a new status quo that they like.

We bring this up here because of Mr. Nasheed’s global fame as supporter of  global action to halt climate change which obviously pitted him against fossil fuels interests – world-wide but pin-pointed against the Arab Oil-States as well.

Interesting that there is now talk of building a coal fired power plant, like in India, while under Nasheed there was an effort to go for renewable energy – solar and wind power – in these blue paradise islands still blessed with clean air and clean water and open for tourism.

Mr. Nasheed predicts that by 2030 16 of the Maldive Islands will go under if the world continues on the path of business as usual – “we always can relocate as persons but not as a civilization,” he says.

Mr. Nasheed, post-Copenhagen meeting of 2009, where he became a global leader just one year after taking office in his own State, back home arranged for his cabinet to have an “under-water” government cabinet meeting for the sake of the global media. This is part of the documentary film ‘The Island President’ that was released this week in New York City, and the film tour brought him also to a Columbia University event where he met students including backers of his from 2009. Mr. Nasheed, when asked about the road to RIO+20 said that the UN cannot do it because they will pick always the lowest common denominator among Nations – and this is not enough.

He said that in the end the US will have to act it alone like Germany started to do it. To my question about a government’s responsibility to protect its citizens he answered that the Maldive military behind the coup is interested in business projects and not in the future of the islands. His interest is in replenishing coral reefs and fish stock.


Now that brings me to the major part of this posting  which deals with a major full day event at the New York based Council on Foreign Relations’ (CFR) cooperative effort with the St. Antony’s College, University of Oxford and the Conservative Middle East Council (MEC) of the UK.

The Event started in the evening of Thursday March 29th with the introductory “THE ARAB UPRISING: HOW DID WE GET HERE?” presented by Professor Margaret MacMillan, Warden, St.Antony’s College and Professor of History, University of Toronto. Her full presentation can be found on the website of the CFR as are all other presentations of this meeting.     I must confess that I did not stay for the presentation because I left before Professor MacMillan started as I wanted to listen across town to Mr. Nasheed. This cost me dearly the following day, when at lunch I did not recognize Professor MacMillan who sat at my table and I stated my point of view that we are forced to deal with the Arab World, that we created, by our insistence to make them our oil suppliers. I also said that there are no US National interests in Foreign Policy except for Oil Interests – and I was rebuked strongly – in an effort to put me back in my place. Now I say that I deserved it as I did not know what she said the evening before the full meeting. Also, as my history of the Middle East starts with the 1945 Roosevelt-Churchill-Stalin meeting at Yalta, the stop at Port Said on the way home, and President Roosevelt striking the deal with King Ibn Saud, I did not know that after finishing her book on the causes that led to World War I, Professor MacMillan turns to the resulting  WWII new world order as established at Yalta –
I promise herewith to be an anxious reader when her book is released by the publisher.

Had the oil-men of Texas not told President Roosevelt that the US oil reserves are not sufficient to fight again a war of liberation in Europe, then I felt Yalta’s division of the World that gave the Soviets East Europe, Britain Iran, and the US Saudi Arabia, might not have taken place, and global warfare may have evolved differently – perhaps not the cold way.

Friday, March 30, 2012 the  CFR Conference sessions were: (1) Prospects for Democracy,  (2) Monarchies,  (3) Islam and Politics, (4) Regional Consequences – The Geopolitics of the Changing Middle East, (5)  Policy Responses for the United States and Europe.

It was clear that the pre-lunch three panels were intended to provide the background for the after-lunch two up-date panels about the changing Middle East and the place of the non-Arab States of the larger Middle East – specifically Turkey, Israel and Iran. Interesting, in the morning sessions were present also Ambassadors of Arab States – I did not see them in the afternoon. Did their presence in the morning session somehow make for reduced forwardness on the part of the speakers? I did not hear the word oil from the speakers while the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the UN was present, neither were there complete answers to questions. Nevertheless, the picture came out clearly thanks also to the ample time allowed for questions.

Going to the last two sessions first – let us say that Turkey is now a main player in the Arab Middle East.

The November 3, 2002 elections in Turkey brought a landslide victory for the Justice and Development Party (AKP) – a party with an Islamic pedigree – which received almost two-thirds’ of the parliamentary seats with 34.2 percent of the vote.

These elections ushered in a major realignment of the Turkish political landscape, bringing in the AKP —  winning 363 of the 550 seats in the Turkish parliament. Of the eighteen parties running in the elections, the social democrat Republican People’s Party (CHP) was the only other party to win parliamentary representation, garnering 19.4 percent of the vote and 178 seats (the remaining 9 seats went to independent candidates).

On the other hand, the major parties that ran the country in the 1990s, the center-left Democratic Left Party (DSP) of outgoing Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, the Nationalist Action Party (MHP), and former President Turgut Ozal’s centrist Motherland Party (ANAP) failed to pass the ten percent threshold needed to enter the parliament. Islamist opposition Felicity (previously Welfare) Party (SP), and former Prime Minister Tansu Ciller’s center-right True Path Party (DYP) were also unsuccessful in winning representation in the parliament.

Looking back at material from 2002 I found:

Although the AKP is an offshoot of the Islamist Welfare Party (RP), which was banned in 1997 for Islamist activities, the electorate sees the party as a new force and not necessarily Islamist.

Various secular parties, courts, media outlets, and nongovernmental organizations view the party with suspicion due to its leaders’ past affiliation with RP. Yet, AKP’s moderate, non-confrontational rhetoric over the last year has made it attractive to a diverse array of voters ranging from Islamists to rural nationalists and moderate urban voters.

A second factor explaining AKP’s success is that the party has been able to channel some of the profound anger that characterized the November 3 elections.

AKP appealed to middle and working class voters, who were unsatisfied with the economic plans of the outgoing government that were backed by the International Monetary Fund. Such anger in Turkey has traditionally been concentrated at the lower ends of the socioeconomic spectrum. After the February 2001 economic meltdown, however, even the middle classes became angry.

Accordingly, AKP attracted many moderate urban voters, who were appalled by the inefficient and corruption-ridden governments of the 1990s, as well as by the political instability and economic downturns that characterized this decade. Many voters turned to AKP, which marketed itself as new and untainted by the legacy of the 1990s. AKP promised to deliver growth and stability, as in the Turgut Ozal years of the 1980s, a decade to which most Turks now look back with nostalgia.

What above evaluation did not say in 2002 is that many Turks were hurt by the way the EU did not accept Turkey for its membership, and these Turks decided to retreat to what they consider closer to Turkey’s background – away from European secularism back to Islamic heritage of the Arab Middle East or  Central Asia. That is how AKP leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan looked at making common cause with the Arab Middle East/North Africa. With Egypt – the Central State that sits on the Suez Canal – facing problems – Turkey is now the natural leader of this potential bloc.  Only Saudi Arabia has the possibility to interfere, and that was settled by now with having a Turk as head of the Saudi Arabia based OIC ( Organization of Islamic Cooperation.) So Turkey plays to win. I tried to introduce this as a question but it was not picked up.

Israel seemingly played to lose. With the role of the Global powers playing in the region being diminished, the Israelis did not move ahead to recognize an opportunity to welcome the regimes that are borne in the ashes of the Arab Spring. The Israelis saw only the potential dangers and ignored any possible benefits from the Arab Spring. This because Israel, perhaps by necessity, regarded itself as belonging to the West and ignored the possibility to belong to the neighborhood of the East. Real Politik was the relationship with the winter dictators for regional Security, and for their own security. Mubarak was the enforcer of an unpopular Sadat agreement that favored Israel, and Israel was ready to shelter Mubarak before his forced resignation.

The Syrian revolution is about Syria and not about Israel – but the occupied territories cloud is in the background. Egypt cooperated with Israel in blocking Gaza, the Turks opposed this – so the Turks are now the big winners Marwa Daoudy from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, and Avi Schlain, Emeritus Fellow at St Antony College, U. of Oxford, agree that it was not a bright idea for Ehud Barak saying that Israel is a “Villa in the Jungle” – this did not leave much hope for rapprochement.

In Egypt it is now about “National Dignity” and the perception that Mubarak was an Israeli stugge – when the revolution started the military and government crushed CDs and shreded government documents – we will never know the truth.

Syria started out in as a democracy but a 1949 coup by the CIA ended this.  Nasser talked about Positive Neutralism” in order to get money from all sides, but I did not get a full answer about the fate of Nasserism that was Pan-Arabism.
The short answer was that people in the Arab States worry about their own condition and not InterArabism.

The consensus after this panel was that if the Arabs don’t want us there – the best we can do is step out.

For the future – Hamas is now residing in Egypt and after listening to Egypt in forming a National Government, the Palestinians will be able to declare a cease fire with Israel and push for negotiations. The Egyptians will continue the agreements with Israel but declare they will not repeat the mistake of being one sided in favor of Israel.

The Last panel was about Policy Responses for the United States and Europe and here the cat came out from hiding, and it was that the war in Libya was easy for the West because it promised large riches of Oil – and as always, those that get involved will also bring in their oil corporations in tow. Eugene Rogan of St. Antony said YES-BUT – in Libya case it was also a military consideration because we (the US) could not afford another Sarajevo. Yes, but what about Syria? All right – they do not have oil in such quantities. So What?

Gideon Rose, Editor Foreign Affairs, said Reve Back the rhetoric or Increase Policy? We must make clear what kind of friends we are and what red lines we have. We should not be ashamed of promoting democracy added Robert Danin the Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies. He continued – it has to be indigenous and we should be able to support it via institutions like Freedom House.

There is a lot of Unemployment and Underemployment in the Arab lands, and there is a lot of money in the Gulf States. Things went worse during this last year of upheaval. The extreme haves must support the extreme have-nots in the region he said. I told myself that this will be the day.

Asked what are the three major problems in the White House after November? The Answer was Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia

Eugene Rogan, Faculty Fellow and University Lecturer in the Modern History of the Middle East, St. Antony, addressing the UN, said that the Kofi Annan Moral Mission to Syria has no chance to succeed. What is needed is a UNIFIL operation to make space between the fighting sides in Syria. Only then can start negotiations.

Other speakers included:

Elliott Abrams from CFR and Michael J. Willis from St. Antony on PROSPECTS FOR DEMOCRACY — James M. Lindsay, Director of Studies at CFR – presider of that panel;

Mohamad Bazzi, CFR and NYU, and Columnist Raghida Dergham as Presider at the panel on MONARCHIES.

Isobel Coleman of CFR, Ed Husain of CFR, and Michael J. Willis of St Antony with Deborah J. Amos of National Public Radio on the panel on ISLAM AND POLITICS.

One last comment – The Monarchies fared better then the secular Dictatorships because they have some sort of legitimacy. On the other hand, the secular politicians were viewed as corrupt thieves and treated accordingly when people decided finally to hit the streets.

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