- New Iraqi Protest Movement Targets Corrruption
- Why Mahathir is Malaysia’s worst ever prime minister?
- At Sabah RCI, Dr M came, he saw, he denied everything except perhaps his own name!
- Morocco as Role Model
- The Leaderless Middle East
Posted: 12 Sep 2013 01:27 AM PDT
Iraq is currently witnessing a huge discrepancy between the performance of the political class and the security, social and economic pressures experienced by the people.
Despite its apparent failure in dealing with the security, economic and social issues that have placed Iraq at the top of the list of "failed states," the political class decided to reward itself with unprecedented privileges, expressing extreme indifference toward the voters.
During the past few years, the legislative, executive and independent institutions issued decrees that granted their members very high salaries and huge additional privileges. Lawmakers earn an estimated $22,500 each month in salary and allowances for housing and security. In contrast, a mid-level government employee makes around $600 a month.
While these extensive privileges were supposed to serve as motivation for the lawmakers to work harder, failure continues to plague the Iraqi parliament, which seems unable to hold frequent meetings because of the chronic absence of more than half of its members.
The fact is that Iraq is a rentier country where the political elite oversees the distribution of oil revenues in a way that serves its interests. An equitable relationship between taxation and representation does not exist in rentier states, where the ruling elite practically turn into owners that distribute the wealth as it sees fit, while the people become dependent on donations from the rulers.
Such a relationship had explicitly existed under the regime of former President Saddam Hussein. The official media outlets of the time used to label any financial or material grant given by the government to the citizens as a "gift from the leadership."
Such rhetoric no longer exists today, but the investment of the easy money from oil proceeds still serves the goals of political forces. The political conflict is basically about each group seeking to control a greater share of the oil revenues.
The new factor now emerging is that despite the deadly violence perpetrated at the hands of terrorist organizations and the repression practiced by government security authorities under the pretext of confronting terrorist groups, many Iraqis are showing the determination to address this situation.
At the beginning of September, a new wave of protests started in Baghdad and several Iraqi cities. This time around, protests seemed to have more modest demands and clearer objectives. They came as a result of an organized process that started several months ago, specifically through a Facebook page under the title of "Campaign for the Cancellation of the Parliamentarians' Pensions."
This campaign called to cancel the huge pensions obtained by the parliament members, as well as the large privileges enjoyed by officials inconsistent with the living standard of a country where large segments of the population suffer from poverty, unemployment and the absence of public services.
Some criticized this campaign, finding that it focused on a secondary and limited issue instead of key problems such as the escalating violence, growing authoritarianism of the state apparatus, rampant corruption and the sectarian distribution of quotas, among others.
Some critics of the prime minister considered that focusing on criticizing the parliament members' privileges only serves Nouri al-Maliki's policies, which aim to weaken the Council of Representatives at a time when he is expanding his influence.
Supporters of the campaign believe, however, that addressing corruption must start by dealing with what they deem “masked corruption,” exemplified by legislation that grant senior officials significant privileges. According to them, the parliament should reform itself and act as a responsible institution in order to be able to reform the rest of the institutions and fight corruption in the executive branch. After all, it is the only institution capable of issuing legislation that limits those privileges.
Following the demonstrations, the government was forced to announce a bill whereby the pensions of parliament members and senior officials would be reduced. It refused, however, to grant a license to the demonstrations, and the security apparatus violently suppressed the demonstrators. The contradictory position of the government reveals a hidden fear of the evolution of protests to a continuous popular movement that could spin out of control.
The maneuvers of the political class were not limited to the executive, as they also included parliament. Whereas the parliament resists the demonstrators' demand to cancel its members' pensions, the speaker and some of its members denounced the security forces' suppression of demonstrators. And while the parliamentary blocs promised to review the salary issue, the parliament refused to discuss the issue at its meeting held two days later.
It is safe to say that the symbolic dimensions of this protest movement are more important than the explicit demands.
As faith in political parties degenerated due to the general feeling that these parties have failed to adequately rule the country, achieve peace or work for economic and social development, the political vacuum widened. Some civilian groups and others that focus on political, social, economic or cultural issues started to fill this vacuum.
Remarkably, these demonstrations started upon the initiative of individuals who do not belong to any political party and do not enjoy the sponsorship of any religious view. The demonstrations were free of any sectarian slogans and a significant number of intellectuals and secular writers took part in them.
The ethnic and sectarian political groups have thus far benefited from the deep social divide that prevented the emergence of civil, cross-sectarian movements, strengthening their grip over the federal and local authorities and using a large part of the state’s resources to their own ends.
Thus, the emergence of a genuine protest movement motivated by non-ethnic or sectarian reasons will constitute a significant challenge for this system and perhaps provide a useful way to redefine the political struggle and move it beyond an ethnic and sectarian conflict to a socioeconomic one. Yet, there is still a way to go before this protest movement matures and turns into an active popular movement, given the sectarian divisions and the escalating violence that continue to impede its development.
Posted: 11 Sep 2013 02:27 AM PDT
More and more Malaysians are now beginning to feel the anger and disappointment over the politics of Mahathir Mohammad, from the time of his tenure as prime minister, as a range of revelations are unearthed over the atrocities and wrongdoings committed by him.
It is easy to see why and sympathize with Malaysians for being hoodwinked by the sly and cunning Mahathir. He had obviously charmed them by coming across as a person who cared for Malaysians and their concerns.
But upon the close of his prime minister-ship and the opening up of social media, there has emerged a wide gamut of allegations of impropriety and wrongdoing by him that can even be considered criminal in nature in a number of instances.
But has anything come of it? Has Mahathir even been questioned over any of these allegations by any law enforcement agency in this country? This really is startling and the reason why most Malaysians now believe Mahathir lives above the laws of this country.
This makes a sheer mockery of democracy and a grave travesty of justice, that he lives like a dictator and can get of scot free from any form of punishment. It's amazing as this is the complete opposite of what BN and especially UMNO seem to champion for Malays and Malaysians.
Mahathir's agenda started young
While Tunku Abdul Rahman and his peers battled for democracy, the young and bespectacled Mahathir was waiting in the wings, having served a while as a medical doctor, for the opportunity for him to take center-stage in Malaysian politics.
With the departure of Singapore from Malaysia and the embattled Tunku having done the right thing in keeping with the principles of democracy, the young Mahathir took upon the challenge to be a barking dog, snarling and baring his fangs at Lee Kuan Yew.
As evidenced today, the Tunku did the perfect and right thing when anyone can witness how far ahead and advanced Singapore has become as an island-republic. It was Mahathir who was downright mean and wrong for going against the wishes of the Tunku.
Prior after this, Mahathir emerged as a racist and Malay chauvinist. This is quite queer because personally Mahathir is not a racist or a chauvinist of any kind. This comes across as a bit of a dichotomy between his thinking and behavior.
The reason why Mahathir acted thus was because it served a purpose to play the racial card in multi-racial Malaysia. BY doing so he charmed and wooed the majority of Malays and got them to put their weight of support behind him.
By penning "The Malay Dilemma," he was able to articulate his views in such a manner as to give credence and justify the implementation of the cruel and evil New Economic Policy (NEP) and affirmative-action program to assist bumiputras who were languishing economically but which only served to establish the Malay elite.
While Mahathir in his heart couldn't care a damn what actually happens to the Malays, he made sure he was able to come across as the champion of the Malay struggle. He made use of the votes of the Malay heartland to come to power and stay by painting a false image that he was looking out for the Malays.
In thus doing so, while the Malays moved forward marginally the Malay elite consisting of Mahathir and cronies moved forward to amass and seize the largest measure of the growing economic pie. There was no equitable distribution of wealth as claimed by the proponents of the NEP.
While all his ploys went well all along, Mahathir suffered a major setback when he was forced to dismiss Anwar Ibrahim as deputy prime minister of Malaysia. This is what triggered a chain of events in which Malaysia went into a state of turmoil and confusion.
Questions, doubts and suspicions of Mahathir's roles
Since the 1997 and 1998 financial meltdown, which witnessed Malaysians suffering acutely, life has never been the same in this country. The reason is because a growing range of questions, doubts and suspicions began to loom over what role Mahathir played in a range of activities that were of a dubious nature.
Very obviously Mahathir was behind the scene after his departure as prime minister to tinker and manipulate with the Badawi and Najib administration even till today. His role now appears to be prime minister-in-retirement and both Badawi and Najib his stooges.
Badawi and Najib are puppets on a string while the puppeteer appears to be Mahathir who seems to have the final say in UMNO and BN. This is why the way ahead for the nation is fraught with danger and difficulties.
Democracy has been severely compromised by Mahathir, the judiciary suffering a crisis of credibility and law enforcement agencies practicing selective prosecution and skewered justice. This is why Malaysia has descended into a state on the danger of being branded a rogue nation.
The current spate of shooting and killings that are an ongoing specter, the rising and unabated crime rate are indicators which serve to confirm to international and institutional investors that the political climate in Malaysia has become unstable with Mahathir in a state of confusion and dither as to what to do.
Malaysia has become an unstable nation because of the workings of Mahathir over the years to favor a select group of individuals and cronies instead of spreading out the wealth for all Malaysians to enjoy. This wickedness begun by Mahathir has cost Malaysia dearly when Fitch's rating switched from "stable" to "negative."
This confirms the suspicions of Malaysians that the country is heading into deeper trouble. If only Mahathir has opted to play by the tenets and obligations of democracy and practiced meritocracy to begin with, all will be well with Malaysia.
But with Mahathir practicing partisan politics and being biased and prejudiced, the rot has set in into Malaysian politics. The only option now for Malaysians to survive and prosper the coming ordeal is to throw out the completely corrupt BN and be willing to opt for a more favorable option like Pakatan Rakyat (PR).
PR can serve the perfect anti-dote and cure the ills that Malaysia is suffering from due to the politics of Mahathir. While the past is the past, it is important for Malaysians to learn their lessons from the experience of being with leaders like Mahathir to ensure that no such evil leaders surface in future in this country.
It is important for democracy to be restored in full. And only a political organization like PR exists in Malaysia to serve this purpose. By passing the mantle of power to PR, Malaysians of all walks of life can be safely assured that they will survive and prosper.
To stick with BN is to not only court trouble but disaster and destruction, the damage of which is already being witnessed and if BN is allowed a longer term of office, the damage might be just about irreversible and be impossible to undo.
Posted: 11 Sep 2013 02:25 AM PDT
Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamed took the stand at the Kota Kinabalu High court to testify in the Royal Commission of Inquiry into illegal immigrants, who under a notorious ‘Project M’ were allegedly offered citizenship so as to alter Sabah’s demographic pattern and for voting his BN coalition during elections.
Mahathir, who served as PM from 1981 to 2003, has been fingered as the main culprit behind the scam that Sabahans blame for their current abject economic and social situation.
The 88-year-old veteran Umno leader has denied all allegations, pointing the finger back at other colleagues including his former deputy – Anwar Ibrahim, who is now the Opposition Leader.
“Dr M will deny everything. His presence is to do damage control. In the end, Malaysians, especially Sabahans, won’t get anything useful out of the RCI. No one of importance will be brought to book,” Opposition MP for Batu Tian Chua had told Malaysia Chronicle earlier this morning before the hearing began.
“Does Mahathir really think anyone will believe him that Projek I.C. was undertaken by other politicians and civil servants on their own accord?” said another Opposition politician Nik Nazmi, after hearing Mahathir’s testimony a few hours later.
Mahathir did not disappoint. As Tian had predicted, he denied almost everything except perhaps for the facts pertaining to his personal particulars such as his name.
“I never knew about Project IC until recently,” Dr M as he is often called told the packed courtroom in KK where the RCI is being held.
Asked why it was named Project I.C. or Project M, Mahathir said his name was used for many things.
“They call me racist, ultra, I am never bothered. It is part of political life,” he said.
Blames ‘low-ranking’ officers
Mahathir is appearing before the RCI panel as its 209th witness.
Taking the stand for nearly 90 minutes, Dr M stuck to his claim there was never any government policy to issue Malaysian identity cards (the equivalent to citizenship or residency papers) to foreigners through dubious means.
He said among the criteria used to issue I.C.s were that the foreigners must have lived in the country for many years, spoke the language and adopted the culture. He insisted the government's stand had always been that only those qualified were awarded citizenship.
He also denied giving instructions to former Sabah chief minister Harris Salleh or any individual to issue the I.C.s.
Not responsible for Megat
Dr M proceeded to blame”low-ranking officers” for giving the identity cards to foreigners in Sabah.
When asked about claims made by other RCI witnesses that they had received orders to issue the I.C.s from the then deputy Home Minister Megat Junid, Dr M said he could not be responsible for the late Megat’s actions.
“I never gave the late Tan Sri Megat Junid any instruction on the issuance of identity cards to illegal immigrants,” said Mahathir, who was then also the Home Minister.
When asked by RCI consulting officer Manoj Kurup to explain why one of the witnesses – former Sandakan district chief officer Hassnar Ebrahim – had testified that it was Megat who told him that the order for the project came from Dr Mahathir himself.
“Hassnar? I have never heard of him. I am also not aware that he had been arrested under the Internal Security Act,” said Dr M, adding it could have been the decision of the National Security Council to detain Hassnar.
Dr M was also grilled about the various identity cards used by the illegal immigrants including Kad Layang-Layang, Kad Burung-Burung, Kad Expo. However, he replied the only identity card he knew was the I.C., drawing laughter from the gallery.
Manoj then asked Dr Mahathir whether he knew of the book Projek IC Agenda Tersembunyi Mahathir (Project I.C. Mahathir’s secret agenda).
“I glanced through the book recently when somebody gave me a copy. It is a good academic read. But I don’t know how the author could reach the conclusion that it was my decision to implement Project IC. However, I realise when people use my name, the book sells very well,” said Dr Mahathir, which brought another round of laughter from the gallery.
Bid to damage control, push the blame on Anwar?
Anwar too is due to testify before the Sabach RCI. According to his aides, he is expected to fly into the state for the September 16 Malaysia Day celebrations.
The former deputy prime minister has said he was not kept “in the loop” by Mahathir on the citizenship scam, which has been tagged Project M.
Last month, 2 officials from the RCI had flown down to Kuala Lumpur to record Anwar’s statement.
Anwar’s lawyer, Latheefa Koya, told the press that he had expressed his willingness to take the witness stand so as to help expose the culprits, whose actions he has often condemned as being “treasonous” as it directly threatened national security.
Latheefa also said that Anwar had named 3 individuals he believed were the main perpetrators behind the Project M. The lawyer declined to reveal who the three were.
“Yes he has named 3 people. But I think I will hold on this because they (the trio accused by Anwar) are also going to be interviewed,” she said.
So far, two of Mahathir’s closest aides have been implicated by other witnesses in the Sabah RCI. They are the late former deputy home minister Megat Junid and Aziz Shamsudin, Mahathir’s former political secretary.
Posted: 11 Sep 2013 02:21 AM PDT
Two crises—Syria and Egypt—bedevil the Arab world and threaten to rewrite America's role in the region. President Obama must act boldly and quickly, or the consequences will be felt by both Arabs and Americans for decades to come.
President Obama has punted the warmaking decision to Congress, which did not return from recess until recently. Russia and America are on opposing sides in Syria, with Moscow viewing Damascus as a valuable strategic asset. It is also intent on protecting the many Russian citizens who live in Syria. From America's perspective, Syria is listed as a U.S. State Department-designated State Sponsor of Terrorism. It has long given aid and succor to terrorists, meddling in Lebanon and supporting Hamas.
Syria's other major ally is Iran, perhaps the largest sponsor of terrorism worldwide today. Iran has sent its own thugs to fight alongside the Syrians. Meanwhile, Iran's intelligence agencies sponsor terrorist uprisings in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Palestine and Yemen. It clearly aims to make the Arab world its satrapy, just as it has made Syria its satellite.
If Assad survives to rule Syria, Iran will increase its effort to topple Washington's Arab allies. And America's friends will have little reason to feel safe while America's foes have little reason to fear. Moderate Arabs and Americans will lose influence as desperate nations rush to strike some accommodation to Iran.
The importance of Egypt's civil war is almost impossible to overstate. It is the birthplace of the Muslim Brotherhood.
During their brief rule, the Brotherhood failed to respect social and political pluralism. And this is not an error of governance. It is their philosophy. Political Islam's doctrine ridicules the idea that law should be decided by elections. "Would you also vote on what is good and what is evil?", they ask. As soon as the Brotherhood came to power, it issued more and more restrictions on reporters, musicians, filmmakers, and others. It wanted free expression to be suppressed in favor of what it called "clean art" that would teach moral lessons in keeping with its strict interpretation of Islam.
Egypt's Islamists do not acknowledge that winning an election does not confer the power to change the constitution or that electoral winners are only temporary custodians of the government in a democracy. Instead, they use elections the way 1960s African liberation movements did: One man, one vote, one time.
The Brotherhood is an antidemocracy force that happened to win a snap election before other parties could effectively organize.
The Brotherhood's appeal, which is real enough, rests on three legs: the seeming lack of corruption among the Brotherhood (it hasn't held power long enough to become known for demanding bribes), the purity of the Brotherhood's creed appeals to idealistic young city dwellers (a large voting bloc), and the Brotherhood's focus on fighting poverty.
The opposition to the Brotherhood is an ungainly coalition that is already starting to splinter and crack. The Egyptian army and secular urban elite are culturally different and do not trust each other. Dissent, especially after the recent killings by the army made headlines, is growing. The resignation of Mohammed ElBaradei from the transitional government is more evidence that the coalition is falling apart. These are the stakes of the Egyptian civil war—one side seeks a religious totalitarianism and the other a secular, liberal alternative. Whatever is decided in Egypt may be the verdict for the rest of the Arab states.
The Obama administration seems blind to America's own strategic interest in the stability of Egypt and peace along Israel’s borders. Yet America's allies in the region are not. The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia openly support the Egyptian army because their own internal security is at risk. Indeed, Saudi Arabia publicly said it would make up the difference if America or its European allies cut off foreign aid.
While the Brotherhood's foes are among America's strongest allies in the region, its friends are more revealing. The Brotherhood's most significant non-Arab ally is Iran.
Everywhere the Islamists struggle for power, they do it with violence. Iraq and Lebanon are already in a sectarian war. Jihadists are also fighting moderate governments in Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria, where their chief casus belli was that they were not handed total power.
In Morocco, an Islamist terrorist cell made up of schoolteachers was recently dismantled; it was planning attacks on American and French interests in Morocco. It described its ideology as an offshoot of the Brotherhood.
What's needed is an international summit that convenes all of the Arab nations along with America and its European allies. The summit should focus on building democratic institutions. America's government-funded Arabic radio and TV networks should teach the elements of patiently establishing a free society.
Here Egypt, and the rest of the Arab world, could learn from Morocco. A meaningful multiparty system has been in place in the country for a generation, and diverse political movements—ranging in orientation from Islamism to socialism—have achieved a measure of credibility. The democratic space has been gradually expanded since Mohammed VI’s accession to the throne, a trend further advanced two years ago by a new constitution. There is a relatively level playing field among parties in the political arena, and Islamists are necessarily disposed to look for liberals to help them find a place in any government. Radical Islamists exist, but their chances of obtaining real power are negligible. Morocco’s carefully fostered political diversity, together with the steady growth of civil society institutions, tempers and moderates the Islamist stream. The king, for his part, maintained his role as the country's highest religious authority.
Morocco has secured free-trade agreements with the U.S. and the E.U. on previous governments, but progress has stalled under the Islamists. Privatization and deregulation—the trend over the past decade in Morocco—has also slowed. Meanwhile, the king reminded the government, too many young families can't find work or food. Economic growth has a vital spiritual role; it offers hope. The elected Islamists of Morocco need to stop fixating on ideological priorities and focus on practical human needs.
Posted: 11 Sep 2013 02:18 AM PDT
Lately, the headlines are filled with the latest events in Syria, and maybe a story about the unrest in Egypt. However, this focus on the problems of the moment risks missing the bigger picture. In recent years, every state that has the potential for wider regional leadership has suffered major setbacks and seen its influence reduced, exacerbating the current confusion.
This situation is similar to Ian Bremmer's concept of a "G-Zero world" in which there is no hand at the wheel of global governance. Today, even the strongest Middle Eastern states do not have the power to effectively stabilize the region, leading to a localized "G-Zero" effect. The result of this leadership deficit will be more of the same: a region trapped in chaos. This absence will also work against the interests of the United States by prolonging instability and promoting radicalism.
Leadership here does not mean military domination, religious hegemony, or even overwhelming popularity. Instead, it means the ability to build transformative institutions and regional architecture, spearhead economic reform and integration, and serve as a model for others to follow. This collaborative and developmental type of leadership is exactly what the Middle East needs—and the type it won't get.
Before the upheavals of 2011, the best candidate for filling this leadership vacuum, and the most desirable from a U.S. standpoint, was Turkey. For a number of years, Turkey under the leadership of the AKP and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an demonstrated a remarkable capacity to blend democracy and Islam, as well as sound economic policies that resulted inTurkish GDP per capita more than doubling since 2003. Internationally, Turkey became extremely activist and aimed to reshape the Middle East in its own image, launching several regional integration initiatives and seeking to present itself as a post-sectarian Islamic democracy. However, Erdo?an's Turkey was blindsided by the Arab Spring, and developments since then, ranging from a backfiring Syria policy to the authoritarian reaction to the Gezi Park protests have damaged the Turkish brand in the Middle East. Although Turkey's economy remains strong, its ability to shape other countries' perceptions and actions has been diminished.
After Turkey, prospects for effective and positive leadership decline sharply. Although Iran is as activist as Turkey, its support for terrorist groups, constant opposition to U.S. and Israeli interests, and sectarian leanings make it unlikely that Iran could ever preside over a healthy regional-integration process. Saudi Arabia has managed to stay relevant, and will continue to punch above its weight thanks to its oil wealth, but it is clear that the Kingdom's petrodollars cannot pave the way to regional dominance; if they could they would have done so years ago. Finally, Egypt remains convulsed by internal struggles, and will remain more of a spectator than a player for the foreseeable future. Egypt certainly has the capacity to assume a dominant role; its past as the beating heart of the Arab world attests to that. However, this is unlikely unless it truly solves the conflicts and contradictions it is currently grappling with.
The result is a Middle East filled with confusion, political stagnation, and the frightening prospect of sectarian fragmentation and wider conflict. While some might point out that Washington has historically acted to prevent the emergence of a regional leader, the chaos today is too potentially explosive to tolerate. For U.S. policymakers attempting to secure American interests and ensure national security, the absence of even a modicum of stability means plans are always at risk of spinning out of control or backfiring dramatically, as the political sands continue to shift.
In order to cope with this situation, the first lesson that American policymakers must learn is that there is no quick fix. The Middle East will continue to stagger on without positive leadership for at least the next several years, and quite likely more. Regional public opinion, most notably in Egypt, is so anti-American that any gestures or speeches, no matter how carefully calibrated, will be unable to change any minds in the short term. A more important lesson is that the United States must fundamentally change its approach to the Middle East if it wants to avoid losing even the limited influence it has now. Instead of trying to keep all potential regional powers from gaining influence, the United States should focus on encouraging the emergence of a potential leader that is both regionally legitimate and compatible with American foreign-policy interests.
There are a number of steps Washington can take to pursue this long-term goal. First, President Obama should announce the immediate cessation of aid to Egypt's military and redirect that money to a massive package of truly civilian aid that can give Egypt a fighting chance to eventually follow in Turkey's footsteps. That aid program should be paired with a carefully designed and implemented PR campaign that will push back on the anti-American sentiment currently running wild in the region. Obama should fully empower Secretary Kerry to pursue the twin diplomatic opportunities opening in the region: between Israel and Palestine and the United States and Iran. Success there, no matter how unlikely, would put America in the strongest possible position to move toward a new balance that will solidify in the Middle East.
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